Journal - Napló

Syria and back/ beyond. Part 2

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 9:25 PM


The original plan had been that we split up there in Damascus. I would go back to Tripoli

via Beirut and Peter would head north towards Turkey via Palmyra. That was the old plan. The

new plan was that we both go together to Palmyra, then we split there and I head back via

Homs. We went into town with Alaa one last time even though it meant going in the wrong

direction because we needed cash and apparently there were no ATM's between us and the

Turkish border. Only in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo they would say. I was skeptical but didn't

feel like taking that chance on Peter's behalf, so to Damascus we went.

We took the opportunity to visit a museum with all sorts of boring old stuff. A cup here, bracelet

there: ooh – look – another overly decorated useless thing. It really was a shame, if they

could have given some information about the stuff there it would immediately have become

very interesting, but when I don't know what I am looking at, the pieces in themselves

weren't impressive enough to excite. The only item in the museum that caught my attention

was in a temporary exhibition of modern paintings. It was the face of a woman painted over a

hand telling you to fuck off.


We took a servis out of town and quickly got a ride about 50 kilometers north to Dmayr. We

were hitch hiking for maybe half an hour before a guy from the truck mechanic place across

the street came and asked if we wanted to come with him to his house. Traveling in Syria it

is impossible not to notice how extremely hospitable people are. We went with him, had some

tea and quickly realized that dinner was under way, being prepared by the invisible other

sex. There was a big curtain shielding a corner of the courtyard from the rest. That was

part of the kitchen and needed to be kept out of sight of any male guests. They seemed to

take great care that we wouldn't accidentally run into any woman. When getting up to go to

the toilet for instance the son was sent running out the door to check if anybody with boobs

were in sight.


We had great food and proceeded to have fruit and more tea. We couldn't really communicate

much with our host, but at one point his aunt dropped by to translate for us. She was an

English teacher and a very firm woman. I don't know if that was the reason why this was the

only woman we saw in the house, but I would like to see the man daring to tell her to stay

out of the way.


The rest of the evening was dedicated to playing cards. We were granted some introductory

rounds of the game for some time until all the regular players had arrived. So just as we

were about to really get the game, we were politely and discreetly asked to mind our own

business while the big boys play their game. It was fun to watch too.


Eventually all the players went home and it was time for bed. It was something heavy in the

air. Peter had met a journalist during the card game that was covering the international film festival in Damascus. Obviously he was tempted. I on the other hand felt I should be getting back soon, so as it would turn out we would part ways with me going north and Peter south.

The moment when we would part was getting closer. The next morning we had breakfast

with the guy and chilled a bit in his backyard before we got up to go. He called a friend

who drove us back to the North/South highway. Of course they were trying to arrange rides

for us. After waiting ten minutes with a shop owner who had been asked to arrange something

somehow, we decided not to postpone the farewell any longer and just start walking in

opposite directions. We hugged and I tried saying some goodbye sentences, but failed

miserably seeing that I suck at goodbyes. We hugged again and eventually turned our separate ways.

It took less than a minute before Peter got a ride. I watched him load his backpack,

get in and drive away. Watched the van pass out of sight and as it did I had too shed some

tears. It was surreal to split up like that in the middle of nowhere with no certainty of

when we would see each other again, but with the promise that we would stay together and

work together all the same.


I walked maybe a kilometer before I got a ride into the desert. Waiting in the desert there

was one of the nicest spots I have ever hitch hiked at. I fell in love with deserts then and

there. Syria is amazingly beautiful. Mountains on one side, flat open spaces on the other as

far as you can see and the sun above. Slightly disconcerting though was the lack of any

water in my backpack. But it all worked out, I got a ride after some minutes enjoying the



That ride was something else. Being offered Arabic sweets by the guy sitting next to me in

the backseat, while the driver is cruising through the Syrian dessert at 180kph was surreal.

The driver asked me if I knew Russian, I used one of my two Russian phrases saying "I don't

understand". This one always elicits a chuckle or two plus a follow up question, also in

Russian. To which I used my second Russian phrase which is "I don't speak Russian". They

drove me all the way to Palmyra. Sitting down at a café for a drink the guy that had been

sitting next to me pulls out a gun from his pants and puts it on the table as if it was his

cell phone. Another of the guys seemed to share my feeling that it was perhaps not the best

idea to leave a gun on the table and showed it into his pants instead.

I parted with the guys and walked to the ruins that the city is so famous for. Thousands of

years ago it was a center for trade and became a very prosperous city. The ruins are truly

impressive. Worth seeing without knowing anything about them, but of course I appreciated

being able to ask around among the other foreigners for some history in English.


The last part of the trip was done with haste and luckily with easy. It was getting dark as

I got the ride to Homs with a truck driver. He would point out all the Bedouin villages to

me and ask me if Syria was good. I would nod my head and say how great I found Syria to be.

I would point to the scenery and then to him and use some Arabic words for good so as to say

that both the nature and the people are great. And the food I would add, gesturing to eat.


Getting through Homs went surprisingly smooth. I found the road heading to a village close

to the border. Arriving at the border, I "checked" out of Syria successfully after paying up

their annoying 10$ departure charge and proceeded to Lebanon. I walked briskly up to the

"Foreign arrivals" booth and gave him my passport. I was confident that I had all the papers

in order and could simply pass through with a stamp. No such luck. He didn't accept my visa

and told me I had no choice but to buy a new one. And not anyone either, maximum one month

is what he would give me. I guess he didn't like that I had overstayed my first visa. The



I made it back to Tripoli, walked back to the office and fell asleep immediately.

Categories: English, Syria, by Kenneth

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