Merhaba Damascus

After a long flight and in a very sleep deprived state, Brent and I arrived in Damascus this afternoon. Between the jet-lag and the endless social commitments of the London leg of our trip, I think I’ve been averaging abut 4-5 hours of sleep a night and, not surprisingly, it hasn’t been enough. Whether that will change in the next few days, I can’t yet say.

Stepping off a plane into a new and very foreign country is never an easy task, and doing so when your body is screaming for sleep is setting yourself a special degree of difficulty. We had a small mix-up with what I thought was the exchange office, but which turned out to be the place where you pay for your visa if you don’t have one. I had already obtained my visa, but the man happily took my money anyway. It took a few minutes to sort it out but it was resolved smilingly. A note to the operators of this facility, if they’re reading: the sign that says “Foreign Exchange” has a tendency to confuse first-time visitors into thinking that this is the Foreign Exchange office.

If the sound of London is the sound of jackhammers, then Damascus’ auditory accompaniment is the atonal orchestra of car horns that punctuates every waking moment. Fortunately our hotel is on a quiet street so it’s a symphony heard from afar, but it rises and falls in cadence and intensity as thousands of drivers navigate the madness of Damascus’ chaotic streets. Then there is the call to prayer, mercifully subdued as the nearest mosque is, apparently, a little way away.

After getting to our hotel, we decided that, despite our exhaustion, we’d take a brief turn around the neighbourhood to get a sense of where we are. We were both experiencing a bit of culture shock, Brent especially so because he’s never really travelled beyond the first world, and the airport madness, the white-knuckle taxi ride, the ramshackle buildings, the noise and crowds and incomprehensible language got to us both. Stepping onto the street, you get back to the human scale of things and realise that you’re not in such a foreign place after all.

Our brief neighbourhood ramble took us to the gates of the old city and the start of the al-Hamidiyya souq, Damascus’ famous sprawling labyrinth of shops and stalls selling everything from carpets to gold jewellery to everyday household stuff like sink plungers and cooking pots. We spent a couple of hours wandering (and getting lost), had an ice cream and bought some soap. Big spenders.

Tomorrow we’ll start our visit in earnest and go in search of some of the sights around town, and figure out how to get to Bosra, which we’ll probably do on Wednesday. But tonight we sleep.

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