Damascus - capital city, but still bloody Syrian
The arrival to Damascus was quite gentle, service taxi driver dropping us off about 10km outside of town for no discernible reason. We asked him why he couldn't drive us into the centre of town, as he was the rest of the passengers, but he didn't seem to understand or mind and so drove off with us bemused but not missing the entertainment of the situation. We were again pleased to see the ever-present smiling face of Al-Asad, still pretending that he wasn't a dictator, up and down every street in sight, and with a final look at his encouraging wave we flagged down a taxi. Bloody Syria, we had forgotten in our days of speaking any of three languages in Lebanon that nobody understood a word of anything but Arabic here. The small amounts I've picked up are sufficient for a drunk conversation to impress the listener before reverting to English or, if necessary, further impressing with French, so the battle over the language barrier ensued again. Remembering that even if they pretend to know where your hotel is, the taxi drivers almost certainly don't even know where they are, so we instructed him to take us to a street that we remembered the name of and off we went. Using our memory as a map, we swiftly (slowly) found our way to the right place. Turning up at what was listed in the Planet as the best hostel in all of Damascus, and images of a Syrian Talal exploding into our mind, and were stopped in our tracks by signs of 'Thankyou for not drinking alcahol' [sic] and people sitting quietly to themselves, thoughts of mingling far away. Negotiating another roof mattress, we dumped our stuff and forced ourselves upon the first two travellers that we saw, before some supper and a forced bedtime at about 1am as everything outside had closed, everything inside had closed and everybody else had gone to sleep! Body clocks going mental having been used to sleep at 4am earliest, we settled down for some disgruntled sleep.
Damn, that roof mattress was cold! Waking up before sunrise shivering, wandering around for some spare blankets, finding none and so curling up waiting for the sun to arrive to heat the room. Apparently, they don't have spare blankets! We asked, they denied. Upon waking, we got some breakfast and set off into the city - ah, Friday. Deserted streets, no shops open, if we hadn't got breakfast at the hotel then it would have been another processed food breakfast day. We walked around, climbed a tree, and then went home as it was raining. But it did strike us as funny how many backpacker overlaps there were - we saw in that hostel several people who we'd already seen and met, and others that we'd met we knew indirectly by mutual traveller-friends and so on. It's like one big Middle Eastern backpacking class - graduation photo?
After another night of unwelcome quietude culminating in a raging debate about the middle classes and the potential immorality of private schools, we settled down to another unwelcome cold night. Final day in Damascus, and still we can't think of that much to do. A month of Lebanon had put Syria in such stark contrast that our antipathy towards the country seemed vastly expanded. Not that I regret going there, but certainly it is not a place that would be top on my list to return to. Once in a lifetime is enough, I think. We set off for a walk after some delicious little pizza things - good food Syria, I'll give you that - and headed up one of the hills that looms over the city with the intention of looking down upon it. A few hours later we were sweating, perched on a bench on the top, silenced by a combination of our fatigue and the panoramic view of the whole, sweeping, sprawling city. A good finale to our time in Syria, I think: beautiful, disorganised, and bloody exhausting.
We awoke and set off for Jordan quite early and so assumed that we'd be there before sunset, for once. Well, we were wrong. Bus at 3 didn't leave until 4 of course, and the nicely spacious back seat that we had to ourselves became deeply unpleasant after the remaining seats were taken up by very, very fat men. I took solace in Nietzsche, but even he became unsympathetic after a time. Border crossings took hours and we didn't arrive until late but none of that could overshadow our boosted passport coolness and a new country on the list. However - Jordan is said to be boring and even the locals on the bus agreed that one week was plenty, and perhaps most sadly of all is that Petra costs $50 entry! The obviously extortionate exploitation has us considering whether we will actually go...