Travel Report from Syria (09 November 2003)

Hello from Syria!

Typing this is weird as we are typing from right to left. From Antalia, where we spent a super night with Brett and Nicole, we travelled direction Antakya stopping for a few chill out days in Kizkalesi where we snorkelled and took a break from ruins.

Here we also met Ednan, Sama and Samura with whom we shared a few great meals and chats around the fire! From Kizkalesi w! e travelled to Antakya, just outside of one of the Turkish border crossings to Syria where we spent a night before leaving for the border.

Crossing the border took 27 hours as an essential car paper given to us upon arrival in Cesme had disappeared. Christian familiarised himself with a microcosm of generals, directors and border officials and eventually managed to have the document faxed from Cesme which was then not accepted without a barrage of signatures, delayed by intermitant praying times. Visions of gun toting terrorists shrouded in head clothes were dispelled on our first day in Aleppo.

Syrians are incredibly friendly, very interested in tourists and go out of their way to help you. This is handy, when looking for things like the Commercial Bank of Syria no. 2 to change money. We walked past the bank twice, and apparently passed banks 5 and 6 as well - escaped ou r attention as the signs are in Arabic only .

Syrian cities are all about colour and noise. Signs flash from every angle in flourescent colours, cars never stop hooting, and the taxis are amazing - vintage chevrolets and mercedes decked out in tassels, carpets and dangling grapes and coloured beads from the rearview mirrors. Men stride along in their Jambilaya's or western dress, but what takes some getting used to are the women, some of whom wear scarves covering just their hair and necks, others who have only their eyes and nose showing, and still others th at are totally veiled in black and wear black gloves too. The latter look like mini Darth Vaders.

We treated ourselves to Sundowners at the Baron Hotel, well frequented by Lawrence of Arabia and Agatha Christie in its heyday,now sadly a little rundown but still very charming. Whilst wondering around Aleppo, we were chatted up by two young Syrian students, Ahmed and Maadan, who are studying English Literature and who insisted we join them i n their homes for a meal.

This took us into the Syrian desert and gave us our first taste of Bedouin hospitality. The families are enormous - Ahmed has four siblings, whilst Maadan's family comprises 15 children, all from the same mother. When we asked Maadan what the name of one of his younger brothers was, he studied the childs face before answering us.
We ate our meals on the floor with the families, discussed why I have no gold (the girls are all covered in it) and why we have no children.

Christian is in his element here. The men all approach him to talk to him as it is politically correct to do so - they can not approach me as I am a woman and because I am his perceived wife. The girls bat their eyelashes at him appraising a potential wealthy European hubby, and Germany is a popular country to be from. South Africa is known if you mention Nelson Mandela.

Having left our Bedouin ho sts, we headed for the ruins of Palmyra,
where I spent five days in hospital - the result of Syrian food. The experience was no joke, am still not keen on the food, and there are aspects to Syrian State Hospitals which are unusual (I later transferred to a private hospital). Nevertheless, the staff were friendly, I am now on the mend, and what was touching was the way people we had met in Palmyra came to our assistance, taking us to the hospital, providing us with food in hospital, helping Christian with the Pharmacy,and visiting us. Mohammed and Adnan even gave us an apartment of their family to use!!

We have now left the desert for Hama and from here will be moving on to Damascus and then Jordan.

A currently very interesting aspect is Ramadan which is on now for the 11th day. Nobody eats during the day, at 4.45PM a cano n is fired and everybody may eat. This means that between 4.30 and 6 PM nothing is open, the streets are empty and the city is quiet. Then the chaos awakes again!

We will be sad to leave Syria!

Lots of love,

Julianne and Christian!