We returned to Icarus quite early in the spring of 2001 after a winter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The early return was driven by our daughter Leila’s wedding. So we dropped all the things we had brought for Icarus in Marmarus, Turkey where he had spent the winter and headed for Cairo where the wedding was to be held. It was a grand celebration with lots of family in attendance and even some of our friends from the time we spent living and working in Europe. Here’ a look at what might be considered the formal family portrait since it includes all the immediate family but for son Kayvon who remained in Toronto as his wife Michelle delivered Maya, their second child.
We did manage to see something of Cairo and went out for a day in the desert to see the pyramids, but were anxious to return to Turkey and to get an early start to the sailing season.
When we arrived back in Turkey we discovered that there had been a boat rally organized called the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally and it was headed to Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. There was no way we were going to miss the chance to visit those countries, particularly by boat, so we signed on and Dave went off to the local bazaar and was able to find a sports coat that would fit him (thanks to those big Turkish men) because there was a requirement for ‘smart casual’ clothes for evening events ashore. The rally had been organized by a Turkish harbor master from a neighboring port and included 28 sailboats as we headed down the Turkish coast and out towards Northern Cyprus, under Turkish control and not very developed. When the war over Cyprus broke out with Greece, the Greeks were all chased out of the north, and rumor had it that there was a Greek owned Mercedes dealership there which was simply locked up and still contained flawlessly new cars from 1974 still on the display floor. While we did not see it, there was that sort of feel to the whole country.
We then headed for the coastline of the Middle East under almost ideal sailing conditions as the sun set. Here is one of the few photos we have of Icarus under sail, taken by our friends Daryl and Jean aboard their wonderful steel hulled boat Sheba Moon.
It was then that things began to get really interesting–we were headed for Syria, and it was a very different Syria than it tragically is today. Some things were the same; Assad is still the official titular President and dictator today though his control is limited to only parts of the country.
And while that repression was something we felt at the time, it was nothing like what the experience of Syria would be today. We want to share some of our photographs from that period with you, since most of what you will see has been utterly and totally destroyed. Above, for instance, the portrait of Assad’s father, the prior President and dictator, still hung in the ‘souk’ or bazaar in Damascus, where the photo below was taken as well. It was sixty feet high, city blocks and blocks in size, elaborate, magnificent, vibrant and alive with activity. Today it is rubble.
Here’s a jolly fellow selling food close to one of the entrances,
And a gorgeous old Desoto with a rug shop atop it parked just outside.
From Damascus we headed by bus out into the desert for what has become one of the real archeological and historical tragedies of the Syrian war and particularly the work of ISIS, Palmyra, that magnificent Roman ruin surrounded by miles of date palm oasis in the middle of nowhere. We had a day to explore it and would have needed a week to explore it all. but here is a brief sampling of what we enjoyed and is no more. Let’s begin with the gate to the Roman city,
and the colonnade leading from it into the site itself. You can just make out the gate in the far distance.
This photo shows how it continues into the far distance. Its total length was over a kilometer.
Here is just one of the magnificent buildings that were still standing when we visited in 2001. All, everything in these photographs, has been destroyed, demolished, by ISIS.
On a happier note, we had a wonderful Bedouin lunch in a tent
which included lots of goat
and entertainment from a Bedouin rock band that included three female vocalists and a large contingent of backup musicians, visible to the right.
We clearly enjoyed it all!
We also visited the Krak des Chevaliers, a very famous Crusader Castle built between 1242 and 1270 and considered by Lawrence of Arabia as the strongest fortification he had ever entered. The picture below shows both its outer wall to the left and the main, inner wall to the right. At its peak during the crusades it held 2000 inhabitants, mostly soldiers.
The views of the countryside below were also spectacular.
From Syria we went south to Lebanon and docked just outside of Beirut in the most luxurious marina we saw in the entire Mediterranean. It had four swimming pools and seven restaurants, and the docks were lovely as well, particularly when the sailboats from the rally were flying their rally flags.
When we were there most of the downtown had been restored to its pre-civil war splendor, though a bit shinier than it had been before when it was famous as the most beautiful city in the Middle East.
We also spent a day in the Beka Valley, famous as a Hezbollah stronghold where they held hostages for long periods in the 1990’s. When we visited, there were numerous large and decorated billboards featuring portraits of the Ayatollah from Iran since the Hezbollah received most of its support from Iran. The highly decorated fellows below were part of the welcoming committee at one of the valley’s famous wineries, however.
The highlight of the day was a visit to the famous ruins of Baalbek, called Heliopolis during Greek and Roman times. At the top of this blog entry is a photograph of the Temple of Bacchus, still beautifully preserved, and below is a view from the inside of the Temple of Jupiter looking out through its massive columns.
Lebanon is also interesting for the many religions which for the most part live pretty peacefully together. There are eighteen recognized religions in Lebanon, one of the most interesting being Druze, founded over a thousand years ago in Egypt and earth-centered. George Clooney’s wife Amal’s family is part of the Lebanese Druze community, and her work as a human rights attorney is said to be something inspired by the religious community where she was raised.
From Beirut we sailed through the night to Israel. Because Icarus is a catamaran he was by a considerable distance the leading boat, and the rally had been given permission to enter Israel at four miles off the coast instead of the traditional twelve miles offshore which technically puts a boat in international waters. So as the first boat we went blasting along and entered Israel waters a little beyond four miles offshore. We were not very far into Israeli waters at about 2AM before we were taken from the pitch black of night to blazing light and were ordered by a female voice on a megaphone to go to channel 16 on the VHS radio immediately. You have no idea how startling this was given we saw nothing either visually or on our radar and heard nothing until blasted with light and the sound of the megaphone.
It was the Israeli navy saying that we had entered Israeli waters much too close to shore and we were ordered to turn immediately and go to at least twelve miles offshore. We responded that we would certainly do so, but that there were twenty some boats behind us and that they were going to have to address as well. They then asked for the name of the boat carrying the rally’s leadership, which we gave to them. We heard nothing more from them but assumed they headed for that boat to our rear and we turned and headed for twelve miles out.
The next day we discovered what the ship was that had called us out in the night, and later learned why it was so undetectable to us. Here is what it looked like in the daylight.
We were told that we did not see it visually even in the dark of night because it is painted entirely black. We didn’t hear it because unlike a typical ship where the exhaust of the engine(s) is released at the surface, this ship has an exhaust pipe thirty feet in length which it lowers to depth when underway in deep water and thus hides its exhaust noise. Our questions about the lack of radar blip were met with only a smile.
So instead of being the first boat of the rally into the port at Haifa, we were close to the last because the rest of the rally was allowed to continue at four miles offshore. But it was alright. Haifa is a wonderful city, and our stay was highlighted by each boat’s crew enjoying a dinner in the home of an Israeli family. In our case the conversation was enlightening about Israeli life to say the very least.
A couple of days later we went further down the coast and close to Tel Aviv where we were met by the most intense security questions we faced on the entire trip. A day or two later we took a bus into Jerusalem and spent a day exploring it, unusual because large parts of the city were deserted of people. We learned that the second in command of the Palestinian Authority had died of natural causes the day before and the Palestinian section of the country was in mourning. But it was very strange to be in the middle of Jerusalem and to have the streets nearly devoid of people.
There was, however, a large police and army presence, though without tension on their part.
This applied as well to the police who were relaxed enough to be chatting with a Greek Orthodox priest.
And the Western Wall had its usual attendees praying as well.
From Jerusalem a small group of us signed up for a four day trip across the border into Jordan, first to Aqaba for a quick swim in beautiful and fish filled water, then on to the amazing ruins of Petra, one of the most stunning locations in all the world. As you may know from the film “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” you enter the ruins through a long and winding slit in the red, almost glowing, rocks. Some take a carriage to reach the valley, but we walked its length. At places it is only ten feet wide, and cut into its side is an aquaduct through which the city received its water. It is just visible to the right beyond the horse’s head.
This tunnel-like slit finally ends when you burst into the valley itself with The Treasury, Petra’s most famous ruin, directly ahead.
Like all the buildings at Petra, it is carved out of the rock itself and is not built freestanding as is normally the means of constructing buildings. These buildings are giant sculptures on the rock sides of the valley. The people standing outside of it should give you some sense of its size. It was begun possibly as early as 300BC.
At the other end of the ruins is this giant amphitheater cut from the rock and able to hold thousands of seated spectators. The ‘executive suites’ cut into the back are thought to have been leased to the likes of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
From Jordan we returned to Israel and sailed our way back to Marmaris in Turkey by way of Cyprus. We spent several days exploring its interior mountains, and managed to run out of gas in a remote village. We finally found a farmer and begged enough fuel siphoned from his tractor to get back to a filling station. But that’s another story for another story…