Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines             Graeme Robin ...Travel                            in Sy...
About meI was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I feltas if the wor...
Syria                              Bye Bye Turkey - Welcome to Syria                                   Wednesday 22nd Sept...
The bloke in town where I converted the last of the Turkish cash into diesel, said “Better hurry as theborder shuts at 3:5...
But how lucky can you be. A beaut reception/manager bloke. I later found out his name was Aziz, aged33, with three childre...
Friday 24th September 2010Last night I tried out the new sim card on a happy birthday call to Lachie in Australia, and it ...
We were leaving Al Qamishli sometime just after ten and I couldn’t find the way out of town for ages,but it was good to wa...
A common sight of women in the back of a truck. Like it or lump it - but that’s the way                                   ...
I think I heard Phe murmur “I don’t think we are on the right road Grae.” Then another man on a motor bike came to meet me...
Syria - Westwards along the Euphrates River valley to Aleppo                                      Saturday 25th September ...
The dust has blurred the horizon for the last two days - I guess there is little that can be                              ...
A shame really as I would have loved to have thanked him for being so very kind.     Syria - From the big city of Aleppo t...
Today I am not going to mention litter, not at all - but that’s not to say it’s gone away, just that I don’twant to keep o...
Just over three weeks ago, while we were in Tunisia I had a mishap which destroyed the camera andafter a big hassle I boug...
On the way back from the Citadel the hillsides were just rocks but below there were green valleyfloors. This was pretty ty...
I asked him what the jobless rate would be in Syria and he thought it would be well over 50% and thatthe wages were poor. ...
As we passed through this village I saw an elderly couple sitting outside in the shade with washingdrying on their line bu...
This day was just going on and on.First of all I couldn’t believe it, but after driving for twenty minutes I was back at t...
This is cotton as it is growing and in my hand is the cotton out of one quarter segment of the floweror bud or whatever it...
The Roman ruins near Apamea date back to 300BC.They are impressive but I found it particularly difficult to visualise how ...
I guess we will be going back to the desert and the dust, but at the start it was clear, a warm morningwith not a cloud in...
Another mob of sheep and goats with what looked like two shepherds, a man and wife perhaps. Acovered truck for their suppl...
That left us three or four very enjoyable hours for wandering around the ancient ruins, the castleand the citadel - all gr...
With Phe, I decided that a drive through the ‘green oasis’ would be a good idea. The sign was up andpointing at the date p...
It is a lot easier drive today than it was yesterday – 110 km per hour all the way, single lane but agood road surface, st...
Probably going to be a small apartment block of four (at least) floors This photo is a good illustration of the method of ...
Syria - In Damascus                                          Friday 1st October 2010Phe’s in for a spell today and my feet...
There were a lot of men scrambling through the pile of shirts and slacks and even a jacket or two, soevidently they must b...
Damascus is apparently the oldest, continually occupied city in the world, but then the tourist informa-tion leaflet descr...
To help out with the reasoning I wrote a little calendar of the days remaining until the time to gohome on 21st November. ...
By quarter past one we were knocking on the Syrian bureaucratic door again calling out “let me in –let me in” and an hour ...
It was just one kilometre down the road heading south towards the Jordanian border that we werestopped at a Syrian army ro...
Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels
Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels
Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels
Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels
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Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels

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I was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, and lost her to a dreadful cancer in 2006. I didn’t handle it at all well. What money we had, I split with our three children and with my share, set off to travel in Europe. Bought Phe (for Fiat) - a left-hand drive diesel sedan, in England and journeyed for 4 months in the north. The following year another 4 months this time behind what used to be the ‘Iron Curtain’ and last year Spain Portugal and Morocco. I am just now at the end of the 4th journey - this time to the Middle East. All have been marvelous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like to continue for the rest of my life!

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Syria - Graeme Robin - Travels

  1. 1. Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines Graeme Robin ...Travel in Syria (This journey is available in full in BOOK 4, available soon) Buy Graeme’s BOOK 2, Sign up to his daily BLOG Follow him on twitter HERE
  2. 2. About meI was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I feltas if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t care much.But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left- hand drive diesel sedan) and Me. Suddenly it was “we” and not “I”’. We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland the Arctic Circle and into Russia all the time avoiding the major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words, On Roads Without Lines. We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small towns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives andwork. Trying to get a feel for each country - to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept adaily journal. So a book evolved.Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life? It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the endof the first four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time behind whatused to be the “Iron Curtain” and another book evolved. It felt good so instead of selling Phe atthe end of the second four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this timearound Spain Portugal and Morocco and another book evolved. It felt good so instead of sellingPhe at the end of the third four months I kept her for another four months of journeying thistime to the Italy the Middle East and the Balkans and another book has evolved.All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continue forthe rest of my life! How long is this old bugger going to last! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  3. 3. Syria Bye Bye Turkey - Welcome to Syria Wednesday 22nd September 2010We were away from Hakkari by half past eight, on a sunny, warm morning and straight back into thedust, the mountains, and the army road blocks, heading for Syria. In so many places the mountainsare being nibbled away by giant excavators, the rocks crushed, then graded for size and turned intoconcrete and road fill. And they are sure using tons of these two things.From Hakkari, backtracking to Sirnak is 188 kms and it was the same trail as we followed yesterdaybeside a river down on the valley floor – a gorge so tight at times there was barely room for the riverand the road side by side. You wouldn’t say the river was clear but it was not muddy either. It was thatpale aqua green colour that you would normally associate with rivers coming from a glacier, but that’scertainly not the case here, so I presume that it picks up the colour from the rocky terrain. In placeswhere the mountains of rock spread apart a bit for a little flat land, there were villages, lots of them,and small at that, all the way, until the road parted company with the river and headed skywards againfor that 2080 metre summit we passed over yesterday.After leaving Sirnak we were then in an area we had not travelled before – flat country with a straightroad running parallel with the border of Iraq not far to the south. At the town of Cizre there is a leftturn to the Iraqi border crossing just 50 kms away. Its not a long border – maybe a couple of hundredkms - and I find it just too hard to imagine the scenes, when Saddam Hussein was trying to extermi-nate all of the Kurds in the north of Iraq. There would have been hundreds and thousands of refugeestrailing across this country trying to escape into Turkey. What was that? Twenty years ago or more?Not far to the west of Cizre there must be a decent sized coal mine, well I didn’t actually see themine, but the coal had been trucked up to many ‘depots’ along the roadside and each ‘depot’ hadgraded it in to big lumps down to little lumps and then the fines which were all but dust. You canimagine the mess, but that’s the way they seem to do things in Turkey.From there on we were driving on good roads on flat country and making good time, even thoughI made a wrong turn and had to cut across on a minor road to rectify. There was a herd of goats,maybe a hundred or more, in the care of two young shepherds about 13 years of age and one ofthem had a pea rifle.There was a lot of smoke in the sky because the Turks are burning off the stubble.We are at the Turkish border and it’s a heap harder to get out of this bloody country than it was toget into it – and we haven’t started on Syria yet. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  4. 4. The bloke in town where I converted the last of the Turkish cash into diesel, said “Better hurry as theborder shuts at 3:50.” My heart sank – it was already after half past three.Why is there always something?We got through the first gate into the Turkish compound and sat, and sat, and sat. I got the policestamp, and then the immigration stamp, but the customs bloke (Phe had been ‘imported’ into Turkeyand was now being ‘exported’) had no English and couldn’t read the Rego papers and relate them tome or my passport. I did my lolly after the best part of three quarters of an hour and poked a fingerat my name on the passport and the same name on the papers, and then out of the car and at thewords ‘Fiat Tempra’ on the papers and then to the label on Phe’s beautiful butt, and finally the regonumber on the papers and the same number on the plates. He reluctantly gave in and down camethe stamp! About time!The gate opens and we were into the no-mans land before the Syrian border. We were the lastcustomers for the day and their 4 o’clock knock-off was long gone, Once again no English but a youngbloke took me from one window to the next and things seemed to be going okay until we got tothe Bank of Syria. Why do we need to go to the bank? Before leaving Australia I had paid for, andreceived a 90 day, multiple entry, visa into Syria, so why the bank? But this bloke wants money – and inUS dollars. “Why would I have US dollars?” I asked him. “I come from Australia not America!” He wasadamant. US dollars! Then I asked him how much and he said $US 235! I just about fell over! The bankbloke had very little English but between him and the young bloke I got to understand that it was forPhe’s visa, and her car insurance, and than a premium because she uses diesel.He wouldn’t take the visa card and there was no ATM at the border. I had no Syrian pounds ofcourse and no Turkish lire left as the last of them had gone into the fuel tank in town more than anhour ago. A few euro coins – but $US 235? Not within a bulls roar! A problem is looming.I was sent for a walk towards the fence while eleven of them, including the nice bloke who hadhelped me through the system, stood in a circle trying to work out an answer. It was after five my thetime they called me back and the one senior bloke they had found who had a little English said I mustreturn to Turkey! And the word “Turkey” was the echo from another ten voices.“No!” I Shouted “No, no, no!”That rocked them so they had another talk – even got the police chief over to help and then eventu-ally resolved that two of them would drive me the three kilometres into town to an ATM to get themoney. We went, but the first machine only had Syrian pounds – no US dollars. So off to anotherATM but the result was the same. I had taken the bank bloke’s word that only US dollars would doand that he didn’t even want Syrian pounds. However that was not going to happen so the twoblokes with me organised to withdraw 16,000 pounds - that should cover the $US 235. A third manin a suit, with English, had joined in to help and assured me that the two blokes were right and thatSyrian money would be accepted.So I had a wallet full of cash and back we went to see poor old Phe sitting so forlorn and unlovedin the middle of the no-mans land waiting for her best mate north of the equator to charge to herrescue – which he did.The banker accepted the pounds – 11,250 of them – without a squeak. Bastard!By a quarter to six they opened the gates and let the four of us loose into Syria.And in particular, the town of Al Qamishli.And what a mess, with dust and litter and people and little yellow taxis by the hundred. I saw a hotel,and loved the name - Alsaid Hotel - so climbed the 50 stairs, asked the price – 500 pounds – and sawthe room, which was fine, although I would have liked a toilet seat and some toilet paper but neitherof those things were going to happen, so I placed the money down for one night and will decide onanother one later. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  5. 5. But how lucky can you be. A beaut reception/manager bloke. I later found out his name was Aziz, aged33, with three children aged 7, 3 and a baby. He sat me down in their lounge – not really four starlike - but there were half a dozen tatty old lounge chairs and we chatted for a while, me in English andhim in Arabic. He offered coffee and I suggested chai (tea in Turkish) which was duly brought by hisside kick who I later found to have the name Zorro. He was an unmarried 22 year old. It was Zorroalright because they both laughed and nodded when I did the Zorro sword thing of three swishesand the letter ‘Z’ carved in the wall! How would they know that at their age – that was a comic strip– or was it a film? - when I was a kid!But it was nice and friendly and a wonderful welcome to Syria. I left them to organise my gear and myroom and to play catch-up on this journal which was three or four days behind. Worked for an hourand there was a knock on the door and it was Aziz with a tray and a cup, saucer, sugar and anotherpot of tea. Wonderful! Al Qamishli - My first stop in Syria, and two friendly and helpfull Syrians Thursday 23rd September 2010The single bed was comfortable, the room was quiet, the aircon good and the shower fabulous – thebest since leaving home even though the whole bathroom of basin, toilet, (no seat) and shower headwould be no bigger than one metre by two metres and you had to keep the door shut to keep thewater in. After more than twelve hours of shut-eye I was outside at the reception desk to be surethat there was no breakfast included – and there wasn’t – but Zorro took me across the street anddown a bit to a small restaurant selling breakfast. Just two tables and six chairs. I had what the blokewas offering - a sort of broad bean stew with a ladle of something that looked like yoghurt butprobably wasn’t and heaps of spices. A big round flat bread the size of a large dinner plate was foldedand put on the table. A bowl of sliced tomatoes, cucumber strips, green peppers and some sprigs ofcoriander. It was only when I got to the bottom of the bowl that I worked out it was broad-beansbecause all of the other flavours left little room for the taste of the broad-bean. There was miles toomuch for me to eat but I did my best without even touching the bread. He makes an egg omelet too,so I may try that tomorrow.Zorro stuck to me while I ate what I could – not at the table but outside in the street - and thenwith sign language he guided me a place to fit a Syrian sim card into the mobile phone and add a fewpounds to top it up as well. There’s another birthday coming up – Lachie, our eldest grandson is goingto be 14 tomorrow so maybe I will be able to get this one right. Then next week our son turns fortysomething.The morning was spent working on this journal and in the afternoon I went walkabout around AlQamishli and managed to find an internet place. I was put out though, because they would not allowme onto the internet without sighting my passport. It’s hot! Very hot, and even though I have learnedto walk on the shady side of the street I was wringing wet by the time I got back to the cafe with theprescribed document. Now I know that you need your passport to buy a sim card and also to usethe internet. It’s not only for crossing borders and showing to nosey army kids. The internet cafe wasa good place though and I did what had to be done in a couple of hours then back to the hotel andthe aircon for more work on this journal.I had another chat with Aziz and Zero before they knocked off about eight o’clock – so it seems theydo a twelve hour day but possibly a four day week. I tried hard to find out by drawing calendars andthings and the response from Azia was a “7777” and I don’t know what he was meaning. Anyway theyhave both been so very good to me, a complete stranger with not a word of Arabic. The languagebarrier is bad enough but I have always found solace in other non-English countries with the fact thatthe numbers are the same – sure they sound different when spoken but when written they look thesame. Not so in Arab land! The Arabic numbers are meaningless to me. I wonder how big a problemthis will be in the weeks ahead?I gave Zorro some money and Aziz a little more plus koalas for each of his three kids. I don’t know ifthey appreciated it but they both knocked on my door before they went home to shake hands andsay goodbye. Maybe they don’t work tomorrow. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  6. 6. Friday 24th September 2010Last night I tried out the new sim card on a happy birthday call to Lachie in Australia, and it workedperfectly so what sort of swifty were those Italians pulling when the sim card for their country provedto be worthless. The only problem was that I got the time difference mixed up and got my family outof bed at five thirty in the morning – I thought it would have been seven thirty. Oh well thems thebreaks. At least I have handled one birthday almost okay.Breakfast this morning was not at the same shop because he wasn’t open, but another just a hundredmetres in the opposite direction was open, and I ordered two of those thin pieces of round breadtopped with spicy things -similar to a starved pizza - and heated, plus a couple of bananas.That would have been enough. But that’s not how it’s done in Syria so it came with diced tomatoes,green peppers and some cucumber. Nice and better than yesterday – especially the second cup oftea after I confiscated the sugar bowl. But it was good sitting and being a part of the morning trafficthrough this part of the town. I must have overdone it on the peppers – I thought they were mild butby hell did that last bite set my mouth on fire! Water didn’t help and neither did a bite of banana andthe tea being scolding hot seemed to do more damage than it was worth. Just had to wait for time todo the healing. And it cost 100 Syrian pounds – so very cheap. One of the main streets in Al Qamishli - best to walk on the shady side of the street! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  7. 7. We were leaving Al Qamishli sometime just after ten and I couldn’t find the way out of town for ages,but it was good to wander around the place and try to find something attractive – other than thefriendliness and helpfulness of the inhabitants. They don’t smile a lot even when they are talking tome but if, at the end, I pat him on the arm or shoulder, shake hands and a warm smiling thank you inEnglish, he always, and I do mean always, will break into a warm smile. One bloke today wanted to kissme on both cheeks but I thought that was a bit over the top. I haven’t noticed a lot of kissing yet butit may be early days.Aziz and Zorro were both back at work this morning again. Zorro walked my bag down the stairsand even stopped and waved me goodbye. He would have watched as we made the mistake of turn-ing right instead of left – and maybe he shouted - but I hope he wasn’t still watching when we wentpast the same hotel a full hour later still trying to find the way out of town.The litter is everywhere except that in the major towns and villages, first thing in the morning, thereare the sweepers doing their rounds, but in places where they don’t operate the bags and bottles andpaper and tyres – you name it – just build up until the first heavy torrent and then it will all be sweptout into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a bloody mess. And the dust! I wonder if I am right in thinking Iam not going to like this country from the picturesque point of view - but I am sure I am going to likethe people, because I must have stopped 8 or 10 times this morning to ask people for directions toget on the road south towards Deir Ezzor. One bloke walked away 100 metres and got his motorbikeout of a garage and started to lead me out of town. After a couple on minutes I pulled the plug onit because I didn’t want him to be leading me for miles and miles perhaps when I was quite happywandering around in the approximate direction and absorbing the activity around me. And none ofthese people had any English. None at all. And so the directions barely reached as far as the nextround-about and even then I often get a verbal ‘left’ with a hand pointing to the right. It then becomesa matter of guessing which one to rely on - the verbal word or the pointed finger.I had decided to drive directly south from Al Qamishli to the city of Deir Ezzor and when we eventu-ally broke away from the city, the road south was excellent but was carrying not that many cars. Therehad been plenty of cars in Al Qamishli though, but a quarter of them would have been the little yel-low taxi trolling the streets for business.Aziz told me that Syria has virtually no oil but some natural gas and produces lemons – maybe Igot it wrong but it was a round fruit that twisted the face at the bite! He said that he is Kurdish – Ididn’t ask about Zorro – and a lot Kurds live just over the border in the area around Sirnak in Turkey,especially, and also in northern Iran, in northern Iraq and here in the north of Syria. Its all Kurdish. Ididn’t actually ask if there was friction in Syria but I gather there is not because had there been someit would have come up in the conversation. They are all Sunni Moslem, except for Iran where they areShiite.With the help from Compass we eventually found the road heading due south and once into theflat country the houses look to be made from mud brick – the older ones – rendered with thesame material but the distinctive feature was the domed roof with no eaves or overhang. A bit like ahaystack. Only a few windows and often blank walls facing the northern heat. The newer houses werefrom concrete blocks. I have given up trying to identify the few green crops along the way. I think alot would be green peppers which are being harvested at the moment. Much of the ground looks tohave been tilled after a grain crop and some of the land looks to be just bare.There is not a cloud in the sky and only a whisper of a breeze. At midday it was in the early to midthirties, but I could not say the sky was blue because of the mist, or whatever it is. I couldn’t describeit as a grey sky and even directly overhead it was not blue. As we got further south it got heavier andthicker to the point where I could not even see the horizon on this flat land. I wonder if it is just dust- a dust storm. But then without the wind what would keep it in the air, it would just settle.We have come to a town where there are some new and big grain silos, so there must be a heftygrain crop here when the time and rains are right, but it is difficult to imagine that today. It is bare andbrown and not nice. The same sheep are here in Syria - with the sad black faces – and are lookedafter by shepherds, but it’s strange that I have not seen any shorn sheep – they have all been heavy inwool right through our whole trip. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  8. 8. A common sight of women in the back of a truck. Like it or lump it - but that’s the way it is in this part of the world. Right now the land may look hot, barren, dry and bleak, but another town and more huge grain silosso it can’t be like this all of the year round. They must rely on rain at the right time in the growingcycle.A couple of ten year olds when I stopped for a breather in a small village.“Good morning. How are you?” with perfect English pronunciation. He didn’t have a “What is yourname?” like the Turkish kids, but I am sure what English I got was all he had to give! – but at least it’s astart. Then something different because I had been accustomed to seeing men only on their own butthis time it was a family group – a man, his wife and two kids all walking together and all crowding thecar window as I asked for direction. Apart from the language, I could have been at home. So I gave thelittle kids a Koala each.What great fun it is asking for directions because the next time, in Hasakah, there were four blokestogether in a fish shop I think it was, and they were all pouring over the map trying to work outwhere I was heading for – Deir Ezzor - and no matter how many times I spoke the words they justcouldn’t recognise the town and of course they could not read the English writing on the map. Hadit been in Arabic it would have been a breeze, but when the penny finally dropped they were all overme like a rash, and I am sure, pronouncing it much the same as I had.All morning the countryside had not changed one little bit although we are about 300 metres abovesea level so certainly not in ‘high country’ and there were a lot of settlements with a few houses ,then a gap and another small settlement . It reminded me very much of Morocco where the housesare made out of the local dirt and blend in so well you can hardly see them. But I must be missing abeat somewhere because all of these people would not be settled out here without reason – but I’mdarned if I can work out what it is.Oh yes, its dust alright now that the breeze has risen a notch I can see little willy willys travelling alongand the dust being picked up from the side of the road – the ground is all but bare so it stands toreason that dust will be picked up. Then there are signs of artesian water, so that may be the link I wasmissing.But suddenly the road changes from a fabulous single lane surface to an unmade surface, rocky andbumpy - but no problem because Phe is tough and can hack it.But then it does become a problem when the unmade, rocky and bumpy road changes to a dirt track.Throw in a few forks without signs and suddenly we are not looking too good. I stopped a bloke ona motor bike and my pronunciation of Deir Ezzor was all he could go by because he had no idea ofreading the English on the map. He pointed for us to keep going But I was not at all confident he hadactually understood the question. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  9. 9. I think I heard Phe murmur “I don’t think we are on the right road Grae.” Then another man on a motor bike came to meet me from one of the farm houses and recognisedthe town as I pronounced it and told me, by sign, to drive “Towards those trees (a picture in the airof a tree) but don’t turn left, (and pointed to the left and then chopped his hand off) but when asfar as those houses (a picture in the air of a house) then turn left!” I then got a “boop, boop” – that’sthe train line! Such a nice guy. First of all he wanted some American dollars and I said ‘not American– Australian and no US dollars in Australia’, so he gave up and then he invited me in for somethingto eat. Twice he did this. Should I have accepted? I don’t know. It gets terribly strained having tea in aroom where no conversation is possible. Wonderful and no words that either of us could understand.I followed the instructions exactly as he had given them and it worked out perfectly. From the timewe crossed under the train line, it became easy because I could see vehicles moving on the highwaymaybe 3 kms away so it was only a matter of following a track leading in that direction. We were backon the first class sealed road all the way to Deir Ezzor. How the hell I lost it in the first place I willnever know and I was not going back to find out. It is 180 kms from Hasakah to Deir Ezzor and theroad has been flat, straight and true for all of those 180 kms except for that itchy, titchy, little bit in themiddle where we managed to lose our way.When we arrive at Deir Ezzor there was a hotel that looked okay from the outside and stood upalright on the inside but the price was 1600 pounds – makes the last two nights at 500 per night lookpretty good. (But this one comes with a toilet seat and a roll of toilet paper). I was tempted to trysomewhere else I must be getting old because I couldn’t be bothered. Instead I found an ATM, a carwash inside and out for Phe and a fill of diesel – A price I couldn’t believe, just 20 pounds a litre. That’seven cheaper than Tunisia and about a quarter the price of Europe. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  10. 10. Syria - Westwards along the Euphrates River valley to Aleppo Saturday 25th September 2010Breakfast at this mediocre but expensive hotel was about the same – mediocre. We are leavingaround about nine heading back across the country to Aleppo in the top left corner – the north west.But before we leave I have a few things to say.What a filthy bloody joint this is. Phe had a nice clean wash last night and I come out this morning andshe – along with every other car in the city - was covered with dust, just covered! I had to re-washthe windscreen and the rear window just to be able to take off. This city could be a really beautifulplace because it has a huge river flowing right through the middle of it – and that river is the Euphra-tes! The Euphrates, and it runs right through Dier Ezzor, and then across the length of Iraq and eventu-ally empties into The Gulf. It is a big river that has it’s origins in the mountains of Turkey.I know it would be hard, but there seems to be no attempt to control the dust and of course everytime a heavy vehicle goes past there are clouds of dust billowing out behind it. Then they could teachthe population to stick the rubbish in the bins and not just chuck it out the window or onto the street– how hard is that! Many, many other countries have done it. Just how hard is it! It gives me the irits tosee such a mess!Dier Ezzor could be a really beautiful city but it isn’t not, and not by a long shot.I haven’t got to talk to a woman in Syria as yet – well not in Turkey either now that I think of it – butthis morning when I was cleaning Phe’s windows, a woman was walking towards us and as she passedby she looked straight at me and I smiled, but her expression didn’t change one iota – her eyes didn’teven blink just moved away from me to the way ahead. She didn’t even drop her eyes to the pave-ment. It wasn’t even embarrassing – it was just sort of stone cold as if I wasn’t there at all. Just one ofthose little person to person things that had a result that I am not accustomed to.It seems almost compulsory for all of the men in Syria to smoke, but I wonder if women smoke aswell?The river, the Euphrates, would be the life blood to the area because the flatland is cultivated all alongit’s banks – potato, corn, peppers and so many things that I don’t recognise and there are peopleworking in amongst the crops everywhere. There are small villages along the road every few kilome-tres. We are only 250 metres above sea level so nothing much has changed from that point of view.Phe needed a top-up of oil and amazingly at one of the many villages we passed through I was ableto spot a bloke who could sell Phe that one litre. I say amazingly, because retailing in Syria is differentthan in western countries. There are no flashy glass shop fronts – in fact there is hardly any glass at all– just a metal roller shutter that tells you that when it is down, the shop is shut and when raised, theyare open for business. There are no signs neither in Arabic and certainly not English, but the localsknow where to go for whatever they want, but us mere mortal tourists have to peer inside each ofthese shop-fronts to decide if the items for sale are groceries, or clothing, or engine oil or a mechanicfixing cars. Well I struck it lucky and a Peter Ustinov look-a-like took the first 50 pound note I offeredand then indicated ‘more’ and the second 50 proved to be enough to satisfy both him and Phe. Thesame litre of oil cost 20 lire in Turkey – 7 times the price!Despite the dust, everyone seems very neat and clean. Men in western dress have clean shirts withironed creases on the sleeves or if in traditional style, the shoulder to ankle gown is either very whiteor beige, pressed and clean. The women have brightly coloured traditional dresses and scarves –bright blues, or reds, or orange, and with gold or silver threads. A few women are in all black.I can’t believe I have lost the medical kit. I had it out a week or so ago when I had the trots and todayI’ve won a bad foot and a bad elbow both at the same time, probably from the cold draft under theair-conditioner a couple of nights back. I have had it in my foot two or three times over the past yearand am sure it is a chill that catches the muscle, and which normally takes 4 or 6 days to come right.So I thought a panadol forte would help me to operate the clutch pedal without grimacing – but nokit!It’s the second thing lost on this trip – the first was the immersion element for boiling water, way, wayback.At the turnoff to Ar Raqqah there was some roadworks and I could have taken more time to seewhat was happening because there were women with shovels walking to do work and there werealso strange looking 200 litre drums of a very pale greenish liquid that was being mixed with a pole –in one case just the one fellow mixing and in another case there were two women mixing but I neversaw anyone using whatever it was in the drum, so it will be a mystery to me forever probably. Over acouple of kms there must have been six or seven drums of the stuff. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  11. 11. The dust has blurred the horizon for the last two days - I guess there is little that can be done about it.The countryside after the Ar Raqqah turnoff has not changed one little bit with people in amongstthe crops, harvesting, and the visibility poor. I don’t want to keep harping on about this dust, but howthe hell they live with it I don’t know. I suppose that is a stupid question because they have no choicebecause the dust is going to be around whether there are people here or not.I had decided to give Ar Raqqah a miss and head instead directly to Aleppo for - hopefully - a nicehotel with wifi so I can get some business done with the publishers in England. There doesn’t seem tobe much of a ‘journey’ in today’s march. It looks to be just Dier Ezzor and Aleppo – the two destina-tions and not that much in between, and what there is was pretty bleak.But then quite suddenly the landscape changed as we left the desert behind – I still can’t resolve inmy mind the need for another big batch of huge grain silos – so where then hell is the grain com-ing from? The improvement is gradual but definite. There are plantations of small olive trees still afew years away from their first crop and there is some water lying around in places. The Euphratesbroadens out into a lake a way to our right out of sight but there are a number of channels that arebringing water to the area. Then for the first time all day – and it’s now almost two o’clock – the sunhas managed to peak through the dust and is shining on Phe. We may have left the worst behind us.Aleppo looks to be a nice enough sort of city, clean and tidy with buildings a concrete colour ratherthan the colour of the earth. A few street trees. It is a big city of more than two and a half millionpeople and bigger than the capital, Damascus.I drove around for a while before I started asking the locals about hotels, and it took four asks beforethis middle aged guy, who had tried to direct me (in Arabic,) then suggested – I think – that he hopin and guide us to one. I accepted the offer and away we went. For the next 15 minutes or more heguided and pushed us through the tooting traffic to a 4 star at what looked like the centre of townbut even at 5300 pounds they were full for tonight. (Remember I paid just 500 Syrian pounds at AlQamishli for our first night in Syria) The receptionist suggested another hotel around the corner butthey were also full at 4200 pounds. This receptionist fellow was good enough to ring another threehotels until at 4100 pounds he found one that had a vacant room and also wifi. My new ‘best friendin Aleppo’ guided us there, found an illegal place to park, and got me to reception where I did thenormal things needed to book in. But then he disappeared. I looked all over but there was no sign ofhim. I had intended to offer him some money but obviously that wasn’t part of his plan. One of thehotel porters walked back to the car to lead me to Phe’s park for the night but there was still no signof him. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  12. 12. A shame really as I would have loved to have thanked him for being so very kind. Syria - From the big city of Aleppo to the Mediterranean coast and Latakia Sunday 26th September 2010We made it out of this big busy bustling city of Aleppo, and if it wasn’t for Compass we would havehad no bloody hope at all. We had driven for three quarters of an hour I guess, by heading towardsthe south-west whenever an intersection came up, before there was the first road sign in English thatI could recognise – and that was to Daret Azzah , a little more west than south-west but there shouldbe no problem with that. In fact the road looks to be a minor road which suits Phe and Me down tothe ground.It was a nice hotel last night and I got chatting to a German couple who had been travelling aroundJordan, Lebanon and Syria for four weeks. They gave me a few tips on places they had been to andenjoyed and were good enough to give me their Syrian maps. Courage is a very precious thing tome and I don’t want to use any of mine up in trying to walk to – and then, maybe, find – the TouristInformation Office just on the off chance that there would be some good info coming from them andfor the sake of getting a good road map of Syria. Aleppo is a strange and confusing city and the risk ofnot being able to find my way back to the Hotel and Phe parked in a nearby car-park, was too great.So thank you ‘German couple’ very much for your maps. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  13. 13. Today I am not going to mention litter, not at all - but that’s not to say it’s gone away, just that I don’twant to keep on harping about it.A street in Aleppo but it is now in the best light because we had three solid torrents of rain last night.Each one only lasted for maybe five minutes but it really pelted down and would have freshened theplace up, so the photos are a bit brighter than they would have been had they been taken yesterday. Then there was this big up-market housing development with three stories homes on large blocks of land.They looked to be very much the same shape and style as I discussed when travelling through Turkey,but up to now I had not noticed the repetition of design here in Syria. There are about 30 on this sideof the road and maybe half as many on the other side and all about to the same (early) stage of de-velopment. A couple look to be well on the way to completion, but the rest a long way off. It is about10kms short of Daret Azzah so a fair way from Aleppo.Another encounter of the happy kind this time at the small town of Daret’ezzeh. I suppose it happensbecause I am a novelty, being old and scruffy with a car to suit, and with no Arabic at all – maybe evena challenge to some people. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  14. 14. Just over three weeks ago, while we were in Tunisia I had a mishap which destroyed the camera andafter a big hassle I bought a replacement from the town’s one and only department store. Only thechoice of one digital camera but in two colours – silver or black. Great choice! Its a Fuji and workswell enough but runs on two AA disposable batteries which don’t seem to last long and it has been abattle keeping new, fully charged batteries up to it. The shops and kiosks all the way since Tunisia seemto stock only disposable batteries that are flat!Well the (brand new) camera is playing up again so we cruised up the main street very slowly lookingto spot anyone who may know something about cameras. There was a tiny shop with some gear likeCD’s and phones in the window, so I gave it a go. Of course the bloody camera wouldn’t malfunctionwhen showed to the bloke but he took the easy way out of wanting to put the two AA batteriesinto his charger. He was a nice, friendly young fellow and had his two little kids with him in the shopbut English was as scarce as hen’s teeth and even the regular sign language was not working very welleither. I tried to tell him that they were not rechargeable batteries and furthermore I had just takenthese two brand new batteries straight out of the packet. He was unable to understand the “NotRechargeable” sign written in English on the side of each battery.Then I thought to get him to top up the mobile phone with another 100 Syrian pounds as I have myson’s birthday to attend to in the morning – the last of this batch for a month or so.Anyway, I sat around for half an hour waiting for the batteries to either explode or stay cool, until theyoung bloke spotted two blokes on the street who had a little English. He called them inside and Iwas able to get them to understand the batteries were not rechargeable and managed to get themback out of the charger before any damage was done.They then wanted me to buy some ‘rechargeable’ batteries – and I would have done exactly thatexcept the young fellow only had his own charger and not another that he could sell to me. No goodfrom my point of view buying rechargeable batteries without a charger.So “Come” was the instruction, and off we go down the street a couple of shops to a grocer whosold us (me) a couple of new AA’s. I stuck them into the camera and they were deader than thedo-do. The shopkeeper just shrugged and gave me my money back. (Did he really put those batteriesback on the shelf behind him?)My old batteries kicked the camera into life but I know it won’t be for long. Anyway there were nowfour of them and one of me trying to solve the unsolvable so eventually we all gave up. But partingwas a happy affair with warm handshakes and smiles all-round and a few soft palms to the heart –which perhaps is an Islamic blessing for me.In parting the main guy asked if I was going to the Citadel and I said “Yes” and then “Where is it?” Hetold me a left and then a right and it was well worth the visit. This is the Sanaan Citadel but there was not a skeric of information in English so I will have to google it to get details. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  15. 15. On the way back from the Citadel the hillsides were just rocks but below there were green valleyfloors. This was pretty typical. The rocky hillside is just that – rocks with hardly a shovel full of dirt. Onthe other hand the valley floor looks to be pretty fertile and certainly good enough for olives and insome places vegetables, corn and other bits and pieces as well. There is water as well.We picked up a hitcher while I was parked looking for the way to Addana on the map and this bloketold me the way and then hopped in. I didn’t mind but it was a shame he had no English – surely I willcatch one soon! Anyway he guided us to and through Addana and then for another 50 kms before hesignalled a stop. And the area had water and had become a rich bowl for the production of foodstuff.There seem to be more and more olive trees and these trees although a lot larger were not the veryold, mature trees we have seen in other countries. Maybe Syria only started into olives 20 or 25 yearsago – in this area at least. I understand there is a mountain range that runs from north to south nearto the coast and maybe on our way to Latakia today we will pass over the top which will make a nicechange to the flat driving in Syria so far.About 50 kms short of Latakia there were a couple of speed humps that made the car in front of meand the truck in front of it, to pull up a halt. There was a bloke on the road and he shook hands withthe driver in front of us, so I pulled out to overtake these two mates who had stopped for a chat,when I noticed a second bloke on the road, but this one had a rifle not on a strap to the shoulder butat the ‘ready’. He was in civilian clothes but it surely was a Syrian Army check point of some kind andwe had almost barged straight through it.Within about 10kms of Latakia I reckon I spotted some of Aziz’s lemon trees – just a handful inamongst the olives, and if they weren’t lemons they were something mighty close to lemons. Syria - Across the mountains to the plains around Apamea Monday 27th September 2010Once again when we had arrived at Latakia, I stopped at the first hotel we came across. This one was1500 pounds which was a lot softer than the previous night’s 4100 pounds but it was pretty scruffy– and heaps of street noise with those honking horns, until I got a change in rooms. So now it’s a lotbetter. Perhaps I should do a bit more shopping around in future.His name was Yasser, and he was the English voice at the Tourist Information office here in Latakia. Hehad excellent English and I am so glad I didn’t give up trying to find the office - although I was sorelytempted a number of times. It was only pot luck in the finish, as there were none of the usual ‘TouristInformation Office’ logos which are recognisable world wide. Not even anything in English at all.Maybe finding it was a good omen because the day just got better from there.Getting back to Yasser though, I didn’t really get a great deal of information but what I did get willbe good quality I am sure, and it was just nice talking to him. I said to Yasser before I left, that I havea thousand questions about Syria and I will remember them when he is not around, and of coursestraight away, one of them was to ask for a note in Arabic describing AA rechargeable batteries witha battery charger to suit. I would then have a chance of buying the gear to escape this rigmarole ofbuying cheap AA batteries that are flat straight out of the packet. But I forgot.After the Tourist Info place we drove north of the city to the nice Mediterranean beaches and thenaround towards the wharf and port area when I spotted a brand new multi storey retail complexwith K Mart as one of the tenants. Worth a try.Bingo! Just inside their doors there was a separate section selling batteries and the like and so a prettybig and clumsy looking battery charger and rechargeable batteries became part of our gear. Theyoung fella – maybe 27 – looking after the section also had excellent English which made it easy andvery convenient. His name was John. But as I was walking back to Phe it occurred to me that therewas a long day coming up and I would need a camera that was functioning and not dependent uponiffy batteries, so I backtracked and asked John if he could plug the new charger into the power to givethe new batteries a spark of life. I could hang around K Mart for the hour that it would take.And that’s what happened. He wasn’t very busy so we chatted and he told me about his wish toemigrate to Australia but he could not find information about the Australian Embassy in Syria. I toldhim I didn’t think it mattered much whether he applied through Damascus or Cairo or London oreven Canberra but the sooner he made the application the sooner he would find out whether hewas accepted or knocked back. He said he had trained in University as a computer engineer – is thereany young person in the world who is not a computer engineer? Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  16. 16. I asked him what the jobless rate would be in Syria and he thought it would be well over 50% and thatthe wages were poor. I asked him how much he was paid in this job with K Mart and he said $US 100 amonth but it would be $150 a month if he was working at his trade. I asked if he was married and he saidno because it was too expensive – not quite sure what he meant by that. We parted after the hour was upand the new batteries were cooked to perfection – I hope - and I took off on the rest of our journey.We were 10 minutes up the road, around the docks area of the city, when I had a dose of the guilts.Barb and I have three children, each of whom have married and raised three children. Each of themand their spouse have worked hard and never had financial assistance from the Government or fromtheir parents but each couple now own their own home on a suburban block and two cars plus mon-ey in the bank and only a small remaining house mortgage. This young bloke today could not, in hiswildest dreams imagine such a lifestyle – a lifestyle taken for granted by the average young Australian.He seemed to be very intent on trying to break the cycle and I think he wanted to talk to me aboutAustralia and get some help. And why shouldn’t I help. There may be something I could do even if it isonly advice and support. So a U-turn to give him my email and postal address and a little informationabout Australia’s low unemployment rate plus the shortage of skilled people. I also suggested he couldwell be suited to working in the areas where the wages were the highest, and where jobs are availablebecause of the high temperatures, and that’s around the remote Queensland and West Australianmining towns. The excessive heat surely wouldn’t worry a young man from Syria.I like this town of Latakia despite the very ordinary hotel last night. It seems to be neat and tidy withstreet trees and many broad streets. It has beaches to the Mediterranean Sea and a seaport. Trafficcontrol seems good with lights and roundabouts plus police on point duty along the way.But by one o’clock it was time to leave. Yasser had marked a road on our map that meant going southas far a Jableh, past the airport and then turning left into the mountains and out the other side to fin-ish up at the town of Apamea for the night. It is the site of a citadel up on the hill.Well we got lost again!I don’t know if is just me or is it these stupid maps that are put out by the Tourist info people, but Istopped at every signpost that had English writing on it and could not, not once, find one of thosetown on my map! The best thing Yasser did was to give me a second identical map but written inArabic rather than mine that is written in English, so whenever I stopped seeking info, the local had nodifficulty reading the place names on the map – at least he knew where he was.Compass says we are going east into the mountains and so long as the road doesn’t run out weshould eventually get to the plains over the other side. But I had no idea which road we were on. Istopped and asked a couple of blokes smoking bongs – four o’clock in the afternoon - and they saidwe were heading for Apamea okay. And that was only two men out of what must have been dozensof enquiries. Then I gave away asking because the road was fine as it twisted and turned in the climbto the summit. One of the villages up in the rocks. It is almost invisible being the same colour as the rock and the dirt. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  17. 17. As we passed through this village I saw an elderly couple sitting outside in the shade with washingdrying on their line but apart from that there was nothing much happening in that village that day.A number of times I thought we had reached the summit of the road but around a bend and therealways seemed to be another climb – not that we were very high it was just that we had come upfrom sea level to the mountain tops in a very short space of time. Eventually we made it to the top. Ithad been an excellent road all the way with what looked liked a fairly new asphalt surface. But then itstopped. It didn’t just peter out. It stopped!It stopped!About 100 metres further back I had seen a fellow walking into a house and as we passed I noddedand he waved, so I went back and knocked and called a “Hello” into the doorway that he had gonethrough but when I looked it was sort of a nothing space under the house. Nearby there were somestairs to an open door so I climbed the stairs, called out, put my head through the door and here arefour blokes lying on carpets and cushions in a small room playing cards. This is precisely the same aswhat happened in Morocco on the Sahara Desert a year ago – is this what they call daja-vu? Thattime I had Ali who led me to the den but this time I had done it all by myself.Anyway I went inside and asked the question “English – speak English?” and one of the men after a bitof think music said “English – yes.” As it turned out he had only just passable English. It took a while forthe four of them crowded around the Arabic map to work out where we were and where I wantedto go but then the English speaker said “Come – follow” out onto a deck and he explained in simpleterms and signs and finger pointing the way I should go to get back to the main road. In essence itwas to miss the first road to the left but take the second road to the left and then drive all the way toApamea. He couldn’t put a mark on the map showing exactly where we were at that moment but hetold me how to get out of the mess we were in.Then he said “tea – like tea?” and I said “Yes” but because I said “no sugar” they had a laugh becauseall of the pots they had must have had sugar – and there would have been a handful at least in eachpot - so it took a few minutes for a new pot to be made. These four blokes weren’t no-hoper’s orlayabouts – they seemed to me to be regular middle-aged men but when I tried to find out just whatthey were doing perched up there on the mountain top in this village at the end of the line, I didn’treally get an answer except that “We drive to Jableh” (back down on the coast), and I wondered ifthey were a group of the small van-bus drivers which would criss-cross the whole area.Anyway after two cups of tea I wanted to take a photo of the four of them playing cards – I hadalready sat through a couple or three hands – but as I stood, so did all of them, so the moment waslost, however they were happy to pose for a family group outside on the deck. As we drove away they were all outside to wave us off.Wonderful friendly, helpful Syrians. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  18. 18. This day was just going on and on.First of all I couldn’t believe it, but after driving for twenty minutes I was back at the same dead end,of the same road, again, and had just driven right past their house without noticing it. We had done afull loop. So I crept up the stairs again and popped my head in and said “Boo” and laughed and carriedon like a two bob watch. They then told me that the second turn-off was not really a fork with twoprongs but that it had three prongs and I had taken the left and should have taken the middle one. Ihad not see any three bloody prongs but they should know – it’s their country! So off down the hillagain to the second intersection and I still can’t see three bloody prongs. I was tempted to give upand backtrack towards the coast but then the thought ‘No, I will try again’.There were some shooters up the right-hand road a bit, “I will go to where they are and try for asecond – or fifth – opinion.” They were good value. About five of them with a bird call blasting outof a CD and the occasional shot at these little fellas that looked very similar to but smaller than aKingfisher we have in Australia. A long sharp beak and a green chest – a pretty little bloke but it wouldtake a lot to make a meal. Anyway two or three of the shooters had excellent English and threw theirhand up in the air when they found I was heading for Apamea, so I must have been a long way off thetrack, but then they pointed out the road I should take to meet the main road – and lo and behold itwas the middle prong to the three pronged fork and I was standing almost right on top of it and stillhad not seen it.It still wasn’t all plain sailing but eventually we followed the hill down to the valley floor and picked upthe main road. I really am bloody hopeless though, because I am here to collect material to put intoa book, and after we left the shooters to take the middle fork, there was another shooter on his ownand I stopped so as not to disturb him as he took his shot. Why didn’t I take a photo of that! Somejournalist I am! A paparazzi without the P! He missed the bird but maybe I should have asked themboth for a replay and he may have shot it the second time around.We are now on the (main) road that Yasser the tourist info bloke, said was a great road and he isdead right, with a good drive through the hills that were bush clad with pine and little oaks (I think)but still with plenty of boulders showing through, except it had paled a wee bit compared to thatmarvelous road we had found when we got lost, if you get my drift.It’s a quarter to six and we are out of it and onto the plains heading north Apamea.Surprise, surprise, there is no hotel at Apamea and the nearest is back at Hama 50 kms to the south.But there is always a flip side to the coin because we were probably only half way back to Hama andthere were all of these loaded trucks and trailers behind tractors lined up one after the other on theside of the road – maybe a hundred odd – all loaded with huge hessian bags of what was sure to becotton. There must be a cotton gin here to process the crop, and that’s what would have been beingpicked today by all of those people in the fields. That seals it! We will come back here tomorrow tosee the Roman ruins at Apamea and also to check out the cotton. Syria - The Roman Ruins near Apamea and some cotton picking Tuesday 28th September 2010Last night’s hotel was in the ‘old town’ of Hama. Nice. This morning I have checked out, got all of thegear into Phe and fully expect to be back here tonight – but at least we are not committed at thisstage. We are going to head back north to Apamea and its Roman ruins but on a different road andon the way we can check out the cotton thing.But we have to get out of this town first and someone said that life wasn’t meant to be easy! You cansay that again! Oh for Karen to lend a hand! But her maps all stopped on the other side of the Medi-terranean so its up to Compass alone - no good looking at Me because Me hasn’t a clue. Every blokeI asked had a finger and it pointed in the opposite direction to the direction we were travelling.We were getting nowhere until I asked three young twenty year olds walking together and as ananswer, they all hopped into Phe and gave directions until, after only five minutes or so, they called ahalt, all piled out and signed ‘straight ahead for Apamea!’ Smiles and handshakes all round - but notthe slightest hint of money. Wasn’t that nice. These blokes – it’s nine o’clock , a Tuesday, and if they hadjobs they would be at work. So what were they going to do for the day? The three of them neatlydressed and clean, just going walk-about. They seemed to be good mates and enjoyed each other’scompany but what is their outlook for life? Sad I reckon. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  19. 19. This is cotton as it is growing and in my hand is the cotton out of one quarter segment of the floweror bud or whatever it is called. The three seeds were devilishly hard to separate out – and there arestill another three seeds embedded in that ball of cotton. The cotton, without any of the seeds, isexactly as you would buy cotton wool from a shop. What an amazing plant it is! Lets call it a bud, butit grows and swells but stays tightly enclosed in the outer shell until that starts to open revealing foursegments of tight wool inside. The four petals spread so far that they leave the wool completely opento the air. I know cotton needs a lot of heat and a lot of water to succeed as a crop. The pickers onlymove in when all of the buds are wide open and then it is simply a matter of plucking each ball ofcotton wool off the plant – maybe ten per plant – and then move to the next. Apparently picking iswomen’s work but there are blokes around as the bags the women fill are bundled and squashed intoa hessian bail. They then become heavy.It has never ceased to amaze me when you compare cotton and sheep’s wool. In the natural statethey are very similar to the eye and to the touch except that sheep’s wool is a little greasy with thelanolin content while cotton wool is dry, but both are twisted into a thread and that thread woven orknitted into a cloth and used for may things put predominately for clothing. The big difference is thatcotton is a vegetable grown with sun and water while wool is animal – a product of the sheep.The area we are into today is arable, intensively farmed flat land with a plentiful supply of water. Thereare lots of people doing lots of things on the land. It’s a very busy place. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  20. 20. The Roman ruins near Apamea date back to 300BC.They are impressive but I found it particularly difficult to visualise how the city would have lookedwhen it was brand new all of those centuries ago. The row of columns is 1850metres long! And notvery wide. First the Roman baths with the exposed plumbing, then an arch – the rest of the buildinghas collapsed but the arch remains - then the row of columns and it looks very, very, very straight af-ter all of these years – amazing people these Romans! Pity they didn’t teach the Italians how to drive!I got suckered into buying some stuff that was most probably die-cast in Damascus (or China) andburied underground for six months to give it some “age.” It was from a nice bloke on a motor scooterwho led me up here. I gave him 200 Syrian pounds for the guidance but then another 1500 for fourRoman coins he had “Found here on the site myself.” It sure was his lucky day when I came along! Youwould reckon I would know better!I really have no idea how original this site is but if it really is original then it is amazing.At Apamea, as well as the Roman ruins there is also an ancient city up on the hill but the ruins wereenough for me for one day so I left the ancient city for next time.We made it to the line of cotton trucks about two thirty and I sat for a while and watched as threeempty trailers came out but no full ones got inside, but then Phe managed to get us onto a side trackthat went around the back and up onto a rise overlooking the site, and I was able to see that this wasnot a cotton gin at all. It was simply a depot where the bales are stored under tarps for as long as ittakes before being trucked off to the gin. Makes sense because the gin would want to operate at aneven pace all of the year round and not just at harvest time. It is almost three o’clock, knock off time,and the workers are tidying up the last of the bales into the giant ‘hay stack’ for the day and I guessthe farmers who own the fifty or a hundred trucks and trailers out on the road will sleep with theircotton until the morn.We are back to Hama for our sleep until the morn. Syria - The Ancient city of Palmyra - an Oasis in the Syrian Dessert Wednesday 29th September 2010Yasser at the Tourist Info place had said that Palmyra is a must see! He said that Germans fly to Syriato see Palmyra and then fly straight home again. I hope he is right because I am not a big fan of theRoman ruins, or ruins of any sort come to that. It looks to be around 250 to 300 kms east fromHama with not a lot in between so we should be there soon after lunch. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  21. 21. I guess we will be going back to the desert and the dust, but at the start it was clear, a warm morningwith not a cloud in the sky and only a breath of a breeze. It was half past nine by the time we clearedHama and the visibility looking east was as good as we have had for weeks. Sure, it’s still misty but notanywhere to the same degree as in the past. I wonder how this happens? Those fertile plains of yes-terday stopped almost as soon as we were out of the city. This could be pretty serious grain countrywith just a few olive groves dotting the landscape and the rest a brown stubble colour waiting for arain and a new planting next month possibly. Almost every town along the way has the big grain silosfor grain storage.Yesterday morning I drove the best part of 25 kms to the south when I thought we were going north!I couldn’t believe it when Compass’s needle had the red end pointing the wrong way! So this morn-ing I have been very conservative and have asked for directions at every intersection, or fork, or teebecause there has not been one road sign in English since we left Hama.It paid off early when we were in the town of Assalamyeh and I stopped and asked directions from ayoung fellow. He had good English and confirmed I was on the right track. He asked for a lift – and itwas my pleasure. He comes from Assalamyeh and is a doctor (still in training I suspect) and has workat the local hospital. I asked him about money and he said he gets US$250 per month and when Icommented that that doesn’t seem to be much, he said that “If I was in my own practice I would doa lot better and get closer to $2000 per month. Things are cheap in Syria and it doesn’t cost a lot tolive”. Why didn’t I ask him about the average size of a young family – him being in obstetrics and all –because I have the feeling that the average may be a fairly low 3 or 5 kids and not the large figures ofMorocco and Tunisia, but I did ask him where he got his good English from and he had to repeat theanswer because I was not ready for it the first time – Russia! He lived there for five years with somefriends. Amazing! A nice young fellow, and my first English speaking hitcher for weeks but unfortunate-ly he got out just on the other side of town. Then the Wednesday livestock market – Syrian style.It seemed to be only sheep and goats although it’s ten o’clock and it’s probably all but wound up. Itseemed a lot less frantic than the last market we went to - where was that? That’s right! Next door tothat five star hotel in Tunisia! At this market there were ropes and chains fixed to the ground and everso often what looked like a loop of rubber which could be easily slipped around the front hoof andthe animal controlled easily and simply. Didn’t see any cattle ramps though, but these Syrian farmersare a pretty tough bunch and the lift of a sheep from the ground onto the tray of the truck was nevergoing to be a problem.As we turned the corner and started driving south the country became hilly and terribly arid. I wassurprised. I expected the arid alright but not the hilly. No villages, no people, and no traffic on theroad. A breakdown out here would mean a long wait. But Phe’s tough and “breakdown” is a wordhardly in her vocabulary at all. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  22. 22. Another mob of sheep and goats with what looked like two shepherds, a man and wife perhaps. Acovered truck for their supplies and dirt and rocks for the sheep to eat. How do they survive? Andthey need water too of course. I wonder if these shepherds in particular own the flock or are theyworking for wages for some other owner.I still have not seen one sign in English that tells us we are on the road to Palmyra, but I think this roadfrom Hama could be the less preferred route to the one a bit further south that comes from Homsand another from Damascus. It has been a beaut drive though – the sort that Phe and Me both love -on a sealed road without lines.When we entered Syria I noticed the mud brick houses with domed roofs. Well the mud brick isstill prominent but the domed roofs have been replaced with the normal flat roof, probably out ofthe same mud brick but supported on poles. Then there is the more modern type of house madefrom concrete or concrete blocks and with a reinforced concrete roof. And the tent villages that lookpretty permanent. I wonder if this is the camp of the Syrian Berber?We made it to Palmyra early in the afternoon and straight away found a nice friendly hotel facing thecitadel. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  23. 23. That left us three or four very enjoyable hours for wandering around the ancient ruins, the castleand the citadel - all great even though ruins are not my favourite treat of the day. There were a lot oftour groups and I only managed to latch onto an English speaking one at the end. Just as well thoughbecause I get too impatient to try to sift out some relevant facts from all of the garbage thrust at thecaptive audience. I wish these tour guide people would cut out all of the irrelevant drivel they go onabout and just cut to the basic facts that tourists can absorb and perhaps remember. You only need tolook at the faces to read the sheer boredom of listening to some bloke telling you about - - - - - - - --------! The Temple of Ba’al at Palmyra They are still digging at Palmyra Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  24. 24. With Phe, I decided that a drive through the ‘green oasis’ would be a good idea. The sign was up andpointing at the date palms but I guess it related to foot passengers only because we had just entereda narrow, dusty, one way lane with the mud brick and rock of houses on one side and a high stonewall into the date palms on the other, when a bloke motioned for us to back up and go no further!He was talking in Syrian – as is his right – and I had no idea what he was talking about so I contin-ued on a few hundred metres looking for a place to turn. Another couple of blokes were there withwords and gestures too. Actually I – and every one of the other tourists in Palmyra that day - hadbeen pestered by the minute by men and boys trying to flog us beads and whistles, carpets and post-cards - you name it - and I had it in my mind that these fellows were onto the same game, so I triedto ignore them by saying I don’t understand – which was the truth. Eventually the penny droppedwhen they got me out of the car and pointed to Phe’s rear tyre – flat! Well it was a long way downbut not quite dead flat – yet! I thanked them and went looking to find a petrol station for some airas a starter. Better still I found a small tyre shop with a young bloke still working at seven thirty in theevening. He had just enough English to know that Sydney and Melbourne are both in Australia andthat if he pulls out that big shiny screw sitting in the tread and plugs the hole it will not need a tube –and yes he can do it – and yes he can do it now!He removed the tyre, plugged the hole and checked all the other tyre pressures and then said 100Syrian pounds. What’s that, about 1.60 euro or $A2.40. I couldn’t possibly pay 100 pounds for his hourso I gave him 300 and we were both very happy. He was such a nice friendly, happy, bloke. His namewas Mohammed – why did I ask! Syria - and On the Road to Damascus! Thursday 30th September 2010We are On the Road to Damascus! I have been wanting to put that bit into this journal ever sinceentering Syria but today is the day at last. It’s been a long time since I last went to Sunday school andit took some research to find out that according to the New Testament, it was Saint Paul who was Onthe Road to Damascus when he had a vision, was struck blind, and converted to Christianity. So thereyou are. And I thought it was a movie staring Bing Crosby and Jerry Lewis!We have about 250kms to travel through the desert much the same as yesterday I expect. Not farout of town we passed a sign ‘The Palmyra Camel Racecourse’, and it reminded me that I saw twocamels yesterday standing outside one of the tourist hotels and that they were the only camels I havesighted in out total journey in Syria so far. And now here is a camel racecourse. Who is doing the kid-ding here I ask? Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  25. 25. It is a lot easier drive today than it was yesterday – 110 km per hour all the way, single lane but agood road surface, straight and flat, but not anywhere as interesting. This is the main drag betweenDamascus and the Palmyra tourist destination and we passed a lot of tourist coaches heading out fora day or two at the ruins.We came towards Damascus from the north and there was a lot of pollution coming from someheavy industry and stuff. A cement works as well, and there sure would be a big demand for cementin Syria. I thought it was going to clear but as we got closer it became just one great big grey cloud ofsmog. The huge advertising billboards for the likes of ‘Ford’ and ‘Hoover’ had that dark brown grimestain creeping up from the bottom the same as you see on some railway stations and goods yards.When we got to the outskirts of Damascus I got a fit of the smarts, and so I followed a big purplebus into town hoping it would lead us directly to the bus station – therefore the middle of town andright next to a wonderful three star hotel with a cheap price. Tell him he’s dreaming! The purple buswas the one that left Palmyra every hour for Damascus. It didn’t work out. The purple bus stopped atwhat I thought may have been a suburban bus station, let off a few passengers and took off again outof the bus station and I lost it! Bugger!But I stopped at an ATM to top up the wallet and then went into the bank for smaller change as themachine had only given out 1000 pound notes. I can always be relied upon to make a fool of myself– and here I did it again. I fronted the counter and pretended to tear a 1000 pound note in half butthe puzzled look from the other side of the counter prompted me to write with biro on the palm ofmy hand ‘50, 100, 200.’ The nice cashier lady then said in perfect English “You want to break the 1000into smaller notes.” I felt so small I could have walked under a snake with my umbrella up! Anyway shetook it in good fun and when the transaction was concluded she came outside to direct me to thecentre of Damascus where the hotels would be. Nice and helpful but she had a very cold hand whenI shook it to say thank you and goodbye. Strange, because it was well over thirty degrees again today.Maybe it’s from handling so much of that cold cash all day – and an air-conditioner that may be set atad low. A back street just off the main drag in Damascus.Very easy to buy an ice cream or a kebab or a cold (soft) drink. It was easy to find a hotel without breaking the bank, but devilishly hard to find somewhere for Phe.In the end one of the hotel’s porters came with us to find a parking spot in a street nearby – not thebest but the only place on offer. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  26. 26. Probably going to be a small apartment block of four (at least) floors This photo is a good illustration of the method of building modern houses and apartments, not justhere in Syria but all over this part of the world from northern Europe to western Europe and nowin the Middle East. I reckon it’s great and far superior to the ‘stick by stick’ method I am used to inAustralian and New Zealand where houses consume tons of trees and are then clad in clay bricks ormore timber, or some other product.Here construction is simple. Pour a concrete floor with plenty of steel reinforcing, a few vertical pillarswith plenty of steel reinforcing, another floor this time with light-weight bricks as well as the concrete,more pillars, another floor, or maybe the roof. The stairs are poured – with plenty of steel reinforcing- at the same time. Then they use some large but lightweight clay bricks for internal and external walls.The walls are not load-bearing – just filling the hole. Finally the walls are cement rendered on theoutside and maybe cement, or perhaps plaster or tiles, on the inside. The windows are mostly doubleglazed in aluminium frames with sashes that open into the room – and with just a flick of the leverthey can open in as a casement window for maximum air flow, or tip in from the top as an awningwindow. And I have never found one that doesn’t work! Terrific. I am a fan for this type of construc-tion for a number of reasons. Surely it is cheaper than our way. Heat, cold, and sound insulation isexcellent. Even in a room with an occupied floor above, there is no sound that comes through. Theintermediate floors are solid with no sign of bounce.The only problem I have found has been with the plumber - wouldn’t you know it!In many, many cases the bathroom on upper floors smell badly because of inadequate traps fromthe shower or from the drain hole in the bathroom floor. Without the trap the smell from the wholedrain system drifts straight into the bathroom. Easily fixed, I reckon, by getting the painter to do theplumbing!I had it worked out in my long-term forward planning diary, (what long-term forward planning diary?)that tomorrow would be a day for looking around the ‘old town’ of Damascus and the Tourist Infopeople, just a short walk from our new hotel, would be just the ones to lead me in the right direction.But - there always seems to be a but – they were closed by the time I got there at six o’clock andtomorrow, being Friday and a holy day, means they will not re-open until Saturday morning. A bit lateas we could be heading south on Saturday. Towards Jordan. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  27. 27. Syria - In Damascus Friday 1st October 2010Phe’s in for a spell today and my feet are going to do the walking. I managed to get a tourist map ofDamascus and the old city is only about 15 minutes walk from the hotel. I don’t know if it will be adrawback or a bonus today being a holy day with the vast majority of stall holders and shop ownershaving the day off, because I am certainly not the one for browsing through all the stuff that’s offeredfor sale, but on the other hand the busy ‘souk’ atmosphere will be missing. Then there is the plus thatwith less crowds I may have less chance of getting lost. The insurance this time though, is the little yel-low taxi, so that if the worst comes to the worst I can get one of those mighty little mouses to bringme back to the hotel – and just for 50 pounds – less than a euro. I had to love this bloke’s hat It is a holy day today and the bulk of the stalls are closed, but it is easy to imagine what it would be like here tomorrow Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  28. 28. There were a lot of men scrambling through the pile of shirts and slacks and even a jacket or two, soevidently they must be cheap even by Syrian standards.I had a joke with the owner of this small furniture shop because I thought the timber was inlaid withmother of pearl. Silly me! How far away are shellfish from the middle of Syria. First of all I thought thebloke said the white inlay was camel horn. “Camel horn?”I tried to confirm ‘camel horn’ with a couple of forefingers coming from my forehead. He looked puzzled.And I looked puzzled too because “Camels don’t have horns!”Then the truth – not horns, stupid. He issaying camel bones! He said the furniture was made in Syria but when he said the camel bones were alsofrom Syrian camels, I laughed out loud because the only two camels I had seen in Syria so far were the twogiving the tourists a ride at Palmyra yesterday. He said there were heaps of camels in the desert aroundPalmyra and Deir Ezzor where we were a week ago! Maybe they had been lying down when we were inthe desert! Anyway he took the kidding in good nature and we had a good laugh.I had assumed that Syria would be all but 100% Islamic but not quite true with about 10% followingthe Christian faith. There are a number of the Catholic churches in Old Damascus. If spices are any way to judge, then Syrians love their food! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  29. 29. Damascus is apparently the oldest, continually occupied city in the world, but then the tourist informa-tion leaflet described the early Roman Damascus as being up to 5 metres below this ‘old city’. Howcan that be? Beats me! But Damascus today is a beaut place sitting as is does backing up against thelow hills to the north-west. On the way out tomorrow we can have a look and I guess that a lot ofthe residential area is up there overlooking the city lights. I wasn’t game to move Phe today because Idoubt if we would find our way back to the hotel.The ‘new Damascus’ was great too with contrasting tiny alleyways and then wider streets with a fewtrees and greenery here and there. It’s clean because there are men with brooms and barrows pickingup litter almost before it hits the ground. And the Syrians I talked to were friendly and courteous. An-other thing I really liked about the Syrians was that the men were often walking with their wives andchildren and not a couple of paces out in front. And sometimes holding hands. And often I got thatwarmth from a fellow, after getting help one way or another, a parting handshake, then many timesit has happened that he has put his hand lightly to his heart, briefly, and then a slight gesture to me,which I take as being a silent blessing such as goodbye – go in peace. I hope I am right. Syria - How about we go to Beirut? Saturday 2nd October 2010We left the hotel around nine and had a quick drive into the hills to the north-west for a couple ofphotos looking down on Damascus. The area was nice but really an extension of the city itself.One good thing though, was that it should be easy for Compass to set sail to the south so thatsooner or later we will see a sign that will take us to the border with Jordan.Not so!The first sign I saw was to Lebanon and it’s capital, Beirut, and a quick check with Compass showedthat for some unaccountable reason best known to Italian/ French sheilas, Phe must have done acouple of right angle turns without either Compass or Me noticing and had us driving north insteadof south!So I pulled over and had a good look at the map. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  30. 30. To help out with the reasoning I wrote a little calendar of the days remaining until the time to gohome on 21st November. Leaving out say, 7 days to drive back to England from wherever we are,there are 42 days left for touristing. We could go to Lebanon for 6 or 7 days, then to Jordan for aboutthe same time, then to Egypt for three weeks and leave Israel until last, for 6 or 7 days also. Fromwhat I understand some of the Arab countries will not allow entry if there is an Israeli stamp in thepassport so the problem will be solved if we leave Israel to last and then maybe catch a car ferryfrom Israel to Crete and then to Turkey for the start of the trip back to England. I wonder if that willwork?So lets go to Lebanon and Beirut!We don’t even have to find the right road because Phe already has us on it!But we do need some fuel and it would be best to buy it here in Syria with such a cheap price. Weleft the highway for a reasonable sized town but the petrol station had petrol but no diesel. The blokethere directed me down into the town and I looked all over but couldn’t find the other petrol station.I asked a couple of blokes and they said “No diesel in town.” Well they should know – it’s their town!,so back to the highway and along a bit to a second (sizeable) town and instead of driving aroundaimlessly, I spotted a bloke on the side of the road putting fuel into his car from a plastic water bottle,so I stopped and asked him. I reckoned he had run out and had had to walk to the petrol station fora top-up. With no English at all I got the message that I would get no diesel in this town either. Butthen he locked his own car and hopped into the passenger seat next to me and directed us back theten kms to the first town and the petrol station that had already told me they had no diesel. He gotproper directions (in Syrian) and back we went down into the town – remember the two locals hadalready told me “No diesel in town.” But my latest best friend found the place okay – it was the tankoff an old petrol tanker, no wheels or prime mover, just the tank sitting up on blocks with a hose com-ing from it. No wonder I had missed it on my run through the place. The measure was a bit dodgythough because the bloke reckoned 46 litres, and there was no way in the world that Phe would havetaken more than 36 litres. Anyway it was not the time to kick up a fuss. I drove my friend back to hiscar.How nice was that! This bloke gave me, a total stranger, the best part of half an hour of his time justin the name of what – not friendship – but perhaps friendliness is the word. I am certain an offer ofmoney would have offended or at least embarrassed. He was close to thirty. I asked if he was marriedand he nodded a ‘yes’. “Bambinos?” I asked and cradled my arms. Another nod ‘yes.’ “One?” with myone finger but got a two fingers from him – so I fished out two little koala bears for his kids.That was the morning. Great! A good decision and another brush with the real Syrians.But it was all downhill from there. My favourite parasite – the international bureaucrat - did me overagain and this time I got done like a dinner!By one o’clock - after one and a half hours - we had finally cleared the Syrian side of the border andmade it into the no-mans-land between the Syria and Lebanon fences. One and a half hours of too-ing and fro-ing from one window to the next and then back to the start to pay for another piece ofpaper. It was enough to drive you bonkers! There was very little English around but at the one andonly English speaking chance I had, I asked the bloke if I needed a visa to enter Lebanon and he said“Yes – but you can get it at the border.” Exactly the answer I wanted and early in the process too.The no-mans-land has to be the longest. The road winds it’s way downhill through the rocky moun-tains for maybe seven kilometres past a number of wrecked cars with bullet holes as a reminder ofthe not so friendly times of not that long ago.My first contact with Lebanon was good with a sign in both Arabic and in English which said some-thing like “Don’t throw your rubbish away – put it in the bin.” My second contact got me a visitors visabut my third contact with Lebanon was also my last!“Phe cannot enter Lebanon because she is diesel and no diesel cars are allowed in Lebanon!” I stillcan’t believe it so I will repeat it to see if I can make it believable!“Phe cannot enter Lebanon because she is diesel and no diesel cars are allowed in Lebanon!” No!That still hasn’t made it anything but still bloody ridiculous.I almost cried. It’s not the end of the world but it’s just the disappointment of not being able to getthings right.So there is nothing that can be done – we just have to go back to Syria. What a bastard! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  31. 31. By quarter past one we were knocking on the Syrian bureaucratic door again calling out “let me in –let me in” and an hour later I had precisely the same problem as when we entered the country tendays ago – they want another 4112 pounds ($US90) for Phe’s visa and I have only 2000 pounds leftin my wallet. They will not take payment by Visa card and there is no ATM at the border post - thenearest is all the way back at Damascus. I certainly couldn’t walk it in a week and Phe is not allowedout of the compound until the 4112 pounds is paid. One of the bright blokes has the solution “I willdrive you to an ATM in Damascus - but it will cost you 2000 pounds” That really sent me off. Just aswell they were not able to understand half of what I was saying. But I went away and had the sulks fora quarter of an hour and then went back and accepted the offer. I was over a barrel and no matterhow much I raved on about it they knew, and I knew, that I would have to accept and pay the 2000pounds. Either that or leave Phe there forever!By quarter past four we were out of their clutches and back on the road to Damascus. It had taken afull hour to get the money as the first ATM was ‘not in service’ and the second refused to recognisemy visa card – and that would be a first - and I was starting to think I had entered the wrong pinnumber but the third one did the right thing and paid up.My life seems to be just highs and lows these days. When I thought this morning about going to Beirutand the thought had time to sink in and mature, I got all enthusiastic because it was a good idea, fittedinto a timetable okay and when the Syrian bloke said you get the visa at the border, well it was all go,go, go. And then the Lebanese gave me a visa and then took it all away again by telling me to leavemy best friend north of the equator parked in some dusty, dirty, rubbishy no-mans-land car-park for aweek – well the sky sort of fell in.The Syrians at the border were nice enough – I can’t take that away from them – its just the way itis, the way their system works and no-one is going to kick it over. Probably it was some long-deadbureaucrat who designed the system and no one has the guts or intelligence to change it. I wonderwhat it is like at the airports?We took the road back to Damascus almost all the way to the city before turning right towards Jor-dan and a bed for the night on the edge of the Golan heights near the city of La Quneitra. This is thebuffer zone separating Syria and Israel with a UN peacekeeping force on the job. The hotel was a bitexpensive but it will be our last night in Syria unless for some reason or other we get stopped fromentering Jordan.Must see about getting Phe’s face washed in case they don’t want dirty cars in Jordan! Bye bye Syria and hello Jordan Sunday 3rd October 2010Today was never going to be the best day of my life with the prospect of battling through the Syrianborder bullshit for the fourth time, but I never expected our problems to start just a kilometre fromthe hotel on the road to La Quneitra. Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com
  32. 32. It was just one kilometre down the road heading south towards the Jordanian border that we werestopped at a Syrian army road check. The bloke took my passport and left me to sit on the side of theroad for the best part of ten minutes while they did what they wanted to do. But then, rather thanget the go-ahead to drive on which is usually the case, I was told to drive into the compound of thebarracks and from there I was taken into a room with a desk, some chairs, four Syrians and a moun-tain of paper, pads and forms.After a few minutes I got the feeling they were ignoring me and rather than ‘sit’ as I was instructed,stood as a gesture of defiance and tapped the face of my watch telling them I wanted to get going toJordan. One bloke had a little bit of English and asked “Where go?” and I told him to Dar’a and thento Jordan. Dar’a is the town on the Syrian side of the border with Jordan.He made a phone call and kept glancing at me and then back to the passport.- it made me uneasy,but then he hung up and nothing more was said. They went back to looking at some forms and writ-ing on other bits of paper and I was sitting by now, and sitting like a stunned mullet. A few minutesmore, the phone rang, a few words and then the question again “Where go?” I was getting pissed offby now so I grabbed the English speaker bloke’s arm and walked him out to Phe – strangely enoughhe didn’t resist - and showed him the map of where I had been in Syria and where I was planning togo today.The tide suddenly and unexpectedly turned. He was now on my side it seemed. He pointed to AlQuneitra on the map and said “No” and then traced a line back to Damascus and then down themain highway directly to Dar’a, so bypassing Al Quneitra altogether. He wanted me to backtrack toDamascus and come back down the main drag just 30 kms to the east. Of course I jumped up anddown. He opened the passport and pointed to a particular oval stamp of the many Syrian stamps andsaid “Al Quneitra - No!”From all of this I gathered that at yesterday’s border it had been decided that this cranky old Aussiefart was a definite risk to national security and that he should not be allowed to drive through theirprecious territory and particularly not anywhere near the Golan Heights region! I wonder if it is a rulefor all tourist or have I been singled out – surely not! Maybe my name ‘Robin’ was too close to that ofIsraeli Prime Minister ‘Rabin’ of the 1990’s, and if so, I must definitely be a Mossad agent.I should not be making fun of this experience as it is their country and it’s theirs to defend andprotect as they think fit. All of the Golan Heights was Syrian territory up until the 6 day war of 1967when Israel seized it but offered it back in return for a lasting and meaningful peace agreement. Thisagreement never came about with Iran and radical groups like Hezbolah muddying the waters.I am merely a short term guest - here today, gone tomorrow - whereas they, the Syrians have to livewith the consequences of their actions (or inaction.) The disputes between Israel and it’s neighbourshas been a festering sore for what is it , 50 years now, or more? I believe that disputes of any kind areonly ever settled by either force or by compromise – they never ever seem to ‘just go away’. I reallydo hope that all the politicking and posturing doesn’t get in the way of an eventual compromise ofthe Middle East problem.So once again we are on the road to Damascus – Is this the third time? Nothing against Damascus,but I really hope this is the last time! It’s 50 kms back to the turnoff to pick up the main road fromDamascus to Dar’a and I wanted to have some more cash from an ATM before tackling the borderagain – so only the two objectives, find an ATM and find the turnoff.The Syrian ATM network is poor with towns like Palmyra having none at all and when you do find amachine there is a fair chance it will be out of service. In Damascus there are banks and ATM’s on al-most every corner but not so in the lesser towns and cities. Case in point was the border from Turkey– no ATM – and the border yesterday with Lebanon – no ATM. We were within 8 kms of Damascuswhen I started tracking down a machine after two or three instructions from the locals and when Ieventually found it the bloody machine was a dud, and to make matters worse, with all the twists andturns, I had lost the main road, so it’s back to Compass to keep us heading north. The stupid thing isthat I have 1000 pounds in the wallet and yesterday it cost 850 pounds at the border to get out, butsomehow I don’t trust the system and would like another 2000 Syrian pounds up my sleeve just incase. Karen and Compass, Phe and Me – we must have been in 35 or maybe 40 countries and neverbefore, not once, have we had to pay money to leave the country. In fact as a matter of habit I havealways spent the last of the notes and coins on diesel just before the border.By half past eleven we are all set – I have another 2000 in the wallet and we are on the road out ofDamascus – will it be the last time? I hope so! Hear more about Graemes’ travels at http://robingrahamtravel.blogspot.com

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