“Out of Damascus”

Our intrepid Logistician made it, (see Sidney to Syria “I got a ticket to ride”, “It’s been a hard days night” and “A day in the life”), only to find after buying a car that he is not permitted to travel outside Damascus… this was his first escape, a tourist trip in the ancient country of Syria.

I arrived in Latakia, which is on the Syrian Mediterranean coast approximately 400kms from Damascus, in the afternoon of the Saturday and caught up with one of the military observers, we had a few beers and a meal together. Clearly it was time to look around the place and went to investigate what was on offer. He had been there a day or two and the highlight of his explorations was finding an Internet cafe and the DVD shop. So it was time to look around and see how the Syrian nightlife was. Imagine our surprise that the first place that we went, turned out to be a den of iniquity, .

The next day we had great plans for visiting the sites of this historic area where the crusaders achieved a dubious reputation for betrayal and vengence, fortunately we got back to the hotel just after 1:00 AM and as we said our goodnights, we arranged to meet early, breakfast and get on the road to look at some of the significant historical points of interest on the way back. After breakfast, we planned our visits and would set off after a quick stop over since I needed to get some fuel.

We were travelling in convoy with the UN vehicle in front, running interference and me following close behind. Suddenly he stopped at what was once a fuel station, it now however looked like something that would be left behind after the holocaust. Not even cockroaches would have felt comfortable there.

I pulled up at the fuel pump and after much posturing and hand gestures, it was determined that I should move to another pump. As I was talking to my friend I noticed that the guy filling the tank was having some difficulty in getting the nozzle into the fuel tank. To tell you the truth I never even thought it was strange he then patrolled the area and found a small stick to aid in his attempt to refuel the car.

I mentioned to my friend that the price of fuel here seemed to be a hell of a lot cheaper than Damascus and didn’t understand why. He finished filling the car and we set off, well my friend did. I made it as far as the drive-way entrance to the main road. This tall, inept, idiot had filled the car with Diesel.

I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. To say that I flew out of the car would have done me an injustice. All I can say is that if it was over a hundred metres, you would now be talking to the new world record holder. Using all of the restraint I could muster, that is to say hurling threats and abuse to all of those that were within listening distance, I call up the true marital status of his parents and if indeed he was actually intellectually challenged. Fortunately someone spoke English, and acted as an interpreter on my behalf. It appears that somehow, after leaving the road and entering his establishment, my car had miraculously changed from a petrol driven vehicle to one now powered by diesel. At least this is what he had said that I told him. No wonder the fuel was cheap and the nozzle didn’t fit.

I now was left with a small problem, the tank would have to be drained, along with the fuel lines. No problems, my only now too helpful bowser attendant said that he knew someone up the road that could help me. Suddenly he couldn’t do enough for me. He arranged for the guy that was interpreting for us, to tow me a mile or so up the road to a mechanic. In between all of this my friend had returned to the scene of the crime, because he had realised after a few miles that I wasn’t following.

Off we went to the mechanic, which in fact turned out to be a car washing station. So before my temper got the better of me and I ending up killing some poor unfortunate. I called my assistant in Damascus 400kms away to act as a go between. It appears that they would leave my car at the car wash and get the mechanic (who was 50 metres from the fuel station) and bring him to the car. Decent I suppose. Then the guy that towed me, wanted a little something for his assistance. All he got was a curious look, a lesson in Australian vocabulary. He left empty handed, but certainly blessed with a new way of saying goodbye.

Time was dragging on and it was looking very slim that we would act as tourists. After two hours my car had been drained of the diesel, which I must admit, was cunningly siphoned, collected and spirited away by the people in the car wash and never seen again. The lines were now flushed with petrol, which was ironically purchased from the same fuel station that created the mess in the first place, and an amount poured into the fuel tank. All was fixed, but it had cost me another 1500 Syrian pounds. I thought the best moment of it all was when the people from the car wash asked me if I would like my vehicle cleaned.

So my time for adventure and exploring was spent between an establishment of dubious reputation and a car wash. Either way they both cleaned me out by hook and crook. Maybe next time I will be luckier and get to see some of the sites. Oh and I never got any pictures either .

by A. Logistician (aka Catweazle)

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“A day in the life” … … … Sidney to Syria … Part III

“I got a ticket to ride”

Finale…. Part III of III … “A day in the life” … by A. Logistician

Day 2

After a good nights sleep I woke up refreshed and ready to go exploring again. Remembering the words of the driver, I decided not to get any maps of the place or things that would have Hebrew markings on them. I set off to find new adventures, Knowing already where Jaffa Gate was, I was off in a different direction. I walked down towards the west bank and suddenly there was a Japanese tourist with a Guide Book. So I did what anyone would have done and followed him. He had the guide book and looked like he knew where he was going.

It however appears that he was only looking for the bus terminal, and now we both know where it is. A lovely place – Not. I did find the Garden Tomb – whatever that is, but it was closed on a Sunday. Which seems strange because they hold services there. Back into the Old City again looking for whatever. I walked around and around and somehow managed to come out of the same gate that I walked into. Success. I managed not to get lost this time.

Back to the Hotel and a bit of exploring in the room. As you do most people look in all of the drawers to see what’s in there and what’s been left behind. Well I do any way. Imagine my amazement when I found a bible. Not the old and new testament, just the new testament. It seemed a little strange to me that the home of Judaism and all I find is a New testament Bible. I now use it a travel guide. The places are still there, it is just a little bit harder to find map references. Ruth ch1 v16 doesn’t appear very often in many places of interest.

Day 3 – 6:

I checked in to the mission and spent most of my time in new comers briefings and security briefs. There is a lot more going on than what you first think. There is always that uncomfortable feeling that something is going to happen.

Those that have been following the news in the passed few days know that, that uncomfortable feeling has come to fruition.

It is now the weekend again and I have been here a week. It has been a week of high adventure and higher drama. I don’t know if at this time if I will be going to Syria on Wednesday or if I will have to stay here for awhile longer. It all depends on the activities in the next few days and if there is a cease fire. The firing so far has not reached Syria, but there have been rocker attacks on Tiberius (In the North) I have to drive through there so at the moment the UN is deciding if they will allow travel.

I will try and write more when and if I am allowed. I have had a briefing about Syria and there seems to be a lot of things that you can not do. Taking pictures is one of them. The Syrian authorities seem to take a dim view of people taking pic’s
all over the place.

You can however buy an official CD with pictures on them. Not sort of what I was expecting. It also appears that all emails are monitored, so I will have to watch what I say and do, and the killer is that I am only allowed to travel within a 40km radius from the city, unless I get UN and ministry approval. Not that easy to do. So bit by bit I will try and let you know how I am going and what I am up to.

Our intrepid Logistician is currently in Damascus, we await news!

“I got a ticket to ride” … … … Sydney to Syria (Part I of III)

“The long and winding road”

by A. Logistician

I just thought that I would drop you a line to let you know that I have arrived safe and well in Israel. The journey by my standards was relatively “Normal”. Sort of, with the one exception of Vienna airport. Thanks to the UN, I was travelling business class ( I know that most of you from the UN are saying that’s par for the course, but let me show off to the Non-UN workers) – Which enabled me to rest awhile in the Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge.

Now in Sydney Austrian Airlines or AA, share their lounge with Air New Zealand. Now this may not mean a lot, but I have to say that I was fairly impressed with what was on offer. You can imagine my thoughts of what they could offer me on my stop over in Vienna in transit. What would it be like in the country of origin? Gold plated taps? Hot and cold running bar staff? Trust me it is nothing like that. The lounge is hidden away behind the duty free shop and is 2 floors up. Using a
lift that hadn’t seen a coat of paint since Attila the Hun was still plying his trade, you approach that lounge with caution.

For those not familiar with Austrian Airlines, all of the staff wear bright red uniforms with black shoes, this includes stockings etc. I had to admit that they looked very similar to a rolled out lipstick. Entering the lounge at 05:30 is a pretty scary sight. I was feeling the need for coffee to keep me awake in the 4 ½ lay over that I had. After flying all night I was ready to drop – I don’t tend to sleep much on planes, so any break in routine tends to let me catch up with reality.

I walked past the 2 cheerful women on the reception desk (where do they get them from?) and then stopped dead in my tracks. No Golden taps. No hot and cold running bar staff. Just a plain room, a sad assortment of food and a cleaner with a limp. There was also no way of communicating with the outside departures unless you continually watch the departure board.

Thankfully they did have wireless connection and I was able to catch up with a few emails. As time dragged on and no entertainment to speak of – unless you count the magazines in German or Austrian, my eye lids began to droop.

I remember waking up with a start at one stage and looking at my watch screaming “Damn” or a word that rhymes with fire truck. I had missed my bloody plane. I had fallen asleep and committed the cardinal sin of all travellers. The plane had gone and I hadn’t. Racing to get all of my stuff together, I flew out of the so called lounge, at a rate of knots. Down the ancient lift, looking right and left for the AA counter to plead a case that would some how get some sympathy. In all
of this I was thinking what the hell the UN would say about it. Here I am a Logistics Officer that couldn’t make his own plane. This was not a good start to my career.

I found the Airlines counter and explained the situation to the wonderful woman that served me. I gave them my ticket for verification and waited for them to tell me that like buses there would be another one along shortly. Looking expectantly at this potential angel of mercy, you can imagine my surprise when all I could see was this evil grinning woman staring at me. Why couldn’t she feel my pain? Grinning in the appropriate place is fine, but not when I have missed a life-line to Israel.

I did learn a very valuable lesson from all of this. When they tell you the local time, it is best to change your watch. No I hadn’t missed the plane, I was still on Sydney time. I had been asleep for about half an hour. As I slunk back to the now inviting business lounge, I was chastened but awake. The rest of the time was uneventful. I made the flight and flew off to Tel Aviv at the appointed time.

In Part II – The long and winding road – our intrepid logistician discovers Israel!