Friday, September 4, 2015


Note: I didn't have a very good camera at that time - so iI have added photos found  on the internet - (I suspect that my camera was damaged at that time)  2 samples of my photos at the end...

It wasn't much to look at –most of the windows were broken or missing- and it leaned to one side, it had dents and appeared rusty in spots… but I had found a bus going East.  When I was a young pup and off to see the world – I was traveling mostly by hitchhiking, and when all else failed I found a local bus.  I was now in the ancient city of Homs, Syria – (This was long before the current conflicts.)  It was a fascinating traditional Arab town experience for me! - Stone and mud block buildings, men wearing loose white robes with head scarves held in place with a thick black cord, no women evident, traffic consisted of  some cars, but many carts, horses, and camels. loud Arabic music played from the tea houses, shops and markets sold all that people needed here.  I found Syria and the Syrian people fascinating!  But I wanted to get out into the desert and to see the ancient city of Palmira. 

Modern photo of Homs
Early in the morning, our bus loaded a dozen or so passengers. The shock absorbers were deficient, and every loose piece of metal rattled noisily, but we were a jolly group. The driver turned up the music and off we went.  I was the only non-Arab and people found me a curiosity – During the trip, some offered me candy or dates or Arab cheese on flat bread.  I had water.  The driver plodded along at a very slow speed.  It was late fall, and the weather was cool and clear.

Ruins of Palmyra
The desert was flat and rather featureless – some scrub growth, wet season grass (now dried), but mostly dry soil and small rocks.  Occasionally we passed encampments of Bedouin people – usually 4-6 large black or brown tests – a few camels, horses, goats, and donkeys. The horses were riding horses and appeared well cared for.  Where the people got water I don't know.  Some women were working large mortar like structures – I never found out if they were crushing grain, or making butter, or perhaps something else. 

Bedouin tent

Finally, late in the evening we arrived in Tadmur (Syria) … At that time, it was the small town that had grown up around a source of water.  It was a true oasis.  The major industry was growing dates.  It was late and we were hungry and asked in the small cafĂ© where we were let off if they had food – they produced dried cakes of boiled meal that had been fried in sheep fat and then allowed to cool.  Hungry as I was I ate it but did not enjoy the taste or the texture of the congealed fat.  Then I asked it there were any rooms to rent for the night– I got a small room in a mud brick building, with large wooden beams overhead, and a thick wooden door.  They provided a thick woven wool blanket against the desert cold night.

The next morning, I found the village bakery and bought fresh hot bread, and from another merchant local dates, and I drank several small glasses of strong red Syrian tea.  In the tea shop I met up with 2 German travelers my age – and we set off by foot for the ruins of Palmyra.

One of the tombs - we saw  several like this being studied by the archeologists
Palmyra was possible because of the oasis - water! - At one time, there were stone age humans here, it was an important site on the Silk road from Asia, and was first documented in the early second millennium BC as a caravan stop for travelers crossing the Syrian Desert. It was known in Biblical times. Under Alexander the Great and later the Roman Empire it became an important stop for their trade route and over millennia and developed into an important Roman city.  The existing buildings attest to the different periods and styles of people who have lived here.

My new German friends and I clambered over the various yellowing brown stone buildings…some were civic buildings, some temples, some pools or sporting sites, some tombs.  It was off season so no guides were around – so we spent much of the day walking through the ruins, entering where we could.  There were archeologists examining some of the sites and we found them willing to talk.  We had dates, bread, and water for the day, so we didn't have to return until to Tadmur until late afternoon we were worn out from the day.

There were few shops and little to buy in Tadmur – but in a market I found a man selling a hand crafted dagger with a classic curved blade.  It was  a bit crude and utilitarian…  I think it was made from a piece of car body spring, formed on a local forge. I bargained and bought it –Now it is one of my treasures from the Arab world. Its simplicity and hand made qualities  make it special. My friend and I walked that evening into the date tree orchard – amazing what you can grow if you have water.

Homemade knife

You can imagine my alarm and anger when I read about the work of the present controllers of Palmyra – ISIS – the Muslim extremist group that is wracking such chaos in the Middle East… we read each week about ancient historical treasures being totally destroyed – after existing for over 2000 years or more.  It is so wanton.  It is a crime against humanity past, people today, and those that will see these monuments only in photographs.  No where else can we get so close to the minds of the long dead civilizations as through their constructions. It is sad for the people of Syria and also for you and me.

In the ISIS interpretation of the Koran – if a human construction does not support their ideas of Islam it is sacrilegious and worthy of destruction.  Temples to alien gods have no value.  The Muslims that I know in Fremont are as appalled by the crass destruction of historical treasures as am I.

My photo - a street scene in Homs

My photo - a town on a hill side - seen on the route to notes and I can't tell you anything more