Where the Trade Winds Died
Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
115Trip End Oct 22, 2007
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This has been the only tour (guide plus transport) that has been included in our trip so far... we only had to pay entrance fees (with a student card it cost Gabrielle and I the equivalent of about 80cents NZ). The guide was fantastic and spoke as if reeling out a story of the majestic history of Palmyra. He wasn't a proffesional tour guide even, he was a front desk manager at a local hotel, but participated in Archeological digs of the area and studdied the history in his spare time. He was fantastic, having print outs of what Palmyra looked like back in the 1930s and 1950s, as well as how the buildings and city would have looked back in its hayday in 200 A.D.
He took us through the main temple of Bal (head deity at the time), explaining the festivals, sacrificial prossesions, and ceremonies that were held there. he showed us the water systems for providing hot and cold water the the temple and city, the giant bath house of the queen, and the main street lined with columns, and statue pedestals, and wide enough for caravans of 3000 camels, laden with trade goods from China or Egypt. He took us to tower tombs of the wealthy families of Palmyra, and underground tombs, built to house up to 400 bodies, many of them mummified. Each grave inside the tombs had a carved, stone bust, depicting a picture of the person burried inside. Every picture was different, with details like jewellery, hairstyles, and facial features. Bashaaar, our tour guide, even arranged for us to get into a tomb that wasn't open to the public, in which still contained bones and grave goods as they'd been found. The entrance to that tomb was through massive stone doors, carved with animals and vines. It was like an Indiana Jones movie, pushing on these massive doors until they gave away with loud groans, the dusty dry air of the tomb rushing out at us.
Once our tour was done, we were brought back to the guides hotel for some fresh squeezed blood orange juice (tastes just like normal orange juice but it's red!). Then headed back for some good eats at a local restaurant. Provided was half a grilled chicken, lain in leaves and herbs, a large bowl of salad, and 3 plates containing Hummus, Baba Ganoosh, and Garlic Yogurt, as well as a generous stack of pita bread. The total cost was less than $3 NZ each.
Waddling out, we headed towards the museum of Palmyra. Further reasons we love Syria is that they actually allow student discounts (Turkey had signs saying they did but... they never actually did) With Student Cards, the entrance fee was about 44cents NZ for both of us. After touring Palmyra, the Museum was a great addition. By itself, the museum may have been a bit of a disapointment, due to lack of signage or explination, or possibly just the really low lighting. However, in the context of the ruins and guiding we'd already experienced, it was great. Particularly impressive was the huge array of grave statues as well as four complete mummies and most of a huge statue of Athena. There was also a well labelled exhibit of textiles and fabrics found in the graves. This included embroidered Chinese silk, hand woven linen and wool, and amazing colours and patterns throughout.
After the museum we ducked into the internet cafe to avoid the bugs. This is the first place in Syria we've noticed an excess of bugs. Wee little sand flies are everywhere, and one swipe down your arm will get you about 20 dead. Unfortunatly they are replaced within about 3 seconds. They don't bite or sting, they're just there.
Upon encouragement from our tour group mates, we've discovered Skype! An awsome way to call people, either fellow Skypers, or home phones, through the computer. Everyone in Syria and Turkey seems to have it, as well as being equipped with internet cameras and headphones with microphones. I would advise checking the time differences before you call though. Sorry mom and dad.
We have a little more time today, so there may be some more exploring of the ruins or perhaps a little relaxation before we're on the move again. Tomorrow we head to the grand city of Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
All our best from Syria
Dan and Gabrielle