|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 guys, who are in Beirut) 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.|
While Corinne and andrEa have traveled from Cyprus to Rhodes, Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic are still in Beirut:
topics: coffee (food), Internet access, border crossing, terrain, Libyan weddings, reconstruction, civil war, social life; jump to dispatch
Rider Notes: February 2–3, 1998
Food of the Day: Coffee!
We thought that we had seen coffee prepared in every possible way, but in Lebanon, we discovered yet another method for brewing andrEa's favorite nectar. Actually, the "where" is almost as important as the "how": While it is possible to find coffee just about anywhere, it is mostly purchased from street vendors, each one with two coffee containers (not unlike large metal carafes) sporting individual heat sources. These containers include a small internal tube that runs from the top to the bottom where it ends in metal mesh cradling hot charcoals. As the coffee seller pushes his cart around town (or stays put and lets the coffee drinkers come to him), he constantly adds charcoal to the fire smoldering in the center tubes. By regulating the quantity of charcoal, and by removing or affixing a metal carafe's lid, he can control the temperature of the coffee.
The vendor has two containers: the first has coffee with sugar added (a lot of sugar!), and the second contains coffee with no sugar. So, when you make your order, you specify whether you want a lot or a little sugar, and the vendor pours the appropriate amount of coffee from the first (sugar-saturated) container before filling the cup with the contents of the second (sugar-free) batch. Because each cup costs only 10 cents, Anthony has become quite enamored with these little 'expresso' shots. Padraic and Ethan have often found him dazed and jittery wandering from coffee vendor to coffee vendor as he attempts to strike up conversations.
Tech Fact of the Day: Border Crossings (part #2)
Before Anthony could leave Syria, he had to obtain a reentry visa. Having been privy to the problems that Ethan and Padraic were having getting into Syria, it seemed wise to make sure that he would be able to return to it after a visit to Lebanon . . . especially since it is the only way out of Lebanon (that does not involve a plane or a boat). Who would be foolish enough to travel to Lebanon without first obtaining a Syrian visa (aside from Ethan and Padraic)?
So, first thing Sunday morning (a regular work day in Syria), Anthony was at the Immigration Office in Damascus with his passport in hand. He was ready — or so he thought — to deal with any sort of bureaucracy that might come his way. What was the first lesson he learned? The phrase "next door" can mean three doors down, two doors down, up one floor or down two, or actually really just "next door."
The first step was to find the Registry office. It was right "next door" . . . on the third floor. In the Registry office, Anthony filled out a form stating that he wanted to be able to return to Syria after visiting Lebanon. Having accomplished this minor miracle (the form was in Arabic), Anthony was directed to the Section of Residence, which was also "next door." Three steps later through three different rooms, Anthony was indeed "next door" and had obtained the necessary stamps and signatures. So he headed down to the first floor and an office called Archive #1 . . . only to be followed by a visit to Archive #2. With each visit, he received another signature and stamp. Then it was back to the third floor and the Registry office for yet another stamp and signature. Then Anthony went "next door" to the Chief of Travel Documents and Residence (down on the second floor) for his inspection, stamp, and signature. Then back to the Section of Residence for another stamp and signature before returning to the Chief of Travel Documents office for yet another stamp and signature. Finally, after seven different stamps and five different signatures, a final trip "next door" (to the fourth floor) Office of Telegrams, he was in possession of a new, stamp-and-signature-free piece of paper that would allow Anthony to reenter Syria.
Two hours after he had entered the building, feeling a little dazed, confused, and dizzy, and even nurturing the earliest pangs of a slight headache, Anthony stumbled outside. He had just enough energy to drag himself over to an orange juice stand for a cold one.
Person of the Day: Hadil TrakeWe met Hadil's uncle earlier in our trip and he recommended that we meet with here once we arrived in Beirut. We promptly rang her up and got together with her on several different occasions.
Originally from Libya, Hadil grew up in the Sahara Desert and today, a solidly urban citizen, she enjoys two very different lives. When at home in Libya, she dresses in a local traditional way, speaks a local Libyan dialect, and follows local customs. In Lebanon, she dresses in a more modern fashion, speaks Arabic and English with ease, and follows the highly up-to-date Lebanese way.
Hadil, currently a political science student in Beirut, is also a well-known voice in Beirut. She hosts a Friday call-in radio talk show that covers topics from love to politics and culture and has included invited guests as prestigious as Edward Saiïd and Noam Chomsky.
Just as so many other people did, Hadil made us feel welcome and helped us to understand and navigate the complex ways of Beirut. She was excellent company at the Communist bar to which she brought us, and as an able dance partner at Pizza Pomodoro.
Place of the Day: IncoNet
During our stay in Lebanon, IncoNet's NetHopper is providing BikeAbout with Internet access. Ethan and Anthony wandered out to their offices during their stay in Beirut to get the dial-up information for their account and were welcomed by Mr. Mansour Naufel, Supervisor of Software Development.
Mansour explained that IncoNet has developed a unique method for customers to access the Internet. Instead of just offering regular dial-up accounts, IncoNet offers something different with its "Connecting Points." Connecting Points are sold as five-hour blocks that you can use individually or link together. Basically, you purchase a small business-card-sized account booklet that explains how to dial up and access NetHopper's registration page. Almost like a lottery card, you need to scrape away the protective covering of the account number. Once you have entered the serial number of the account onto Nethopper's Web-based registration page and then chosen a username and access code, you are ready to surf the Web!
Mansour explained that most of the Internet traffic in Lebanon travels via microwave signals. During the war, much of the country's infrastructure was destroyed. Many telephones lines are nonexistent or unreliable for any sort of communications use. Until this infrastructure can be rebuilt, microwave signals are more reliable as an Internet carrier.
Group Dispatch (Lebanon), February 2–3
When Anthony awoke to his first day in Beirut, he was amazed to learn that Padraic and Ethan were in town. Ethan eventually found Anthony slaving over a dispatch and an espresso at Web Café, where they recounted to one another what they each had been through during the previous five days. Ethan eventually led Anthony to Leila and Janine's place for some quick introductions and a tearful reunion with Padraic. United at last, the three boys quickly made plans for the next few days. And then moved on to the most immediate and pressing concern: lunch. Anthony was duly introduced to mana-eesh.
By early afternoon, they were all three ready for their rendezvous with Hadil (see the Person of the Day), who wanted to learn more about BikeAbout. To loosen the guys' tongues, she led them to one of her favorite hangouts, a tiny Communist bar not far from her home. Once there, sitting in a dark smoky corner under an impressive photo collage that included Castro, Che Guevera, and other revolutionaries, the BikeAbouters quietly discussed their plans for overthrowing the imperialist, capitalist forces that threaten . . . um, well, maybe that is a subject for another dispatch. Actually, the BikeAbout team showed the Web site to Hadil, and she enthralled them with stories about growing up in Libya in the Saharan Desert. As smitten as they were by Hadil's intelligence and charm, the BikeAbout boys were quickly sobered about any ongoing interest when they discovered that in her home village, part of the groom's marriage responsibilities include presenting the bride's family with 13 kilograms (29 pounds!) of gold. Also to be provided were intricately woven clothing (again with gold and silver) for the wedding party, and food for the wedding horsemen (and their horses!) during the seven days of the wedding!
The next day was a blur of activity as Anthony and Ethan first traveled out to IncoNet (see the Place of the Day) and then tried to solve the Syrian visa puzzle. The IncoNet trip was a success, but the visa inquiries . . . well, it's hard to know if anything anyone says about Syrian visas is the truth. We have heard so many conflicting stories, we don't know what to think.
That night, after a tasty home-cooked pasta meal, the BikeAbout boys honored their promise to spend a night on the town — at a restaurant/club called Pizza Pomodoro — with Leila, Janine, and some of their friends. Hadil joined the crowd and before we knew what was happening it was 3 a.m. Leila, Janine, Hadil, and Ethan cut a mean rug on the dance floor, while Padraic and Anthony kept themselves occupied with the seemingly endless stream of pizzas that arrived at their table. It was lots of fun, but it was a very late night, especially seeing as the BikeAbout team had every intention of being on the road bright and early the next morning (not to mention the fact that Leila had to be at work at 7 a.m.).
The evening was also further evidence of the vitality that the BikeAbout team had noticed in Beirut. Even though the city is still suffering the aftereffects of 17 years of civil war, even though whole neighborhoods are being reconstructed, even though the city's infrastructure is shattered — electricity can fail two or three times a day, and the roads are full of potholes — and even though life can be very, very difficult, Beirut has a living spirit that screams out its existence.
This is the same sort of electricity that the BikeAbout team has noticed in other places, like Gaza: A sense of being alive, of having survived the worst, and of looking forward to the future while at the same time taking nothing for granted. Being exposed to this sort of atmosphere has made the BikeAbout team look a little differently at every day life, and appreciate many of the simple things that they have sometimes otherwise taken for granted.
Meanwhile, the ladies were preparing for their trip from Cyprus to Rhodes.
Questions? Ask Anthony !
Internet access while in Lebanon was provided by Nethopper.
While Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic are in Beirut, Corinne and andrEa have traveled from Cyprus to Rhodes:
topics: wildlife, Mediterranean Sea, ferry travel, Greek mythology, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; jump to dispatch
Rider Notes: February 2–8, 1998
Person of the Day: Niki Originally from Cyprus, Niki is a high school teacher of Greek literature and history (in Greece there's a whole lot of both, so you can bet her job is rough). She basically adopted Corinne and andrEa while they were on Rhodes. Not only did she open her home to them, she took them on a tour of the city, told them stories, and made the city feel alive. Thank you, Niki!
Place of the Day: Rhodes
The city of Rhodes was first built — mostly as a lookout point — around 400 BC, following a series of wars that could have been better fought (and won) if there had been a view toward the mainland (where there was no city). Since there is no natural harbor, an "unnatural" port was constructed where the sea was usually too rough for ships to land. Otherwise, the best and only easy port was Lindos, about 60 km (37 mi) to the west. Nevertheless, Rhodes grew to become an important trade center, especially in the Greek islands, and was made even more famous as the home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Colossus of Rhodes, a now-fallen, giant (reputedly 32 meters / 105 feet tall) bronze statue of the sun god Helios stood over Rhodes' artificial harbor for (just) 65 years, until 224 BC, when an earthquake brought it crashing to the ground. The city itself, in later years and as it grew more prosperous, saw the addition of a stadium, a theatre, and an acropolis.
In 1309, the Knights of the Order of St. John, one of the groups of protector knights from the Crusades, occupied the city. There they remained until 1523, rebuilding it and transforming it into a true fortress. (After 1523 and a period of homelessness, the Order reestablished itself on the island of Malta. After 1523, the Turks and then the Italians held Rhodes. In modern times, Rhodes was heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, and then ceded to Greece.
Today, the city if Rhodes figures on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites. Both the Upper and Lower Towns are recognized as monuments of Gothic architecture, the Upper Town representing a homogeneous urban ensemble, and the Lower Town a mix of architectural styles, mosques, and public buildings. There are many churches , and wonderful castle ruins.
We spent a fascinating afternoon wandering through the city's magnificent fortress, reputedly the world's finest surviving example of medieval fortification, complete with 12 meter-thick (39-ft) walls! We were stunned to find that we could even pedal over the restored entryways that bridged the chasm to the new city!
Group Dispatch (Cyprus and Rhodes), February 2–8
During the official BikeAbout holiday break, the only real time off andrEa and Corinne had was a half-day jaunt to the spa-pools at Ein Gedi and the Hyatt Hotel on the Dead Sea with two very nice women from the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Hence, this very, very unofficial break in western Cyprus gave them a few moments to think about things. Also, the next few weeks of traveling without the boys through Turkey is a less than desirable prospect, and they used the time to gear up for it.
Thus they spent their time in Paphos soaking up the sun, spending time with the sea , munching the local carob snack , reflecting on the past four months, biking (occasionally on a moped) through town , taking in the scenery , and philosophizing with new friends.
The Mediterranean: The Sea is Philosophy, the Sea is Life
Two weeks on an island in the Mediterranean Sea have played a major role in our travel and thoughts. The philosophers of Greece were perhaps inspired by the sea as much as we are, and it has certainly affected our friends here in Paphos, who have an entirely different relationship with it. The therapeutic nature of water is widely known — at the insistence of the locals, Corinne washed her already disappearing wounds in the sea — and we have to agree, especially given what it has brought us.
For andrEa, the sea is an instant reminder of stiff vacations (two weeks chock full of boredom) from her childhood, complete with nerve-racked parents and an equally bored older brother. Where she grew up, in Austria, there was no sea, and thus a venture to the coast was a big event. It was as if at home all the elements were present except the water of the sea. Thus, in adulthood and usually on her bike, she has spent quite some time on islands (New Zealand, parts of Greece, Ireland, Scotland's Isle of Sky), surrounded by sea. In her experience, clouds are different on islands, especially on an island's mountains, where they seem lower; on an island, winds blow in a manner different from those on huge landmasses. And then there's the water, infinite and the same, but somehow always different. andrEa would move through landscapes, from one to the next but on the same heap of ground, and always find a new viewpoint or survey of where she is in relation to the water.
Corinne, on the other hand, grew up on and around Lake Michigan, in the American Midwest. The lake was and is a friend, an entity with many moods, and a school unto itself — full of both questions and answers, happy tales and sad. Frequent visits to the lake were like a ritual for her. She could think alone there, explore, cry, celebrate, and enjoy time with friends and family. She was continually drawn to the lake (and so to the sea) because it is always there — a place where you know the waves will come and go in an unending cycle, even when the rest of the world is uncertain.
Somehow the sea has given Corinne this same comfort during these four months of an ever-changing journey, and the isolation of the island enhanced that reality. She's convinced that one can go to a large body of water, such as a sea or a lake, to learn many, many things — if one is listening closely enough — about oneself and the world.
It was with this knowledge that Corinne and andrEa set off on another ferry, but this time for the Greek island and city of Rhodes (see the Place of the Day), from which they hope to catch the first boat to Turkey. When will they ever learn? It just isn't that easy.
The ferry trip was over rough waters and in less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, as the boat slid along the Turkish mainland and into the harbor at Rhodes (the city of the same name as the island), Corinne and andrEa made a new friend, named Niki (see the Person of the Day). She incredibly generously offered to help them learn about Rhodes and then even invited them to stay with her until a boat for Turkey arrived. What incredible luck! Especially since, as they asked around for boats to Turkey, they heard the same thing time after time: Boats show up only once or twice a week in the winter, and no one ever knows precisely when they will arrive until they are just a few hours away. One must always have her bags packed, and call the port a few times a day just in case the boat is on its way.
However, they were told there wouldn't be a boat that day, so they knew they had at least one day to wait . . . and maybe two or three. That seemed enough time for an exploration of Rhodes, including its various Internet cafés! (BikeAbout does not yet have a Greek Internet Service Provider, but we're working on it, of course.) Special thanks go to the folks at Hailander Internet Café for letting them use their facilities for free and drink coffee most of the afternoon and evening!
The next day, Niki and her neighbor Dimitris showed Corinne and andrEa around town and admired the unusually clear view of Turkey's mountains. (They did some wandering themselves, by bike , when they tried to get more information at the port. )
Niki and Dimitris also shared many stories regarding the island, including a few from Greek mythology. The myth of the island itself goes like this: One evening, Zeus was distributing land to the other gods for them to rule and to protect. Unfortunately, at that moment, the sun was of course on the other side of the planet (since it was evening) and thus missed its proper piece of land. The sun god, Helios, was so upset about this that Zeus, who had nothing left to give, brought the island of Rhodes straight up from the sea and gave it three times more sun than any other part of Greece. This may sound like a fairy tale to you, but the truth is that the island of Rhodes does get more sun than any other part of Greece, and sea shells can be found naturally imbedded in the rocks at the very tops of the island's mountains! Makes you think, doesn't it?
Anyway, andrEa and Corinne aren't sure just when they'll arrive in Turkey after all, but they do look forward to the biking , despite the intimidating mountains they can see across the water and the knowledge that it will be much, much colder the further north they go.
Questions? Ask andrEa !
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