Road to Damascus

Posted: November 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | No Comments »

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once across the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absolute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.

The way led us mostly along the road, first down close to the coast and then over the mountains to the gate of the desert, a city called Homs. We were curious how walking through the desert would be. It turned out to be quite uneventful except that we had to finally face the winter. One morning, about two days walk into the dry area, we stepped out of the house of the family that hosted us for the night and had almost zero degrees wind and rain gushing against us. We were not prepared for this temperature shock, so we put on all our warm stuff and started walking anyhow. It was a though day but we still made it to our goal 30km further. In the evening I got a high fever which lasted for two days. The days before were already hard, my motivation for walking was nearing the deepest low of the journey, the sickness brought me to the bottom. Fortunately we were now just 15km away from a monastery that we marked as our most important goal in Syria. Once strong enough to walk, we took a taxi to the foot of the hill where the monastery was on and then hiked up. There we spend five wonderful days that allowed us to rest and regain strength physically as well as spiritually. Deir Mar Musa, as the place is called, is a place of deep spirituality and true communion with Muslims. What impressed and nurtured us most was the mass held every evening in the Syriac rite (catholic), there was such a presence of fellowship and genuine approach to the mysteries that communion felt truly like participating in the body of Christ.

To our surprise we also met the Swiss pilgrim Patrik again at the monastery and so continued the journey to Damascus with him. From Deir Mar Musa the way is called “the monastery trail” because there are so many historical monasteries, nicely spread apart by a days walk distance. It took us four days to reach Damascus but it was through gorgeous landscapes, mostly deserty mountains. A memorable stop was at Malula which is an ancient town where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Christians are definitely a minority in Syria, so christian towns just seem to be overloaded with churches and crosses.

The second last part of our pilgrimage ended with the three of us taking the road to Damascus, entering this city with great curiosity about the unique historical and holy places there. To give just a few examples: the grave of John the Baptist, the house of Ananias and the place where St. Paul fled the city over the wall.

Now we are getting ready for the last part of our walk which should not take more than 14 days.

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once accross the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absoloute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.
We spent a lot of time walking on roads and unfortunately they were often high ways or primary roads.


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