The Syrian Visa
Dec 5, 2008
|Tonight I'm writing from Aleppo, Syria. I'm incredibly happy to be here. Yesterday I waited at the border for 6 hours before they gave me a visa but I finally got it.
The whole visa thing has been most problematic. I tried following all of the rules and getting a visa before leaving London but I wasn't able to do it. It was very disappointing. I thought I would have to opt out of the Syrian portion of the tour. However the tour leader was certain I would be able to get a visa at the border. It would simply require a lot of patience.
We arrived at the border at 8 am. My passport was the first to be handed in as we knew it (because I'm from the US) would be most problematic. A few people in my group grumbled at the long long bureaucratic and seemingly inefficient process. I reminded myself of endless amounts of bureaucracy when I worked at Microsoft. I decided the Syrian passport office had nothing on Microsoft.
After an hour they told me to pay for my visa. I went to the counter and paid. The tour leader said this was a good sign. By 10:30 everyone else in the group had their visas. The tour leader sent the group on and we waited. The guards kept calling me to the counter to ask questions. They repeatedly asked me my occupation (housewife), my itinerary, and where I was staying in Syria. They then asked me to walk behind the counter to ask the same questions again plus more. They went through my passport and asked me about the stamps. They were incredibly nice and friendly about the entire process. They kept saying "5 more minutes." We had a few laughs. They saw the Honduras stamp and asked me where Honduras is. They saw the stars on the Heathrow stamps and asked me about them. I said they were decoration. I think they were mostly concerned about whether I had been to or planned to visit Israel.
After the questioning a guard asked me to go with him. We went across the street to the counter where I had paid for the visa. I was concerned he was going to refund the money and tell me it was a no go. I asked him if something was wrong. He said, "No problem." Turns out they refunded half of my fee! I had paid $32 and they returned $16. The Aussies had paid $70 and a New Zealander paid $60. What a shock the US fee was the cheapest.
Finally after six hours I was called back to the front of the line and handed my passport. The tour leader and I grabbed a taxi and headed for Aleppo.
We dropped our bags at the hotel and went to the market. It was Thursday afternoon and the souk was jam packed. I'm guessing everyone was shopping for the weekend as Friday begins the weekend in Muslim countries.
I began bargaining over a few silk scarves. We were closing the deal when I spied a 'Made in China' tag on one of the scarves. Oh, well. The scarves were beautiful and I bought them anyway.
At night the group gathered and we went to a restaurant together. The waiters loaded our table with mezzes -- similar to appetizers. There was hummus, garlic in cream, a pomegranate and eggplant dip and much more. We were stuffed but the mains were still to be served. The chunks of grilled beef served over pita bread and cherry sauce was to die for. It was the best meal of the trip.
This morning I woke up with what one might call in Mexico Montezuma's revenge. Oh, my. I have no idea what caused it. No one else is sick (though I'm told everyone gets sick in Syria). The only thing I had that others didn't was a glass of orange juice in an upscale jazz bar. Hmmm. I guess it's all a small price to pay for traveling in fascinating countries.