After 3 weeks of beautiful vistas, delicious tea and ancient ruins it became time to leave Turkey and begin the next phase of the trip, heading to the Arab world of Syria. I didn't really know what to expect but nothing I could ever have imagined could have prepared me for the wonderful craziness of Syria. We'll get to stories in a minute but first impressions after 2 days here are that Syrian people are the friendliest, happiest, most welcoming people in the world. They are constantly fooling around and making me laugh and I love being around them.
So the stories so far, well we got commandeered by a lovely man at the border who led us through the process of sorting out our papers for getting into Syria. It was a bit of a performance that had no doubt been perfecting over the years, but it made our lives easier and only cost us a few dollars. Normally I wouldn't be keen on this and we would do it ourselves, however Syria views any and all electrical goods as suspicious, and therefore we had to deny having a laptop and GPS as others before us have had a tough time bringing them in. It was therefore reassuring that the bribes meant we knew we could get through customs with only a cursory glance in the back of Brenda.
Once in Syria we had been driving for only 10 minutes when a minibus started flashing his light behind me and indicating me to pull over. I ignored him expecting trouble so he overtook, put on his hazards and indicated again. Not interested in being taken hostage so early in the trip I overtook and kept driving, hoping there wasn't a problem with Brenda that he was warning me about. A mile down the road he comes flying up behind me again flashing and indicating like mad. Oh dear we thought. Then he overtakes me, and 3 of the happiest faces are smiling and waving frantically at us. No problems here then, so we pulled over with them to say hello. As soon as the smiley chap had shook my hand vigorously he snatched my car keys off me and gave me the most beautiful key ring fob, gave me my keys back and introduced us both to his wife and little boy. After a lot of hand gestures and "Welcome to Syria"'s he invites us back to his house for lunch. This is exactly what we had hoped we would get out of this trip and accepted his invitation without a second thought. We spent the next 3 hours in his home, meeting his 9 children and his family and eating and drinking until we couldn't eat any more. They spoke no English, we spoke no Syrian so it was all hand gestures, laughing, drawing, playing, and teaching Syrian and the odd bit of English, looking at photos and a tour around the truck. A magical experience that we will never forget. Apparently the reason they pulled us over was because they were so surprised to see a woman on the drivers side and then even more surprised when they realised there was no steering wheel in front of her!
Next it was on to the crazy town of Aleppo where the driving it like nothing I have ever experienced. The city is beautiful, very few westerners, lots of Arabs and everyone is incredibly friendly. As we walk down the street everyone says "welcome to Aleppo", "hello", "where are you from" and "welcome to Syria". This happens every 10 meters, and they're not trying to stop us to sell something, they're just friendly. I love them.
We went wandering around the souk and the amazing citadel, meeting the Imam at one of the mosques and soaking up the genuine and honest culture here. We found ourselves in the great Mosque at prayer time, and we were allowed to stay and watch them praying. It was a beautiful experience, the sound of the Imam chanting, the unison with which the men stand, kneel and pray and the simple splendour of the mosque.
I love the country so much, and I can't wait to see what happens next………….