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Published: December 28th 2004
Qa'lat al Marqab
I really tried hard to not pay the entrance fee at this crusader castle, climbing through a gap in the wall and trying my best to not be seen. Of course, I was caught at the very end while I was leaving (having missed parts of the castle in order to not be seen). The guy came up on a motorcycle asking why I climbed in through the wall and blah blah... I offered to pay for a ticket and after a moment's hesitation he offered to charge me 30% less in exchange for him not issuing a ticket (in other words, a bribe). I said yes. Nice castle, eh?
The coast was awesome, but all good things must come to an end, and I'm back in the heartland of Syria, seperated from the mediterranean by a range of mountains. I used to think it a bit lame when in geography class they'd talk about how the mountains would prevent the cool weather from the sea from reaching the hinterland... turns out it's true: I was running around the ruins of Crak des Chevaliers yesterday in a T-shirt, and although today the weather was fairly warm, it got pretty cold after sundown (true to desert style).
I head a bit south to Tartus after my stint in Latakia. Although Christmas was a letdown I got to go to a Syrian (Christian Maronite) wedding, and attend midnight mass in what is commonly thought of as a Muslim country, so I guess it was worthwhile. The much-heralded "street party" was basically a street packed with people, some of which were making an admirable effort at having fun, although the rainy weather was definitely making it hard for them. The one highlight of the night was "Jingle Bells" being played in Arabic and with a belly dancing beat... too bad the chicks weren't
Sun over Tartous
The shiny things you see are greenhouses which the coastal lowlands are covered with. View from Qa'lat al Marqab.
dancing. The coast apparently has a very high concentration of Alawite
s, which explains why so many of the chicks weren't covered: Alawites don't pray in mosques and their women don't cover up.
Tartus was a pretty cool town. It was much quieter than Latakia, but the Old City was cool, and the island of Arwad had some pretty cool views at sunset (unfortunately I couldn't capture very many of them since I didn't have my tripod with me). I met a couple of Alawite Palestinians who had fled from the fighting about 10 years ago... their father advised me that talking openly about Alawites vs Sunnis wasn't a good idea as it may cause problems for me. He had a picture of the leader of Hezbollah on his wall, a picture I then noticed again and again at various stores.
I'm currently planning on heading to Beirut for the New Year, so that means my days in Hama will be short... hopefully once I'm done checking out Lebanon I'll continue my trip in Syria (I haven't seen Damascus yet), and maybe re-visit some of the cooler sights that I didn't spend enough time at.
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