Our Syrian transit visa allows us three days to rush through the country
. In contrast to Jordan, Syria seems a bit of a backwater, tourists are few, as are facilities. A blessing when you want to wander undisturbed through Crac de Chevalier, an 11th century crusader castle – a curse when your dreaming of clean and comfortable accommodation (or ice-cream for that matter).
We leave Syria with mixed feelings. Entering the country is an expensive exercise as they charge exorbitant fees for visas and diesel tax. Getting out likewise proved tricky as the border official did not know where South Africa was and kept on demanding to see my passport…quite disconcerting when he is holding it in his hand. Only the repeated mention of Mandela and Bafana Bafana got us through….it is time for the World Cup to kick off!
Every corner and crevice I look into is gleaming with fabric, lace or messing cups. The stalls are packed together like the bricks of the ancient Roman ruins just outside. People are brushing past me, some in burka, other is jeans and a T-shirt - women laughing, babies crying, the muezzin calling. The smell of a hundred spices flavours the air and the alley in front of us now is filled with the most exquisite display of sweets and pastries. This must be my favourite place to get lost in, and wow, do we get lost! There are so many alleys and passages, each one seemingly similar, yet displaying totally different merchandise. I imagine the Damascus souq (market) has looked very much like this for 1000s of yeas. The city rates as one of the oldest in the world and has a history that can be dated to nearly 2500BC – a truly successful shopping mall.