The first time I tried to get into Syria was from Turkey. I walked across the Turkish border then hitchiked through the no-man’s land to the Syrian immigration office. I politely asked the officer for a visa into his fine country. I waited for almost 2 hours before they shot me down. No explanation. Damn, rejected! (It felt like when I’m trying to get a girl’s phone number at a bar.) Was it because I’d been in Iraq the day before? I will never know. I got escorted back to the Turkish border by an armed immigration official, like some sort of fugitive.
But, I’m a persistent man. I flew to Lebanon and tried to cross from there. No problem. They barely looked at my passport. $56 dollars later, stamp, stamp, thank you, sir, and I’m into Syria! Just like that.
For me, the highlight of this country is its capital, Damascus, arguably the oldest city on the planet. It has a wonderful feeling to it. It’s Old City is a labrynth of alleys, beautiful mosques and colourful souqs (markets). Countless times I got lost wandering through the Old City (sometimes on purpose, sometimes not). It is one of the world’s greatest places to wander. The people in the Old City go about doing what they’ve been doing there forever. The food is stellar here, too. At my favourite food stall, I bought a felafel sandwhich and banana milkshake for $1.25. Everyday. That, my friends is value. Oh, and don’t even get me started on my shwarma addiction. To top it off, one can ind a shop to drink tea, smoke nargileh (aka, sheesha, a water pipe used to smoke tobacco), and watch the world go by. You would love it, too.
A busy souq. Note the bullet holes in the roof.
The only only issue I had with this city is that it can be tough to find a beer. A couple of other Canadians and I had to go on a “search & find” mission one night, poking our head into restaurants in the Christian quarter to ask if they had any (they typically don’t list it on the menu, you see).
Other than this, Damascus rocks. I thought I was quite the astute traveller for noticing its parcularities and its greatness. But, after talking to scores of travellers during and after my time in Syria, it turns out that everybody loves Damascus. I guess I’m not so special after all…
Syria has a very long and interesting history to it. And, where there is an interesting history, there are often ruins. At Palmyra, I got another Roman ruins fix. If you are like me and enjoy Roman columns, you will love Palmyra. Very “columns-y.”
Columns and camels
Maybe you like hill-top castles rising out of the desert? Syria has you covered there, too. Here is the Citadel at Palmyra.
If I was going to build a castle, that’s where I’d put it. Right there.
Of course, Damascus is full of Mosques. My favourite is the modern, Iranian-built Sayyida Ruqayya. Most people notice it’s beauty and elaborate decorations. I noticed that it has a retractable roof! (That’s the kind of tourist I am.) This must be the most high-tech mosque in the world!
It’s sunny today, why not open the roof up?
A while back I used to think that beer would bring the world together. Because everybody loves beer, right? Not so. For example, there are whole legions of people don’t drink at all (it’s against their religion).
But I think I have found the thing that will unite the planet: ice cream. I was sitting in an old-fashioned ice cream parlor in Damascus. Next to me was an old guy in full Muslim regalia: robe, turban, etc. I realized that we couldn’t be more different. But, there we were, side by side, enjoying a common love: ice cream. It occurred to me that everybody loves ice cream. I’m telling you, it will bring the world togther.
Do I know why they cover the ice cream in cashews? No, I don’t. But, do I love it? Yes, yes I do.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures in Syria. Maybe I was too busy eating felafel sandwiches. But, here are a few more.
Completely unrelated to Syria, I present to you another “How To” video on The Unique Art of World Travel. In this episode, I show you how to make cocaine. That’s right.
For this one, we go back more than a year, and across an ocean, to when I was trekking through the jungles of Colombia. Now, I admit I have forgotten a few details, but you will get the general idea.
I do remember the three main ingredients: coca leaves, gasoline, and car battery acid. Nasty. This video shows all the steps to make “cocaine base”. To get the 100% finished product, you need to process this base at some kind of factory.
The cocaine base shown here is what they used as anesthetic in dentist offices back in the day. A couple of minutes after putting it on my lip, it went numb and I was drooling all over myself.
Cocaine. There you have it. Do I show you the coolest stuff, or what?!? Who’s your favourite world traveller?
I’m actually in Cairo, Egypt right now. Last night I went to the movie theatre for the first time in almost a year. I love going to the movies, great fun. This movie was in English with Arabic sub-titles. So, what movie brought me out of my hiatus? Something very appropriate for my current lifestyle: The Tourist.