Mess at the exit

Nov. 19, 2011 (day 185) Syria

The road from Damascus to the border seemed straight. Well, in topological terms it was, but otherwise getting out from the country proved to be not so simple. Or perhaps it would have been easier if I had not chosen the normal road instead of the highway.

The military checkpoints started right away. On the first one I was waved to go, on the second one I just showed the passport, and the third one was a longer stop with usual questions and camera inspection. I was about to leave, when a man in sportswear, holding a Kalashnikov, appeared. His face looked similar to the face of president himself and the man was very agitated. He tried to convince me that the road further on is an area of terrorist activity and I should switch back to the highway. Asking if I was permitted to go anyway, I heard a familiar reply: "You may go, but it's very dangerous and we cannot guarantee your safety".

This time I ignored the warning. The most suspicious activity further on the road was perhaps mine. Turning lights off, going into field road and disappearing among olive trees is probably not what "normal" people do.

Act of terrorism

Act of terrorism

The headwind which shortened my last day distance weakened overnight, but a rain came. With the dirt brought on the road by agricultural vehicles, the bike and the lower part of my body acquired brownish color. With such a nice look I passed countless checkpoints, did some photo shows, drank a few cups of tea, and had unpleasant meeting with a group of agitated youngsters who tried to stop me by force. One punch made me free. Cycling away I felt my bike being kicked from behind and saw the empty plastic bottle, which I was carrying at the back, to fly over my head. Outstretched middle finger was my last word in this cultural exchange of opinions, but I never realized what the other side wanted from me.

Finally I arrived to the border city of Daraa. There I had crossed several military checkpoints, just to be finally informed that the border was closed. Great! Good that you exchange information between each other, guys! Such organized army is going to win any war.

The officer who told me the news asked me also to leave the city as soon as possible, before it would get dark. β€žThe terrorists shoot us every night. Every night! The city is dangerous. Go!”, he encouraged me. So I left and directed myself to the highway, eventually. The border crossing there was supposed to be open.

At the border another surprise awaited me. An exit tax. Perhaps the army was running short of ammunition, so everybody had to contribute 500SYP (10USD) in order to leave Syria. Exactly the amount I had just changed into Jordanian dinars in Daraa.

I was always wondering about the immense idiocy of people who order exit tax to be collected, but do not mind informing people about it when they enter the country. If someone appears on the border with no cash at all, what is he supposed to do? Clean the toilets at the terminal, or beg at the entrance to get that money? In Syria, where foreign credit cards had been cut off by US some months ago, it seemed to be doubly stupid.

Fortunately, converting the money back and adding some coins I had left, I could collect these five hundred. I paid it, got the passport stamped and left the country. And I was happy to do it.

On the Jordanian side the atmosphere was much more relaxed. Even the fact that the only ATM was out of order, and I had to change some hard currency again to get the dinars, it did not change my good mood. Late in the night I left the terminal, turned in the direction of Jarash and soon camped at the roadside.