Webmaster's Note: Because the BikeAbout team is traveling in smaller groups for a little while, we have changed the format of the journal slightly. The rider notes for the lead group (today it's the women, who are in Cyprus) are followed by notes for the other group(s). When the group rejoins in late February or early March, we will return to the original format for these pages.

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While Ethan, Anthony and Padraic are on their way through Jordan to Lebanon and Syria, Corinne and andrEa have remained on Cyprus:

topics: politics, Amnesty International, Greek vocabulary; jump to dispatch


Rider Notes: January 25–28, 1998

Person of the Day: Malian Vartan click to view a photograph

Malian Vartan, our friend in Nicosia, works at the Armenian Research Center, which shares office space with the Amnesty International. Malian has traveled extensively, studied many languages and cultures, and worked as a journalist, photographer, and researcher. His time is now spent at the Armenian Research Center working to uncover the total numbers, locations, and names of the people lost during "the first known genocidal slaughter of the 20th century," referring to the massacre of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Armenians by Turkish forces during World War I.

Malian greeted us at the Amnesty office when we arrived, and was extremely helpful from then on, for which we are very grateful. His stories and experiences were a delight to hear, and we had many lovely discussions about men and women, religion, politics, marriage, and coffee, which we won't soon forget.

Place of the Day: Amnesty International, Nicosia

The Amnesty International office in Nicosia — one room of which was our home during our stay in Nicosia — works very closely with Amnesty, Greece. Amnesty International leads an ongoing campaign to have prisoners of conscious released from incarceration, and bring justice to human rights infringements the world over. This year's [1998's] special theme is a 50th anniversary celebration of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the global signing and implementation of which is extremely important.

The people click to view a photograph we met at the office — including Christina (second from right), whom we were glad to meet in person — shared with us how their group has developed in recent years.

The room in which we slept is actually a kind of gallery for Amnesty's images and campaign paraphernalia. Imagine going to sleep and waking up to haunting images of women click to view a photograph and men who have disappeared while under arrest after having held peaceful demonstrations. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph The room and this atmosphere was awfully cold, but with help from Malian's heater click to view a photograph, we got through each night just fine.

For more info on the work of Amnesty International click to view a photograph, we urge you check out these Web sites:

Group Dispatch (Cyprus), January 25–28, 1998

picture of Corinne

Having survived the accident and turmoil of yesterday, we finally arrived in Nicosia by bus this morning. We had a lot to do. First, it was time to reevaluate our options for meeting the boys. The problem here was that everything depended on everything. Due to the ponderous political situation in and surrounding Cyprus, it's hard to get a boat from southern Cyprus to anywhere other than Greece. Beirut was out of the question and anywhere in Turkey was unthinkable. Taking a boat (or plane) all the way to Greece and then heading back across the length of Turkey seemed not only stupid, but also a huge waste of money and time — neither of which we have to waste if BikeAbout is to reach Gibraltar by June. We were in a bind and didn't know what to do and things were not looking up for us.

Fortunately, a great distraction to this serious problem came in the form of Aristos Dracos click to view a photograph, a local shop owner who greeted us and introduced himself as a member of the Cyprus Bike Touring Federation. Aristos bikes all over the city and, though he is one of a very few cyclists, he enjoys it quite a bit. He's very proud of his bike collection click to view a photograph, and boasts that he alternates between them all. click to view a photograph andrEa was thrilled to meet someone else who simply appreciates beauty of bicycles.

The contact information for Aristos and the Bike Touring Federation is:
89 Onasagoras Street
Post Office Box 1536
Nicosia, Cyprus

We were also lucky to have met Christos, who is from Greece, but has been living in Cyprus, building and teaching at the first climbing gym here. He found the BikeAbout project pretty curious, because he has also participated in various athletic events that required extreme effort from the mind and body. Christos has very interesting theories about how to survive such undertakings — including what it means to be a team, and how group dynamics work and don't work. He also helped us get online through a friend's computer, and took Corinne swimming as physical therapy for her leg as she recovers from the car accident earlier in the week. As if this wasn't all kind enough, Christos also orchestrated the fixing of Corinne's bike by his friend Lucky, a traveler, intellect, and motorbike mechanic.

Despite these distractions, we did have a lot of work ahead of us. After consulting the American Embassy, and making many, fruitless attempts at reaching the boys in Lebanon, we realized we were stuck. Hours spent swimming in confusion at Internet cafés in both Limassol and Nicosia didn't turn up any solutions, either. (Special, special thanks go to the "Internet Café" click to view a photograph, Theatro Cyber Café click to view a photograph, and CyberNet Café click to view a photograph for all their patience and indulgence.) We didn't know where the boys were, or how or when to reach them. They didn't know about the accident, and were expecting us in Lebanon. It looked pretty grim.

Then we arrived in our new sleeping shelter, in the gallery room of Amnesty International (see the Place of the Day), and we remembered to be grateful for the lives we have, and the ability to express ourselves freely both in public and on the Internet. We also made a new friend named Malian (see the Person of the Day), who had still yet more horror stories to share from his work researching the Armenian Holocaust. It made Corinne's accident and our predicament look like a stroll through the park. Whenever our lives seem too much, there are always little reminders like this to keep it all in perspective. We went to sleep feeling much safer, somehow, but still wondering from unanswered questions. Maybe by the next dispatch it'll all be figured out . . .

Before we close, though, a quick word about Nicosia, the only remaining physically divided city in the world. Yes, it's true. The UN-patrolled Green Line actually divides the city into northern and southern sections affiliated with the northern and southern communities of Cyprus. The physical division is reflected in the way people describe their island. Locals often say that Turkish and Greek Cypriots are more divided than even Israelis and Arabs!

One night, when Corinne and andrEa left a cyber café in the old part of the city, they were strolling along the Green Line, which, at night, is basically an empty street. There are UN signs on the walls, concrete blocks with spy-holes, and some side streets blocked off with sandbags. We couldn't see any soldiers; the whole site/street looked abandoned, but we really doubt that it was. We were strongly reminded of the former Berlin Wall (Germany).

We will try to cross into Northern Cyprus tomorrow just to see it, but if the border is closed, we're out of luck. We are restricted from bringing any luggage, and may be interrogated a little, too. You just never know.

Meanwhile, Padraic, Anthony, and Ethan were still dealing with their own set of tangles in Jordan.

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While, Corinne and andrEa have remained on Cyprus, Ethan, Anthony, and Padraic are in Jordan:

topics: Amman (Jordan), visas, Irbid (Jordan), the Palestinian Question, King Hussein, HISTORY, Beirut first impressions; jump to dispatch


Rider Notes: January 25–28, 1998

Person of the Day: Fadi Alawneh click to view a photograph

Fadi is the network administrator at the University Internet Café in Irbid, Jordan. Besides giving us a hand getting online and sending off e-mails and dispatches, he also engaged us in interesting discussions on topics ranging from the social scene in Irbid to the difficulties of being a Palestinian in Jordan. Even though he was often busy working, he took time to meet with us to try to solve our visa difficulties and to help us better understand Jordan and its people.

Fadi loves to chat on-line and off and welcomes any opportunity to make new friends, in part so that he can keep his excellent English skills sharp. If you'd like to contact him, to ask questions about Jordan, or just to chat, you can email him at spectra21@mailexcite.com.

Place of the Day: Books@Café

The Books@Café Internet café was our base of operations while we were in Amman, the capital of Jordan. From the very first time we visited, the staff treated us incredibly graciously. Saleh Baghdadi click to view a photograph, the cafés technical engineer, let us use an electrical power outlet and repeatedly helped us download and send our email messages. He even hooked up one of our Compaq laptops to the café's network to make our work easier! Besides the computers, we took great pleasure browsing through the café's selection of books and newspapers — it had been a while since Anthony had seen English language periodicals. We also indulged in some culinary treats, enjoying coffee and pastries while we worked.

Group Dispatch (Jordan and Lebanon), January 25–28

picture of Padraic

Ethan and Padraic's task in Jordan was somehow to procure Syrian visas (from the Syrian Embassy in Amman) so that they could make the trip overland from Jordan to Lebanon with Anthony (who got his Syrian visa in Cairo during the break). They knew this would not be easy but still hoped to get the chance to see Syria.

The first order of business was to hit the Jordanian Department of Residence and Borders. To get Syrian visas, the boys knew that they first had to transfer their Jordanian visas into their new passports, thus covering up the incriminating evidence of having been in Israel.

So, from the hotel in Irbid, we all hopped a service taxi to the bus station and waited in line for a bus to Amman. An hour-long bus ride and a short walk in the cold rain brought us to the first of several government offices.

The chaos in the lobby seemed to suggest a long wait, but, thankfully, helpful officials soon sorted us out. Within an hour, all three of us had new Jordanian visas in our new passports. Ethan and Padraic immediately ran out the front door and grabbed the first taxi to the Syrian Embassy. Too late. The embassy had just closed for the day. They would have to try again tomorrow. Disappointed, they headed to the Books@Café (see the Place of the Day) to meet Anthony, try to catch up on dispatches, and enjoy the soft-cushioned chairs, free newspapers, and delicious brownies. We were particularly grateful to escape the cold wet weather of Amman — so different from the lovely weather they had enjoyed only a couple days before on the coast.

Upon our return to Irbid that evening, we stopped at yet another cyber café, the University Internet Café, where we met Fadi (see the Person of the Day), the person in charge of maintaining the computers. With his help, we got online and sent our completed dispatches to our lovely Web Mistress, Elizabeth.

The next morning we returned to Amman, though this time via a packed mini-bus that strained to climb the hilly roads we were glad not to be biking. Arriving at the Syrian Embassy just as it opened, Ethan and Padraic took their passports to the window and asked about the possibility of obtaining visas. The woman behind the counter took a quick look at the passports and, shaking her head, immediately handed them back. She explained that since there was no border-specific entry stamp associated with their Jordanian visas (the officials at the Department of Residence and Borders had purposely left it out to cover up our having crossed from Israel), her embassy would not grant a Syrian visa. Knowing that arguing wouldn't help, they ran out to try to get the necessary stamps. A return visit to the Department of Residence and Borders, and a further stop to plead their case at the Ministry of the Interior, both proved fruitless. Everyone would have liked to help, but no one could legally put the necessary stamp back in.

They would have to find another way into Syria.

So, on Tuesday morning, a dispirited and lonely Anthony packed up his bike and, solo, headed north towards the Syrian frontier, promising to call after he had crossed . . . just in case visas were available at the border. (See below Anthony's trip to and on the other side of the border.)

Meanwhile, Ethan and Padraic explored other options. After discussions with numerous travel agents and various officials (even those from the United States Embassy), they decided their best (and most affordable) option would be to fly from Amman to Beirut. A message from Anthony ("No visa, no visa, no visa!") relayed through Fadi confirmed the decision. By 4 p.m. they had booked a flight to Beirut for the following day. (The swift decision was a bit forced because Aid el-Fitr, the traditional three- or four-day holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan was due to begin the next day . . . or the day after. The first day would be announced according to the phase of the moon as observed that very evening. And if it did begin the next day, everything would be closed. Ethan and Padraic did not want to get caught in Irbid or Amman for another four days.)

After a quick dinner, Ethan and Padraic met Fadi to sample the donuts from the newly opened "Planet Donut." Over a cup of coffee and a couple of remarkably authentic-tasting chocolate frosted donuts, they continued their wide-ranging discussions about Jordan and the Middle East.

One of the notable (and perhaps sad) things about the Middle East is how directly recent politics and history touch the lives of normal people. With this in mind, it's probably a good idea to start with a short explanation of Jordan's part in the lingering Palestinian Question that we have witnessed since our arrival in Gaza.

Jordan has often been an exception in the Arab world since its establishment after the Second World War. For one thing, Jordan is the only country in the region that has remained a monarchy. To preserve his throne, King Hussein, the first king, who ruled the country from 1953 to 1999, often took actions that put him at odds with his Arab neighbors and even his own subjects. The most obvious example of this is his reliance on support — both economic and military — from the United States and Great Britain. Early on, King Hussein needed this support, particularly after 1948, because of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who, either through Jordan's annexation of the West Bank, or as refugees in camps throughout Jordan, became Jordanians. By 1968, Palestinians represented two thirds of Jordan's population, and many of these refugees considered King Hussein an enemy because of his traditionally close ties to Great Britain — perhaps the country most responsible for the creation of Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians.

Hoping to placate the new arrivals, unlike any other Arab leader, Hussein offered Palestinians the opportunity to obtain Jordanian citizenship. Further, conditions in the Jordanian refugee camps were relatively better than in other places, such as Gaza. Some of the Jordanian Palestinians were able to obtain employment, middle class status, and even places in the government. Some actually seemed to be partially assimilated into Jordanian society.

The aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, however, proved that the Palestinians had not, and would not, be fully accepted as Jordanians. Jordan's crushing defeat at the hands of Israel, as well as the loss of Jerusalem and the West Bank, resulted in a new influx of refugees to Jordan and an increasing militancy among the Palestinians.

By 1970, the activities of Palestinian guerrillas (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO) operating against Israeli from bases in Jordan threatened to erode the authority of King Hussein's government. In September 1970, Hussein ordered the Jordanian army to forcibly evict the Palestinian commando groups. The army succeeded in driving the armed guerrillas out but, unfortunately, did not always distinguish between combatants and civilians. Over three thousand Palestinians were killed during "Black September." At that time, the differences between Palestinians and "native Jordanians" could not have been more obvious.

Even nearly thirty years later, Palestinians in Jordan remain different. Fadi spoke of discrimination against Palestinians in the work place and at school. He complained that some people extended this discrimination to daily social intercourse — determining before anything else whether the people to whom they are speaking are Palestinian. Even though he carries a Jordanian passport and calls Irbid home, Fadi expressed misgivings at never having been fully accepted into Jordanian society.

(For more general information about Jordan, please visit www.see-jordan.com.)

After saying their farewells to Fadi and promising to correspond by email, Padraic and Ethan returned to the hotel and turned in early. The next morning they returned to Amman, this time with (but still not via) their bikes, and spent the entire day at Books@Café preparing for the trip to Beirut.

Despite heavy rains that soaked Ethan and Padraic as they biked to the taxi which then took them to the airport, both the trip to the airport and the short flight to Beirut were uneventful. Which was good, since once they had landed, Ethan and Padraic had to do their best to remain calm while the Lebanese immigration and customs officials looked over their passports. Like the Syrians, the Lebanese would refuse to issue a visa if they suspected the guys had been in Israel. Both Ethan and Padraic breathed a huge sigh of relief when the guards barely even glanced at the passports before issuing the necessary visa.

After rescuing their bikes from the baggage carousel, the two guys searched for a phone from which to call a contact in Beirut. But there were none . . . or at least none that seemed to work. Luckily, a few blocks down the main airport road, they found a sympathetic service station manager (Jason, who, like many Lebanese had spent some time in the United States [or elsewhere]) who allowed them to use his cell phone to contact their friend. As 10 p.m. approached, Ethan and Padraic finally set off by bike for downtown Beirut.

As an introduction to Beirut, it was a little eerie. The streets were poorly lit and in some spots the recent heavy rains had flooded the road. They also passed through some parts of the city still seriously damaged by the recent Civil War. Amidst many huge construction projects, the two cyclists found shell-pocked apartment buildings and burnt-out mosques and churches. To their relief, the landscape abruptly changed as they neared their friend's home. The streets suddenly became well-lit and crowded with traffic and pedestrians. A ride that had begun in what seemed like a war zone ended in a bustling and modern European city. They went to bed anxious to begin exploring.

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NethopperInternet access while in Lebanon was provided by Nethopper.

On January 27, while Corinne and andrEa were still on Cyprus and Ethan and Padraic were stuck in Jordan, Anthony left Lebanon and headed for Syria:

topics: border crossing, Arthur James Balfour, Crusades, citadel, theatre; jump to dispatch


Rider Notes: January 27–28, 1998

Food of the Day: The Fig

While we have picked the olive as the official BikeAbout–the Mediterranean comfort food, we could just as easily have picked the fig. It is just as much a part of the Mediterranean as the olive. The fig tree is officially a genus of the mulberry family ("genus" here means "related to"; it is not related to "genius," meaning "super smart"). Actually native to southwest Asia, the fig is today grown throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean (not to mention Texas and California!). Like dates and nuts, figs, once dried, travel extremely well, so the BikeAbout team has taken to stuffing the pockets of their cycling jerseys full of this delicious fruit and munching on them for additional energy.

Word of the Day: Esh-lo'nak? — "What's up?"

Like Izzayak? and Keit har lak? — but much cooler — Esh-lo'nak? click to hear an audio clip is an Arabic way of asking your friends how they are doing. That is, it's cool if they speak Arabic; if not, they are likely to look at you like you are from Mars.

Tech Fact of the Day: Border Crossings

As you know, for the last few days the BikeAbout team has been trying to obtain visas so that they can visit Syria. In the Middle East, a land of confused and complicated politics, sometimes even the simplest things can become very, very difficult.

Just for review, the problem is this: Syria (and Lebanon) will not allow entrance into their countries to visitors who have traveled in either Israel or the Palestinian Territories (Gaza and the West Bank). The reason for this is long and complicated. A simplified version is that peace does not exist between these countries. This does not mean that there is a fighting war (although in the case of the Israeli-Lebanese border, this could be argued), but it does mean that Syria and Lebanon, unlike Egypt and Jordan (which signed peace agreements with Israel), have never officially ended their hostilities with or recognized Israel. Part of the problem is an area of land called the Golan Heights, a high plateau along the border between Israel and Syria, that was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel still claims this land as its own, while Syria has made its return the first provision for starting any peace negotiations.

So, after several days of waiting for Ethan and Padraic (unsuccessfully) to get Syrian visas, Anthony left them in Irbid, Jordan, and rode on alone to the border crossing into Syria.

If you remember, we said that it is not possible to visit Syria if you have visited Israel . . . So how did Anthony get across the border? Well, he waited for the first moonless night and then, after smearing grease paint on his face, carefully oiling his bike's chain so that it did not squeak, and darkening his bike lights, he picked his way across the minefields and through the barbed wire fences until . . . OK, OK, that is not exactly what happened but it sure got your attention, no?

In reality, over the break, the entire BikeAbout crew had attempted to get new passports. Then things got complicated. Remember to keep this under your hat unless you want to cause an international incident — like seeing Anthony get kicked out of Syria and Lebanon, or perhaps be subject to the horrors of prison food — finally getting BikeAbout the press it needs (hmmm, on second thought . . . ).

Once in Jordan, Ethan, Padraic, and Anthony had their Jordanian visas transferred into their new passports, and then Ethan and Padraic tried to get a Syrian visa. They all had to get their visa transferred because the original Jordanian visa stated that they had crossed to Jordan at the Sheik Hussein bridge. And everyone knows that the Sheik Hussein Bridge is on the border with Israel (you knew that, right?). Thus, in the Syrians's eyes, the only way to get to that border crossing without having set foot in Israel is by balloon.

The Jordanian officials in Amman were more than willing to help by transferring the visa to our new passport and by leaving out the Sheik Hussein Bridge part. But what does this mean? Well, it means that instead of Sheik Hussein, we had nothing at all. That's right. We did not have any port of entry into Jordan marked in our passports (we considered using the balloon explanation but how would we explain the bikes?). The Jordanian officials were willing to transfer the visa but they were not willing to put a different port of entry on the visa (they considered this to be illegal). So Padraic and Ethan attempted to get a Syrian visa with their somewhat anonymous Jordanian visa. The wily Syrian Embassy officials however were suspicious of their new passports and vague Jordanian visas and refused to grant them a Syrian visa.

Thus, running out of options and quickly running out of time, they all decided that Anthony would bike to the border and try to get across (with his official Syrian visa and his vague Jordanian one), while Padraic and Ethan made one last effort to get a visa before exploring other options, like flights to Lebanon or, at worst, eastern Turkey.

Whew! All this effort just to cross a border. Can you imagine having to do something like this if you wanted to drive from New York to New Jersey?

Person of the Day: Arthur James Balfour

When looking at a map of the Middle East, it is easy to wonder, "Who the heck drew up all the borders for the Middle Eastern countries?" While this is not an easy question to answer, our Person of the Day had more than his fair share of influence in policy decisions that affected the area.

Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), first Earl of Balfour, devoted his life to British politics. Serving as British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Balfour eventually ended up in the Foreign Office (where he worked to acquire the assistance of the United States for the Allies during the First World War). After the war, he represented Britain at the peace conference of Versailles and was involved in many of the decisions regarding what to do with the lands formerly under Ottoman Turkish control (and today called the Middle East).

Balfour is perhaps best remembered for the Balfour Declaration, issued during the First World War. This document expressed the British government's approval of Zionism and the need for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the territory then known as Palestine. This declaration won support from the allies of Jews worldwide, and greatly influenced countries (like the United States) that had been carefully maintaining a neutral stance about the area. But the Declaration was not just philanthropic. The British goal was also to maintain a strategic point near both the land and sea (Suez Canal) routes to India, not to mention the potential confluence of oil pipelines from the Middle East.

Place of the Day: Syria

Today was Anthony's first day in Syria, so Syria itself must be the Place of the Day. Since the BikeAbout bikers departed on their voyage four long months ago, Syria has loomed on the horizon as a truly unknown place. Sure we had read about Syrian history and politics and we had a rough idea of where we wanted to visit and what we wanted to see; however, Syria (like Lebanon as well) was one place where we knew that if we ran the trip the way we have (counterclockwise, with Israel and the Palestinian Territories being visited first), we would not be welcome. But to understand this, it will be necessary to understand a little of the current political situation, which means we must look at the history of Syria. If history lessons are not your thing, then you might want to go straight to the dispatch. Otherwise, we strongly suggest that you take a look at our brief history of Syria.

Why all the excitement about Syria? Well, Syria has been in and out of the history books for thousands of years (mostly in) and it contains some amazing historical sights. But we have been saying this about every country we have been in. So what makes Syria so special? Well, for starters there are the remarkably well preserved Crusader castles, plus there are the strangely stoic and mournful water wheels of Hama, not to mention some of the most well preserved Roman ruins in the world. Syria is simply packed full of amazing things to see. Many of the travelers we have met have also said wonderful things about the people and the food. In fact, the hospitality and food of the Syrians is legendary throughout the Mediterranean. And lets face it, if Anthony is going to do the next two countries by himself, the emphasis is going to be food, food, and more food!

Group Dispatch (Syria), January 27–28

picture of Anthony

This dispatch starts on a sad note. Forced to leave his friends, Anthony biked to the Jordanian-Syrian border alone (see the Tech Fact of the Day) and, after making new friends with all the Jordanian and Syrian border guards (note to loyal readers: always treat the people with machine guns very, very well), and telling a few "white lies," Anthony succeeded in being the first, and perhaps only, BikeAbout representative in Syria. While it looks like he may have to do ALL of Syria and Lebanon by himself and then catch up to the group somewhere in Turkey, it is safe to report that Anthony is extremely excited to be in Syria (and free at last of mamaEthan and papaPadraic — they had really been cramping his style lately).

So, with barely a glance backward at his trusty friends (which was wise since he was shooting out into busy traffic), Anthony was off. Laughing in the face of a nasty headwind, he rode the next 43 km (27 mi) across the Hauran (a black basalt rock plain that covers both sides of the Jordan-Syria border) click to view a photograph and to Syria's Bosra. He was full of expectations about the road ahead and, along the way, could not help but make a new friend. click to view a photograph

The decision to ride to Bosra, instead of taking a more direct route to Damascus, was no mistake. Once an important crossroads in the Roman world (with trade coming from the east across Asia and up from Africa to the south), Bosra prospered under Roman rule. Since then it has unfortunately become a bit of a backwater, as it is far from anything else of much importance. However, Anthony was determined, in his small way, to help bring to Bosra some of the attention it deserves.

Cycling into town at dusk, Anthony had no problem locating the Roman Theater. Constructed of large basalt blocks (no doubt taken from the surrounding Hauran plain), the Theater loomed over the town like a dark and ominous force. click to view a photograph Basalt is the most common variety of volcanic rock — composed of fine-grained silicate minerals, mainly plagioclase feldspar, pyroxene, and magnetite if you are <YAWN> interested — and is usually a dark-red/almost-black color. For this reason, and because the setting sun cast an even gloomier shadow across the front of the Theater, the resemblance to a spooky castle or dungeon was amplified.

As Anthony approached, he also noticed that the entire Theater was enclosed in a fortified structure, or citadel. We have already seen how theaters and amphitheaters can be used as a defensive structures, but this was really intense. The walls of the Citadel are at least 22 meters (25 yards) thick! The entire structure was very imposing and very impressive and in amazing shape.

Despite the intensity of this encounter, Anthony had other concerns. He needed to find a hotel other than the supposedly only-hotel-in-town $100-a-night four-star non-BikeAbout extravaganza. So he pedaled up to the entrance of the Theater to see if he could find someone who would help him out. As he was peering into the impressive moat that surrounded the Citadel/Theater click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, the caretaker of the site welcomed him and asked how he could help. Anthony explained his predicament. The caretaker nodded. And then solved Anthony's problem.

Imagine Anthony's surprise (and trepidation) when he was informed that he could spend the night inside the Citadel itself! Wheeling his bike right through the front gate of the Citadel, Anthony was led by the caretaker down a large, dark hallway. Close your eyes and try to imagine a huge hallway 9 m (30 ft) wide and 13 m (43 ft) tall, inclined downward, dripping with moisture, and lit every once in a while by a single dim bulb. Spooky!

Eventually they stopped at a set of very steep stairs. The stairs were so steep and the steps were so big that even Anthony (whose legs are at least one mile long!) had a hard time climbing them. At the top of the stairs, the caretaker showed Anthony where he would be spending the night. Opening the door to a surprisingly clean and modern looking tearoom, he showed Anthony a small side alcove where he would be able to sleep.

After a quick shower, Anthony dressed and left to attempt to find some food. At the bottom of the steep set of stairs to the hallway, Anthony was momentarily confused. The lights in the hallway had long since been shut off, it was very, very dark, and Anthony could not recall if he had originally come from the right or the left? Luckily, he had a small flashlight and was able to find his way out.

Returning from dinner, Anthony banged on the front door of the Citadel in order to be let back in. It was just like it must have been in the old days. As he banged he could hear the echo resonating down the hallway. When he was let in, he plunged back into the darkness and headed back toward his room.

But in the hallway, Anthony noticed another dark hallway heading off into even darker darkness. Unable to resist the temptation, he quickly checked to make sure the caretaker was not watching and then headed down the dark corridor, flashlight in hand. For the next hour, Anthony had the time of his life exploring the entire structure of the Citadel and the Theater . . . in the dark. Imagine being in a basketball stadium at night after everyone has left and checking it all out by flashlight. Now imagine having only a small pocket flashlight that is strong enough to light up only a little bit of the structure at a time. Corridor after corridor led to level after level, which led to room after room. Several times Anthony became a little confused and thought that he might have to spend the night in the dark belly of the structure (like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn), but each time he managed to find his way out.

Finally, exhausted and eager to see the Theater by daylight, Anthony went to bed. As he lay in bed and started to fall asleep, he listened to gusts of wind outside that forced their way inside the Citadel causing all the doors to open and close just enough to make their hinges squeak. With each gust of wind came sounds like someone (or something!) making its way through the Theater, closer and closer to where he lay. Delightfully spooky!

During the day, it was much easier to see the way the Citadel had been constructed around the Theater. click to view a photograph Many of the smaller corridors Anthony had staggered down the night before led to small rooms in the Citadel's walls through which vertical slits had been left open for firing on attackers. click to view a photograph Anthony could also see these slits in the walls from outside the Citadel. click to view a photograph He had a hard time trying to imagine attacking the structure. The walls of the Citadel were apparently constructed during the Omayyid and Abbasside periods, or starting around the seventh century.

The Theater itself also was most impressive, seating 15,000 (roughly one half the size of the amphitheater in El Jem). Like El Jem, it is constructed as a freestanding structure, not built into the side of a hill as theaters often were. However, unlike El Jem, the structure was amazingly well preserved. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph In fact, it is so well preserved that it is still in use today. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

As memorials to its past, stone tablets bearing inscriptions in both Latin and Arabic, and bits and pieces of statues were scattered throughout the site. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Also, surrounding the Theater were dozens of pillars, arches, and structures from the Roman city that had once prospered where Bosra is today. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph There were so many ruins that the sheep were not even impressed. click to view a photograph Even the children took it all in stride, diplomatically playing as much on rubble that was thousands of years old as on rubble that was a few weeks old. click to view a photograph It was even still possible to see the Roman roads, though now they are used by jeeps more than they are used by chariots. click to view a photograph

Greatly impressed, Anthony packed his bags and headed for Damascus.

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