Thursday, September 18, 2008


Sunrise in Palmyra was a grey experience, with the sun providing a very wan light as the rays sought to penetrate the dust billowing everywhere.

After breakfast, we explored the Museum, with a wonderful collection of statues recovered from the site. Particularly striking were the marvellously lifelike heads, all clearly portraits of individuals, captured in gypsum and limestone. These handsome people had lived and loved some 2 millennia ago, yet you felt they could easily be lurking alive and well, hiding round the next sand-dune.

Then it was time to return back across the desert to Damascus, avoiding the turnings leading to Iraq along the way. The desert was bleak, and large areas were flat with mirages shimmering in the heat. We passed into mountainous regions, and about 300km after leaving Palmyra, dropped down to the plains leading into Damascus.

Damascus itself was a nightmare, with crowded highways and a sign that suddenly said "Airport" which appeared from nowhere. We drove like a Damascene, cutting across hurtling traffic as if it weren't there, and managed to make the off-ramp safely. A broad and comparatively empty highway led to the airport, and we drove round and round following signs saying "Rental Car Return" that led us back to where we had started. Back we went, and on the third attempt went down a lane that had a big "No Entry" sign, but it meant No Entry to ordinary cars - rental returns were welcome!

Then we had an adventure changing money, and a new $100 note turned out to be fake, but they didn’t throw us in jail.

Boarding via security led to the discovery that our small, high-powered torches, which we used to find our way through gloomy castles, were not allowed on board. They might be little bombs - security hadn’t seen such devices before. Fortunately the pilot managed to pick them up, and said quietly to us "Collect them with the luggage!" First lesson - Iran has severe sanctions, and lacks many modern gadgets. Second lesson - the ordinary citizens can’t stand the authorities, and will help each other to befuddle them.

The next surprise came when our flight was called. There had been a crowd of tiny but fat women in black chadors, the all-enveloping robes. With one accord they made a dash for the plane. Queue? Forget it. The queue gave way under a shoving, elbow-grinding, pinching mob of ferocious dames acting in concert. Later we were to find out they were almost certainly Kurds from the north of Iran, returning from a pilgrimage to the Syrian tomb of Fatima, Mohammed’s daughter. This was probably the first time they had flown - and we hoped it would be the last!

1 comment:

Joost said...

Hi there, it seems the war in Syria has hit the statues from the museum in Palmyra as well. Take a look at the video at

Let's just hope many of them will eventually survive.