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Syria

I left Egypt after a 6 hour wait for a 4 hour ferry passage, to the port of Aqaba in Jordan. In this corner of the world four countries meet in a blaze of red desert and blue sea, giant passages from the Koran spelled out in lights on the hillsides, and gas flares and smoke from oil refineries. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and of course the evil Israel.

I headed to the famous pink city of Petra (the movie Indiana Jones was filmed here). Tombs and temples are carved into the pretty pink sandstone of a mighty ravine, today windblasted and worn, frescoes blackened with age, as tourists trot past on donkeys and stinking camels.

Ive been swimming (floating) in the Dead Sea and dodging suicide bombers who attacked my 5-star hotel. Just joking, its much safer to be a budget traveller, I only had an allergic reaction from eating too much goat cheese dessert. Once the exotic smells of spices in the souk had worn off and Id finished my beer in the Roman citadel overlooking town, as pigeons wheeled and imams cried, it was time to go to Syria.

Syria has a bad reputation at present, with Iraq war on one side and assasination of Lebanons president on the other. But people are so lovely and honest, I was greatly impressed. Posters of President Assad are everywhere and freedom of speech impossible.

Labyrinthine souks are covered in rusty tin roofs, underneath tiny shops sell everything- dried starfish and viagra, gold jewellery, upmarket boutique clothes (fashions are black leather jacket over bad taste acrylic jumper for men, and hideous calf length tight jeans with pancake makeup for Christian girls or headscarf and long overcoat over… I dont know, for Muslim girls). Tiny Suzuki vans crush you against the wall as they offload yet more clothes, and everywhere you look you see the minaret of a mosque.

Theres the usual prayer mats, beads, Mecca-direction-finders, brass plates and posters-
Damascus holds the fourth-holiest site in Islam, the Ummayad Mosque. A wonderful place to sit on cool marble and marvel. Inside the shrine room women clad in black or floral pattern tablecloths weep and wail, and outside a man tells me, of the pilgrims, “They come from Iran. They are Iraqis” which I would otherwise never know. At night Christian church crosses are lit with blue neon, far outnumbered by the green neon of Islam.

Street food is excellent- huge felafal, chicken kebabs, hummus and baklava, washed down with fresh pomegranite juice. And tea of course, but one tourist I met was quietly having his tea when the building opposite collapsed with a crash. Travel is by Toyota van, 14 people packed inside (traffic, needless to say, is awful).

I visited a town demolished by the Israelis in 1974 and kept as a depressing “museum”. Israel still hold the Golan Heights- so much trouble over two small hills. And the many Roman ruins are impressive- 2km long collonaded streets, baths, statues, but now Ive seen enough Roman theatres. Finally Krak de Chevaliers, a crusader castle, more shopping in the souks and into Turkey. Which so far is cold and expensive, Ive lost my guýdebook so Im gettýng lost all the time. The blue tropical sea seems far away….

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