Epilogue: looking back on one of my most special journeys
Damascus Travel Blog› entry 54 of 54 › view all entries
Looking back, this is by far one of the most special trips I have ever made. Almost every day we felt as if we were experiencing something unique. The hospitality of the people inviting us for tea or a chat on an almost daily basis is definitely what made this region so special, but also the rich history, the great food, the stunning landscapes, everything!
After a trip I always like to reflect back on the countries I visited, so for those who didn't read the whole blog, here's a little summary of the best and worst these three countries have to offer. The photos used in this journal entry are taken at all the theatres we visited, just as a bit of fun, the Biedjee Levant Tour 2007 (I regret not having pictures of Apamea and Umm Qais).
The best and worst of Syria:
Syria was a revelation. I had expected a beautiful country with nice people, but never realised just how beautiful and how nice.
In terms of environment the country doesn't have all that much to offer, but the country makes up for that with great cities like Aleppo, Damascus and Hama and of course the ruins of Roman and Crusader times.
- The people: Time and time again the friendliness and sincerity of the people took us by surprise. Meeting the locals in Syria is a definite highlight of visiting this country.
- The historic sites of Apamea, Palmyra, Krak des Chevaliers, Dead Cities, St Simeon: and many, many, many others.
- the food: Although the origins of the food are Lebanese, the Syrian kitchen has perfected it!
- the cities: Damascus, Aleppo and Hama are all great places to be; great architecture, excellent shopping in the souq, plenty of interesting sights in or near the city and of course great food.
- The government: Truth be told, the government doesn't really bother you during your visit, but you do see effects of the dictatorship everywhere.
The best and worst of Lebanon:
Of course three days is way too short to fully appreciate a country, but nonetheless we had a good taster of what this country has to offer. Once again a country that made a bigger impression on me than anticipated. I had never been to a war zone before. Yes, I had seen countries characterised by long wars or civil wars (Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, etc) but never to a country where the threat of war is still part of everyday life.
I really want to go back to this country some day, and experience the rest of it.
- The people: this is getting a bit boring perhaps, but once again it was the locals we met who really made our experience so special. On top of that I have gained the utmost respect for the Lebanese people who continue to try and live their lives as normal as possible despite the constant threat of war.
- Baalbek: One of the grandest of all Roman grandeur in the Levant.
- Beirut: Metropolitan, vibrant, pleasant and a rich history. Beirut truly deserves its monicker "Paris of the Middle East".
- The war and ugly politics of its neighbouring countries: I have said it before, so no point typing the whole rant again, but I still feel it is outrageous how two countries (one of them a member of UN) can destroy an entire country and get away with it.
The best and worst of Jordan:
What Syria lacks in environment is more than compensated for by Jordan with Wadi Rum, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Petra was another highlight of our trip.
For the rest Jordan was a bit of a disappointment. In Jordan the effects of mass tourism are all too evident. In essence the people are just as nice here as they are in Syria and Lebanon, but you can see they are becoming spoilt by tourism. Though nowhere near as bad as some countries in Asia you can see how genuine hospitality is making way for opportunism and commerce.
- Wadi Rum: Stunning, stunning, stunning landscape. Walking, climbing, driving, camel trekking and sleeping under the stars. There are few better ways to experience the desert.
- Wadi Muthlim: Petra is an obvious (and mandatory) highlight of anyone's visit to Jordan, but it was the Wadi Muthlim trek that made our visit so special
- Diving the Red Sea: Obviously you can dive the Red Sea in other countries as well, but I think Aqaba has more wreck dives than any other Red Sea dive locations.
- Lack of transport: Of course there is no real lack of transporation in this country, but it is the automatic assumption that all foreigners come as part of a group tour that really annoyed me several times. For individual travellers there are only a few options, hire a car, or join one of the taxi excursions, neither of which come cheap. To be able to travel off the beaten track by local transport is possible, but you'll need plenty time and knowledge of the Arabian language.
- Amman: Jordan's capital is not a nasty or dangerous place, but it is just plain boring. And the fact that it is nigh on impossible to explore the country from a different base is frustrating.
It is funny really how the absolute highlight and the absolute lowlight of this trip are both the result of us travelling the region independently. The highlight of course being our spur of the moment decision to go to Lebanon, the lowlight being how we just weren't capable of efficient travel in Jordan. I love independent travelling and changes in the itinerary (whether voluntarily or not) are an integral and important aspect of travel for me. But we had thought Jordan would be an easy country to travel in. And well, yeah, it had been easy travelling, but the lack of transportation had not really made it possible to travel around the country - we'd only stayed in 4 different places in 14 days in Jordan, and visited most of the country as day trips.
While I don't like saying “if only I had known such and such in advance” I hate to conclude that for the Jordanian part of the trip we could have been better off on an organised tour, or we could have organised some things ourselves had we known everything in advance. I mean, had we known we would arrive in a deserted Aqaba two days ahead of schedule, or had we known about the Amman - Damascus trip via Jerash and Bosra, we could have spent 4 more days in Lebanon. And it hurts to realise something like that in hindsight.
But at the same time, it is what it is, and I would not have wanted to miss it in the world. Had we stayed longer in Lebanon, we would not have met Alessandro and Will for example. Or we would not have gone to Salt that last day and met Skander at the Institute for Deaf and Blind. So I guess there is a reason for everything and as I said, there is nothing I would have wanted to miss about this trip - even the bad days. I guess next time I just have to go longer!