Nearly three months ago when we began our slow meander from visiting our families in the UK to our home in Turkey (a few miles away from the Meander river, origin of the word) I knew our plans would, somewhere, change.
I also knew mostly what to expect in our first destination, Dahab. The first place we had ever returned to, we had been there five years previously. After that the plan was to cover some old ground by revisiting Cairo and the Pyramids before the surprises would start to kick in with the new sights, sounds and smells of a never before visited destination.
Instead the surprises arrived early and we spent our entire time in Egypt in Dahab riding out the revolution and overstaying our visa. Mubarak’s fall fed the sparking fires across the region and is, in my opinion anyway, why we did not make it into Syria as intended.
Though unable to fulfil the official requirements and obtain a visa in advance in London, advice on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and from other travellers led me to believe there would be little problem getting one at the border with Jordan.
By the time we turned up at the frontier with two Syrian born passengers and an obnoxious taxi driver my guess is the authorities were less inclined to bend the official rules the way they had been doing a few months before. I’d heard Syrians make the distinction between people and their government and was turned away as nicely as I thought we’d be welcomed.
Jordan did welcome us. They welcomed us again and again and again and thanks to their generosity this was another place we stayed longer than intended. Whether capital city, tourist trap or off the beaten track Jordanians bid us a literal ‘welcome’ dozens of times each day.
Our alternative to Syria was Lebanon. In Beirut our preconceptions were years out of date and though the city still carries from its civil wars a few bruises here, a few scars there the skyline is dominated by cranes putting up the next generation of towering hotels and apartments.
Beirut’s biggest danger is getting hit by an expensive sports car.
With our backs to the greenery of the American University we sat scoffing cheesecake while we watched Beirut’s diverse inhabitants jog, ride and stroll along the seafront Corniche.
By the time this post goes live we’ll be in northern Iraq, another place about which most people have already made up their minds. If we travelled only through televised images Iraq would be one of the world’s most familiar destinations but despite visiting the region through the words of Anil Polat and Earl Barron we don’t truly know what to expect there.