30 Aug - 01 Oct 2005 Lattakia

Eastern Mediterranean
Syrian Arab Republic
SY "Kamu II" alongside the jetty, in extremely dirty water. US$ 440.- for one month, including unlimited electricity and potable water.

Click below for an enhanced aerial view of our harbour berth:

Click below for a summary of this year's travels:
2005 Map Konni & Matt

Logging the sailed distance of about 60 nm between Cyprus and the Levant in about 15 hours, motoring over a mirror-like sea for almost the whole distance.

Paying US$ 120.- (in cash, no receipt) for two Syrian tourist visas (issued on arrival and stamped into our passports within 2 hours, valid for 2 weeks; after which an oral [!] month-long extension was given by Lattakia’s authoritarian but benign big boss of the Immigration Department - free of charge, no fuss, no paperwork, no ink, no proof - just his good word).

the boldest and bravest harbour rats which we have ever seen in the Mediterranean, defending successfully our ship in this government-owned, overstaffed yacht marina, the so-called Syrian Yacht Club +963988901010, where we were the only private cruising boat for more than four weeks, and being spied upon 24/7 by the local clowns of the mukhabarat, the Assad regime’s stasi-like plainclothes policemen who definitely “…can’t see they've got flies in their eyes since they've got flies in their eyes…” and desperately tried to understand our elaborate defensive actions.

Taking a comfortable first-class train ride (for only US$ 1.40 per person, one way) through the scenic and rugged Jebel Ansariyya Mountains to Aleppo (nicknamed Al-Shahbaa, the second largest Syrian city and another Mediterranean UNESCO World Heritage Site), getting lost in the alleyways of Aleppo's labyrinthine souqs and khans (arguably the most vibrant and untouristy ones in the whole Middle East), exploring the huge 13th-century CE medieval castle in the city (known as the Citadel of Aleppo and built atop a huge, partially artificial mound rising 50 m above the city), strolling through the most charming Al-Jdeida Christian quarter (Aleppo has the largest Christian community in the Middle East after Beirut) and visiting Beit Ajiqbash, Beit Ghazale and Bait al-Dallal, 17th/18th-centuries CE houses with fine decorations, thereafter arguing about the negative side effects of religion with a local imam inside the Great Mosque of Aleppo (Jāmi‘ Bani Omayya al-Kabīr), founded c. 715 CE by the Umayyad caliph Walid I. and completed by his successor Suleiman, containing a tomb associated with Zachary, father of John the Baptist, and eventually hammaming in the traditional bathhouse Yalbougha an-Nasry.

Mosquehopping in Aleppo and exploring (i) the al-Nuqtah Mosque (Mosque of the Drop [of Blood]), a Shī‘ah mosque, which contains a stone said to be marked by a drop of Husain’s blood, (ii) the al-Adeliye mosque, built in 1555 CE by the governor of Aleppo, Muhammad Pasha, with its prayer hall preceded by an arcade and a mihrab with local faience tiles, (iii) the al-Saffahiyah mosque, erected in 1425 CE, with a preciously decorated octagonal minaret, (iv) the Ayyubid-era al-Tuteh Mosque, which includes an ancient Roman triumphal arch and an impressive 12th-century CE inscription, and (v) the al-Qaiqan Mosque (Mosque of the Crows).

Exploring the ruined basilica of Qala'at Samaan, one of the oldest remaining Christian churches in the world, which was dedicated to an ascetic hermit and religious carnival barker, St. Simeon (from about 388 to 459 CE), who had (allegedly) lived 36 years on top of an 18 m high stone pillar from where he had (allegedly) preached daily and had (allegedly) shouted answers to his audiences' questions.

Tiptoeing around the eerie, indiana-jones remains of the abandoned Byzantine city of Serjilla, one of the best preserved of the Dead Cities in NW Syria; the settlement arose in a natural basin and prospered from cultivating of grapes and olives and like most other of the Dead Cities, Serjilla was abandoned in the 7th-century CE when the Arabs conquered the region and discontinued merchant routes between Antioch and Apamea.

Spending a great day exploring what is, according to T.E. Lawrence, “the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”, the Krak des Chevaliers, built in 1031 CE, nowadays a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located E of Tripoli/Lebanon in the Homs Gap, atop a 650-metre-high hill along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea, one of many fortresses that were part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states (the fortress housed a garrison of up to 4,000 men and controlled the road to the Mediterranean, and from this base, the Knights Hospitaller could exert some influence over Lake Homs to the E to control the fishing industry and watch for Muslim armies gathering in Syria).

Matt: Listening in Hama, a city on the banks of the Orontes River in central Syria N of Damascus, to the groaning of the norias (wooden waterwheels), dating back to the Byzantine times and measuring up to 20 m in diameter, and thereafter drinking tea with local tribes-girls in their bee-hive villages at Sarouj.

Matt: Strolling down the 2 km long colonnaded cardo (main street) in the impressive Roman ruins at Apamea, a treasure city of the Seleucid kings, capital of Apamene, on the right bank of the Orontes River, about 55 km to the NW of Hama, which boasted a population of about 500,000 in its heyday.

Matt (rtd., but once a soldier always a soldier): Visiting at Musyaf in the foothills of the Jebel Ansariyya Mountains the sudden drop-offs, dark chambers and pitch-black winding passages of the 12th-century CE castle/head-quarters of Sinan, the Old Man of the Mountain, the leader of the mysterious and efficient Ismaili Shiite sect of Assassins, who always smoked hashish (the word assassin derives from "takers of hashish") before they engineered the murderous adventures of the sanctioned killing of any high-profile enemies.

Hiking through the 50-ha UNESCO World Heritage Site of stunning ruins (the huge 205 x 210 m temple of Ba'al-Shamin, the decumanus with its monumental arch and the large 1st-century CE theatre) at Empress Zenobia's Palmyra, located in a lush date-palm oasis 215 km NE of Damascus and 180 km SW of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor, known as the Bride of the Desert and having long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert, marvelling at the vastness of the place at dawn and perching on the hilltop at Qala'at ibn Maan behind these magnificent Roman ruins at dusk.

Wandering through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ancient City of Damascus, embedded on the E foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 km inland from the E shore of the Mediterranean Sea on a plateau 680 m above sea-level, known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, shopping and eating ice cream at Bekdach in the exotic Souq al-Hamidiyya (a cross between a Parisian passage and a Moscow department store), marvelling at the magnificence of the Umayyad Mosque (which contains the grave of John the Baptist aka prophet Yahya) and the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader, at asr (the call for prayer in the afternoon), visiting the classical galleries in the National Museum, discovering the wonderful old Damascene houses (especially the Azem Palace) and hidden restaurants, listening to the local hakawati (professional storyteller) at the An-Nafura coffee house and finally flying back to Lattakia over the Anti-Lebanon Mountain Range with a Russian-built three-engined Yak-40 regional jet for only US$ 10.- per person (duration of flight: 50 min, home-made soft drinks and lekker cookies included).

Taking our seats and reliving time in the extraordinary 2nd-century CE theatre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), cocooned by an Arab Fortress, at Nabataean/Roman Bosra near the Jordan border.

Listening to Superieur Pater Toufic's prayers in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, in the Greek Catholic mountain Monastery of St. Sergius at Maalula.

Matt: Touring the Qala'at Salah ad-Din crusader castle with its famous man-made canyon - the crusaders laboriously hacked a volume of stone, approximately equivalent to the size of an office block, out of the hillside to separate the castle from the main spine of the ridge.