In transit from Egypt to Turkey this time it was only the mundane necessity of getting Iranian and Afghan visas that pushed my sails… The faded portraits of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad marked formally my entry in the country. Not too far from there a sign welcomes me in a way that it leaves no doubt about the democratic caliber of the country: “Welcome to Al Assad’s Syria!”. It is a wonderful morning of wet pavement and cars washed by nature. Even the old Syrian taxis Dodge Coronet (imagine a boat) had received that unjustified shine granted by bad weather to cars that left the show room 40 years ago… The custom officers seem to guess I am a kin philatelist and saturate the page of my passport with nine stamps. They partially cover each other and are obliterated by blue seal that seems designed not be read. Privilege of argentineship: visa on the border after, 20 minutes while-u-wait.
A kebab invited on the roadside by a stranger is enough to put in evidence the Syrian trade mark, in he exact moment in which the vendor, having guessed that I am the hungry one, refuses payment. Syrian trademark is Dignity. I made it to Damascus, the oldest city in the world, in the truck of a man who speaks French. That’s why he knows what autostop means… but he has never seen anybody actually hitchhiking, so proud of being able to match his learned words with reality, he sgives me the lift. In Damascus I stayed two days at Ezzat’s place. All visits to Ezzat end in teologic arguments among the smoke of the argilleh, sometimes making a break to play darts with his brother the jihadman. I was hauled out of Damascus by a 1954 De Soto several meters long, a sublime farewell ride from Syria. I thought I was going straight to Aleppo, near the Turkish border, until being given a lift by a veterinary from Tartous in a Dacia Solenza.
To decide that Tartous was worth the detour it was enough to remember that the old port was the last bastion of the Crusaders in the mainland, back in the 12th C, and also the entrance gate to the yerba mate (argentinian tea also extremely popular among Syrians) in the lugagge of repatriated expats in the 50s. Not every harbour can claim to have seen the Templar Knight going out and the yerba mate sailing in.
Thre is something in which Tartous resembles any other port in the world. As al ports, it manages to oversee the rules, attenuate dogmatisms, lighten clothing and mixing religions. Few women near the beach are happy to wear a scarf over their heads when the temperature in summer goes over 40. The same, shall somebody attempt to explain Tartous seamen, who sail the seven seas, that the beer is anti-islamic. In a country where transgression is seldom forgiven, the tolerance to transgression is transgression itself. It was those seamen who spot me wandering the streets in search of a roof and invited me in their place to share some whisky. One of them had worked on board an Hondurian ship and spoke Spanish. Not need to say, they hosted me, and the following morning I was of northwards as fast a control remote toy car. The destination: Adana, in Southern Turkey, distant 630 kms from Tartous. I was quite sure of being in for a two days trip, since I only stepped in the road at 11 am. Nevertheless, half an hour later I had found a family from tartous driving their Corolla to Aleppo, that’s 50 kms from the Turkish border. As the decisive ride can happen in any moment, I follow the procedure, change the remaining Syrian back to dollars, and turn the unchangeable coins into eatable items (loads of cheap flavourless biscuits) including half kilo o yerba mate, which God knows when I am gonna find again on the shelves.
It is already night when I reach the border. When the Syrian custom staff sees me in, they ask me where did I leave my bike. No bike, I explain, I am on foot, and I come from Argentina. It should be written down and archived for posterity that the rankless soldiers in the Turkish-Syrian border prefers “Taragui” yerba to the Amanda one. On the Turkish side the soldiers hold machine guns that at least have triggers, and they gossip about the fun they have when duty allows them to open fire over the heads of Syrian tea and sugar smugglers. As the no one’s land between the two countries they put in a taxi bound for Kilisi, the first Turkish city. Quite predictably. The taxi driver makes his attempt of extortion, and asks for 20 bucks not to let me stranded. In that moment, and corroborating Chomsky’s theories about generative grammar, I discover that my arabic is good enough to say: “Allah is bigger than you” (“Allah is bigger” alone is the phrase which is spit by the minarets of all the world at prayer time, so I just added the final “than you”). The result shows that, unlikely the Egyptians, who can sell their God and their soul for a phone token, the Syrians are ready to loose money in order to preserve their dignity. So the cab driver runs behind me begging me to go back to the car. So the way to Kilisi included this little dramatic play in the middle of the road.
From there to Adana it was another 200 kms. At 9 pm, pretty much impossible mission. But then, and even if the Turkish soldiers had warned me about how a hellish place Kilisi was, the first man I ask about the road to Gaziantep is a Kurd who sponsors my bus trip to Gaziantep. A further lucky strike occurs when I discover that the bus goes actually all the way to Ankara via Adana. The driver has no objection with me staying in, ticketless. I made it to Adana past midnight, too late to phone my HC friend Mesut. Some sleepless neighbor may have notice the low blue tent not far from the motorway.