Thursday, 13 December 2007

Damascus 13/12/07

It’s been a great few weeks since my last post…

After watching the election process night after night through Albania, I headed from Macedonia up to Kosovo to see for myself what was going. I was amazed at how happy and optimistic the general populace was. Everyone is sure that the government will shortly declare independence, and that soon after foreign investments will start flooding in. I am not sure if it was pure optimism or just naivety but very few people even gave a hint that they thought independence might have negative consequences. The strong NATO presence and good US relations has left most Kosovans with, what I feel, is a false sense of security. You don’t have to look too far back in history to realize the West can be a fickle ally.

Political issues aside, Kosovo is an amazing country. I was surprised there are not more tourists coming for a look. When people asked me why I was here, no-one believed that I just sightseeing. If you are in Kosovo you either work for an NGO, work as a journalist, or work for K-For (the NATO peace keepers). If you say you are doing anything else, people just look at you like you are telling a big fat lie…it was very amusing :)

From there it was up to Serbia so I could get a different point of view on the whole situation, and also to cast my vote in my own election. I do not normally bother to vote when overseas but if Johnny got reelected and I didn’t vote, I would never have forgiven myself (and luckily my vote wasn’t even needed, before it had landed on Australian shores, Johnny had already been given the boot :) ).

When asking the Serbians about Kosovo, I was also surprised with their responses. Obviously most thought Serbia had a right to hold on to Kosovo, but very few people believed the government would, or wanted the government to, use military might to enforce this. After having the crap bombed out of them a decade ago it appears most Serbians would prefer a diplomatic solution…the problem being that this doesn’t look like it will happen…

I don’t really know where this leaves everyone but quoting one of the NATO generals from the Balkan war, “If Kosovo is to be the last piece of the Balkan jig-saw to fall into place, it will take an enormous amount of generosity, consideration and restraint from all parties”. Let’s hope they are all up to the challenge…

From Serbia I caught the train to Sofia, stopped for a couple of nights before once again meeting up with Steph in Istanbul.

After five nights in Istanbul we hired a car and decided to do a whirlwind tour 0f Turkey. It was straight over to Gallipoli, down to Ephesis, over to the mineral baths in Pamukkale, across to Konya and Capadicia before finally making our way towards Adana.

Turkey is a magical country!

Everything had been wonderful, but then 200kms from our destination, and 2 hours before the car was due back, we got stuck in a blizzard! And this wasn’t just any blizzard; it was a monster :) From 8am till 6pm we moved 70kms!!! I was sure we were stuck for the night, but then suddenly a convoy of flashing lights appeared and started up the wrong side of the road. Other cars started joining in and there was no way I was getting left behind. It worked; an hour and a half later Adana was in our sights :)

The following morning we thought we were catching a train to Damascus. Arriving at the Syrian border, we all hop off for customs and immigration. Steph and I look at each other in slight confusion when our train leaves, but do not think too much about it.

The border guard asked where we were staying…
“How are you getting there”?
“By train”
Laughs “There are no trains to Damascus”
Hmmm “How about a bus”?
“no…no bus”
“Where are we, and how do we get to Damascus”?
They all look a bit confused…
This wasn’t looking good :)

Here we were, God only knows where, without any Syrian Pounds, being told there was no way to get to our destination. It was starting to get a bit comical.

After an hour of not getting anywhere, one of the guards found a shop that will change some money, then phoned one of his friends to drive us to Aleppo. It all worked out, and after a five hour bus ride we finally made it to Damascus.

And now the Party Pilgrim is in hibernation for the winter. I have found a school and an apartment and am excited about staying still for the next the next 3-4 months. So far I’m loving Damascus!

I will keep you all up to date on my plans…

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