Monday, September 28, 2009

March 18th: Hama and bus to Amman [updated with pics and more; first posted 06-04-09]

I got up early to have breakfast and get ready to meet Alaa' for some shopping - I wanted to try to find a little backgammon game board that I had seen in Aleppo but didn't buy. Backgammon seems to be quite popular everywhere over here - in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, ... I talked to Abdullah about the bus to Amman. I had him book me a ticket on the midnight bus and then went out to meet Alaa'. He wasn't there!!! I waited for quite a while, but he didn't show up. So I went in to call him. He had gotten busy with some family things and couldn't come early. He said he'd come after a couple of hours so then I had time to wait. I sat behind the reception counter with Margo, an older Australian/Estonian woman who had also been staying at the hotel and was going to Amman on the afternoon bus. She had been sick in bed the past few days. Poor woman! Abdullah was there talking with us for a while. We had tea, and then he left. We were brought fresh strawberries and such. :) Nice. Eventually I saw Alaa' outside (they have security cameras - one of the sidewalk outside the door, one of the stairway, one of the salon, and one of the restaurant/dining room).
Alaa' and I wandered for quite a while. We checked out several shops but either they didn't have them or they were bad quality or they were charging way too much. Finally we found one that I liked, with mother of pearl inlay. I paid 500 Syrian pounds (about $10US?). We then went to see some of the (ناعورة) norias of Hama. I love them!!!The Norias are along the Orontes River of Hama and are very old and big.
The Noria Al-Muhammadiyya is supposedly the largest noria in the world, as well as one of the oldest. According to an info board near the noria, it is 21 meters in diameter (about 69 feet) and was built around 763 AH (1361 CE). We walked around quite a bit checking out the norias.I think that is the 3 norias. Most of them had no posters or info boards so I can't really label the pictures other than how many were at a specific spot if there were more than one. We tried to get down to the 4 norias from the back side but couldn't, so went to the 4 norias restaurant. I had lunch, but as usual, he wasn't hungry. Also, he had a stomach ache. He had a special kind of tea that is supposedly good for stomach problems. I took a small taste of it. YUCK!!! It kinda tasted like stomach acid!! It was lemon with cumin. Not something I would ever want to taste again. After I ate, he talked to the manager about going to see the norias. They said there was no separate entry, and there was a gate, but we could jump over the gate if we wanted to get closer to the norias. Funny. We did just that. Out the back door of the restaurant to their patio and then over the gate that separated the patio from the norias.I'm not sure I mentioned it before, but the water REALLY stinks. Near the hotel area, the water is actually bubbling (with noxious gas?) and has a thick iridescent film on it. DISGUSTING!! It smells like human waste among other things. At the norias, it smells like sulfur. It is amazing that anything can live in it!!! Near the 4 norias, there were frogs living in the water. We stopped for a while to toss tiny pebbles to try to make the frogs jump (not to hit them, so you know). I went back to my hotel to rest and get my things ready. I watched a movie (Shining Through) and took a bit of a nap before going to sit in the salon for a while, with Cookie sitting on my knee chewing my pen, and then sleeping on my foot. :) A little later, I went out to pay for my bus ticket. They said the bus was at 12:30AM. Then I went back to Alaa's restaurant to have tea and say bye. We had some tea and sat and talked for a while. Then he got busy for a moment. While he was up, a guy from the next table came over and asked me to join them. He was with his fiancee and her mother. I said okay, for a short time. He siad he is the mayor of a village to the east of Hama. I'm not sure if I believed him or not. He spoke English quite well. His fiancee also spoke some English. She just started studying English literature in university. She is only 18!!!! The guy looked around 28 or 30. He was looking at me and watching me in an odd way. When Alaa' returned, I went back to join him. I had a cappuccino and we chatted some more. When it was time for me to go, he said he would try to see me off at the bus station but would probably be too busy. No problem.
I went back to the hotel to check out and wait a bit until it was time to go to the bus station. I was a little late leaving the hotel because I didn't have enough Syrian money - I paid the hotel bill but also had to have enough to pay the departure tax, so I had to change some money. I finally left the hotel at around 12:15 and got to the bus station in less than 10 minutes. With only a short time before the bus was to leave (according to what I was told), I thought I was in a hurry. I went to the office there, and the guy told me to sit and wait. What? There was a bus at the station that was almost ready to pull out. The guy took my passport to write down my info, and then disappeared in the back to make some tea for himself!! I was thinking what the heck is he doing??? The bus was pulling out. I looked worried, as when he came out and looked at me he said to relax, because the bus wasn't there yet and wouldn't go until 1. Grrrr. After he got my info and I got my passport back, I went out to find some water and a snack, then went back to the office to read my book. I had just sat down and opened my book when I looked up to find Alaa' sitting beside me. He had rushed to get there and had though he would have missed me. His friend from the restaurant had driven him on his motorcycle. He then stayed until my bus came. We went and got a tea and a cheese (salty Arabic cheese) sandwich for me since I really hadn't had anything for dinner. We had just started to drink the tea when the bus came, about 15 minutes early. Well, I had to go. The busses here don't wait until the departure time. When the bus pulled in, a bunch of people all of a sudden appeared. I'm not sure where they were waiting. I was put in the front seat behind the driver. A young guy tried to sit next to me but the driver shooed him away and told him to find another seat. Yay!! I had the whole 2 seats to myself. Good thing, as the bus was very old and not very comfortable. There was almost no leg room, but with the 2 seats, I could stretch my legs out. It was around a 7 hour bus ride. We stopped a while before the border at a little place where everyone had to pay a departure tax of 500 Syrian Pounds. Then it was back on the bus for a while longer. I slept between stops. I wish I had some warning before the stops or had some instruction as to what was going on, as each time I woke up, I felt very disoriented, and every time there was a stop, I sort of just had to follow everyone and figure out on my own what had to be done. First, there was the departure area where I had to go in and get a departure stamp. For some reason, the guy stood there looking at my passport for about 5 minutes before even starting to put it into the computer and stamp it. Not sure why. Then I sat on the bus for about 20 minutes waiting... not sure what for. After that, it was a short drive to the Jordanian immigration/entry section. First thing, all bags had to be taken off of the bus and out of the baggage storage to be opened and quickly inspected, and then put back on the bus. Then I had to go around to another building for the immigration procedures. I went to the VISA counter, where I was told to go to the immigration counter first. At the immigration counter, the guy looked at my passport, and told me to go to the VISA counter. That little look at the passport was apparently an important part of the procedure. I had to then run outside to another building to change money to pay for the VISA. Then it was no problem. I got the little VISA stamp and had the immigration guy stamp the arrival stamp and off I went back to find the bus (it moved to part in front of a little store). We waited there for almost half an hour!!! I guess it was breakfast time?? I wasn't yet hungry. I just wanted to sleep. After that there were no more stops until we reached Amman. Where we were dropped off was not at any bus station but just behind some building. Odd. I went out and quickly found a taxi to take me to the hotel I had chosen - the Palace Hotel. The driver took a while to understand the little map on the back of the business card I had. Then he didn't even drop me off near the hotel, but rather about a block past it on the other side. ARGH!! He didn't want to turn around to go back. Then he wouldn't give me all of my change. I didn't think he deserved a tip but he tipped himself with my money. GRRRRR.

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