March 08, 2007 GMT
Syria, 8 March 2007

We've seen a number of high and low points the last month.

Entering Syria the scenery underwent a dramatic change from Turkey. The mountains became hills and the bike was grateful to be pulling us along flat roads after day after day of mountain bashing. The joy of flat roads seemed to provoke machine culture shock and it responded by breaking down. More of this anon....

To celebrate entering a new country, we also suffered a health breakdown. Our first stop in Syria was the sea-side town of Tartous, a good laid back place, ideal for spending a few relaxing days. Unfortunately the few days turned into a week after consumption of an octopus stew of dubious heritage. Sascha spent several days bed bound before deciding that a course of anti-biotics was the best course of action. Myself, I suffered mildly by comparison and inflicted suffering on others in equal amounts as Sascha assured me that the bug was manifesting itself in a vicious case of halitosis.

Health restored we headed on to the city of Hama. Noticing a strange and ominous 'death rattle' from the engine we decided to strip it down for inspection. This revealed a broken piston and the replacement had to be ordered from home. It was rather disappointing to suffer severe mechanical failure so soon into the trip but as mitigating evidence in favour of the Bullet the piston was an e-bay purchase of uncertain origin and by the time of leaving home had already ridden from Lands End to John o Groats and back and seen action on a track day. This before pulling us two folk and luggage around for three months.

Piston broke! - sorry couldn't resist it

The breakdown however happily proved my axiom that some of the best travel experiences happen through breakdowns. A supplier cock up resulted in the piston being sent to us via standard air mail rather than courier and took two weeks to arrive. Special mention has to be made to the guys at the Cairo Hotel in Hama who allowed us to keep the bike and work on it at their home. And who also followed the delay in the parcel arriving up through a contact in the Syrian post office, called our hotel in Damascus (they had to call several as they didn't know where we were staying!) to let us know they had found it and went to the post office with us to ensure we got it without paying too much import tax. And then the guys at the machine shop who did a fantasticly careful job of the rebore and then refused payment and instead invited us to their home for drinks!

The time spent waiting for the piston was used fruitfully in taking bus trips out of Hama and seeing the sites of Syria and not so fruitfully by Sascha's stomach which acquired another bug needing a doctors visit and more antibiotics!

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Bike now fixed and tested we are in Damascus on the cusp of crossing into Jordan. Syria has been a wonderful experience; so much sincere hospitality that gives you faith in human nature once more. At risk of sounding like an awards ceremony we've got to mention the guys who have been so kind to us - the guy at the wedding banquet hall roadside on the way to Tartous who gave us a slap up meal for free after we walked into his business hq as feckless tourists thinking it was a restaurant. The guys at Expresso coffee shop in Tartous. Cairo Hotel management who helped us so much with sorting the bike. The guys at the machine shop who rebored the cylinder and fed and watered us! And Issam whom we met in Palmyra who took us out to a really great Bedouin style knees-up.

As we will be in Arabic speaking countries for the next couple of months we are making concerted attempts to learn more Arabic than the usual ps and qs. The guidebook has been of some help, though the phrases 'can I breastfeed here' and 'is this a gay-friendly bar' have not been so useful. People have been delighted to help us with our rather feeble efforts but progress has been made...

That's all for now, next posting from Jordan enshallah!

desert castle.jpg

Posted by Richard Miller at 06:00 PM GMT
March 25, 2007 GMT
Jordan , 25 March 2007

Another slow ride to bed in our new piston saw us cross the border from Syria to Jordan and arrive in Amman late afternoon. Riding from one capital city to another in one day was pretty stressful and gave plenty of opportunity for map reading arguments. If anyone is wandering whether spending so much time on the road covering unfamiliar territory means a couple has less map-reading related discussions think again. At times it's like Sunday outing after Sunday outing.

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A really great couple of days were spent in Amman catching up with a friend on business there and luxing out in expensive cafes (good to have seen you Stephen and thanks again for the slap-up meal!). With both Sascha and the bike both in a Bristol Fashion state of funtion we decided to head out into the Eastern Desert and check out where Lawrence of Arabia hung out for a while back in the day.

We set out imagining a picturesque and lonely road out into the Middle of the desert but soon found out that we were on the main trucking route to Saudi. Not quite the romantic solitude of the desert. The heat slowly cranked up all the way out there and in a fit of great excitement we binned our ex-army long johns which had been unwelcome co passengers on each of our rides to that point. Heading back to central Jordan we realised that this had been slightly rash as the temperature dropped and dropped. It carried on dropping to the point that when we arrived at the Dana nature reserve a couple of days later it was to a foot of snow and freezing fog in the dark.

A side trip down to the Dead Sea gave us the realisation that we had ridden both highest and lowest roads together on Royal Enfields. 'Scuse me as I don my anorak and ride off into the distance... The trip to the Dead Sea gave us one of life's great experiences, not floating around reading a newspaper but at Ma'in Hot Springs. There's a 40 meter waterfall there that pours out water that's somewhere around 60 degrees at source. Standing under it is probably something akin to having ten thousand people throw bucket after bucket of boiling water over you from the top of a sky scraper would be. It's actually rather good.

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One of the really great things about travel is the eccentric people you meet along the way. At Petra we think maybe we met the travel character to end all. A Slovenian guy who lives on the road and is funding his travels by busking; playing baroque recorder music with a page boy haircut and court-jesteresque attire. You've got to admire the train of thought that has seen someone end up doing that and having the belief to carry it through. We were pretty impressed and coughed up enough for a night's sleep in a hostel for him. If you ever read this Slovenian baroque recorder man, we salute you!

There's been some amazing vistas from roads in Jordan that swoop down along desert wadis from 1800 meters above to 400 below sea level. It's been so great to be properly back on the bike after the problems in Syria and enforced bus travel and has served as a good reminder about why we chose to travel by bike and the joys of freedom on the road. Despite beakdowns opening up a whole load of great social situations a bike that works well is equally virtuous. Long may it be so!

Off to Egypt in a couple of days and with any luck we'll get our visa for Sudan and next posting will be just before leaving Egypt.

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Posted by Richard Miller at 03:24 PM GMT
 


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