Saturday, October 21, 2006

Spanner In The Works

My plan from Turkey was to head south for the Winter, to Syria and the rest of the Middle East, where my lone jumper and single-season sleeping bag would suffice. So I made my way to Gazi Antep, the largest city in southeast Turkey, where Syria has a handy consulate. And on Friday morning I bounded over, passport in hand and smile on my face. The smile was soon erased when the man behind the counter jabbered at me that I needed a letter. Uh-oh I thought, remembering the last time I needed a letter for a Pakistani visa in India the process cost me a lot of time and, more importantly, money. And here the situation was exactly the same ... except that there is no British consulate in Gazi Antep.

"No problem," insisted the Syrian lady, "they can just fax it through like everyone else." Except Britain, as always, refuses to do things like everyone else. "We can fax it through alright," said the lady at the British embassy over the phone, "but you'll have to come over here and pay for it in person." (The pro forma letter, incidentally, costs significantly more than the multiple entry visa for Syria, whereas other countries' embassies give them away like candies on Hallowe'en.) I pleaded my case, I got down on my hands and knees before the vice-consul (figuratively speaking as it was over the phone) but she would not budge from her position. And I refuse to travel over 1000 miles to collect the letter, partly because it would be horribly expensive (some $250 or more), but also because I am too proud to submit myself to such illogical, frivolous and petty box-ticking when a plain and simple solution is so glaringly obvious. And so, my dear readers, my best laid plans have well and truly gone agley. But what pisses me off the most is not the thwarting per se, that I could have lived with, if it was done by some overbearing, autocratic bureaucracy of a repressive regime. No, what really gets my goat is the fact that my dreams are denied by my own government who are supposed to be there to help me if I encounter difficulties abroad, not produce them. And I pay taxes for this? (I assure you that I have paid taxes, at some point) It almost makes me sick enough to renounce my citizenship. My only hope to get into Syria now is to just turn up at the border and pray that my innocent, puppy-dog eyes (and perhaps an appropriate "facilitation fee") melt the border guards' hearts. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

Anyway, that's enough of my moaning. Seeing as this is a travel blog I really ought to write a little something about my surroundings for those of you back home. Gazi Antep is the materialistic slut to Urfa's Amish housewife. Gone are the headscarves and skullcaps to be replaced by expensive hair-do's and rudeboys in pimped up cars and blaring music. Here is the last bastion of western Turkey before the wild wild east begins. As such Gazi Antep offers little for the casual tourist, except for one thing: its museum. The ruins of Zeugma were known about for some time, but when a dam was slated to submerge the site under its reservoir work got under way to properly excavate the ancient city. It turned out to be perhaps the most significant Roman ruins since Pompeii. Thus started a frantic race against the clock to save as much as possible before being lost under the rising floodwaters (because nothing as poncey as archaeology could ever stop the Turkish government from building a dam). Of all the treasures that could be saved the most stunning are the immaculate mosaics which are by far and away the most beautiful ancient mosaics I have ever seen (a bit of a disingenuous statement perhaps as I have not seen any other ancient mosaics, but even if I had I am sure the statement would still be true). It is also rather fitting, now that most of the city is under water, that the showpiece of the entire collection is a huge mosaic of Poseidon.

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