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Bye Bye Turkey, Hello Syria

Well here we go again - I'd just about finished a nice long Email, after an hour or so of slaving away over a hot keyboard when a power cut gobbled it all up. Oh well, shit happens.

So, last time I wrote was from Göreme, so let me carry on for there...

We left the campsite early the next day, and had a long day ahead of us. I have to admit that it is the driving days that I like the best - don't get me wrong, as good as it is arriving somewhere, and checking out whatever delights the place has to offer, it is these days of sitting, staring out of the window, watching the varied countryside roll by - sometimes mountains, sometimes barren desert, always so diverse.

My favourite part of this particular day was from six o'clock or so; the sun was going down to the right of the vehicle, I looked out of the window to the left and saw the shadow of our truck hurtling along the brown, plowed field to the left. Shepherds were driving their flock home - sheep, goats, cows, straying into the road, wading through adjacent streams. the cotton pickers long day of back-breaking work finally coming to an end, making their way to the makeshift camps set up at the side of the field, tents pulled together form bits of plastic, material, old clothes - study looking, though, and roomy too.

We arrived at the border several hours later than planned, but fortunately the agent employed to ease our passage into Syria, by dealing with the paperwork for the truck & immigration and customs authorities (bloody customs!!) for us was still there. We cleared in an hour or so, and entered the second country of our trip, Syria. After another couple of hours of driving we arrived at our base for the next two nights, the town of Aleppo (AKA Haleb). As we entered the city, we passed many families having picnics at the side of the busy main road - apparently this is a popular way for Syrians to pass a Friday night.

The next day we were giving a tour of the city by Ahmet, the agent from the previous night. We were shown around the impressive citadel, the old city with its winding, narrow streets, the souk (market) with its cobbled lanes and interestingly domed roof. That evening we all went out to a traditional meal; soup, a mezze of starters, bread, rice, salad, rounded off with fresh grapes, and a waterpipe - a very pleasant way to pass the evening.

The following day we were not leaving until lunchtime, as we were heading out to camp in the desert, and didn't want to arrive there too early. I spent the morning wandering around the souk, sucking in the exotic smell of spices, and then sat down in a cafe to a tea and a waterpipe, and watched the world go by.

[NB just had to change to a third computer - nerves frazzling now - hope this one bloody works!!!]

OK, so after a five-hour drive we arrived at Halabiye, on the Euphrates river, where there is a sizeable, ruined walled city that no-one seems to know anything about. Three of us climbed up to the remains of the fort at the top of the hill, and explored the large halls at regular intervals in the wall. I sat down by the river and watched the full moon rise, then headed up behind where we had set up our camp, where I found a really cool rock to sit and think on. I've not been sleeping well at all - don't think I've had more than 3 hours uninterrupted since I left home - and wasn't feeling too good - just a bit tired and emotional - so I spent most of the evening up here, getting a bit of space. Four others and myself slept that night (once we'd stopped chatting and laughing) on top of a really big hill, so we could be up for the sunrise. It was a way cool thing to do, and something I shall always remember.

We left the next morning, after some sunrise shots, and a dip in the river - most refreshing. Our next stop was Palmyra, home to what are said to be the most impressive Roman ruins in the Middle East - they certain impressed me! It had been our intention to camp out in the ruins that night, but after the tents had gone up, the wind came in - bloody blowy!! After a wee while of hanging around in the hope that it may drop down, we abandoned our camp, and ended up sleeping on the roof of a nearby hotel - still really windy, but at least our eyes and mouths were not filling up with the dust of the desert, as they had been at the ruins. Another broken nights sleep though.

We came here, to Damascus, yesterday via Crac des Chevaliers - a castle atop a hill, somewhere in Syria! Oh yes, despite warnings of not taking photos of military etc., my sister and two others got the truck to stop right next to a row of Syrian tanks, so they could get photos - the rest of the truck thought this was a damned silly idea - we were only 100 km or so from the Iraqi border at the time (by the way, wha' fuck's going on with all that now? is war still looming?), and if anyone would have got in trouble, we'd all have been treated the same, regardless of whether it was us taking photos - the snappers thought it was funny, and nothing untoward happened, so I guess it's OK.

It was another full day of driving before we arrived at our campsite, a couple of km out of town. We have grass to camp on, which is a bit of a novelty - although unfortunately it didn't improve my sleeping patterns much. I think I'm going to end up having to give in and sleep on the truck in the day - I'm reluctant to do so, as I don't want to miss out on any of the cool scenery, but I am turning into a zombie, and no doubt getting irritable to boot.

Right, best get off of this now...if it'll let me send. We're off on a day-trip to Beirut tomorrow!!


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