While planning to leave the dusty desert landscape of Palmyra, I’d arranged for Zachariah to drive me cross-country to the Krak des Chevaliers – the famous crusader castle over to the west of Syria. On the morning of departure I jumped in the mini bus and off we went. As we were leaving the town, Zachariah informed me that he wouldn’t be taking me to the Krak des Chevaliers today because his wife was ill and there was no one to look after their babies. Instead, his “dear friend – like brother to me” would drive me in his beautiful and extremely well cared for DeSoto Firedome. This new driver (didn’t quite catch his name), was a man of very few words and many cigarettes which we smoked almost continuously throughout the journey. After a couple of hours cruising through the arid desert, trees began to appear; hardy trees with vivid green needles. It wasn’t long before the whole landscape had changed to a verdant scene which made me feel rehydrated after four days in the hot, dry desert. The air I was breathing suddenly felt cooler and cleaner, despite all the chain-smoking going on inside the car.
The castle first appeared as a speck in the distance. The hills got steeper and the greenery more vivid and with every corner that was turned , the castle loomed larger.
To see the Krak des Chevaliers up close is a breath-taking sight to behold. An eight hundred-year-old solid mass of grey stone that rises from the emerald hilltop which T.E Lawrence described as, ‘the finest castle in the world’. It’s certainly the most impressive castle that I’ve ever seen. I think I ended up staying for about three hours, exploring the old fortress and getting lost several times in the labyrinth of dark tunnels and lofty walkways, trying to imagine what it must have been like eight hundred years ago.
Upon leaving the castle I decided to buy myself a souvenir; a tourists guide to the Krak des Chevaliers. Flicking through it later on back at the dingy hotel I was staying in, I discovered that the book was a lot less impenetrable than it’s subject matter as page 15 revealed a rather large bird excrement. Disappointing.