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Syria; Axis of Evil; George Bush; twat - these are all terms often used in the same sentence.
However, on my latest gallivanting around the Middle East I have been left (only a little) perplexed at why Syria is considered evil (George Bush is still a twat though).
Expecting precocious stares at the brown guy with the stupid beard, I was instead faced with forcing myself to leave the country after 10 days.
My journey, however, started badly. After waiting 9 hours at the Turkey - Syrian border (where the damn border guards stole my pen and gave me food) I was finally allowed into the country shortly after midnight. There were no taxis, no buses and no people. 100 metres into the country, however, there was a dog. And I couldn't see it. It probably had rabies and razor-sharp teeth and liked human flesh. I tried to walk slowly back to the border but then the dog's barking got louder and it came closer. I was carrying two bags with me so running was out of the question. So I did the only thing that was humanly possible. I lowered one bag over my groin area (to protect the family jewels), stood still and, since I was in Syria, prayed to Allah.
I stood like that for a good 15 minutes before a car came by, saw my predicament and took me to the nearest petrol station. The family jewels were saved.
4 hours and 4 more hitches later (including one guy who tried to do a runner with my bags, but was too stupid to even tie his own shoes) and I arrived in Aleppo (the oldest inhabited city in the world). Seeing the city in the morning was nice but I was shattered. I checked into a hotel at 7:30am then crashed for a few hours.
After 3 days in Aleppo I was paranoid. The secret police are everywhere apparently. Some guy (named Gabby - not a very covert guy name if you ask me) asked if I had lived in Japan for a few years out of the blue- very suspicious. The touts were annoying as hell but there were some nice things in the city, especially the Hamams, aka Baths. I got a good scrub down and massage by a beefy, hairy man named Mohammad. It was weird but after he scraped me down with his sandpaper glove I felt clean for the first time in a long time.
My next stop was Lattakia, a nice place on the Mediterranean coast. From here I visited Ugarit, the first ever civilization to use an alphabet! Fascinating!
More fascinating though was coming back from 2-0 down in a game of Pro Evolution (the greatest football game ever!) to win 3-2 against the guys in charge of my hotel. We played until 6 am (every night). The 2 hotel guys were a laugh and as we all were fasting for Ramadan (thought I'd give it a try since I was in a Muslim country) we used to have massive feasts in the early hours of the morning. Lattakia was cool.
And so was Hama. This quaint town was famous for some old water wheels (they were actually quite cool, but only took 5 minutes to see). The hotel staff were also nuts, but they did invite me to eat dinner with them at sunset when fasting would finish. Their food was always delicious. They went a bit crazy on my last night and kept coming to my room to ask me to dance. It was fun, except when the largest woman in the world started belly-dancing and making advances on me. Apart from that, Hama was really beautiful.
I also made a day trip to Krak des Chevalliers, the biggest castle in the world! And it was big! But I was paranoid the entire way through cos some guy came to me near the entrance, asked me a few questions, and just when I was expecting his tout attack of "would you like a cheap tour" he walked away.
I finally made it to Damascus where I stayed for 5 days. I loved this place, especially the Old Town. At the centre was the first Umayyad Mosque, aka the most holy place non-Muslims could ever visit. It was beautiful, and like all other Mosques in the country, I loved sitting there, listening to the hypnotizing prayers from the loudspeakers throughout the day. The Middle East is definitely a place to visit during Ramadan.
Damascus was also great because I was finally able to speak English with people. A big up to Rachid, my French bro, who showed me around on my first night. I was also lucky to meet up with Jonny (aka Jesus, cos he looks like him) and Julia, who I had met in Georgia and Turkey. I had missed them cos they are cool.
After hanging around in Damascus for several days doing little except hang around with random people I met on the street or in the hotel, I decided it was time to move on. The weekend was coming and the partying city of Beirut was only 2 hours away.
I needed a "Western-fix."
Take it easy
PS - A big up to Michael for giving me loads of information on every country in the world. You can watch his TV show back in the UK -"Around The World in 1080 Days."