Taxi Drivers and the Perils of "yes"

Trip Start Aug 23, 2010
Trip End Oct 13, 2010

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Flag of Syria  ,
Monday, September 6, 2010

It's been a few days.  My hotel in Tartus (Tartous) didn't let me post anything, and there were no internet cafes I could find.

Took a bus from Aleppo to Lattakia, which is on the coast of Syria and has its nice beaches.  I hopped in a cab in order to go to Saladin's Castle, which is in the mountains above the city.  The taxi there and back would cost 1000 Syrian Pounds, or about 20 US.

Immediately the driver began to suggest taking me in his cab all the way to Tartous, which would cost 3000, or 60 US dollars.  I said no after he wrote the price down on the back page of one of my books.  He then crossed it out and wrote 2500 and I said no again.  About five minutes later he said "Arwad?" which is an island off Tartous.  I figured he was asking if I had heard of it, so I said "yes."  He smiled and nodded his head and gave a thumbs up.  Maybe he is from there, I thought.

Get to the castle after some steep climbs up the mountain.  The area is wooded with pines, and you can smell them in the air.  There weren't many other tourists there, so I had the place to myself.  In the distance you could see the Mediterranean ocean.  The castle was very cool, and you could climb into the towers and walk the inner walls.  One area was filled with bats that started flying when I turned my flashlight on; got out of there quickly.  I spent about 1.5 hours at the site, and you could be there even longer exploring it all.

The castle owned by a French family during the crusades, rather then being owned by the Templars or Hospitallers.  It is called Saladin's Castle because he conquered it in 1188, after he and his son attacked opposite sides at once and overwhelmed the crusaders.

Got back into the cab, and noticed we were on the freeway after a while rather than back at the bus station where I could get a bus to Tartous.  I said "Lattakia" and the driver pulled over, and insisted that I had agreed to go to Arwad island, off Tartous.  He showed where he wrote 2500 in my book.  With him speaking no English, and me no Arabic, it became a joke and I eventually said ok but I was steaming the rest of the ride.  I figured it was a technique of taxi drivers to say names until you say yes. Little did I know that is what they actually do...

Got to Tartous, and checked out the Cathedral, now a museum that does not allow pictures.  The cathedral was built by crusaders in the latin style, with three front apses.  Tartous was home to a strong Marian devotion since before Constantine, and had an icon of Mary claimed to be painted by St Luke.

Headed to Arwad island, and the sea going out was so choppy and the boat so small I got soaked.  The citadel on the island was closed, and it looked like it housed a mosque where people where praying.  It was cool imagining the crusaders going on their boats from the Holy Land to the island, where the last of them stayed until they left for Cyprus, looking to the land and the Muslim victors. 

Headed back and talked to the hotel owner, who is Greek Orthodox.


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