Today, we crossed the border from Syria to Turkey via taxi (three of them for our group). One thing that wasn’t written in the Intrepid trip notes was that the taxi driver will purchase packs of cigarettes and whiskey (two per person) at the Duty free and if he is caught smugglings…you say they are yours. Otherwise, there is hours of paperwork involved. Luckily, our driver wasn’t caught
Of course, the fact he slipped a bribe to the Syrian official as we went through probably didn’t hurt.
After the crossing, the drive to Antioch (Antakya) resembled an episode of The Amazing Race as each driver drove as fast as possible to get us to our destination. Scary but entertaining and the scenery was amazing. We’ve gone from desert to rocky, green hills and fields. We also passed (still at breakneck speed) a family of SIX on a motorbike. Yep…six. I’ve seen four and even five once or twice. But six was a new record.
We arrived n Antakya and wow, what a different a border can make culturally. I’ve only spotted a few habibs and not one burka. The streets are spotless and while some of the housing is poor, it’s colorful and in decent condition.
Once we arrived, we head to see the oldest church, St. Peters. (Founded by Peter—that dude from the Bible). It’s in a cave with some mosaics left, and was a secret church that the worshipped got to by crawling through a cave. After seeing the church, we hiked up the hills and crawled through a few caves as well, getting quite filthy in the process.
Call me crazy, but it doesn’t feel like a full day unless I ended up a little dirty.
I went shopping yesterday. I needed leggings (it’s somewhat chilly and rainy here in Nigde) plus we plan to go dancing in Cappadocia and I have NOTHING to wear. But Nigde is anything but touristy and so very few people speak English.
This is where the ability to kickass at charades comes in handy. First, the tights. I was walking along the street that seemed dedicated to clothes and I passed a shop with footless tights in a bin outside. Good enough. I sorted through but needed longer ones so went in side, held them up to my leg and mined “longer” .
She got it and pulled out a longer pair. I pointed to my but and gestured that I needed to make sure they fit . (I do have some “junk in the trunk” as it were). She held the tight up and pulled them to show the stretch. Nice. She totally got it. Purchase made.
So I went looking for a t-shirt. I entered the store and all the sales people were standing around looking bored (seems that’s international). I said “Hi” and wow, did they perk up once they realized I was American. By the time I was finished looking around and had a few things to try on, I had three sales people talking to me and we were all making hand gestures.
While they were good at charades, I couldn’t say much for their fashion sense. They tried to get me to wear an aqua, satin tunic top and leggings. Um, they eighties called and they want their clothes back.
Still, it was great fun and we were all laughing and chatting thought neither side understood a single freaking word. And as it turned out, neither side needed to speak the same language. For me, that brings home the lesson that words are just a tiny tiny partof communication. Facial expressions, gestures and tone conveyed everything that needed to be said.
I hope they understood how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed “speaking” to them!
A Crusader castle in Syria with a long history Krak des Chevaliers is way the hell up a hill and HUGE (took 90 years and a few sieges to make it as big as it is today) Just as good—our hotel, the Betaire. It’s right across the small valley and has a spectacular view.
We walked all over the Fort today and when we were standing on top of…oh…something..we ended up talking to some college students. They asked where we were from and we told them—America, New Zealand and Australia. When they students found out we were Americans, they were surprised to see us.
Who can blame them? The media goes on and on about how dangerous the Middle East is and sure, parts are freaking scary and should be avoided. Syria isn’t one of those areas. With the notable exception of a shopkeeper who was an absolute asshat, everyone here has been wonderful.
Anyway, we chit-chatted with the students about how the media blah blah blahed (basically making sure that everyone stayed freaked out because nothing sells advertisements like fear) and in thirty seconds, were had a huge group around us, just listening and them wanting to take our picture. It was just so damned sweet. The younger generation of Syria are just…endearing. So pictures were taken (I started to get almost a celebrity feelings)and then we headed back down to the guide who was waiting for us.
I’ll probably end up on a government watchlist.
A small town in the middle of the desert this is the closest the tour gets to Iraq. I have to admit that seeing a sigh that pointed towards Bagdad sparked interest in the entire group.
But we arrived at Palmyra with no unexpected detours.
And this is where I had my first camel ride (no pictures today since the Internet in syria BLOWS. I will add some when I get to Turkey). Since the others have already ridden camels (I got sick that day) it was just me for this excursion. The driver arrived at the hotel just before sunrise, I hopped on the beast , the driver got on behind and away we went.
At first, we headed towards the ruins (which is also the reason we came to Palmya) to watch the sunrise. After the sun was up, we trotted through the area and he explained some of the archaeology of the area…while he tried to cop a feel!
Yep, my driver was giving it a shot . At first, I didn’t think much of it. I was driving the camel lnow and it makes sense that he’s occasionally have his hands on my hips. Then they just stayed there. A little weird but I shrugged it off.
Then he gave me a squeeze. I am fairly sure that wasn’t part of the trip. I told him to kowck it off.
I must say men here are persistent. He offered to marry me. Of course he didn’t mean it (I am not that dumb!) but it made me laugh. He tried to kiss me and I turned my head.
Seriously, what did he think was going to happen? I am not that new. So we rode back to the hotel and I left palmyra–unscathed and unmarried.
Today, I am in Damascus, Syria. It’s a big city with all the big city issues—traffic, pedestrians and to much honking. But there are also stark differences—especially when it coes to cultural differences. First, the main religion is Muslin, That means that the majority of local women wear either habibs(scarves to cover their hair) or burkas (full body cover from head to toe with only an opening for the eyes). At times, walking through the ancient streets is like walking through a sea of black.
What I like most though is to watch them watching us. Syria is many things but it isn’t a tourist area. There are a few here and there, but very few, Factor in that Alex and I walk around with our heads uncovered and our ar and calves showing and suddenly, we’re a bit of a sideshow. Mostly, I see the women watching us.. A few of the older one frown but most look at us with curiosity—much like I look at them. And when I smile, they smile back.
So while there are glaring cultural distinctions, there are similarities that serve to remind me that people are people and that maybe we’re not so so different after all.
Today, we are crossing from Jordan into Syria in a 1970’s van (complete with red plushy interior and wood trip) that we have dubbed “The Shaggin’ Wagon”, machine-gun toting police just flew past us on the highway and one of the guys in my group never got his laundry back from the cleaners.
This is how most days seem to unfold the Middle East—a combination of awe, excitement , slight irritation and a dash of “Oh My God, We’re Going To Die!”