Its been busy in the last month of my time in Syria. Graduating from University, hiring private tutors, getting work experience at the UN and my twin brother and his girlfriend heading out to visit! They came at the helpful time of 3 o'clock in the morning so 2 syrian friends and I picked them up from the airport by car. When they came through the arrivals gates my friends and I managed to convince my brothers girlfriend that she needed to cover her head on leaving the airport as "Syria is a Muslim country you know". So she duly covered her head and walked out under the chortles of the security personnel. After about 10 metres or so we couldn't keep it up so we told her it was a joke and in fact Syria is on paper a secular country! Welcome to Syria!
The next day we spent time wandering the streets around my house and showing them the market and general sights of the old city including Azam palace, a lovely ottoman relic surrounded by the busy markets that Damascus is famous for. Inside is a lovely courtyard surrounded rooms of various functions each filled with different manikins, including two in a very dodgy position, one hitler lookalike and one remarkable manikin that looks like John Lennon in Middle Eastern clothing. We also wandered around the Ummayid mosque, the Shi'a mosque (decorated impressively with tiny mirrors) and the jewish quarter. In the evening we prepared for the next 2 days in the desert.
We left in the afternoon on a 1960s Scania bus, the kind of busses you think of in India or Pakistan, to the desert. Inside was cramped, hot and uncomfortable but it was great! We were traveling with about 20 other people. Soon as we got out of the city the music came blaring on and all my Syrian friends got up and danced all the way to Palmyra, getting us involved too and stopping off at one Baghdad cafe for refreshments, on the crossroads with of the same name. Traveling through the desert again was great the landscape of the desert is awe-inspiring, rocky outcrops, Bedouin tents and sandy plains make it easy to see why T.E Lawrence fell in love with the Middle East.
After arriving at Palmyra we turned left and then stopped at the side of the road in the dark. We then sat for 10 minutes before lights came out of the darkness to meet us. A pickup truck then took us slowly into the desert, this was proper Bedouin life! After about 20 minutes we arrived at our destination and headed up a small slope to our tents that were under the gaze of a huge rocky outcrop! Beautiful. After eating a traditional meal of rice, nuts, chicken and peppers we spent the night dancing Dapkai, the traditional Syrian dance, a bit like circular line-dancing!
Palmyra and camels dominated the next day followed by a long journey back to civilisation and the welcome rest of Damascus.