Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring Climbing

I wish I had found the Damascus climbing group sooner, it would have been the perfect diversion from schoolwork. I just didn't think that climbing was very developed in the Middle East in general, but it appears I was wrong. There is an active community, plenty of bolted routes, a Syrian climbing guidebook, and multi-pitch climbs that go back decades. The pioneers of Syrian climbing were Austrian and Swiss UN soldiers, but now the group includes an international crowd (even a few Syrians). I spent a beautiful day up in Wadi Manshuura near Bloudan, high up in some crags that overlooked Hizbulla (the Bekaa) valley in Lebanon. It's right on a common arms smuggling route from Lebanon and we saw a few shifty looking people with dubious cargo on thier tractors. It was wonderful to get out of the city and on some mountains though.

I'm actually really glad I'm not going to have to go straight back to the US, but am heading to Peru instead. I'm a little intimidated by the US right now. I mean over here, in a third-world country I'm really a somebody. Just by being foreign I'm automatically thrust into the upper echelon of society and am considered an "expert" on just about everything because I'm from the US. I could have my pick of jobs here just because everybody wants a "foreigner", there's the impression that they work harder, know computers, speak good English, serve as a status symbol to the company, etc. Whereas in the US I'm just another schmuck trying to make a dollar, climbing up the anthill with other people that have the same qualifications as I do. I can see how being an ex-pat in these types of countries could be addicting. We'll see what Peru has to offer.

In other news, they've doubled the cost of transportation in Damascus because of rising gas prices. Now the 5 pound minibus ride is 10, and taxi's are no longer that cheap. I guess it's happening all over the world, rising prices, but if they don't stop here in Syria soon I think you're going to see riots. Everything from vegetables to bread has doubled in price in the one year I've been here and people are starting to complain publicly.

Some things are improving though, they've been working wonders in the old city, to the left are the latest Roman and Greek statues and columns that they've been dragging up as they tear up the asphalt roads to make cobblestone streets. They've also promised to make the old city "car-free" by 2011 (which probably means 2020), and each new section they re-cobble they close-off to traffic. They are going to install underground parking lots at each end of the city and make the entire thing for pedestrians only. That means that the once busy, crazy, main straight street (medhat basha, below right) has already become a pretty, quaint, quiet little pedestrian walk with trees and flower beds, and bab sharki has wide pedestrian squares and is enveloped in relative silence (I have no pics of these yet, stay posted). It has a lot of potential and I think that in a few years the old city in Damascus is going to be one of the prettiest, authentic Mid Eastern old cities around.

Alexa goes to nursery for a few hours a day and likes it once she gets there but cries when she has to leave Vanessa. She also loves the beach and her two new parakeets. I really really miss Vanessa and Alexa and can't wait to see them again.

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