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14 May - Route 35 Amman to Al-Ramtha 2 hrs.
In transit Al-Ramtha - Daraa border crossing Clearance 5 hrs.
Route 5 Daraa - Damascus 2 hrs.
Accommodation: Unknown

Syria: Sadly, none of us have particularly strong memories of Syria. Under the rule of the al-Assad family and the Alawite minority since 1970 (and has been ever since), I think our intention was to travel straight through to Turkey, but this plan was thwarted.

After a long lorry queue at the Al-Ramtha border crossing border, we eventually had our exit stamped into our passports and drove the 10km no-man’s land between the Jordanian side and Daraa on the Syrian side. At Daraa, we met another queue of lorries but eventually presented our passports to the customs officer. Unhappy with our Jordanian exit papers, he sent us all the way back to Al-Ramtha to get another stamp in our passports.

What we had hoped would be a quick transit through Syria turned into a five-hour border marathon, and consequently, we stayed the night in Damascus in a seedy hotel, whose only redeeming quality was a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Unfortunately, while the view was wonderful, the local beer, either As Shark or Al Barada, was particularly bad with sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

The next day we drove up from Damascus to the Bab al Hawa crossing into Turkey at Cilvegözü-Hatay.


15 May - Route 5 Damascus to Bab al Hawa 5 hrs. 30 m.
In transit Bab al Hawa - Cilvegözü-Hatay crossing Clearance 30 m.
15 - 16 May - Highway O21 Cilvegözü-Hatay to Istanbul, via Adana,Tarsus and Ankara 12 hrs.
Accommodation: under the stars somewhere in the Taurus mountains
May 16 - 18 Istanbul
Accommodation: Hotel Emin

Turkey: Our aim was to drive straight from the border to Istanbul, via Adana, Ankara and Tarsus, sleeping under the stars on the way. We were immensely grateful to find that our wheels remained intact on the car overnight, as we had heard stories of them being removed at night while their owners slept!

Despite sheer drops in the mountainous sections, crazy drivers overtaking on the blind side, and passing at least thirty crashes, we had a really smooth journey arriving in Istanbul in the early afternoon. With three days to spend together before Stan left and flew on to London, we booked into the very modern Emin Hotel on the European side of Istanbul and set about exploring. We visited Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi, wandered around the Grand Suk, and took a ferry on the Bosphorus. It is interesting to compare the museums as they were then, and now. In 1978 Stan was able to measure himself against the swords, but today thanks to investment by the Turkish state, the museums have been modernised, exhibits are securely displayed behind glass and the tourist experience has improved immeasurably.

Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978
Dhahran to London, May 1978

We ate very good local food. Our mantra was to eat where the restaurant was crowded with locals. One evening we were walking along a street when the heavens opened so I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets and started running. The next thing I knew, I had lost my balance, my hands thrust through my pockets, and my head had hit the pavement. I had fallen into an open manhole.

With blood pouring from my head, Stan and Graham picked me up and ran into the first place that looked as if they could help us. It was a nightclub where young women danced for lira and other currencies which customers threw at them. They gave us a table, sat us down, threw arak on my wounds, and we had a most enjoyable night.

We left Stan at Istanbul airport and headed for Greece, crossing the border at Ipsala.


Up Next - Greece


Dhahran to London, May 1978

The Travellers
Richard, Stan, Graham

© Words Richard Thom
Credits: Stan Peters and Graham Edgson

© Richard Thom

*Original article edited for cultural and geopolitical sensitivities.

Part 3 Part 5

Life after Aramco: Dance in the Desert

About the Author

Richard Thom grew up in Ahmadi, Kuwait 1954 – 1969 where his dad was Chief Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Co. He worked in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia between 1976 and 1980 for Aramco’s Internal Audit and Contract Cost Compliance departments. He undertook this journey halfway between two contracts.

When not working, playing rugby, squash or trying his hand at amateur dramatics, he used his organising skills on the Aramco Employees Association and was Treasurer 1976/77 - 1978/79 and Chairman 1979/80 for the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC).

He continued with a varied finance career in shipping (Japan) automobiles (Guam) and dance education (UK), before finally retiring in 2015.

Richard has contributed a number of articles to AramcoExpats including a review of Not the May Ball 3 in September 2022; a 10-part serialization of the unofficial history of the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club; a look back on life after Aramco “Dance in the Desert” and “Jimmy Abdul McGregor, and Other Stories: Tales from the Yemen”.

Richard published his book Dance into Business in 2018 a how-to guide for dance students, teachers and professionals wishing to start up a dance studio or go freelance. It contains helpful tips, practical examples, and points to consider whether just starting out or already in business. It is available from Amazon websites as a printed book, or an e-book priced locally.

Life After Aramco: Dance in the Desert

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