Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Palmyra to Hama [updated with pics and more; first posted 15/03/09]

Once again, I got up at 4AM to get ready for the sunrise. Ali was waiting outside with the camel a bit early - I could hear the camel groaning when he made it get down. It was a really noisy camel, complaining about everything. I drove the camel the whole time, this time. Fun. We went up through the ruins and just wandered about as the sun was rising.It was much more colorful this time.[notice the heart shaped blocks!!]Unfortunately, because I was on the back of a camel, the pictures weren't as steady. Some of them turned out okay, though. :) After the sun was up, we decided to stop for a break. Getting down was interesting. For some reason, the camel went half way down, just to its front knees, and then proceeded to snack on some of the greens it saw in front of it. Ummm... I was sitting there, pretty much horizontal to the ground, holding on VERY tightly trying not to fall face first into the back of the camel's neck, though I did manage to get out my camera to take a picture of the very uncomfortable position. :)As I mentioned before, it was a noisy and stubborn camel. It didn't want to listen to the commands. Oh, I will mention that the command for it to get down is sort of like the sound of someone clearing their throat before spitting, but more of a deep vibration held. It is hard to explain but not really hard to do. The command to make it go is sort of a deep but quick "huts".We sat in the sunshine on the side of the Dioclecian's Baths again for a little break and to wait for the sun to warm things up a bit. There is not a whole lot left of Diocletian's Baths, only a platform and some Egyptian red granite pillars from Aswan in Egypt (as I mentioned before). The camel was sitting just to the side.I ended up dozing off for a bit. I think Ali did, too. The camel wasn't happy where it was and decided to get up and wander out a little bit (didn't go to far, only wandered from little green plant to little green plant). One of Ali's friends was about and brought the camel back to where it should be. He then invited us for tea in his garden in the oasis. We hopped on the camel and headed through the ruins towards the oasis.The 'gardens' in the oasis are a pretty good size, each surrounded by a high stone wall. Most have a small room or a home where the owners either hang out or live. This room was quite small but cozy. The ones I've seen have been fairly well decorated with rugs hanging on the walls, and covering the floor, with cushions all the way around the walls. Every home has a little heater.I'm not sure how it works. Fuel (I was told it's diesel fuel) is kept in a little tank just above the stove, and falls one drip at a time into a small tube leading into the stove. It's warm but a bit smelly. I can't imagine it's good for you. While we were there, the camel was being a trouble maker. It kept getting loose. First it stood up and took the wheelbarrow (that it was tied to) with it. Twice, it managed to wiggle out of its harness. Then it was something else. LOL. It was making noise the whole time. Have you ever heard a camel groaning and grunting? Funny. Ali prepared the tea while his friend was doing some work on his outside terrace (he's still in the process of building his little home). To make the tea, he filled the little teapot with water, then put 2 small glasses of tea into it, then dumped some tea leaves into it before setting it on the propane burner. Maybe I didn't mention before, but in the Middle East, they like their tea very sweet. I quite like it.
After tea, it was time for me to head back to my hotel to get ready to go. Also, I had yet to have breakfast. After my bags were packed and I had checked out, I had breakfast at the hotel. A bit of a mistake. It didn't feel it was worth the 150 that the charged me.Breakfast was a hard boiled egg, some flat bread (not very much), some olives, some unsweetened yogurt and some apricot jam, and a small pot of tea. I should have gone to the pancake place that I have heard about. Pancakes would have been a nice change. Oh well. After eating I wandered around the town a little bit.When it was time to go, my hotel called a 'taxi' to take me to the bus station. It wasn't really a taxi, just a guy in a car. I paid the same as I had from the station to the hotel. At the station, I bought my ticket to Homs (75 for a 2 hour bus ride) on the 1:30 bus. It wasn't yet 1, so I had a while to wait. A couple of Bedouin women were sitting on the curb just to the side. They called me over to sit down next to them. I did. They were trying to talk to me a little but, but I had no idea what they said, and they had no idea what I was saying. The older one was so funny. Cute. She was short and happy looking, with bright red hair sticking out of the scarf, framing her well tanned face. She was missing a few teeth. She tried to offer me some sunflower seeds and such a couple of times, but I said no thanks. Next to her, the other woman was wearing a more traditional Bedouin outfit, all black, but the head wear was different, standing up higher. She didn't really say much to me. She had a kid with her, too. Behind them, against the wall, were 2 sheep, with their front feet loosely tied together (so they could walk but not run?).A man came up, I'm assuming the older woman's husband (or maybe both of their husband?). He was talking to them for a bit and then went and got them an orange soda. The older woman opened it, and before drinking any, insisted I have some. She absolutely would not take no for an answer, so I had some. The man then disappeared again and returned with some lettuce like greens. He gave some to the sheep and some to the women, who snacked on it (they were eating the stems and throwing the green parts to the sheep).
Finally it was time to catch the bus. There was a bit of re-arranging done to accomodate everyone, as women are not put beside men, unless they are husbands or family. I was next to a Syrian woman who spoke English very well. Noseba is a little older than me, divorced with 2 kids (14 and 13). She is a student and works; something to do with agriculture and farming and sustainable management. She works with Syrians and sometimes international groups. She often works with Bedouin women, to do with education and the position of women. A very nice and interesting woman. Once we arrived in Homs, she helped me find a taxi to get to the bus station for Hama (buses for there leave from a different bus station on the other side of the city). The station there is like the one in Damascus, with people trying to get you to go to the counter of the company they work for (buses to either Damascus or Aleppo). Because I was going to Hama, there was only one option. It cost me 150 for a 30 minute bus ride. A toilet... just to show you what is fairly common over there. There is no toilet paper, just the water hose to wash yourself with. Some nicer places do have toilet paper but it is used more for drying than for wiping, which makes sense.
In Hama (it is spelled either Hamah or Hama - I have often seen both, though the Arabic حماة actually has a sort of h on the end), I caught a taxi to my hotel (Riad Hotel, which I would absolutely suggest to anyone going there). It is such a nice hotel. For a budget hotel it seems fairly fancy, plus the people make the place what it is. The competition is the Cairo Hotel right next door. I've heard they have similar deals (actually same owner), but they don't have Abdullah and Cookie (the bird) and the other staff. Even the owner's son prefers hanging out at the Riad. :) I am paying pretty much the same as I did a the prevous two places, the dorm room in Damascus and the single room with nothing (no towels, no shower curtain, etc) in Palmyra. Here, my room has a double bed, a tv with satelite (though it only plays music), a fairly nice bathroom, a towel, and a fridge. The reception counter is on the 2nd floor up (3rd floor, but they refer to the 1st floor up - the 2nd floor - as the 1st floor, and so on). My room is on the '4th' floor (the 5th floor). No elevator!!! I carried my pack up all those stairs. Good exercise, though. My pack is heavy. When I left Korea it was 15kg. Then when I left Istanbul it was 17kg. How did that happen? I didn't add anything except for one of my lonely planet guides! Strange.
I went for dinner with 2 other travelers, Gilles from France, living in Ireland, and Nanci from New York. It is always great to meet and talk to new people while traveling. It is always nice to have some company. We went to Alsaba Restaurant. It is such a beautiful place!!It is in an old, very large courtyard. It seems so fancy. We tried something new. Something called sajieh (?). Not quite what we had expected.It is rice with yogurt and some seasoning, and either chicken or meat (when they say meat, they always mean lamb). It was very rich. The chicken was good, but I couldn't eat much of the rest of it. Kinda sour tasting. After our dishes were cleared, they brought us some complimentary deserta small (still warm) chocolate chip cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. SO delicious!!!! We were quite happy with that.Then we went for a walk around the restaurant, including the upstairs part which is more of a sheesha cafe/coffee shop.In the streets of the old part of Hamah.I was just reading about the Hama Massacre (February 1982) . That would explain why there isn't much left of the old city. At the hotel, we sat in the main room next to the reception for a while to chat. There is an older man here from Jordan. Interesting. He talks to me a little bit every now and then.
There is a computer in the corner of the room with a curtain. It's great having Internet so close!!! :)
Gilles and I made plans to meet the next morning at 8AM to try to make our way to Crac Des Chevaliers using micro buses, so it was time for bed.

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