Of course, it's Syria again
10.04.2010 0 °C
We finally plucked up the energy to leave the hostel and make our way back to Syria. It occurred to us as we were on the way that most people have this notion that it is so difficult to travel anywhere and requires such planning, saving, organising and the such like, when in fact it is just so easy. From England you could decide to go to France and be there that evening, and it wouldn't exactly cost you a bomb. Bored of France, head to Spain, Portugal, whatever. Ah, another reason to procrastinate mature adult life for as long as possible. So ten pounds and two passport stamps each later we were in Tartus again, heading straight to the same hotel and saying hello to Ice Cream Guy who was pretty pleased to see us. We joked that the hotel's resident waster would still be there, the guy who during our last stay was constantly watching TV sitting in the same place on the sofa in the living area - each time we came into the hotel he was there, in exactly the same place, smoking and wasting. Well, needless to say, he was. Poor guy, what a way to spend your life, though our pity rapidly turned to mirth as we discovered a strong smell of urine emanating from him.
We spent the night there and in the morning set off for Qalat al Hosn. It was a Friday of course and so falafel shops shut we were forced to breakfast on chocolate and coke. Oh what I'd give for an apple! Fresh fruit! Why is it so hard to find a bottled juice that is actually juice and not some killer mix of 30% juice, 70% sugary carcinogens? Isn't it more expensive to fill juice with colours and beta-carotene and whatever the other stuff is? Anyway, after long walk to the bus stop (we finally consented to getting the bus, on the rationale that there was minimal chance we would arrive at the turning rather than in Homs) with the bags on our back we re-analysed the argument of the last night at Talal of whether homosexuality was innate or not. We smiled fondly at al-Asad who was waving down cheekily from the billboards on every street - of the world's bastard dictators, he is probably my favourite. BJ bought an al-Asad fridge magnet, the salesman didn't get the joke. Wedged in the bus surrounded by people staring at as again as we were foreign - ah, how we'd missed Syria - we trundled down merrily for an hour or so until we arrived at the junction and squeezed out with our bags, to the disappointment and relief of the rest of the passengers. The plan was to camp on the hill after having done the castle and leave again in the morning, but the inanity of our idea soon became apparent as we realised quite why it had been built where it was - even if there weren't buildings almost all of the way up the hill, the hill itself was so steep that even walking on it, let alone sleeping on it or storming it, was an impossibility. You win Raymond, well played.
We decided instead to camp in a hotel, and dropping our stuff off we went to investigate the ruins. It's pretty difficult to call it ruins with feeling as the whole site is so well preserved, it is unbelievable. Qalat Jabar stand aside, this seriously has to be on par in terms of childhood dreams of riding a dinosaur or owning a penguin as a pet. The place is massive, completely impenetrable. Modern warfare completely takes away from the ingenuity of defense, it's all about attack nowadays. Who cares about x missile or y jet fighter when you can be sitting in a structure of such epic dimensions as that? The sad thing is that now they are so useless - attacking general: "He's sheltering in a castle, the size of which the world has never known before. It has taken 100 years to build such an indestructible fort. The walls are so tall and thick that to even think of besieging it would be utterly foolish. Send in one air strike, that'll do the trick." But anyway, photos aplenty on my new digital camera (I succumbed and admitted that in fact yes, film cameras are a) antiquated, b) rubbish, and c) I was just too embarrassed to admit that I was wrong when I was defending it so strongly before) we had been cruising around the place for a good five minutes or so before we bumped into a sole figure on the top of the gatehouse. I decided that he was weird and so left BJ to deal with the standard chat whilst admiring the views, and then as he left we took the opportunity to check out the inside of the guard tower. BAM there he was, emerging out of the shadows like a true Gothic antagonist, Ambrosio, Frankenstein's monster, dare I say even Dracula. We were cornered, obviously Raymond hadn't anticipated what would happen when the enemy finally breached the walls. He seemed to have taken a liking to BJ and so commanded that I took a photo whilst he snuggled up close, before asking if he was married. We glanced at each other knowingly (innate?) and then said our polite goodbyes, before heading into the main compound and taking a confusing series of lefts-and-rights to secure our position. He was just too good, wherever we went he was already there. His speed was amazing, we would roll through a hole from the church into the stable and up the steps into the guard tower but alas, he was already up there waiting for us! We'd go underground, emerge on the other side of the castle and he'd see us in our hiding place, wave and we'd wave back before deciding where to shift to. Less than a minute later, descending the stairs, he would already be there waiting at the bottom of the steps! He kept to the shadows in true Gothic style, and no doubt it was a cloudy day so the pathetic fallacy was added to the mixture as well. Now before this starts to sound like we were the aggressors here, we were truly slightly freaked out. Wearing black, we'd walk into a room and there he would be, silhouetted against an arrow slit with his hood up, awaiting our arrival.
It is probably thanks to the ghostly ethereal antagonist that we got to know the castle so well, and damn it was a great castle. We were in it for a good three hours, finding our way into hidden corridors and underground rooms, and there was obviously so much more that we hadn't seen by virtue of the grilled holes in the floor giving view to cavernous darkness. Having finished looking around and slipping out of the ever-present net we went to the restaurant connected to the hotel out of sympathy, having decided that there would be no point in staying there for the night. We caught the bus back and were back in Tartus pretty soon after a hitch-hiked ride - we'd already paid more than enough for the 'taxi' to take us down the hill to the road so bugger waiting for a bus again. After an exhausting day (carrying the bags, don't forget) getting there, escaping certain death and then getting back, especially after two weeks of literally doing nothing, we slept like logs. Classic conversation with the cleaner upon waking in my limited Arabic (I had written in the morning, but of course, it was long gone noon by then):
Her: "It's one o'clock!"
Her: "... It's one o'clock!"
Me: "... Yep"
At which point she left. Of course, I forgot to say, BJ's camera has broken so we have decided that Syria will no doubt be the best place to get it fixed. It was Friday when we went to Hosn so of course everything was closed, including the camera shops, so today we were forced to stay as it was getting seen to, to be picked up tomorrow, hopefully fixed. Another day in Tartus ensured our visit to Arwad island which was slated by Bullshit Planet by saying something like "It would be a gem if it wasn't so filthy, even the sea smells of sewage, don't bother going". To be fair, it was pretty covered in rubbish and for the most part we only saw children - very Lord of the Flies. Went to a restaurant, got some fish, went to seaside tat shops (my favourite kind of tat) and hippie'd up our wrists with lots of bracelets, all of which will doubtlessly fall off before I get back to England, went back, came here, did blog.
Next up, on the trip: Well, we've heard about diving in Sinai which is supposed to be amazing, so we've added that to the list of things to do, coming out with a diving qualification after a week of what was described as "chilling out under the sea meditating with the fish" - can't complain. Jordan, except for Wadi Rum and Petra, is supposed to be boring and empty so we're giving ourselves about five days there which means we have several weeks to spend in Disneyland (new name for Brazil) and Egypt, excellent. In the short term, tomorrow back south into Lebanon (more stamps, thankyou) to Tripoli, then to the Beqaa valley and Baalbek before returning to Beirut in order to re-immerse ourselves in the sitcom in preparation for the South. Time for some supper!