Yesterday we took the public bus from Damascus to the outskirts of Palmyra, then a local bus to our hotel.
Palmyra is in the middle of the desert and the home to Roman ruins dating from the 1st century. We had an early morning tour of the ruins with a local guide (see photos) but all of us are feeling a bit ruined out, there are so many over here. We were lucky to be in Palmyra at the time of the Palmyra festival and the day of the camel racing. After a look at the ruins we headed out to the race track to watch the fun.
Camel races are held only twice a year so we were lucky to see them. Not a lot of spectators, and again we were of great interest to the locals with a film crew from Qatar filming us. Each race is 5km long and the prize money is put up by Qatar - $4000 for 1st place, $3000 for 2nd, $2000 for 3rd and $1000 for every other competitor. The races we watched were the younger camels and they did not have riders, only a kind of stuffed dummy with a whip attached which occasionally hit the camel's rump. The start was really funny, all the camels crowded through a small gap and got running, with their handlers running behind them yelling in case they decided not to run - which some of them did. In an area behind the race track camels were being sold and there seemed to be more interest there than in the races. They were expecting the President, Bashar, to be there in the afternoon so maybe things would pick up then. After watching a few races we went to have a look at the stables then into the tent for arabic coffee and tea with the locals - some important looking people from Qatar, camel doctors, owners etc, all very friendly and we felt quite comfortable sitting on the cushions sipping the tea and coffee with them.
Then it was back in the bus for the trip to Krak des Chevaliers, a very well preserved Crusader castle in the north of Syria.