Ok, fine, we will take the bus
A few things first that I missed out from the last blog as by the time it got to the end of my time I just didn't really care any more, so a few key things slipped from memory. One lift we got from Raqqa to the middle of nowhere which allegedly had a turn off to Palmyra according to the malevolent, malicious and mendacious map was with two guys driving a covered pick up - naturally, as per usual, we rode in the back - live the dream. Anyway, on this particular occasion we saw it slowing down and in the back was strapped down, on first looks, seemed to be a drum kit. Nice, we thought, pump out beats all the way. Approaching, it is little too black-and-silver for that and reminds us both of the dentists chair. Clambering in, we see that it is in fact an operating table - naturally, we played doctors and patients and made jokes about the quality of the mobility of the health service here until we noticed some weird and unidentifiable red stains. Gross. About 2 minutes later though I climbed back on and was at once in the Millenium Falcon (punch it Chewie) nailing the Truck Fighter behind us - that is until I got too into it and one of the leg rests came off in my hand so we hid it and then chilled. Probably the weirdest lift we'll get on the trip all in all.
So, to Latakia. Town on the Meditarranean, supposed to be pretty wicked. We decided, with our new hitching experience, that the road to Latakia had way too many little villages and road connections on it to be worth trying, and besides the bus there was only 150 pounds - or 2.25 - so we weren't really missing out. The guide book told us that as it was the birthplace of al Asad it was pretty wealthy, and as a consequence headscarves were replaced by tight jeans and low cut tops, so naturally we were pretty excited. Upon arrival, the weather was gloomy and we had no idea where we were (navigating the town by compass) until we decided bugger it, we'll take a taxi. As a prerequisite to being a Syrian taxi driver, you cannot speak any English whatsoever, it is always a risky decision and so we ended up in the middle of somewhere and had to be led to the hotel by a kind old guy who was going nearby, about 20 minutes walk away. Good place though, we opted for TV and shower for an extra 200 - definite investment.
We went out in the evening to a restaurant, thinking that we might as well eat something more than just falafel and shwarma (and humous on a day of extreme profligacy) so found a place and went wild. I had what I'd been dreaming of, a steak with mushroom sauce. Mmmmm. We then decided that it'd be cool to just kick back with a beer in some bar but our previous experiences in Syria had informed us that the frequency of such establishments are quite minimal - however, being hardened in finding alcohol in a generally alcohol-shunning country, we resolved that we should go to the local top end hotel, as they always have bars, and besides there are likely to be some foreigners there who we can kick back with and get to know. This started off what was literally an hour long search, leaving the hotel as it was both deserted and expensive in favour of a place that the barman recommended which turned out to be a) not where he said and b) empty as well, as were all the other restaurants / 'bars' in the bar area of town. But we had a couple of beers anyway, despite just wanting to be in bed by then, and then set off in completely the wrong direction so it took us ages to get home anyway. Effort.
The next day we decided to go to the beach, which we were told by the book was controlled by Syria's premier seaside resort and we had to pay 400 to get in. It was only a few miles north so we decided to walk it, and arrived in the height of sun. Huge place, seriously premier. 5* plastered everywhere, chalets, two swimming pools, private beach, private yacht parking in their private harbour. So we naturally sauntered in as if we owned the place and hung out (without paying, of course) on the rocks (which were in fact fake rocks but huge pieces of similiarly shaped concrete..?) for a fair while. We decided to see what else was on offer after deciding that the pool was too cold to swim in so we stormed the health spa. The people at reception were fantastically helpful and showed us around the jacuzza, showers, steam room, lounge, and then asked if we wanted a membership. Assuring them that we were staying in the hotel they apologised profusely and showed us to the changing rooms. Cackling silently to ourselves, we changed and then we stopped in our tracks by the woman, who asked us to fill in the form with room number and names. Knowing also that everything is filled out by hand and never on a computer, I persuaded BJ that we should continue blagging (and I do love a good blag) so I went up and filled out psuedonyms, pseudosignatures and psuedorooms. Apparently my safe bet of 108 didn't actually exist (we took a look, there was a 1221, error) but she didn't seem to mind after I said that it was our first day so we didn't actually know what it was. I suspect that she actually knew what we were pulling but hated working for the elite so allowed us to get away with it anyway. Whatever her mentality, I assured her that I would return the next day with our real room number and then we settled down to an hours jacuzzi session. Aaaah man that was nice, though we did get a scare when a suited man walked in (he's in a suit - here we go) but it turned out that he was just showing round more money-sweating clients. Steam room next, followed by a shower. Best shower I will probably have on this entire trip - really hot, free shampoo, even a choice between two shower heads depending on which way you turned the handle. Luxury is fantastic, especially at that value. I asked about a massage but apparently that's only for women, but I didn't mind. I felt clean for several minutes until I re-donned my browny-greying 'white' trousers and 4-day-used socks. Bloody decadence.
It was dark by the time we got back into town and so decided to reward ourselves on saving money by splashing out again on another nice meal - logic both valid and sound. An eclectic style of ordering, I had a starter, main and two puddings whilst BJ had two mains and a waffle. We kept them on their toes. Note to self - when ordered a beer, don't ask for it mexican as that means they fill it with lemon juice and nail salt around the outside. Ok with tequila, but it just ruins a good Almaza. Good value though, unlike our gypsy meal today where a load of fools tried to charge us 800 for chicken, chips and humous - more than my 4 course meal last night! Charging for tap water, bringing salad when we specified we didn't want any, all hell broke loose. We eventually wangled (not wrangled, Danny) Bill down to 500 by sheer attrition (which was still a god awful rip off - nasty chicken it was).
And so the plan - apparently Cyprus, whilst in the EU, still gives stamps, and that's what it's all about: passport stash. Not sure when though as flights are definitely expensive and accommodation probably is. Egypt before Brazil, but only quickly to see Cairo and the pyramids nearby. In the short term, Tartus tomorrow, hitching down the coast. One straight road there, so should be pretty easy.