|Subject: Back from the MiddleEast|
I'm back again, after more than three weeks in the Middle East. I should have made better notes and taken more pictures, for Libanon drifts away while Jordan is clearly in mind. Probably as we were following somewhat in TE Lawrence's steps and I had Seven Pillars with me. Syria, particularly Damascus, is unforgetable. Throughout I was impressed with people's friendliness (Where are you from? the US. Welcome!), the beauty of the land, and the ever present ruins of BC and AD civilizations - ruins built upon ruins. I never realized how extensively migrations were over the Middle East. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders - you name it, they've been there. And it all fit into what I had learned in visiting Iran. Really impressive!
We were in each country about a week. First Beirut and Lebanon, which evidenced the French influence. Officially, half Muslim and half Christian (though likely much more Muslim than Christian but it would lead to political repercussions were that admitted), it is rebuilding itself after a civil war and the Syrian presence. Infrastructure seemed pretty intact. In Beirut for several days,we went to Tyre, the ancient Phoenician state; Sidon, where I saw the first of a series of Crusader castles, and Byblos. reportedly the oldest continuing occupied city in the world. Also, wandered about Beirut which is reinventing itself. The old and ancient and the modern and new! I did visit the memorial to the deceased Prime Minister.
Then off to Tripoli for a tour about the city, the citadel and and its bazaar before ending up in Bcharre. I went on the five hour hike down into the Qadisha Valley - rugged glorious countyside which in early times, protected the Maronite Christians from persecutions by the more mainstream Christians. Also visited the remaining "Cedars of Lebanon", a rather small mangy bunch of trees, all that remain from the growths that once covered Lebanon's hills.
From here to Ballbeck, the famous ruins of temples built by the Phoenicians and Greeks and Romans. It certainly lived up to expectations; the artistry of these people was astounding. We stayed nearby and were able to see the columns at sunset from the hotel.
Now into Syria and Damascus. Damascus is a busy city with immunerable small businesses and souqs. It is also full of history, from the Ommayad Mosque tto the Hejaz Railway station. A Christian shopkeeper took me up to his second story shop where I could see the old Roman baths thathave not yet been restored. He was also very proud of a photo of his much younger self with President Carter.
In Syria, as in Iran, people differentiated between Bush (the government) and me (average American). In Palmyria, one shopkeeper wondered why GW Bush had labeled him a terrorist. He was quite facile in English so we had a cup of tea and discussed problems with our respective governments. (Another shopkeeper was not in the least concerned with politics, but thought I should not be single and need a good Syrian man! Kept telling him once was enough.
And we did get to Aleppo and Palmyria and more of those good ruins left by earlier generations. Also saw TE Lawrence's unpaid bar bill at Baron's Hotel. One moving sight was the Armenian Museum and Shrine to their Martyrs - the photos of people so maaltreated by the Turks; the original genocide. Got out to Mari, 14 k from the Iraqi border. Nearby was a French dig where my niece had volunteered as photographer for several summers. Again, we traced the Crusaders and Sal-a-din's journeys across country. Amazing the territory covered in these early years, by foot, horse, burro and camel.
And I don't recommend camel rides: after one pushed me down at Palmyra, I swore I wouldn't ride one but! In Jordan, going into Wadi Rum we had a three hour camel ride or walk in the desert sands. After one segment, I tried riding Camella, a well behaved two year old who cheerfully trudged after her five year old sister. However, I am not made to comfortably ride The Ship of the Desert, so returned to walking the last two segments of our trip to camp. blisters and all. We camped out the one night: with clear sky; the stars and heavens sparkled.
And let me tell you about Bedouins: they ride their four wheel drives like they ride their camels. Competitively. I bounded up and down in the back of the auto as our driver was determined to be number one! The Bedouins, who had housed themselves for years in the caves of Petra (which is just as awesome as alleged: Sedona with carved buildings and views you can't imagine!) were moved to housing above Petra but retained rights to all the concessions at Petra: they are the guides, they have the burros and camels should you want to ride rather than walk, and they have the souvenir stands.
One of our Jordanian guides, a well spoken and immaculately dressed man in his forties, was Bedouin, born in the caves of Petra with family still living in Petra. He was the first son and middle child of eight. But he did well in school and received a King Hussein scholarship to study in the UK. He was the only one of our guides who felt comfotable enough to eat with us. And he was on his cell, making arrangements to met and escort a tour group. What a long distance he had traveled.
At Aqaba there was a respite with swimming at a local club and another break as we headed to Amman via a stop at a Dead Sea resort so people could have pictures taken, floating in the water while reading their newspapers. And Amman was the end of this experience.
Again, I was with the British tour company, Explore Worldwide, which did a good job setting up and managing our group of twenty-two. (About six too many in most of our opinions) I was the only American though there were several Kiwis and Aussies. Accommodations ranged from barely fair to quite good, but that's typical of Explore Food was surprisingly good throughout though breakfasts often left something to be desired: flat bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheesse and tea! If we were lucky, a hard boiled eggs. Two places had cold cereal and fruitt - oh vonderbar!
Tour cost $1320 and airfare (BA from San Francisco) was $1320. I probably spent another $800 on food, transportation and extras, including purchases. I haven't finished figuring that out yet. But I am very glad I went dispite being dog tired when I returned home.
Jo in Sunnyvale!