Syria, it seems just gets better and better.
From the crusader castles on the coast our next stop was a town called Hama, home to these fantastic old waterwheels which were originally used to irrigate the surrounding land.The waterwheels would lift water up to a height of 8 - 12m and drop it into aqueducts which would flow out to the fields.
From Hama we made a day trip to the ancient ruins of Apamea, a 2km long street with huge columns down both sides, really well preserved, in the middle of nowhere, and as usual there was no one there. From Apamea we had intended to go to find the Forgotten Cities, however instead we got lost and spent a few hours driving around the beautiful Syrian countryside, passing through tiny villages where the children would come running to the road and wave at us as we passed. We never did find the forgotten cities, but I think we had more fun (!) and got to see rural Syria which is a far better memory than another ruin.
Back in Hama that night we were sitting in the hotel at around 5pm on Friday when we heard a lot of shouting, beeping and cheering outside. We had seen on AlJazeera English that Friday Prayers caused some demonstrations across the middle east so our first though was that the demonstrations had finally hit Syria. This is not good we thought, and made our way downstairs to investigate just how bad it had got. Peering around the front we noted with curiosity that there we no cars, or people, or protestors. In fact there wasn't much at all. What there was however, in the hotel manager's office (directly below our window) was a TV on full volume showing footage of the Cairo protestors!
Leaving Hama we headed into the Syrian Desert out to Palmyra. After a few hours of driving we pulled off the road and stopped for a coffee in the middle of the desert, with nothing around us except the road. A really great place for breakfast and something I expect we will be doing a lot of over the coming months.
Palmyra is extraordinary and nothing can really prepare you for it. The ruins are nearly 2000 years old, and everything is in great condition, however it is the scale that we will remember. Sunrise is especially beautiful, with the warm light of the sun illuminating the yellow stone into an almost luminous colour. The place has to be seen to be believed.
From Palmyra we made the 3 hours trip back across the desert to Damascus, where we were faced with traffic that makes Istanbul driving pale in comparison. The speed and proximity of the cars, the number of pedestrians who just step out in from of you, the lack of street signs in English and the numerous one way systems made for a rather stressful hour while we got lost.
Eventually we found somewhere to stay and it was time to try to sort out a Sudanese visa. Unable to face driving again we opted for a taxi to get to the embassy. Driving in Damascus is difficult, but the speed at which taxi drivers drive through the smallest of gaps is breath taking, and on more than one occasion we found ourselves gripped in fear. These guys really have amazing spatial awareness. Unfortunately we were unable to get our visas here, but the visa official gave us his business card, and told us he would call the border at Aswan and arrange for us to get a visa there. Not sure if it is going to pan out as easily as that, but if it does then it will be a real result.
Tomorrow we are off once again to find a Toyota garage as Brenda is still squeaking (I'm going to start calling her Squeaky if she doesn't stop soon) and the oil pressure gauge has packed in!
After that we are going to be heading into Northern Jordan for a bit, and I doubt we will be able to find internet again until we get to the dead sea, so until then…