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Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
Zambia
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home

 

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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles

Syria

The Border

The two cars arrived together, and predictably Dirk and Nanda sailed through on their Dutch passports. Brits, however, get special treatment...

They said I should have applied in Amman, but I said that according to their own rules (there's a notice behind the desk) I should be able to get it at the border. Only a couple of the guys spoke English, and one officer spoke French, which made things a little trickier, but they agreed to fax Damascus for permission, on the understanding that it would be several hours before we could expect a reply.

Dirk and Nanda optimistically waited for a few hours, then left for Damascus where if things went well we would meet up. I got chatting to one of the border guards who spoke excellent English, and the guy was friendly enough to insist on buying me tea and sandwiches at their canteen. Eventually, as it got colder, we nipped back to the car for a tot of good malt whisky, and then I set up my tent for the night. At about 11pm, too late for me to continue, somebody came tapping on my tent to give me the good news, so to speak.

The next morning border formalities took about 30 minutes - the "modified" walkthrough was like this:

1. fill in 2 yellow arrival cards. Deny ever having been to Israel.
2. Wait 11 hours, but first try to make sense of the sign saying it's a 'cintioruity country'. Deny ever having been to Israel.
3. Pay $52 (Brits) for visa. Deny ever having been to Israel.
4. go to bank and pay:
$10 tax
$30 insurance
$100 diesel tax if applicable - you get a bunch of receipt slips.
5. Take slips with you, & keep stamped yellow arrival card for exit.
6. Deny ever having been to Israel.

Damascus
Dirk and Nanda met me outside the old Citadel - I'd settled down in a cosy cafe overlooking the main drag, and filled them in on the previous days dramas. They'd settled in at the campsite, New Kaboun camping (N33 32.787', E36 20.878') . As I'd discovered on my drive through the city, Damascus is big - 7 million or so and all of them seem to f=have cars. I'd driven around until I figured I was close to the arranged RV and then just dumped my car and walked through the souk.

We walked through the souk - a sprawling but very well organised affair with some excellent ice-cream shops - continuing on to Saladin's tomb, and the famous Umayyad mosque where Nanda had to dress up as an Star Wars extra to get in. I liked the old city for the unexpected surprises that it threw at us - turning a corner you'd stumble across a Roman archway, a market place, or the delightful little tea house where I finally got to smoke the strange (but unintoxicating) water pipe.

Walking around Damascus is a great experience - very few tourists, and it seems incredibly safe for such a large city. Little English is spoken, but when it's encountered it's dished out with a good measure of hospitality - a very welcoming bunch of people.

This is against a strange backdrop of a regime that figures President Assad in every shop, in every square, on mountains, captured in statues and murals - he's everywhere, as are the many military bases - with old obsolete soviet missiles silhouette on every hillside, pointing to Israel, Iraq, or whoever else they figure is likely to invade that day...

Palymra and Krak de Chevaliers

Syria follows the Islamic tradition of placing campsites right next to mosques, and so it was that we were roused as is the custom by the early morning call to prayer - 5:00am I think. We got an early start and, pausing only to photograph the signposts to Baghdad, arrived by midday at Palmyra. It's the top Syrian site for tourism, an amazing city dating where the newest parts date back to the second century AD, but above all it's pretty complete as the new town is a few hundred meters away.

It was quiet enough for us to explore in relative peace - though it was obvious that the touts were desperately short of tourists to prey on. After a great lunch in town we headed on to Krak de Chevaliers, a very well preserved crusader castle where we camped next to a restaurant.

The following morning I wandered around the many towers and battlements of the castle - it's recognised as one of the great castes and to my mind lived up to it's reputation. As the tide turned against Christianity in the middle East castle after castle fell to the armies of Islam. Finally there remained only this one - an impregnable fortress in which the last of the crusaders held out against all odds, until there remained only a couple of hundred men in this isolated outpost, abandoned far from home. The castle never fell to assault - instead the defenders recognised the inevitable, and were allowed to leave with honour.

After snaking our way down the winding roads from the castle we joined the road to Kassab, and the Turkish border.