today we spent the day in Hamma, a smaller town in the middle of Syria. the town is most known for it’s huge waterwheels. these gigantic wooden wheels spin around and lift water to be used for the surrounding agricultural areas. sine they are made of wood, they make this loud groaning sound as they slowly creak around and around. we had read about them in lonelyplanet, and yeah, i wanted to see them since they were famous, but in all honesty, what could be so exciting about a big wooden wheel? well, actually, turns out these wheels are really cool looking. i dont know if it’s their sheer massive size, or the water trickling down all sides of them, or the creeky sound, but watching them is quite entrancing, and we walked up and down the river checking out these wheels.
so, here’s a little more about syria:
as i’ve mentioned before, the people ehre for the most part are quite friendly, and since there are hardly any other tourists in town (this is the off season, and in general syria isn’t the most touristy spot), we attract quite a bit of attention. in hamma, although people dont go totally crazy like they did in the small village where we got fallafel, they are still very curious about us. as we walk buy, most of the people look at us, and often follow us w/ their eyes as they pass us. tons of people yell out “hellloooooo” to us, or sometimes “welcoooome!”. we hear these from people walking by us, shop owners, people across the street, or even people driving by!! unlike in morocco, where everyone says hello and then tries to sell you a carpet, here the hellos are genuine and the people want nothing in return. often times, it’s more than just a “hello” too. random people keep stopping to chat w/ us on the streets. they ask us about where we are from, tell us about their town and what they do, etc. it’s so fun, to be able to just walk down any street and be greeted everywhere by the choruses of hellos everywhere.
the town of Hamma itself is fairly modern looking. everyone has a cellphone, there are plenty of cars in the streets, and there are huge builboards advertising cola etc. at the same time though, there is no doubt that you are in Syria. little kids run around trying to shine people’s shoes, old muslim men sit selling various nuts or fruit in the streets, beautiful mosque minarets rise above the buildings, and as everywhere in the middle east, 5 times a day the call to prayer rings out. i’ve mentioned before that the call to prayer is very beautiful sounding and is an amaing “soundtrack” to any place you happen to be standing, but lately we’ve witnessed another even more amazing phenomenon. often you’ll find yourself in an area that happens to be close to several mosques, sometimes up to 8 or 9 of them. when the call to prayer rings out, you hear the call coming from all the mosques near you, and since each call is different and start at a little different times, you hear this overwhelming loud cacophany of overlapping sound as the calls come from every direction, and reverberate through the air.
the men in town dress fairly modern. most of them wear western clothing except for their head covering is often the usual red and white checkered cloth wrap. the women in town vary. some of them wear western clothing, while others wear the long flowing outfits you typically see in the middle east. although we didnt see it as much in allepo, her in hamma, almost every woman we see is wearing a kerchief to cover her head. maybe like 10% of them wear the full face covering that just has their eyes showing, but most of them just have their head covered and face open. a lot of the women wear makeup, and we’ve noticed this interesting style where some of them have *tons* of white powder on their faces and accented makeup so their face looks almost like a china doll.
the food here is really good, and as i said before, ridiculously cheap. tonight, we had a huge feast. in fact, we accidentally odered too much food, and soon the table was overflowing w/ different dishes: hummous, kebabs, babaganoush, yogurt, soup, etc etc. we barely had room enough on the table for it all, and none of us were able to finish all of our food. at the end of dinner the bill came: just over 4 bucks a person. nice! we’re staying at a hotel that’s much nicer than what we’re used to… it even has tv in each room with english channels. still, a double room is only 9 bucks! entrance fee to some of the dead cities we went to yesterday was just twent cents each. we’ve been *easily* getting by on 20 bucks each per day, and actually i think we might be spending less than that!
by the way, we are so excited about the tv in our rooms. heh, i know that tv should be the least of our concerns when visiting new and exciting countries, but while traveling, you definitely end up missing the little things from home. all 6 of us were completely overjoyed to have tv to watch, and we’ve watched even the most crap movies, just cause they’re on. yesterday we went to the liquor store nearby and bought a bunch of beer to drink in our rooms. alcohol is techniccally forbidden to muslims, but many of them drink it anyways. at the store, they put our beer in these thick black non-seethrough plastic bags, and we’re not sure if that was so no one would see us w/ alcohol as we walked around. we walked back to the hotel with our black bags of shame. heh.
one thing that we’re really sad about is not getting to celebrate thanksgiving. but, we’ve heard that there is a place in town that sells turkeys. although, from what the guy said, we got the feeling that these were real living turkeys!! now, no matter how bad we want thanksgiving, i doubt any of us would be ready to butcher a turkey ourselves and pluck it! so we’ll see. if there are pre-plucked turkeys for sale, the six of us just might spend tomorrow cooking in our hotel and have a little mini-thanksgiving!
heh, anyways, despite all this stuff about being nostalgic for home, i am really really gald to be in a place so different from home. the trip started out in europe, which is pretty standard (but of course fun), and then after a wild crazy detour in morocco, i ended up back in europe for croatia. i had a really really good time in croatia, but a part of me was really hoping to hurry up and get to more exotic locales. turkey was much more unusual and was a huge step in the right direction, and now syria is even more so. i love walking around and getting new surprises everyday. i love the fact that hardly any tourists come here. i love trying to interact w/ the people and seering their curiosity. it’s funny how for everyone, the things that are new and exciting are so different. for instance, on the dead cities tour, all of us were so excited to see the sheep grazing and whipped out our cameras. the people there must have really thought “crazy tourists! havent they ever seen a damn sheep before?!”. and yet for us sheep are so new and excting. and for the people here, americans are new and exciting! they walk around and peer and stare at these bizarre people in their midst.