10:39

Syria - a close shave

Reading about the demonstrations in Syria, I was reminded of our own visit to Homs – one of the centres of rebellion – a few years ago.
We had taken a long bus ride from Palmyra, in the middle of the Syrian desert, to Homs on the way to Aleppo in the north. Homs was the centre of the rebellion against Bashir’s father – who dealt with the problem Tiananmen-style, leaving a reported twenty thousand bodies behind. The bus terminal was in the market which was also the taxi centre: taxis in Syria are very cheap. A big alpha-male driver ushered us into his mini van and off we set into the dusk for the two-hour drive to Aleppo.
We stopped in a suburb and were joined by a friend of the driver who took over from him at the wheel. It was now dark and we were driving along a road of infrequent traffic. The alpha-male then joined us in the back and it became obvious that this was a – maybe this is too strong a word – psychopath that we were with. There was no sense of personal space and a leering suggestiveness in his every gesture and word. He clearly thought that we were up for whatever he had in mind and, while neither of Amanda nor I said anything to the other, we were both thinking the same. He asked us where we were staying in Aleppo. I lied and told him that the British Ambassador was expecting us and that we had telephoned him just before getting into the van. It was the right thing to say as he virtually did a somersault back into the front seat. Talking about it afterwards we reckoned that messing about with tourists would probably result in a two-week rendezvous of his testicles with an electric cattle-prod.
Don’t let this put you off. Syria is a wonderful and fascinating country with delightful people. In nearly forty years of hitchhiking and travel this was by far the scariest moment. It ended fine – but it wasn’t one to repeat.
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