BikeAbout Log
January 23, 1998

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Dear Friends,

Here's the scoop. And believe us, it's quite a scoop.

As anyone following our adventures has learned, since arriving in the Middle East, the BikeAbout gang has been confronted with a mighty passport tangle. Here is the essential background information.

Since Syria and Lebanon are basically in an all-but-declared state of war with Israel, neither country recognizes Israel or grants visas to anyone coming from or who is suspected of having been to Israel or even the Palestinian Territories. As a result, as early on as Egypt, we worked to avoid any official evidence of our visits to Israel, and Gaza and the West Bank. For example, well aware that visitors to its lands can be prohibited from visiting other countries in the Middle East, Israel now routinely stamps its visas onto separate sheets of paper that can be thrown away, thus leaving passports unmarked. We were confident that they would do this for us. But that's not the end of it; there are other complications about which many people do not think. To wit, an exit stamp from Egypt at a border crossing with Israel is as much evidence of a trip to Israel as an Israeli entrance stamp. We had hoped to be able to convince the Egyptians not to stamp us either.

So what happened? Well, we could not convince the Egyptians not to stamp us with an exit visa from Rafah, a border shared with Israeli. Nor, since we were planning on staying in Gaza (a problematic area for the Israelis), could we convince the Israelis not to stamp our passports but to use a separate sheet of paper. We were up that proverbial creek without a paddle and would never be able to travel northward into and through Lebanon and Syria with such stamps. Another tactic would have to be tried.

Well, during the holiday break, while Ethan and Padraic were home in the U.S. and Anthony was traveling in Egypt, the three of them discovered that a second, clean, limited-validity U.S. passport could be acquired to enable our forward movement. Anthony was even successful in getting a Syrian visa while he was in Cairo, something that Ethan and Padraic were unable to do while they were in the States. Unfortunately, Corinne and andrEa were unable to leave Israeli or Palestinian territory long enough to be able to get the same.

After the break, back in Israel, the team pursued its itinerary and planned for the ongoing legs. Based on information gathered from knowledgeable people, it was decided that Corinne and andrEa would take a ferry to Cyprus where they would be able to replace their passports, just as the three guys had done elsewhere. (The ladies might have been able to do the same in Amman, Jordan, but we were quickly told that further travel into Syria would be made impossible with a new blank passport from the American Embassy in Jordan.) The hope was that they could also get Syrian visas and then join the guys in Beirut.

The guys, on the other hand, would cycle overland to Lebanon using their new passports to get through Jordan and Syria. They would pause in Amman, Jordan, and Ethan and Padraic would try to get the Syrian visas they needed and that Anthony had. With these they would go through to Damascus and see if they could get the permission they needed for travel into Lebanon and then back into Syria on their way to Turkey.

That is where we stand today. Corinne and andrEa are currently in Cyprus, hopefully getting their new passports, while Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic are on their way to Jordan to see if they can convince the Syrian authorities to allow them through to Lebanon the first time and Turkey the second time.

Tune in for the news as we get it and can communicate it.

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