The border was teeming with people and I was quite amazed at the good condition of the building, it must be the neatest and pretty customs office on my trip. Inside I found row upon row of locals and not a single person in front of the foreigners section. I handed my passport over to the official explaining that I was heading to Turkey. He barked at me to sit down, which I did with my helmet and the attached camera still in my hand. I would only receive the e-mail from the German in Egypt, warning me to hide all electronic devices, when I was in Turkey. While I sat there, stressing about whether I would be refused a visa, I decided that should that happen I would head to the town of Turabit on the border between Jordan and Iraq. Was I really going to come so close to Turkey to then be turned back and how would I ship my bike back to South Africa?
Fifty minutes later the official informed me that he could only issue me a three-day visa, just enough time to reach the Turkish border. He warned me to not take any pictures and to be extremely careful, then wished me luck. I’ve never been so excited about visa in my life.
All along the way to Damascus there were vehicles piled with fruit and fruit stalls. It all seemed so calm and peaceful. I would really have liked to explore this city, the most beautiful on my trip, but not with a three-day visa and the risk to my safety or even my bike. I would, however, definitely take a picture just before I reached Damascus to prove I indeed crossed Syria. I also refuelled and enjoyed a pizza at a table outside, where a man advised me against riding at night or in the cities and to lock my hotel room. I responded that it seemed so peaceful here, to which he replied that a mere 10km from there war was raging. Fortunately I had finished eating, because this information reignited my fear. I would soon learn that from here on out the region became very unsafe. I encountered road block upon road block (every 20km) where the army first had to phone ahead to hear if I could proceed. They were truly friendly and really made every effort to be of assistance, even escorting motorists with armoured vehicles on a detour around Holms that was seemingly going up in smoke. I kept on looking back at the burning city, with intense sorrow for its people. Two hours later I was back on the main road in the direction of Aleppo, when darkness caught up with me and the man’s warning against riding at night rang in my ears. Fear rose inside me. After a few more road blocks I reached Aleppo at 20h00 that night with no idea where to go. Everywhere you looked there were soldiers and military vehicles. I sent up a prayer and just like in Burundi it was answered. A man in a Fiat stopped beside me and offered to lead me to a hotel in a safer part of Aleppo. We sped off and I have never ridden so fast in a city, but I had to keep up with him. Eventually we came to a hotel with two armed guards in front who would look after my bike that I had to leave outside. He refused any compensation, but I shoved some money into his shirt pocket and hugged him in gratitude. It was the most luxurious hotel of the whole trip and I just stood outside watching this beautiful city and its people. Hotel staff directed me to a nearby restaurant, where I had a delicious meal, the only guest in the whole place.
The next morning I took a few photos of the pretty homes around there and had the receptionist draw me a map out of the city, since I still didn’t have GPS coordinates, to the border 45km away. Once outside Aleppo, it would be a much safer ride. Aleppo would later be completely obliterated and would also suffer chemical attacks. My heart bleeds for the people of Syria when I watch the news and see how their country is being destroyed. How many of the folks who came to my aid are still alive today? Is the hotel still there, I wonder?
It was immediately clear there’s a problem when I handed over my passport at the border and then taken to another office. A while later a man very courteously told me that I should have been out of the country three days ago, to which I replied that I had only arrived in the country yesterday. The date on my visa said otherwise, however, but fortunately the one for my motorbike was correct. They confirmed my account telephonically and was quick to apologise. The people of Syria are so incredibly friendly and polite. Before moving on to the Turkish customs office I took a final look back at Syria. Now four years later the war is still raging, with America on the one side and Russia on the other. I pray to this day still for the people of Syria.