At breakfast we had a pleasant surprise. There was more than just the flat breads and hummus. There was toast and Jam and cornflakes and milk as well as scrambled eggs and beans. A real feast for Bernard and Rudy. The others were as usual not too interested. On leaving the hotel, we followed the road winding up and down the mountain to Ajlun. The area we drove through was forested with old bent and twisted pine trees and the fields were covered with olive trees. In Ajlun we drove up the mountain to visit one of the few pure Islamic castles (Shobak).
It should have a nice view down into the Jordan River valley but it was too hazy. We followed the road to the city of Irbid to make our way to the Syrian border. Sign posts were scarce and only thanks to the GPS map could we find our way to the town center and turn off on to the right road which led us out of town. This little gadget has saved us already several times. Not all the new highways are on it but the old through roads are, and they get you there.
The dreaded border crossing was not too difficult. On the Jordan side I first had to wait till the stamp man came back from praying to buy the departure stamps for car and people. The stamps in the passport followed quickly as well as the export stamp of the car at customs (once you knew where he was sitting). On the Syrian side there was more confusion on my side but still after 1:20 hrs we got through. It was good that we had a visa in our passport because otherwise I don’t think we would have been so successful. A few girls at the border were told to wait for several hours while they checked back with Damascus if they could get an entry visa. Importing the car was a bit more difficult and costly. Upon hearing that it was a Diesel car it straight away meant US$100 for import tax with a validity of only 7 days. They ensured me that if I stayed longer it would be no problem. I just had to pay another $100 per week more when I left the country. Once the payments were made and handed over to customs the stamping and signing of the carnet was no problem. Unfortunately the car registration was also stamped in Rudy’s passport so a quick side trip to see the Baalbek ruins in Lebanon by tourist bus is out of the question. It leaves us at least with a good excuse to come back next time. In Syria the landscape changed. We were driving over a 600+m high basalt plateau covered with wheat and olive trees towards the old Roman city of Bosra. The road was wide and well surfaced and there was not much traffic. Bosra is famous for its complete Roman Theater built out of black basalt.
It is a huge building which was also fortified to function as a castle. There is a lot more to see in Bosra than we expected. Only some 15 years ago did the excavation of the city start. The local houses were built on top and in-between the Roman city. The black basalt stone of the Romans were used for the new dwellings. Over a large area the people have been removed and the houses being dug up to expose the city some 1.5 m below complete with columned streets, temples (=churches=mosques) and bath houses. Years of excavation is still required to show the full beauty of this black city. Driving back towards the motor way up to Damascus we tried to get in contact with Richard Nagel, whom we knew from Warri and is now based in Damascus. After several frustrated trials Jamaliah realized that Omantel has no agreement with Syria. We could send messages to Holland and get answers back but not from Syria. At the first petrol station some 9 km out of the town center Rudy managed to contact Richard using a normal land line. The people there were all extremely friendly and explained to Richard where we were. After 25 min he rolled by and we followed him to his house in Mezza, Damascus. It is good to be in a more private/personal surrounding. We had drink, a restaurant and lots of old Warri stories before going to bed. I saw Richard off to work and typed this report sitting in the shade at his garden table. I have not seen the kids yet and Jamaliah is still catching up on sleep (9:30am).
P/s: Driving in Damascus is terrible. Much worse than in Jordan. Road line and signs are ignored and overtaking is done on both sides of you. Quite often you see cars coming towards you on your side of the road on a dual highway. Or reversing back on a one way street road. Why go and look for a U-turn if you can reverse or better still drive normally even if it is a one way road. You have to be consistently on alert while driving. Jamaliah is forever screaming look out, watch that car etc. She is so terrified and more nervous than me.