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Attention: Read This Post with Beverage in Hand

The next morning we packed up our things and checked out of our hotel in Aleppo. We paused outside to strap our things onto our bikes, while we dodged men rolling giant truck tires and wheel barrows full of paint.

We headed right back to the drugged-bunny-themed place that we had eaten at upon first arriving in Aleppo, and ordered a similar feast of pastes and salads.

As we ate, the flatscreen television above our heads blared  the music video of “The Job by Qusai,” a fantastic look into Saudi corporate thug life.

This time, the owner of the place came to sit down with us and chat for a while about his business, the politics of the Middle East, the city of Aleppo, and, of course, AsiaWheeling. He gave us redundant cups of free thick black Middle Eastern coffee, and lined up with some of his staff to wish us off when we were finished eating.

We packed our things onto our cycles, but were compelled to wait around, chatting about marketing techniques and the origins of the drugged bunny mascot of the restaurant, so that Claudia could converse in Arabic with some passing women.

We got to the bus station just in time to catch the last three seats on the next bus leaving for the Turkish border.

The bus left about 10 minutes after we arrived.  This fine luck with buses continued to be a theme of our journey, and this was just another strike against doubters of the AsiaWheeling angel of fortune.

The bus ride, however turned out to be not quite so straightforward. First we arrived at the Turkish border, which we, as American citizens, could cross with only a visa issued upon entry. However, executing the mission turned out to be quite complex. As Scott and Claudia waited with our passports at passport control, I headed off with the bus driver and crossed into Turkey, where he led me into a large administrative building and up to a small window on the second floor.

The man behind the window and our bus driver seemed to be very good friends, and the two of them joked about Israel in Turkish, while he scrutinized my passport photocopy. Normally, he explained, we would need to have all the passports present in order to issue the visas, but for me, he said winking at our bus driver, he’d make an exception, using just my photocopy to register all three visas.

I crossed my fingers that this little bit of smoke and mirrors would not cause us problems down the road, and proceeded to pay him all our remaining Syrian Pounds and a good many USD on top of that, walking away with three Turkish visas that I could have put into any passport I liked. I returned to find the bus had already left, along with my traveling companions. The Turkish passport control officer still had our books, though, and with the snort of a racehorse, wetted and applied the visas that I handed him and stamped each book.

Then the bus driver and I were jogging together, across the no man’s land toward where the bus was idling, baggage compartment door open, while guards with dogs and machine guns shined lights into the cavity. Scott and Claudia saw us coming and gave a cheer.

All the bags had been unloaded and were being scanned one by one. I found myself quite surprised to see that the official scanning our bags was a woman, and unveiled. In fact, not just unveiled but wearing a sleeveless shirt! After traveling in the Muslim world for so long, to me that seemed downright scandalous!

I was startled at my own reaction. In most of the countries where we travel, this would have been a completely un-noteworthy piece of professional garb. Perhaps it just underlines the degree to which women’s roles in Muslim society differ from those in more secular countries.

Once through the border, we began to work our way across an aggressively irrigated landscape, driving by many farms and ponds, all of which were unnaturally fed by large above-ground systems of pipe. Then we arrived in Antakya, where we were quite surprised to find everyone getting off of the bus. So we unloaded our things and piled them in the parking lot. Scott waited with our stuff, while I ran off with Claudia to figure out where we were and what we needed to do.

We managed to find someone who spoke Arabic, but it was not easy. Everyone seemed to only speak Turkish here. Once we did find the fellow, though, hurried investigation yielded word that our tickets were actually connecting on to Adana, as we had hoped, where we were to meet Scott’s mother, Diane. We needed with all haste to go collect Scott, and get him on another bus, which was scheduled to leave in seven minutes.

So we left our bags near the counter, trusting that the ticket sellers would keep an eye on them, and hurried up the stairs to find Scott.

In the meantime, Scott had made a terrible and drastic realization: he had left is Panama hat on the bus! With seven minutes to blast-off, he began hurriedly traipsing around the lot, asking frantically to try and locate our bus. All the buses looked the same, however. And just as he was about to get in a cab that may or may not have been about to take him to a secondary lot where the bus may or may not have been, we decided that we needed to just let it go, and climb on the bus to Adana, lest we miss it and strand Diane alone in a random Turkish city.

So now, dear reader, I’d like you to take whatever you’re drinking and hold it out in front of you. Be sure to pivot your body so that you are not directly over your computer, a loved one, or your favorite bearskin rug. If you really must, stand up and run outside with your drink. Now we’d like you pour just a small splash of the drink out onto the ground in humble respect for a great hat, and for what was to be the end of this fine tradition of the AsiaWheeling Panama hat.

Okay. Let’s all regain control. Moving on.

We began to drive now, into an even greener landscape. Suddenly we were moving through forests, and the ocean spread out to our left.  We rode by fascinating industrial sites and rich farming operations, as the sun sank low and eventually set into the Mediterranean.


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