Jun 29, 2007
I'm enjoying Syria so much, I decide to spend a bit more time here, cutting down on the time I'll have in Lebanon.
I hop on a bus with Sara and Edouard heading deep into the Syrian desert to visit Palmyra. This will take us to within a couple of hours of the Iraqi border, but all is safe here.
We arrive in the modern town of Palmyra adjacent to the ruins, walking away from the bus station, leaving all of the touts behind us. The people in town are very friendly, but the kids, accustomed to rich foreign tourists, keep hassling us for presents ("pen, pen, pen") or money.
A car drives slowly by, and the driver tries to convince us to stay at his hotel. He seems friendly, and the price of 150 LE (US$3) he is offering us is 1/2 the price listed in our guidebook for that same hotel. So, we decide to take a look.
The hotel is nice as promised, so we agree to stay. The hotel manager tells us "There are no tourists here; Take whatever rooms you want."
As he's checking us in, the manager sees my American passport and accuses me of being CIA. I think he's just joking.
Arriving by bus kills a bit of the magic and adventure of Palmyra. The ring road around the ruins kills the magic a bit more. But it's easy to see that this was once an incredible city. There are tons of ruins still standing. And more than 2000 years after it's peak, a beautiful columned walkway still runs right through the center of the ancient city.
The highlight is the Temple of Bel. It's simply massive, massive, massive. There is a massive entry way, and along the sides of the temple run immense pillars. Ironically the inside of the temple is tiny, only big enough space for the high priest to conduct religious ceremonies.
An even bigger highlight for me personally though is the El Badier Oasis Campsite. The sign outside advertises the place as "Romantic camping", and it really seems to be. The campsite is up against the walls of the old city, literally within a stone's throw of the Temple of Bel. It is in the Oasis, so even here in the middle of the desert, the campsite it's green and beautiful. There are birds chirping, bees buzzing, palm trees and fruit trees. And they even have a pool. For 50 LE (US$1) they let us use the pool, and even loan us swim trunks.
I'm sure it would feel different if it was packed full of tourists. But what a magical place, sitting there by ourselves on a 110-degree day, in a cold pool, looking over at the 2500 year old ruins of Palmyra. Again, come and see Syria.
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Syria sounds, and looks, amazing! I'll have to put it on my list...