Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
40Trip End Dec 12, 2005
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We were met at the bus by a man named Zacharia in a little two seater van with a fuzzy dog on his dash
At our request, Zacharia took us to one of the hotels in our guidebook and it was more than double the price that was listed. (Sometimes hotels take advantage of becoming "officially" recognized by a travelguide.) We opted for cheaper digs and were quite OK, even though you had to sit on the toilet sidesaddle to have enough room for your knees. The desert is warm during the day and cold at night, so we were happy to have a place with central heating.
It is nice to be in a smaller place, even if there are people always in your face wanting to buy, buy, buy. The kids hawk postcards and dates; the adults tablecloths, jewellry and camel rides. As I have never been on a camel before, I opted for a ride, but, by the end, had wished Martin had gone with me. I think the young driver was trying to be suggestive, but his English was so poor I couldn't understand what he was trying to say, so I just ignored him. It's pretty pathetic when you have to get your jollies out of talking dirty to a Western woman who's old enough to be your mother
We've certainly noticed the litter in Syria. Several times Martin has caught people laughing at him when he's been very careful about putting cigarette or a piece of paper in the garbage can (if you can find one). Most people just throw their garbage on the street. Each time our Hama-Palmyra bus driver would finish a cup of coffee, he would throw the plastic cup out the window and get a new one. Along some stretches of road, the trees were festooned with plastic bags. We did not notice as much trash in the desert, perhaps because 1) there are fewer people - and thus less waste 2) the Bedouin live off the land and may be more conscientious about ensuring the health of their environment 3) their way of life is more sustainable and they use less plastic, etc. It's probably a combination of all three.
Palmyra is a spectacle worthy of the long drive into the desert. The columns, tombs and temples of tan (some say pink) sandstone date back to the 2nd century AD and cover over 50 hectares
French used to be widely spoke in Syria and some older people speak it. We often hear Syrians intermixing French with English, using words like "camion" (truck), "stylo" (pen), "salon" (dining/living room), "bonbons" (candy), madame and monsieur. Here, too, when we say we're from Canada, some people have retorted with "Canada Dry"! The gingerale, I guess.
We met a number of the shopkeepers when we walked through the town. I was particularly interested in the silver jewellry and some of the Bedouin designs are very attractive. One man we befriended was Ahmed who owned a dark little store with a ceiling that was made to look like a cave. Appropriately, he called his shop "Ali Baba's Cave". Like most of the people in the town, he was Bedouin and had opened to shop to try to eke out a living. He had spent five years in Egypt making and selling bottled sand designs (the camel, desert, palms, etc. layered in sand) and also sold them in Palmyra. It was quite amazing to watch him make his designs; each bottle (about four inches high) took only five minutes
Ahmed had just returned from spending six days following Ramazan with his family in the desert; he referred to it as "Syrian Christmas". He misses the desert life and told us about a number of Bedouin customs. He said that when you visit a Bedouin family you are never expected to pay for anything - everything is provided for you as a guest. The Bedouins thus can't understand when they go to Damascus as visitors why they have to pay for accommodation, food, etc.
While visiting with Ahmed one night, Urs (our Swiss friend whom we met in Goreme, Turkey), wandered across the road to say hello. We went for a drink at one of the few bars in town and caught up. (Where you can find it, beer is good here and wine is generally available, though some is better than others.) He was heading for Damascus and then on to Lebanon.
As the sun sets each night, boys gathered in the desert to play soccer or ride the bikes. I have not seen any little girls outside playing. The female gender seems to mostly stay indoors and out of sight. We have only seen women working at the telephone office in Hama and cleaning rooms at a hotel in Palmyra
We keep following around this Imaginative Traveller tour group (or perhaps it is they who keep following us). Imaginative Traveller is an budget "adventure" tour company that basically gets you from place to place and hotel to hotel, but mostly you are on your own to explore. We have seen and talked with them in Goreme, Aleppo and now here and they will also be travelling through Jordan on a similar route to ours. There are five Canadians on their tour: three from Edmonton and two from Kamloops. We mentioned to the couple from Kamloops that Martin's brother was a surgeon there and, wouldn't you know it, they go to the same church as Jon and Shannon and know them very well. His family was from Success, SK and her parents had lived in Wawota at one time. There's truth to the saying that it's a small world! (We will be meeting Jon, Shannon and Arlene - Martin and Jon's sister - in Morocco to take an Imaginative Traveller tour, so have been quite interested in what that tour group had to say about the tour company.)
Of course, we had to try some Bedouin food while in Palmyra
Polygamy is legal here and is still practiced, though not as widely as it once was. Our hotel owner's son-in-law, Mohammed, had an uncle with three wives, but it is usually too expensive to have more than one wife now-a-days. I asked Martin what he thought about more than one wife, and his response was, "Oh, God". I guess that says it all!
We heard from the Imaginative Traveller group that there has been terrorist bombings of three up-scale hotels in Amman, Jordan and we are headed in that direction. Fifty-seven people were killed and the border has been closed. Hopefully the situation will cool off by the time we get there!