November 12, 2009 GMT
Pandemonium Of Cars

We spent longer in Aleppo than we first planned.

Circumstances made sense to undertake a major laundry session, (sleeping bags) so while that lot dried we investigated more of the souks. Including the one selling leaf tea where we bought a couple of handfuls from the box with the most elaborate Arabic description on its label. We'll try it when we next pitch the tents, probably at Krak de Chevalier.
We also had time to visit the main mosque in the middle of the souks.

I had been struck by the difference in the sound and tenor of the 'call to prayer' broadcast from the minarets in Syria, as compared to those in Turkey.
In Turkey they sounded quite severe, not very musical and always seem to be recordings, of variable, sometimes crackly, quality.
Here in Syria those calls sound much more like an invitation, more tuneful and the voice, in a way, suggesting something far more welcoming.
We were in the main Aleppo mosque just as the call was being made, and just happened to be in the corner of the courtyard under the minaret. After a short while we realised that in a little room close by with an open window and door was a man singing with great gusto and physical expression. It was the Immam that we could hear from the minaret's many loudspeakers. It looked like he was enjoying himself quite a bit and it showed in what we could hear. A welcome opportunity to make an interesting observance of an Islamic tradition. When he had finished he left the little room and headed over to the prayer room, and we could see quite an array of studio sound gear that fed all those speakers.

Eventually we returned to the underground parking garage to retrieve our bikes and depart. Now this is a small garage that is a very busy car-wash business during the day. At night with no washing going on and all the cars squeezed up together it could hold maybe twenty-five cars. Less during the day with four jet-washes operating. Manoeuvring the cars around, getting them into the jet-wash areas, squeezing them into the drying and polishing bays and then into a position where the returning customers could drive them away, looked like a precision operation requiring great skill. These cars were mainly expensive high-end and largish SUVs, and one of the drivers doing the precision manoeuvring in all the tight spaces was a lad of about thirteen years. Quite a way to learn your driving and parking skills!
Well, we arrived to retrieve our bikes at about 1pm, which must be the busy hour for cars being dropped off and picked up. There were cars filling every available nook and cranny, facing all ways, and two abreast on the narrow and steep entrance ramp, which blocked it completely as it was only two cars wide. And a flurry of jet-washing was going on as well. All the staff welcomed us as though we were intrepid explorers as we loaded up our bikes in a tiny corner at the far end of the garage.

There's no visible way out for us through this lot.

"Let us know when you're ready to leave."

It looked just like one of these child's sliding-tile puzzles - with a single empty space for moving everything else around.
The tiles in this case were large shiny cars, far too many, and the empty space just big enough to squeeze our three bikes into. It was a pandemonium of cars - if that's the right collective noun.
And at our word - ready to leave - cars were moved here and there, into and out of tiny alcoves, around obstructing pillars, spun right round with microscopic three-point-turns, so that a space just big enough for three bikes moved slowly but surely across the garage to the bottom of the ramp.
But then one final ceremony - everyone wanted to get a photo of themselves and us and our bikes on their mobile phone.
That done we were off into the heart of Aleppo and its manic traffic, praying for an early sighting of the word 'Damascus', in those familiar letters, on a signpost to get us on the road to Hama.

Posted by Ken Thomas at November 12, 2009 08:41 AM GMT

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