Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea
A Syrian Journey
“This is the finest book ever penned about equestrian travel in Syria. It’s full of adventure, as well as being poetic in its search for a deeper meaning to the journey.”
To those for whom the name of Syria conjures up images of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”, or who picture the Middle East in general to be a place of endemic unrest or squabbling religious factions, this book will come as a revelation. Here they will discover a nation where all clans and creeds live in enviable harmony, their goodwill towards each other exceeded only by the warmth of their welcome to an eccentric foreigner.
Syria’s people represent the top layer of a multi-dimensional mosaic; for few countries possess such a diversity of culture, religion, topography or historical legacy. This is the story of a journey into more than one landscape.
A passion for Arab horses and a long acquaintance with Syria inspired the author to travel on horseback into the backwoods of this fascinating land in 1998. Here is an account greatly differing from those of some recent equestrian travel books, which describe heavily organised expeditions complete with logistics team, back-up lorry, spare horses and all the latest equipment. In contrast, this traveller enjoyed a relaxed, spontaneous ramble, living out of home-made saddlebags, enjoying the hospitality of local people and often sleeping rough. Best of all, her companion was that of her wildest childhood fantasies: an Arab stallion.
Together horse and rider traversed the gorges and cornfields of the Orontes valley, where Roman water wheels still work alongside modern irrigation; lost themselves among the ridges and passes of the Alawi Mountain, whose various minority sects live happily together and whose ruined castles recall the times of the Crusades; briefly touched the Mediterranean shore, before crossing the western reaches of the Badiat ash-Sham, or Syrian Desert, on the way down to the Damascus Oasis. They trod where an Egyptian Pharaoh gave battle, supped with descendants of Biblical Assyrians and mediaeval Assassins, and visited the Jebel-ad-Din, or Mountain of Faith, where villagers still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ.
While briefly informed by history, Islam and its offshoots, geography and - where absolutely unavoidable - politics, this delightful book is principally an account of the people of Syria - and of a gallant and memorable horse.
Illustrated with maps and a fine selection of photographs.
Published by Long Riders' Guild Press US (2007)
©2007 Gill Suttle