This is part of the fifth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Lebanon
27/3/99 Crossed the border back to Syria and rested and recovered in Lattakia. (For Syrian entry requirements see the beginning of the Lebanon section)
28/3/99 President Assad's photo, portrait, billboard, praise written, is everywhere. He has lead the country now since 1971 and regularly gets 99.9% majority of the vote. He must be incredibly popular with his picture everywhere and no one willing to contradict his policies. Our hotel in Aleppo has five likenesses in the foyer and another six on our landing. The fear not to support the man must be great. Still "under the weather" we rode through the fertile mountains past enormous numbers of greenhouses of tomatoes and well tended fields to Aleppo.
29/3/99 Eid al-Adha started two days ago, the most important day to be in Mecca at the Haj. Back in Syria it is celebrated with the slaughtering of sheep for feasting. Lining the roads and at small intersections for your selection are small flocks specially fattened. The purchased animals are slaughtered in the streets of cities all over the Muslim world and people get dressed up in their best clothes and rolling western Christmas and New Year into one, let down their conservative hair and celebrate. Getting better in Aleppo.
30/3/99 The weather has been overcast and drizzling for four days and while the locals are on holiday the shops have been shut. Today the souks are partially open and although Aleppo's citadel is closed its magnificence is easily seen while people watching from the cafe's in patchy sunlight.
31/3/99 Headed into the desert and still drizzling and with slick tar, agricultural mud and light rain, the motorcycle regularly had a back end sway. We visited Rasafeh, an amazing walled city in the middle of the Syrian desert where successive civilizations have occupied and modified the place for 1500 years up to the 13 th century. Hotelled at Raqqa alongside the Euphrates river where its waters from the enormous Lake al-Assad irrigate the cotton and wheat crops in the area.
1/4/99 After checking a map we headed south towards As-Sukhna but after about 70 km the sealed road vanished into about 6 smaller dirt tracks. We enquired at a small Bedouin camp if we were on the right road and he advised us to head in the general direction. The past days of drizzle had made the ground boggy and the tracks often ended abruptly at a ploughed cotton field, last years road, this years crop. We weaved in and out of very small settlements before coming to an almost impassable, that is on an H-D, quagmire where with pushing and dropping the motorcycle many times we finally arrived at another settlement of five buildings. The hospitality of the people in this desert region of Syria was tremendous. Wanting a rest and being invited to lunch we ate stuffed aubergine, flat bread and tea on the ground, being the centre of attention. We finally made it through to As-Sukhna getting lost more times before staying the night at Palmyra.
2/4/99 This desert oasis town is Syria's main tourist draw, an enormous Greek then Roman ruin covering 50 hectares, extensively restored and with the usual pillared, colonnaded, temples to gods and Roman theatre typify these outposts all over the Roman Empire. Its difficult to understand this draw of western tourists to old stone edifices in foreign lands. Yet they are the draw card of a visit, but surely it is the current culture that is more worthy of the visit. The tour bus crowds making life difficult for the budget travellers, tipping excessively, handing out lollies, bonbons, and pens to demanding children, paying whatever entrance fees are demanded end up turning areas surrounding major tourists draws into begging ghettos, rip offs, overpriced souvenir sellers and sometimes an unpleasant destination.
3/4/99 Part of yesterday and today we cleaned the motorcycle and while doing so noticed some developing problems. Some rust on the break line, a couple of electrical wires rubbing through, worn brake pads, squeaks and rattles from the 13,000 km so far this trip. Also the rear tyre had collected two nails, one leaking slowly. This being our third day here and interacting to purchase and repair items and the non acceptance of high prices was starting to give us some credibility and rap pour with the locals. They have, of course, no more respect than we do, for people who throw money around, but it doesn't stop them, as us, from trying to get a share of it. We wandered the site at dusk, the setting sun giving an eerie light to the remaining pillars and fallen stones, the bus loads gone and a magnificent 3000 year old world to ourselves.
4/4/99 Out of the desert and into the bustling, longest continually inhabited city in the world, Damascus, dating from 5000 BC and with the oldest known alphabet written on tablets from just 100 km north and Syria itself at the cross roads of Europe, Asia and Africa it could be expected that modern civilization grew out of the area. Today's growth is hampered by a government spending 50% of its budget on the military with young independent children encouraged to join uniformed groups while banning communication from the internet and mobile telephones. Wandered the souks, always an amazing display of ingenuity and repair, the westerners throw away and a new part purchased, here it is repaired, strengthened and modified, a man's business depends on his ingenuity and innovativeness. Almost anything can be made or adapted from the blacksmiths, woodworkers or copper artisans operating from a shop no bigger than a decent bedroom crammed with raw materials to finished articles.
5/4/99 Two months in Arabic countries since entering Tunisia early in February and we are ready for a culture change. We visited the museum, quite impressive although not much written in English, just to see the clay tablets written in the earliest known alphabet. The tablets were contracts, prices, financial arrangements, loans and regulations all about 3300 years old showing business, trade and capitalism have been around for a while.
6/4/99 Damascus is still the crossroad's but now for travellers to and from Asia, Africa and Europe as well as tourists. Our small hotel is full every night, independent travellers who are coming out of Africa after two years, raw recruits heading that way, truck tour groups from Nepal to London. Syria has religious freedom, in theory and we visited a Shi ite mosque (Iranian), very modern and colourful combined with the tomb of Ali's granddaughter where worshipers were wailing against the barriers. The factions of Islam are no more tolerant of each other normally than the factions of the Christian religion with murders of opposing sects regularly occurring in countries like Pakistan.
7/4/99 Two borders again today, out of Syria and into Jordan,
just one hour, but a more militarized check out of Jordan at the Jordan Valley
crossing and an incredibly secure check into Israel.
Move with us to Israel, West
Bank, Gaza Strip and The Golan Heights (via Jordan)
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