Finally left off to go to Damascus Monday morning. A beautiful sunny day. Before we got to the border the bus kept stopping to allow locals to load up on all manner of food, thus indicating…well something.
The border had a nice big sign: Welcome to Syria.
And lots of guys with guns.
And other things of a generally destructive nature, not to mention many and varied posters of Assad, who is president if you don’t know and you soon will by the time you leave.
After some nice desert scenery with snow mixed in I arrived there in Damascus with so many cool old USA cars from the 40s and 50s and brightly painted buses. Headed straight to the old station and after about four hours finally left after discovering to my great joy and delight steam trains running two times a week to the mountains. The old railway guys were very friendly and many cups of a quite disgusting tea were consumed for the sake of good manners. Old tickets were also purchased naturally.
The next day wandered out of town and after stopping to take photos of some rather classic old cars found myself at Cadam station where there were over 20 old steam locos, as well as old wooden coaches over 100 years old and all sorts of other great stuff. All the railway guys wanted their pictures taken and after went to the workshops where they were quite happily banging away on four old steamers in there. Cool.
I wandered back to the city and into the old town which was an old maze going back over 1000 years and some quite massive Roman ruins of temples to Jupiter and Baal mixed in with all of it. They had some quite curious things for sale like sheep’s heads and camel’s heads and other somewhat unusual things that would not go well with ketchup and french fries. That night went out with some of the other traveller types to a tea shop run by guys from Sudan who were quite a lot of fun.
Wednesday spent the whole day in the old city again. Ended up in this huge mosque for hours. It went back 1300 years, all of marble and stone. It was a great place for getting surrounded by hoards of curious locals and for getting photos of all those Muslim women covered over so much all you see is a black sack walking about.
Actually got brave and had a real haircut. Got some old barber who had really septic breath and cut near my ear with one of those old razors, otherwise did quite a reasonable job. Apparently further north in Aleppo, which I have to go through to get to Turkey, there are loads of gays and with that long hair don’t wish to encourage them. One guy who was hit on was told that women are for duty, men are for pleasure. Scary, scary….After this went out for pizza and went back to the old city for another casual wander.
On Thursday was highly motivated for the train trip south and at an average speed of 25 kms an hour was good for looking at the scenery. Or desert. Or whatever you call those barren empty plains, desolate towns, nomads in tents and distant snowy mountains. Very dreamy and peaceful. More friendly locals who insist on feeding and watering you. Maybe I am that run down that I have taken on a disturbingly camel-like appearance, who can tell?
After a long and dusty trip, I got back to Damascus some 10 hours later. Another hard night at the pizza shop after these exertions. I was told that each hotel has someone from the secret police working there to make sure we are not saying bad things about Assad or making fun of his picture or trying to corrupt the local population with nasty Western views. So everyone is very careful what they say and looking over their shoulder and trying to guess which of the staff is the spy.
I thought I was in for it after making a big scene because I found the collected works of Kim il Jong there, that crazy running North Korea. I did not know that he was one of Assad’s mates, oh well…I wasn’t banned from reentering at the border when I left so maybe the spy was busy trying to hit onto Western women. Coke is banned there as well but there are lots of old classic soft drinks made locally for about 10 cents.
Friday back to the station to get on this steam train. The cost was 1.20 return for a 12 hour trip. It was a bit of a joke really. Cars don’t seem to believe in giving way to it and also park all over the line. Total for day – two run into at road crossings and four rammed sitting on track. The scenery was great as it went right up into the snow with many steep drops and high ledges. The driver was a bit of a psycho and if someone dared get in his way he would scream the whistle on..and ..on…and…on, giving some of the suffering clientele quite nasty migraines. But it was a very beautiful trip and food and drinks were quite freely thrown about.
After this back to being tourist/traveller and the aircon bus back with all the zombies to Beirut. Maybe enduring “Titanic” on the video had something to do with it. But overall a very friendly and interesting place and very safe too. Definitely worth going to.