Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey


So I am now in Jordan's capital Amman (forgive the Paul Simon quote), having gone back to Cairo for a couple of days. It was nice to go back to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities there with a better understanding of what I was looking at, I also employed the services of a guide which made things yet clearer. The other thing that was rather good was that as I went in the afternoon, the place was relatively empty, as all the tours go in the morning.
I then got a bus to Nuweiba (on the red sea) for a boat to Aqaba, Jordan. The overnight bus journey was more arduous than expected, for the first few hours the bus just drove round Cairo looking for a couple more punters, when we did eventually leave the city the conductor demanded seven Egyptian pounds from everyone, no-one knew the reason for it, but we were forced to pay. I was the only tourist on the bus but the locals were paying the same rate. I chatted briefly to a fellow who spoke some English and then tried to get some sleep, but was an unwilling victim of Egyptian hospitality as Nasser, the fellow I'd been chatting to would wake me up on a regular basis to give me some food or a cigarette, still he meant well. We arrived in Nuweiba at 5.30am with the boat allegedly leaving at eightish. At 3pm I managed to get on the boat and we left only three hours later. By the time I got to Aqaba town it was about 11 and I'd not slept so I was rather tired to say the least, grabbed a bite to eat and went to sleep. The following day I spent most of the time in bed reading until I decided to venture out at 5pm and wander round the town. It was quite odd seeing Eilat in the near distance and not being able to go. Still, c'est la vie.

From Aqaba I went to Wadi Rum, with a group (unless you have a 4x4 or a camel it's bloody difficult on your own). Wadi Rum is described by many as the most beautiful desert in the world and was apparently one of T.E. Lawrence's (of Arabia) favourite places. It is rather lovely with sandy desert and sheer jebels sticking out of it with interesting rock formations and the like. That night we slept in a "Bedouin camp". It was absolutely freezing and Bernard (French) snored like a camel farts, whilst he was doing the baritone, his wife Felicitas was doing the soprano version.

In the morning Ciara (paddy) and I were dropped at the local police station to get the bus to Petra. Whilst we were waiting the police made us some tea and tried to teach us a little bit of Arabic. One of the bits I found interesting is that desert in Arabic is Sahara, therefore the Sahara desert means desert desert. Anyway we got to Wadi Musa, the village near Petra before midday, sorted ourselves out and then went down to the ancient Nabatean city. For those of you who don't know (just David I think), Petra is an ancient city carved from the cliff faces. It involves a fair amount of walking to see the various bits, we bought three day tickets (which includes a fourth day free), spread out all over the place. Some of it requires climbing up the mountains etc. We found a little museum just around from the main museum where the curator who spoke good English made us some tea and got us some chairs and we had a chat for a while. Then we climbed up to the monastery which is a bit of a hike but a lovely bit of carvage. There were also beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. So, we sat down and chilled out for a while absorbing the atmosphere. As the sun started to set we climbed down. It was rather nice as we seemed to be the only people left in the place. As we eventually reached the Khazneh (treasury, the building on all the touristy photos as well as being the setting of the climax of the classic film, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade) a police man asked us whether or not we had seen anyone else around, relieved to hear that we hadn't he told us we were the last people and should have been out of there by then. He escorted us up to the entrance stopping en route at someone for a couple of glasses of tea. It was quite good as he was able to point out some bits we would otherwise not have seen, especially seeing as it was now dark.

The following day we got up ridiculously early to beat the crowds and went back to see some of the bits we hadn't seen previously saw the copper again who walked about with us a bit. Then after having a look through one of the books on sale about the place (which we didn't buy) we realised there was a particularly nice temple that we ascertained was on top of one of the mountains, along with the sacrificial area and a couple of other bits. Ciara being rather bad at scaling heights over three feet decided to sit it out and I scrambled up. I found the sacrificial area some obelisks, a couple of decimated ruins but not the temple I was looking for. After half an hours search I decided to go back down. We finished off the last few bits and then walked back out as we were almost out the siq (rift) we noticed the temple I had been searching for on top of the bloody mountain, we'd only walked past it three times already without noticing it. As we felt we'd already done enough there we sold our tickets to some French folk who were asking directions (paid 30JD each sold them for 35JD the pair, not too bad). We got some lunch and then got a cab to "little Petra" which was nice, rather quaint. A very small version of its big brother. Part of the appeal was the fact that there were only three other people in the area, it's nice to get away from the throngs of tourists.

We asked the hotel to book us on a bus to Amman and then this morning the receptionist woke me telling me the bus was there (1/2 an hour early). I hurriedly got my stuff together told Ciara the news and jumped in the waiting bus. En route we stopped and saw a bit of a castle and some nice views. Then when we got to Kerak everyone got off apart from us. The driver asked us what was going on, we told him we were going to Amman, he said that was nice but the bus terminated there. After getting off we saw that it actually said so in large letters on the side of the bus, however having being in a rush to get into it in the morning we hadn't noticed this. I had previously thought about going to Kerak but dismissed the idea as the castle there (the only real sight to see) was apparently nice but nothing special. However as we were there we decided we might as well have a look, we checked that there would be buses to Amman in the afternoon and then had a look round the castle. Noor a local fellow attached himself to us as an impromptu guide and showed us round the place which was nice. At the end when we were sitting down over a cigarette he asked where we were heading next. We told him that we were going to Amman in the afternoon he said he was too and we could jump in his van and we could stop at the dead sea en route, just give him a few Dinars for petrol, marvelous. So we went and had lunch and then met him for the jaunt to Amman. Stopped at the dead sea (now I've been in on both sides), Ciara went for a bit of a swim and then we convinced her to cover herself in the supposedly therapeutic mud (there aren't any facilities such as showers on the Jordanian side, we were the only people around). Then we headed up to Amman checked into a hotel and now I'm e-mailing. So you are totally up to date, I think.

Jordan has been a bit of a tonic, the people are very hospitable ad even the touts are pleasant going away after the first refusal. I hope the people from here on continue to be so hospitable.

I'll probably be in Amman for about four or five days as I will be doing various excursions from here. Then I'm heading up to Syria and hopefully I'll be able to pop into Lebanon, depending on whether or not the visa I have is or can be made multiple entry.


Taking this opportunity to keep you up to date on my exploits as there is only one publicly accessible internet connected computer in Syria and the content is scrutinised by a cyber policeman. It may be possible to e-mail from Lebanon, but as I am not even sure if I will be able to get in to the country it may be possible I won't be using their internet facilities.

So since arriving in Amman I have been using this largely as a base, from which to excursions to the surrounding towns, with Ciara the paddy I previously mentioned, which keeps the expense down. Firstly, we went to Jerash and Um Quais. Jerash has some excellent Roman ruins, some of it restored very well so one can envisage to some degree how the place must have been in its heyday. From there we went through Irbid to Um Quais. This is another set of Roman ruins, on top of a mountain right in the north of the country from where one can see the Golan heights (currently in the news a lot regarding the Israeli-Syrian peace talks) and lake Tiberias, as well as a fair amount of Israel. The actual ruins were pleasant, but not phenomenal. However the views were lovely, with a dramatic sunset. Then back to Amman, where we got a bite to eat and then played cards until the wee hours. When Ciara left to go to bed, she then came running back down the stairs as she suddenly realised her flight that she thought was not until Saturday morning was actually for Friday morning. With an hour and a half before the scheduled take off time she managed to get a cab to the airport, to hopefully get on the plane in time, and that was the last I thought I would hear of her.

The following morning just as my alarm clock had woken me I heard her back at the door. Apparently the clocks changed Thursday night so she had arrved at the airport just in time to see her plane take off. Quite funny really. She had managed to arrange another flight for the following night so as previously planned we went to Madaba and Mt. Nebo. Madaba is famous for the mosaics found there, although they are pleasant enough they really didn't do that much for me. At Mt. Nebo there is a spectacular view of Israel (this is the spot where Moses is supposed to have stopped and looked into the promised land that he wasn't allowed in). In the North one can see lake Tiberias, in the south the Dead Sea, vaguely in the distance one can see Jerusalem, and one can also see a whole bunch of other Israeli towns. I now feel that I have seen almost as much of Israel from Jordan as I have from Israel.

On the way back from there we stopped off at Safeway's which was marvelous. One doesn't realise how much one misses things from home until one doesn't have them. I bought a whole bunch of crap and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Today I have been taking things rather easy, I got up late, then wandered around town a bit, had a look at some of the Roman ruins here. It's quite funny, the Roman amphitheatre is in the middle of town with modern buildings all around it and a McDonalds in front, probably not the kind of setting the original architects were planning. I also went to the National Archeological Museum which is quite small but has some excellent pieces, including the oldest human statues known of (8,000 BCE), which aren't really very convincing humans and more dramatically some of the dead sea scrolls.

That is pretty much it once again, planning to go to Damascus, Syria tomorrow and then hopefully sort my Syrian visa so I can pop into Lebanon for a couple of days, we'll see.



After having spent a couple of days in Damascus, Syria I decided as you have probably guessed from my opening statement to come to Beirut, Lebanon.

Damascus itself is a nice enough place but not overwhelming with things to do or see. I went to the National Museum which has a relocated and reconstructed roman temple, last century style home and also a very old synagogue complete with frescos of famous bible scenes. There were a few other nice pieces but nothing phenomenal. Over the road is the Takkiyya mosque and army museum, the mosque is pleasant enough but the army museum is total crap. I also went along to the Umayyad mosque which is very impressive with gold mosaics and the like, it's rated one of the most impressive mosques in the world. Otherwise I went through the souks and streets and that's about that.

Lebanon is a place that does not fulfill the Hollywood stereotype. Beirut itself is a nice quiet town currently being rebuilt after the decimation from nearly two decades of civil war. Most of the centre of town has been rebuilt, although there are still some buildings standing with artillery and bullet holes in them, this is more the exception than the rule. It is also a quiet place, without much of the constant traffic (both motorised and pedestrian) of much of the rest of this neck of the woods, or most capital cities for that matter. Yesterday walking through town in the late afternoon there were very few cars or people about and a very small tourist community, at times all one could hear were the snipers just down the road.

On the way here from Damascus one passes through snow capped mountains, then to the very temperate Mediterranean coast. The tourist slogan is that it is somewhere you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. In fact it takes less than an hour to get from the snow to the warm coast.

Today I went to a few of the historical sites in the Bekaa valley, firstly Anjaar an Umayyad imitation of a roman town, it was nice to wander about without anyone there apart from a few Syrian soldiers living in some of the ancient shops. From there I went to Baalbek, reputed to be the greatest ancient Roman site in the middle-east. The small temple there (dedicated to Bacchus) is pretty bloody big and the larger temple, not much of which remains must have been bloody massive, six of the original 22 metre columns still remain as do some of the walls and bits. Rather an impressive place. Over the road the temple of Venus which has not been restored yet has some nice stuff, including columns with half an archway still on the top, looking as though it is about to topple over. The quarry just next door is also home to the largest cut piece of stone in the world (1,000 tons) and rather large but unless you have a thing for big rectangular stones, not the most fascinating thing there. All in all rather an interesting day.

So I arrived in Istanbul just a couple of hours ago, rather knackered after a 20 hour bus journey from Aleppo, Syria. Syria was actually very nice, from Beirut I went straight to Palmyra, site of some major roman ruins, the stuff is nice but it desperately in need of renovation and restoration, most of the materials are just lying around half buried by sand. Unfortunately it does not seem to be a priority of the Syrian government to restore their sites to anything resembling their former glory.

From Palmyra I went to Hama to use it as a base for doing some sight seeing, the hotel was very nice and cheap as well. It was also nice as I met up with some good folk whom I traveled about with for about a week after first meeting them.

The first thing I did from Hama was to go on a bit of a tour of the castles and ruins. First went to Shirar, a pleasant enough old castle, but nothing really inspiring. Next was Apamea a roman ruin set in beautiful lush countryside, with a long basalt colonnade. Very picturesque indeed. From there to Mussaf a totally crap ruin that is just falling apart, without anybody trying to keep it together. The last stop and undoubted highpoint was Krak des Chevaliers, descried by T.E. Lawrence as "The finest castle ever built", with good reason. It was besieged several times but was never penetrated and is great fun and bloody big. Exploring the place which is still in a very good state of repair is great fun in itself, discovering passageways and the like, I really liked the place and anyone else I spoke to of the place also thought it was great.

The following day went to Qasr Ibn Warden, another old fort and church that is not so old but still rather nice. From there we went to the beehive houses, Bedouin houses that are built in such a way that they resemble beehives. The Bedouin were good fun and we sat with them and tried to communicate over several cups of tea. They were good fun and were as hospitable as their reputation says.

Next day, a couple more forts (one does start to get fort fatigue). First off was Qasr al Marqab. A pleasant enough old fort and then on to Qasr al Saladin. This fort is set on a site with near vertical drops all around, it is nicknamed the eagles nest with good reason. The setting is actually quite alpine with fir trees and the like all around. The castle itself is quite impressive, and once again we had a good time exploring the place. En route back to Hama we stopped at Apamea again and the afternoon sun really did add to the ambiance of the place. On our return to Hama we got some transport to Aleppo.

In Aleppo we took it pretty easy for the first day, in the afternoon Steve, Stefan and I went for a Hammam (Turkish bath) as the Hammam in Aleppo is the oldest in Syria and the place is very nice. It was good fun and quite invigorating until a bus load of bloody French tourists came wandering through complete with video and still cameras. At the time Stefan was having his massage and these men and women just marched in treating us like animals in a zoo. To say the least we were not impressed. Afterwards we complained and ended up paying about half price. Despite the untoward interruption the overall experience was pleasant and the massage was great.

The following day I met up with Steve to go to the Citadel (another fort) whih was pleasant but nothig phenomenal, from there we went to St. Simeon. Which is a church buit around a pillar that this saint used to sit on. The brief story of this being - Simeon, son of a shepherd decided to become a monk but the life wasn't ascetic enough for him so he went to live in isolation in a cave. People hearing of his devotion and purity came to ask blessings from him, to get away from them he built a three metre pillar to sit on top so they couldn't touch him. As his following grew so did his pillars until he ended up livig up on top of a 16 metre pillar, with a railing around it and a chain fastened to his neck so he wouldn't fall of in his sleep. Basically the guy was a complete nutter, but he actually spawned a cult of pillar top dwellers in eastern Europe but it died out quite quickly due to the less agreeable temperature. Apparently though this is the origin of the word "style" as he was known as Simeon Stylites (corrupted from Stylos - Greek for column), this imitation of him became known as Stylism, hence style. The church and settings are actually very nice and rather tranquil as not many folk go there. That afternoon back in Aleppo we went back to the Hammam, but typically some bloody French women held everybody up by staying in for two hours past the women's time ends so we waited and waited and when they did finally emerge it was then to late for us as we had a table booked at a restaurant.

Anyway that is about all there is to say now in the land of Turkeys, where the internet cafes seem to almost outnumber the people.



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