A Travellerspoint blog

Arriving in Amman

On the beaten path

I've arrived in Amman, Jordan after a nine hour bus trip. I was the only non-Syrian on the bus and they plunked me down by a boy who fed me sunflower seeds and cookies. The rest of the bus was men and it's inappropriate for them to sit next to me. We had a chilly pre-dawn wait at the border. This time, border partrol combed over every alcove of the bus with flashlights while we passengers waited with our luggage for an hour on a cold granite stoop. Fortunately, when it came to me, I was checked over no more so than anyone else, which was nice 'cause it's kinda embarrassing holding everyone else up. The border guards here were warm and good natured...really! English & US border folk should come here for training.

I'm afraid I've slipped and wound up ON the beaten path, however. I say this because when I arrived at my hotel, it was full of retired American couples. SIGH! I went on a trip to the Dead Sea and Mt Nebo, that place where Moses was led to look out over the promised land. And the Dead Sea...y'all have heard about the Dead Sea, right? How you float really high in the super salty water? Well, I had to do it just 'cause I was there. The miracle will be if it actually clears up my skin.

But I DID find my holy grail: SPF 100 sunblock

Posted by jenofear 11:59 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Touring Marqab, Salah Ed-Din, and Apamea

History of the world


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I did a day trip to Marqab & Salah Ed-Din, two crusader castles, as well as Apamea. To be honest, I didn't expect much. Ruins start to look the same to me after a while (I'm so low-society)...and I've already been to the Dead Cities, Ebla, and St Simeon. But they all turned out to be very cool.

Just three of us went from the hotel using a taxi. On the way, we stopped for breakfast at a cinderblock home by the side of the road. It's certainly not a place one would know to stop, but that's the nature of this place. The cab driver knocked on the door and the family came out with piles of ingredients and proceeded to stoke up the oven - which, here looks like one of outdoor clay firepits, only tilted somewhat sideways with a much larger top opening. They prepared mini pizza-like pastries and cooked them by slapping them against the inside of the chimney. My favorite is one covered in oregano and sesame seeds. The goat cheese one is great as well.

Breakfast.jpg

The first crusader castle we hit, Marqab, is located on a point overlooking the Medeterranean and there are 360 views of the sea and hills surrounding. We were the only ones there...actually we were the only ones at all of the sites, although a regular tour bus pulled up at Salah Ed-Din when we were almost done. Actually, I think this goes a long way toward why these monuments are so striking...no people.

Salah Ed-Din is also built, as any good defendable castle, on a point. In this case, there are sheer rock walls on one end that the castle sits on. On the way in, we stopped and had Bedouin coffee with the caretaker...one of the perks of not being on a giant tour bus. He took a shine to us and gave us a personalized tour of part of the castle and also showed us some of the herbs that grow on the site.

View_from_.._Ed_Din.jpg

The last place we went, Apamea, was up on a grassy plateau. It's an old Roman city and the main thing that remains is 1.8km of columns that had lined the main road. For some reason, they impressed on me the most the sheer scale of the city, unlike anything I've seen in Rome for example. There is no way to get the feeling of standing there from the photos. Also, we arrived about ten minutes before sunset, so had the opportunty to wander through them alone at dusk with the call to prayer echoing from a near by village.

Apamea.jpg

Posted by jenofear 06:13 Archived in Syria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Lounging in Hama

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hama


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I'm not up to much at the moment. I've been hangin' out in Hama, which doesn't have a lot to see as far as tourist sites go. But I'm up for relaxing anyway...I've got some time, after all. Also, for me, a big part of travel is just to hang out and absorb the culture of wherever I am.

Also, I've been spending time with Aisha, a girl who lives here (met her through couchsurfing.com), but grew up near Seattle. She met a guy from Syria back home and got married and has been living between here and the US for the past 14 years. Now she's been living here continuously for two years with her four boys (!) while her husband wraps up their affairs back in the US. She's unflappable as she accopmlishes life with her boys orbiting around her. Her youngest is 9 month old Yusef. She's muslim and gets more stares than I do when we walk around. They don't know what to make of an American in full muslim covering speaking fluent Arabic.

For the record, women here wear anything from hotpants to full black with veils covering their entire face. The clothing shops are interesting because they are full of over-the-top brightly colored dresses covered with sequins. It's difficult to find any simple clothing for women at all. With the help of Aisha, I bought some cloth and designed some clothes to be made by a tailor. I'm waiting for them now...if it pans out, I may come home with a whole new wardrobe.

The one thing that Hama is known for is the Norias - ancient wooden water wheels. They're over 1000 years old, at least. Difficult to nail down exactly how much older than that. Some say they're here from 1200BC. I've managed to arrive when the water's been blocked off for bridge repairs, but normally the norias are turning. They have an eerie groaning noise while in motion...or so I've heard. It's likely that I will come back this way after Jordan, so they should be up and running by then.

...as I'm writing this, staff at the hotel keep reaching in and giving me cups of tea and nuts. The hospitality here is remarkable. Not just at the hotel, but out in the streets. If a Syrian knows only two words in English, they are 'hello' and 'welcome'. And if you are wondering, this is even after they find out where I'm from.

Posted by jenofear 04:50 Archived in Syria Comments (2)

My First Hammam

No photos please...


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Here's a temp fix for the photo problem: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12031067@N02/

I've developed a baklava problem.

You don't know. You have to see all these big clean windows full of a myriad of types of baklava. No one can resist that. And the pistacios over here blow doors on the ones back home.

Eeva - a daring Finnish girl I met who had just been travelling solo in Iran - and I got a line on a local hammam (bath house). It took a bit of perserverence to find as well as the help of a cast of locals. We were finally guided right to the door by a team of boys around the age of six or seven (but not before a older man pulled up beside us in a car and handed us candy - which here is actually a welcome gesture not an attempt at kidnapping).

The hammam was completely nondescript on the outside. Just another door on a grungy utilitarian backstreet. Behind the door, stairs immediately descended to a basement level. The first room had a fountain in the middle and alcoves around the perimeter covered in Turkish & Iranian carpets. It's lit by sunlight coming from a star shape of many tiny round windows in the ceiling (photo on flickr of a similar one I took at the Citadel). In each alcove women were relaxing, many with their children. We walked through to the next room where we changed into a wrap. Then the woman led us back into the alcove room. I was getting a little nervous that we would be bathing in the pool in the middle of the room amongst all these clothed locals...like we didn't feel enough like the center of attention as it was.

But she led us through a mirrored door to another octagonal room where the women were bathing, all real marble floors and walls with alcoves with marble basins overflowing with warm water and that same sunlit glow. They sat us down in an alcove and proceded to bathe us....kinda like when you're two an your mom washes you in the kitchen sink. What a trip. Sitting bare-assed on marble while someone else soaps you up and dumps copious amounts of warm water over you. TMI? Sorry. But it was fantastic. The place was sparkling clean. I was sparkling clean.

It's such a contrast with the women when they're up in the streets who are 95% scarved and probably 60% in full black, many with the face veils. Down below, they are far less prudish than even their California counterparts.

I'm chillin' in Hama at the moment. Just got here.

Posted by jenofear 09:01 Archived in Syria Tagged women Comments (2)

The Train to Syria

Too many funny subheadings to choose from...

Mmmm....ya might be noticing that this entry is the same day as the last one. I'm kinda behind 'cause...I'M OUT DOING STUFF! Also, I have to actually go to an internet cafe here for access.

I am currently in Syria...what I'm doing this week you'll probably hear about next week. SO, this is the story of my journey to Aleppo from Istanbul.

Somehow got up early enough to eat Turkish breakfast and sip tea at the port (believe it.). Ferry across the Bosphorous early in the morning to the train station. On the train...

I got moved into a cabin with a girl from Colorado named Jennifer. We had a sleeping berth...the train is overnight - 9am Sun to 2pm Mon per schedule. We actually arrived a little late - 9pm (partly our fault). So, 36 hours on the train. It's cool though, 'cause I dig watching scenery from trains. I'm not describing it. I have photos, but no way to upload. Maybe I'll make everyone look at them when I get home. : D

SO, Jennifer was excellent company...very funny and unstressable. We were each thinking of putting 'sunshine spreader' under 'occupation' on the Syrian entry forms. I suspect we might as well have. We were on one of two sleeper cars filled mostly with western tourists as well as a handful of Turks. We were the only Americns. There was no food or water available so we stocked up (which is very easy here since there are thousands of dried fruit and nut stands). North of the border, our sleeper cars were removed from the Turkish train and added to a Syrian engine. So, for the duration of the trip, we had exhaust billowing through the windows. Most of the passengers on our car didn't seem to notice...probably because of the extent of their smoking habits. This trip is not for the faint of lung.

So, we get to the border and everyone gets off the train to go through the usual border processing. We all have our stamped passports and are boarding the train when Jen and I are called back by the border patrol and taken into a room for more questioning. As we are answering, our train leaves. Fun. No, actually, we thought it was kinda funny. So, we make it through more questioning and are now just hanging out at the station with some border patrol guys who want to practice their English. One of the guys went and picked mint for us to chew...they were very cool. The train came back and we boarded. We flop into our cabin. Ten minutes later, the border partol is searching our stuff. I felt like kind of a hypochondriac as they went through my med kit. They couldn't believe all the meds were just for me. It's all just-in-case stuff like antibiotics, re-hydration salts, Tums. The ususal mystery food backup stuff....five months worth. So, they took some back to the station for analysis (?). A while later, they returned with what was left and let us go on our way.

We had apologies from the border guards for our trouble, visits from the other passengers to see if we were ok, and free Turkish coffee from the train stewards....mmmmmmm.....

All in all....welcomed to Syria

Posted by jenofear 13:31 Archived in Syria Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

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