Dear Father and Mother,
Ankara bus terminal, Wed 16-5-73
It seems some time since I wrote a letter. Details of the distant past probably don't interest you too much, but I'll write them down anyway so as to have an ordered history.
I split with Jack on Thursday and took a taxi from Amman to Damascus through the mountains of Gilead (I didn't find any balm as I flashed past in my Plymouth Fury III), passing through Jerash (ancient Gerasa), an old Graeco-Roman town which belonged to the League of Decapolis, great centres along the caravan routes from Arabia to the Tigris. One cannot help wondering in these countries at the enormous effort (I suppose over centuries) that has been made to clear seemingly impossible areas of rock.
The Syrians seemed somewhat less prosperous than their neighbours, although the fields were surprisingly fertile. I holed up in the Youth Hostel in Damascus and was instantly pleased with the city because everything I wanted to see was within walking-distance. I find that this makes a great deal of difference in my reaction to a place - I simply hate being dependent on scoundrelly taxi-drivers.
Since I expected Syria to be the last "cheap" place before Europe, I changed a good deal of money and went on a shopping-spree in the bazaar. I walked along the Street Called Straight (disappointed to find much of it covered in as a bazaar, saw St. Anania's underground chapel (Ananias of Acts 9), the "tomb of St. John the Baptist", and St. Paul's window and church on the wall of the city. I can't imagine it really looks the way it did 1900 and more years agone, though much of the wall looks genuine beyond doubt. There are lots of Roman and Arabic points of interest in the city. I was entertained in their flat by a number of Palestinian students, but eventually I was turned off by the fact that I couldn't get out to Lebanon.
Later in Istanbul. On Sunday an odd Englishman and I decided to hitch to the border and try our luck, but we called in on the police before we went and they insisted that we couldn't cross into Lebanon. I suspect we might have snuck through but the risk of failure meant it wasn't worth the effort. Consequently, I renewed my visa and decided to go it alone up to Turkey. I took a bus through Homs to Hama where I saw those fascinating water-wheels and was entertained to tea by more university students. It was interesting to see the Syrian armed forces flexing their muscles - tanks manoeuvring in clouds of dust beside the road and Russian jet fighters performing aerobatics over Hama. It's a little bit pathetic when you think the Israelis could walk in as on a Sunday afternoon stroll. Being (as I believe) in something of a hurry, I took the bus that night to Aleppo (Syria's second-largest city) and shouted myself a single room in the first hotel I found.
On Monday I inspected a few interesting old caravanserais on the way to the citadel (an enormous and rather romantic affair of Byzantine and Arab construction), passed through the oldest and quaintest bazaar yet, and was given tea by some school-pupils. Later I took a service taxi to the Turkish border (it costs an arm and a leg to cross these remote frontiers), where the nasty Customs man noted my kukhuri in my passport and tore to shreds a Syrian map I had showing Iskenderun etc. as part of Syria (an old dispute). There I also met a West German who could not get into Syria to sell his Mercedes 220S without going back to Ankara for some visa formalities - the Arabs are particularly tough on Germans since so many Arabs were thrown out of Germany after Munich. The result was that I prevailed on him to take me to Iskenderun (unfortunately missing Antioch on the way), through quite different and very beautiful lush mountain scenery. Something seemed very familiar about it and I can only think it was the pitched roofs of the buildings. I had my first sight of the sea since Malaysia and we were entertained at its edge by a Syrian businessman (beer, nuts and water-pipes). Later we tried sleeping in the car beside the sea some way out of town, only to be shunted off by soldiers in the middle of the night - we found a pleasant wheat-field instead.
There didn't seem to be any suitable vessels sailing my way from Iskenderun, so I decided to go with Dirk to Ankara (we missed Tarsus by 5 Km), and then find my way to Istanbul. One is nothing if not flexible in this business. We travelled through countryside much more beautiful than that I have grown accustomed to – very reminiscent of Europe (cool, overcast and frequently raining – yes, real rain!) We spent Tuesday night in a very wet, dirt side-road about 120 Km from Ankara.
One nocturnal visitor (every man and his dog have worked in Germany) even fired shots in the air from his pistol to express his delight at finding us. It sounds trite to keep saying that everybody is friendly, but it is so – and I can't say there is any one people I have disliked, in spite of some annoying ways. The Turks are said to be good mechanics but they are dreadful drivers – the roads are littered with smashed and overturned vehicles.
I spent only long enough in Ankara to catch a bus to Istanbul. It is a beautiful, well-watered land of quaint farm villages, slender minarets and an abundance of gypsies in the “long paddock”. I arrived in Istanbul around 1830 yesterday afternoon and my first sight of Europe seemed incongruous – domes and minarets silhouetted in the westering sun! I crossed the Bosphorus on a ferry (so ending one phase of the journey) and settled on a bed for 15 lira in a room with a French-Canadian. I suppose I can expect no more news of home until I arrive in London. I must write to Islamabad and Beirut in case there is mail there.