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Posts Tagged ‘Aleppo’

In Turkey

In Lebanon, Middle East, Turkey on October 19, 2002 at 6:47 pm

Lebanon was pretty cool, very European and quite clean.  The best story is from Baalbek but all I can say is that we were hosted by a local ‘tribal’ family that grows really ‘interesting’ plants which they ‘export’ to Europe.  Very nice people although I’m not sure you’d want them in your backyard.

We were in Beirut last week during the Francophone convention so the military presence was huge and unusual.  A friend of mine from accounting is originally from Beirut so he got in touch with his family and best friend who all ended up hosting me and one of the guys from the trip for all of Monday.  We got to see the sunset over the city while booting along in a Mercedes with suspension!!  Much different from the truck and very enjoyable.  The Lebanese people were much nicer than I was expecting considering that most reports have said the Lebanese are indifferent to tourists.  It was awesome to get back to Syria though and I’d have to say it is definitely my favourite country thus far.  Unfortunately we had to leave it yesterday to get back to Turkey where we are now staying in the Cappadocia region which has to be seen to be believed.

Currently we are sleeping in a cave and it is very comfortable.   Every morning the hot air balloons in the region go up so you can hear the hissing from the gas when they take off.  Today I finally got to a hammam (Turkish bath) and quite enjoyed it.  Got the massage thrown into the deal and I think I was thoroughly beaten and cracked to high heavens.  I thought with the 12 layers of skin they scrubbed off that I’d lose my tan but the cleaning actually made it more luminescent.

So we are now done the Middle Eastern part of the trip, shortened since we didn’t go to Egypt in order to spend more time in Iran.  My observations of the Middle East are this:

Western media does a great injustice to a region that hates war as much as we do.  I did not meet a single extremist and there were no violent outbursts the whole time I was there.

All people, especially Syrians, are thrilled that any westerner has come to see their country and the first thing anyone says to you is ‘welcome!!!’  This is always followed by a smile and an attempt to engage you in conversation. They will often go out of their way to help you find where you need to go, and everyone invites you for a cup of tea.  It was not unusual for someone to actually walk me to where I needed to go and then explain my situation in Arabic so I wouldn’t have to fumble through it myself.

The number one fun thing to do in Aleppo, Syria is cross the road.  Once you get rid of traditional road rules, the whole game is highly entertaining and risky.  The one woman who was driving me around Beirut assured me that there are rules, for example, she signaled left while driving into oncoming traffic since somebody would eventually let her turn…

The fruit drinks in Syria are the best anywhere and incredibly cheap.  You can eat yourself silly for less than a dollar and the food is all amazing.

Anyways, of course there are more impressions but they’ll have to wait til another time.

I’ve made another adjustment to my travel itinerary.  I am no longer going to the Emirates or Oman as I’m tired of trying to get those visas.  I’ve decided instead to stay on with the group and go to Pakistan and India.  Commercial tour groups cannot go through Pakistan at this time which means the driver has to transit the truck through while the rest of the group flies to India.   Since we’re private this does not apply.  However one of the commercial drivers is going through the same time we are so we’ll probably end up convoying with him.  Also wıth the current political climate being what it is we’ll probably get a military escort.  HOW COOL IS THAT??????  I’m putting the itinerary for that part on the bottom of this letter so that if anything happens and makes the news you’ll be able to see if we are anywhere near the mayhem 🙂

I don’t know when I’ll be writing again as Iran is a bit iffy on internet connections, until two years ago it was illegal.  So if I don’t write it doesn’t mean I’m dead.  It means I’m still having an awesome time but can’t find a way to communicate it.  I’ll be here in Goreme for the next two days so if you feel like writing a note please do so since i can get it here.

10.25  enter Iran
15.11  exit Iran, enter Pakistan at Taftan
16.11  to Quetta
17.11  Quetta
18.11  to Sukkur
19.11  to Dera Ghaza Khan
20.11  to Lahore
21.11  Lahore
22.11  Lahore
23.11  Lahore
24.11  exit Pakistan, enter India at Amritsar
25.11-5.12 Amritsar to Jaipur

I’ll still be coming home on Dec.19 so that is the only static thing at this time.  LIFE IS GREAT!!!!

That’s it from me on the Middle East so I hope you’ve enjoyed it and may even want to visit this incredible part of the world.  It really is incredible and undeserving of the reputation it has.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write from Iran but if not, happy Halloween and I’ll write again from India.

Alibaba in Bliss

Delicacies From the Pasture

In Middle East, Syria on September 29, 2002 at 6:36 pm

Hello again.

Yes, I’m still in Syria but found another internet cafe and decided it was worth the update.

This evening’s dinner… sheep testicles.  They taste a little like scrambled eggs but I must say it’s never been so hard to eat eggs.  The first bite was ok, the second was difficult, the third was an exercise in swallowing while gagging.  But hey, I tried sheep intestines last week and they weren’t so bad…

Today we arrived in Damascus after spending two days in the desert.  Our accommodations for that part of the journey were sleeping two nights in different dead cities.  The equivalent of ghost towns, just two thousand years older.  Last night I was enjoying the breeze from the desert at night as the daytime temperatures were up to 40+ degrees.  Then I woke up this morning covered in a few inches of sand and thought that maybe a breeze is not so great.  Sometimes when I see other tour buses going by I think “you all look so clean”.  And then I remember that the way we’re doing it is cheaper and infinitely more exciting.

The first day we were in the desert, Adam decided to let each of us try driving the truck.  Mainly because desert scenery is not so great after the first half hour, and also because there was little chance of crashing into another vehicle.  When it was my turn, I promptly and accidentally drove onto a military outpost.  We originally thought it was a desert house, but the soldier with the AK-47 gave away what it actually was.  He was nice though, nodded to our greeting and gave a hearty wave.  99% of me was going ALRIGHT!!!!! the other 1% said hmmmmm.  Today we got back onto the highway and although the signs said Iraq was only a hundred km away,we decided it was not such a great idea.

We’ll be here in Damascus for the next two days.  It is a different city from Aleppo in that it is the capital and a little more cosmopolitan.  The people are still amazingly friendly though and it will be good to come back here two more times.

I discovered in Aleppo that I could never starve in this country.  Everywhere I went, the men were literally shoving food in my face.  They’d laugh and not let me go til I’d eaten the fries/pizza/pistachios and then cheer when I finally ate it.  The women are much more reserved and you must greet them with an Arab greeting before you get any emotion out of them.  Last night in Palmyra at the dead city, the guardians of the tombs where we were staying came over to the camp for about an hour to talk.  The women were very nice and one of them spoke English very well so I was finally able to have a female conversation rather than the one that typically goes “Yes, please, hello.  Where you from?  Welcome.  You like Syria?”

I’ve had two marriage proposals so far, one from the man at the chicken slaughter stall who proposed while his friend was slitting the throats of the chickens.  Not quite how I envisioned it happening, but I guess you can’t have it all.  And yes, I was wearing a head covering at the time.  Just a scarf and I must say that I enjoy it.  There’s a degree of anonymity that cannot be had from going bare-headed.

Good news on the Iranian visa front – it’s finally been issued – to Holland.  Tomorrow will be a test of patience as I try and negotiate with the embassy here to get a faxed confirmation from there.  Not how I want to spend my day but like I said before, I am going to Iran.

Sorry the message is so long but I want everyone to know how great it is here.  Every day is perfect and each day is better than the last.  I thought my tan was getting darker but then I took a shower and realized I’m just really dirty.

So that’s it for now.  Thanks to everyone for their e-mails, it’s great to hear from home.

That is all.

Alison is in Syria

In Middle East, Syria, Turkey on September 26, 2002 at 1:12 am

Hello all.

Here it is at last.  After being away for a month I have finally arrived in Syria.  I spent two weeks in Holland and then two weeks in Turkey.  Turkey is mostly European and not part of the trip that I wanted to take, so here are the highlights in brief:

Istanbul – cool, most exciting thing was standing in the Aya Sofia where emperors were crowned hundreds of years ago.

Moved on down to Ephesus which was also amazing.  The best part was our ‘holiday’ in Oludeniz which is on the Mediterranean.  I have never seen water that blue!!  We hung out there for two 1/2 days during which we rented mopeds, went swimming every day for two or three hours, tanned, and I went paragliding from 1800m.  The freakiest part was the take off when our chute got tangled and we were almost blown off the mountain.  Nevertheless, my pilot who looked like a short version of Ponch from ‘CHiPS’ got us down safely after 1/2 hour in the sky watching the sunset.  The next day we went to Saklikent where we did some canyoning in the most amazing gorge I’ve ever seen.  Then as we were heading to Ucegiz, which is at the bottom of a very long hill, the truck brakes started losing air at the top of the hill.  We managed to glide peacefully and safely to a parking lot at the bottom where everything promptly seized up so we were stuck for the evening.  Adam, our driver, negotiated a night on one of the boats for all of us so we went to sleep in a secluded bay and the next morning woke up to the moon setting and the sun rising.  Needless to say that has got to be the best way to wake up.  Since then we’ve been driving like crazy to get to the Syrian border so everything after Ucegiz has been pretty quiet.

To give you an idea of how I’m traveling, I’m with 8 others on a British Ford Cargo truck which is pretty much going to be home for the next 2 months.  We camp in campgrounds or on the side of the highway depending on where we are at the moment.  Adam is the driver, Anne does everything else.  The travelers are from Holland, US, Northern Ireland, Germany, England, and me from Canada.  Yes, Anne and Adam are real people and although I never doubted it, it was a relief to finally meet them.  Anyways, Adam is well known throughout the Middle East and India as he’s been working around here for the last 6 years.  He’s also well liked so we get to see tons of stuff with the locals that no one else would ever see.

Anyways, yesterday we arrived at the Turkish/Syria border crossing around 4pm and finished the whole crossing around 5:45pm.  As soon as I saw the ‘Wellcome to Syria’ sign, I haven’t stopped smiling since.  I’ve waited my whole life to come to the Middle East and here it is finally, right here in front of me.  We had the best falafel and Syrian pizza for dinner last night and then cruised around the city of Aleppo where we’ll be staying for the next two days.  The people are amazingly friendly, food is cheap, and just being here is mind-blowing.  Fortunately everyone on the trip shares the same traveling philosophy so we’re all game to do anything that looks different.  We’ll be in Syria now until October 1 at which point we’ll be heading into Jordan.

We’ve also changed the itinerary somewhat so we’re skipping Egypt in order to spend more time in Iran, for which I have not yet gotten my visa.  Frustration is setting in but I shall be patient because I AM going.

Not much to report on the war and military presence.  Only seen one tank so far so I’m disappointed.  Nevertheless, it all feels very safe so none of you should be worrying.  This place ROCKS!!!

I’ll write again when we find another internet cafe that works.  Very rare…