Smugglin' Syrian Smokes

Trip Start Nov 30, 2007
Trip End Jan 17, 2008

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

My last day in Syria started nice and gradually, like many of the days on this trip. Two nice glasses of freshly-squeezed juice, and a handful of zattar pizza-thingies; sort of small mini-pizzas with zattar (a thyme-based spice mix) on top.

I performed a bit of transportation relay, taking the four main for-hire road vehicle types. The first leg was taxi, to a bus station (or rather, a bus, just parked beside the road). The bus took me to Dara'a, the border town between Syria and Jordan. I took a taxi again, this time to Bosra. I hired the driver to take me there, wait a couple hours and take me back, but he asked if he could come with me, so I said sure. We were quiet company for each other, me not speaking any Arabic and him no English, but it was nice all the same.

Bosra is another Roman site, a decent-sized city back in the day. Much of the Roman ruins are pretty ruined these days, except for one major structure; one of the best-preserved theatres in the world. A citadel was built around it, which served to protect it, and most of the seating, backstage and stage floor are all original. It's pretty gigantic, too -- 37 rows of seats, around 9000 person capacity.

I was thrilled to wander around the stage, backstage (there was some scenery from something that had been staged there in recent years), and of course, on stage. I decided to test the acoustics a little, and wound up performing a brief a capella excerpt from the Pirates of Penzance -- "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General". (I wanted something obviously theatrical, and it was one of the few famous bits I could remember.) I don't know that I was that good (the choreography could have used some work), but the couple of dozen people applauded, so I guess I was okay.

From there, after wandering the back alleys of Bosra for a while, it was on to Jordan. The next part of the transport relay, once I was back in Dara'a, was a service, a shared taxi. This prticular one had two Jordanians in the back -- I think they were doing some cross-border shopping. The driver stopped before we hit the border to stock up on cigarettes, and stowed packs of them around the car -- under the seats, in the console, and so on. As we approached the border, I saw a garbage can that was almost entirely overflowing with Marlboro packages.

The border crossing wasn't too complex, but it was a little stressful as I read one passage in my travel book just before i got to the border that made me unsure whether I could get a visa on the Jordanian side. I did, of course, but it was a little extra stress for a couple of hours. While we were waiting for a visa officer, one of the Jordanians called one of his friends who could speak English on his mobile, and we had a bit of a conversation. Welcome to Jordan, I guess.

For the next leg of the relay, I was handed off to a microbus, a multi-passenger minivan that took me to Irbid, a university town in northern Jordan. I only saw the bus station, though, and wound up eing sort of adopted by one of the guys on the microbus. A student-looking guy, he bought me a cookie, and then a cup of coffee. His Englsh was limited, but he made sure I was on a taxi in Amman before he left me. Very hospitable, indeed.

From there, I wound up taking a taxi to find a hotel; the hotel I finished up at wasn't particularly nice, though -- expensive, dirty, cold and in a bad location. But I didn't know anything, and it was pouring rain, so I suppse I kind of had limited options -- and they knew it. I wandered around for a bit until I sort of understood how Amman was laid out, and then went back to my room to snuggle under 4 blankets and sleep.
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