Thursday, January 11, 2007


For all of the cold in Syria, snow is rare. I happened to experience, in greater intimacy than I would have hoped, the season’s first snow. On Christmas night, an American friend and I traveled to Aleppo, where it was cold and rainy. We stayed two nights. On the way back to Damascus, we visited Syria’s famous crusader castle, Krak de Chevalier, which sits atop a mountain near the Lebanese border. There, it started snowing.

We made it to Homs, Syria’s third largest city and an important crossroads, where we caught the last bus to Damascus, normally a two-hour trip. After one hour, the road became icy and snow-packed, and traffic came to a halt.

The bus driver and passengers engaged in a 45-minute discussion over whether to turn back or continue onto Damascus. The driver favored returning, but the passengers convinced him there was no sense in turning back as the road was surely slow-going both ways. There are hotels in Homs, the driver said. Keep going, the road will clear, the passengers said. I was among them.

Over the next 17 hours, we moved perhaps a kilometer. Finally, facing a second night on the bus and missing a flight to Yemen, we ditched the bus and hired a passing taxi, which ran on mud tracks beside the highway until the road cleared, some miles later.