International trips are seldom unconstrained by the politics of the situation. We had already picked up Yusuf and Mahmoud before the local guide Salem, got in. Nine in the vehicle is not ideal. It was tight. Very tight.
We felt every bump as we drove across a desert now riddled with water-worn gullies after the downpour of 2 days before. We spent 7 hours in the vehicle. With so many people, communication went astray and it took ages to get out and into the vehicle. We were becoming somewhat frustrated!.
The highlight occurred just before lunch. We stopped for a scan and Ghazi picked up a large flock of Cranes heading north. Just under 1,000 went over. Then he picked up 6 distant flying blobs, I got onto them, bustards!! We followed them until they landed. Not the expected Houbara but Great's! Another rare Syrian bird not recorded for some years. While watching them, Ghazi called again, 6 Sociables flying over. He was on fire! The tension was lifted, smiles returned and the customary hand-slapping ensued. Mahmoud nodded towards Mark, commenting "he's happy now".
Abu Mahmoud had offered lunch, which of course was rude to refuse. A typical Bedouin offering followed; communal Arabic coffee, tea, chicken mansaf with spring onions, bread and yogurt, tea and finally, another dose of taste-bud tingling coffee. The local custom is for the head of the house to taste the food to check it is good. Then he watches while the guests eat. Succulent pieces of meat are torn from the bones and placed in front of the honoured guests. How would that go down in the UK? Mel was not eating much so Yusuf placed a particularly plump leg in front of him. Mel tried to explain he was vegetarian so Yusuf kindly plucked him some breast meat instead.