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I woke up on the hill overlooking the anzac monument, shaking with the cold and trembling cause of the Raki still surging through me. I heard the woman before I could make out that someone was standing over me. "You have to drink some water, and keep moving." I stumbled down the hill not remembering the last hour at all. I searched for any kind of recollection but nothing came except waves of nausea. A kiwi guy in Selcuk told me later that he'd seen me asking one of the army guys for his weapon so I could take a shot at Howard. I'd only hoped it hadn't made it onto the TV.
. The guide spoke highly of the baths but upon entering I could see nothing particularly special. The water was warm and the one and a half hours spent amidst the steam was cleansing but it wasn't until I got out again that I saw. I'd been swimming within the roman ruins themselves. Over cracked marble, around collapsed columns and broken statues - among wonders hidden under the surface of the warm waters.
Again, and moreso, I feel like an exile. She was my mother country. My touchstone. My life's means of measure. Now that citizenship is gone and I am cast out into the unknown, a homeless man.
This was his first experience of this side of her. I felt for him. I truly did. But I was also relieved that, for once, it wasn't me.
She's about to ask me how I am, and to avoid a scene I am going to have to lie. This alone drives me further away from her than I can bear. I try to find something to say that isn't a scream, or a moan, or a cry but I can't, and silently turn over and over in the muck of my thoughts.
That night in Aleppo was chaos. Cabs competing with the call to prayer and when I did drift off the dreams came on relentlessly. In one, I stood in front of the mirror extracting massive blue spheres from open sores on my face. Another, a man with a living writhing headdress of albino serpents was fed live birds to assist him in flight. Then, amongst a motley of ancient ruins, a stare accompanied by a single sustained note of painful blasting horns that shook and shattered me into wakefulness.
We'd been stopped by two guys, one of them armed with a machine gun. They'd asked for money, seen there was no chance we'd fall for it and then we'd set off again. Just over a week later the story had blossomed into complete absurdity. Two guys became an entire platoon of heavily armed Syrians, backed up by a tank who had not only fired warning shots but pursued the truck half way accross the country before boarding, menacing the women and leaving only after a hefty bribe had been paid. Wish I'd have seen that one. Chinese whispers eh?.
Phoenix Expeditions - Can't recommend these guys enuff!
Adventure Net - You'll find all sorts of great trips here - especially since Dan the man works here.
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Mahmud's eyes are searching me again. "Mr Dan. You are a good man. Why you have no wife," he asks? A thousand things rush through me but I stand fast and give him the only sense I can make of it all. "Ma sha Allah" - God's will be done.
As the end of the Siq came near and the view of Petra's magnificent Treasury began to slowly reveal itself I fell into a trance. This was the last reel of Indiana Jones made real. The Nazi's, posing as German tourists had surrounded the monument. Only I could save this beautiful place from the desecration they willed upon it. Clearly and loudly I spoke "Alright people, move along now. There's others who'd like to take pictures too you know."
The old man had just laid down his instrument. I could not speak - buzzing so hard at having played openly and unguarded with such an awesome talent. He placed his hand on my shoulder and I felt a gentle squeeze. He nodded and was away.
I'm simply astonished at the attitude of many of the people who travel through the middle east. Most of them can't even be bothered using a simple arabic greeting. Just two words have opened up worlds for me. Two words. Marhaba (hello) and Shukram (thankyou). "You speak Arabic" I'm asked, almost always accompanied with a bright smile. "Assif. Ana bah-ki Inglizi" is all I can offer before the world again seems to be too vast.
The colours shift before me. Yellow through bright oranges into red, purples, blues and finally blackness. It's here in the desert, amongst the massive jebels, that could themselves be gods, that faith in a higher order seems almost valid. This place could only be an awesome imagination realised.
"She still cares for you man." I consider him for a second and look back over to the coast of Israel accross the water where jets are pounding a practice range with rockets. "She's really worried. We all are. Please don't go." I let a handful of sand slip deliberately through my fingers. "Alright," I sigh, "I'll stay."
Here I was standing in the Temple of Bacchus. The very birthplace of the Bacchanalian spirit. The carvings and motifs on the walls only confirmed my first impressions - sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
"You know the only problem with this trip is," he offered. "What's that?" "Too many couples."