Planes, no Trains, and Automobiles
Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
38Trip End Jul 19, 2008
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As it was a domestic flight in to a pretty tiny airport, I was through to arrivals with my bags literally within about five minutes of landing. As I wandered around the arrivals area, I found the ticket office for the shuttle bus to Aleppo that the travel agent had advised me about, and upon which I'd based this flight down to the middle of nowhere. I was quickly informed that the bus was no longer in operation and that I would instead have to get a taxi to Kilis (Turkish border town) and then get another taxi from Kilis to go across the border and on to Aleppo.
I negotiated with a couple of taxis, but the best I was able to manage was 50 YTL ($40) to take me to Kilis which I'm sure was a complete racket. My suspicions were confirmed when, after about 40 minutes, we reached a solitary building literally in the middle of nowhere. Here the driver stopped and ordered me out of his taxi. Looking around with growing concern at the lack of civilisation, I informed the driver that we'd agreed that he drop me in the town centre.
It was a futile exercise as the only English he spoke was in the denomination of Turkish lira and my Turkish was as non-existent as the signs of society in this desolate outpost. He ushered me in to the building where upon I was greeted by a motley crew of inbred-looking taxi drivers. I realised that I was now completely at ransom to these folk as, like it or not, they were my only chance of getting to Aleppo.
I paid the original taxi driver his 50 YTL and then busily started my negotiations for the trip on to Aleppo, managing to get them down from $65 to $40. With that we were on our way and in no time we'd reached the border. There we sat in the taxi for a good 30 minutes just waiting for instruction and then finally we were ordered out of the car by the Turkish border control officers. As I stepped out of the taxi I felt like I'd just stepped back in time to some Cold War Soviet outpost in the middle of Nowhere-Stan, USSR. Tall, imposing steel fences with barbed wire along their tops seemed to fill every direction in which I looked. The landscape was as desolate and bleak as the cold, grey skies that hung over me like doom.
After the first hour had passed without a hint of progress I was getting impatient, as I couldn't understand how they could take so long to process one solitary person at this deserted border crossing. My frustration was compounded further by the fact that nobody around me spoke a word of English. After a while the taxi driver and I were ordered to leave the car behind and walk, bags in tow, along the half mile of wet dirt path to the next checkpoint. There the taxi driver took my passport to several different offices, each one telling him to go somewhere else. I was left to guard my bags, but was always keeping a close eye on the driver given he had my passport.
After another hour or so there seemed to be some signs of progress and, having finally had my passport inspected by one of the guards and some sort of form filled in, the driver then signalled to me that he was going back to get the car. He still had my passport though and, as I watched the guard and him disappear back around the corner, I suddenly felt incredibly vulnerable and alone in the realisation that, without my passport, I was not a British citizen; I was an insignificant nobody sitting alone with my bags in some backwater border crossing miles from anywhere with no means of transit. The following half an hour or so with no sign of the driver returning was an anxious wait indeed.
Finally the taxi appeared on the horizon and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I got back in the car and we crossed the second checkpoint and were seemingly on our way... until we got to a third checkpoint a half mile around another corner. Here, they inspected my passport again and, after another long wait, we were ordered to drive back to the previous checkpoint. There the driver took my passport once more to another series of offices until we were able to leave. We drove on to the third checkpoint again where the guard again checked my passport and we were finally allowed to cross in to Syria.
Relieved to finally be out of Turkey and in to a country where I could at least communicate, I breathed a sigh of relief. However, my relief was short-lived as a few hundred metres down the road we came to the Syrian border entry controls. Oh god, surely not the same routine again. Thankfully, I merely had to show my visa to the customs office and sign a form and we were on our way after about ten minutes. Finally the ordeal of the day - still hung-over don't forget - was over and, after a three and a half hour delay, I reached Aleppo in the late afternoon.