Thursday, July 28, 2005

To the desert.... (and back again)

Al Ressaffeh The idea was to go to Al Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates in the desert to the East of Aleppo... but we were persuaded out of it by the staff of the Syria hotel, where we had been staying (without airco) for the past three nights.
Instead we agreed to take a minibus out to the desert to see the main sites and get a lift down to Hama, which was our following destination.
We are now in Hama, which seems to be a nice place, with vast water wheels, on the banks of the Orontes River. Also staying at the best hotel yet - the Riad Hotel, where we have met up again with Sarah from NZ and Clair from France.
Anyway, the bit in between was both good and bad. Good because of the places we went to and bad because of the places we did not go to (but were on the way). We had an out of control driver who, by tearing along almost every road, from highway to byway at a standard speed of 120 km an hour. It was very difficult to get him to stop, even though we passed through the two best preserved bee-hive house villages in the Middle East and also the magnificent castle of Qalaat Shimmannis, standing on top of a lonely hill, much like the place where Strider had to fight off the Ringwraiths after Frodo had been stabbed (name someone?). The good news is that these places are not far from Hama so we can go back another day.
Not exactly, our driver's fault (but a bit certainly) was the fact that we did not make it to the Castle in Lake Assad (where we could have done some swimming). This was because he DID stop to let me take some photos of the magnificent dam... which seemd to upset some Syrian soldier who came charging at us shouting and looking mean and aggressive. So we had to go back to the military control post where, after having our passports taken away, we were told (once again) Welcome to Syria! We think that we could have carried on back over the dam to the Castle but the driver seemed to think this was a good opportunity of skiving off driving the 30 kms or so it would take to get us there....

Anyway, we DID manage the following - a stop at Fah to see some beehive houses, a stop at a town on market day, a visit to the ruins of Al Ressaffeh and lunch at a roadside cafe in the desert... followed by the highlight of seeing a caravan of over 200 camels crossing the desert. This was the last time we stopped and it had me running over the desert in tempreatures in the low 40's, struggling to catch up with the fast disappearing camels in order to photograph them. They sem to amble along very quickly. All sorts of colours they were, many of them grunting. It seemed like a set from Star Wars with their desertscapes and strange creature creations.

Al Ressaffeh was amazing. A completely walled city in the desert, mentioned in one of the earlier books of the Old Testament. The walls were made of glistening stone and were extremely well preserved, after having been scaked in about 1600 (I guess at these dates). Inside, the remains of another Byzantine basilica, built to celebrate St Sergius, a so-called Christian martyr, who had been a soldier in the Roman Army and who had to walk through the desert with nails in feet before being put to death.

Speaking of which... death in the desert... at the hands of religious nutcases... please have a look at the following post.... which is extremely distressing.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zo krijg je toch nog een beetje het idee van Parijs-Dakar.
Die racen ook maar door zonder te stoppen.
Misschien oefende jullie driver wel hiervoor.
Kusje, Bram en Mar

28 July, 2005 18:27  
Anonymous Lucy Hale said...

Hi Charles and Fred,

Loving your trip journal; I think we may have to publish you! Let me know if you want any books sent ahead to a known destination.
Much Love

29 July, 2005 08:29  
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