Syria 1: 14.12. - 24.12.2003

Route: Idleb, Hama, Homs, Damascus, Bosra

Distance: 535 Km

Preface: Our first country in the Arabic world. Itís cheaper to by food than to cook on our own. Camping is quite easy, but because it was quite loamy and wet, it took some time to clean the tent, us and our bikes in the morning. Thanks to the great hospitality of the Syrians, we always had some hot tea.

Camping: Crossing the border between Turkey and Syria was quite easy, although it took us nearly one hour, because there were also heaps of Turkish tourists travelling into Syria. Syria is mainly Semi dessert or stony highland. We arrived in a region with stony highland and so it was quite difficult to find a campsite without ending up in deep loam. Around dusk, we found a small spot next to the motorway, below some olive trees, with a heap of grass. We distributed the grass on the loam and pitched our tent.
 
Shin the Japanese cyclist: It was raining all night long and also the entire morning and so we stayed in our tent. Suddenly around noon, it stopped raining and so we packed and cleaned everything. We were just back on the motorway, when another touring cyclists came along and passed us. We followed him and it turned out, that Shin was so burned out after cycling overland from Japan through Asia to Syria (30000 Km within 1,5 years) that he even didnít realize us (although we were standing right next to the road). We decided to cycle a bit together. Shin was quite happy to have some company. Because he didnít feel save in Eastern Turkey, he had stopped camping, but together with us he decided that it would be good to camp. Together we camped one night in an old house (just the walls were still standing) and another night on a nice meadow (the first meadow we have seen so far in Syria).
 
Norias in Hama: In Hama we visited the famous ancient wooden water wheels. First we thought the water wheels would produce electricity, but we couldnít find any generator. Finally it turned out, that the big water wheels a transporting the water from the river Orontes into an Aqueduct. The Aqueduct brings the water into the town and to the surrounding fields. There are a total of 17 Norias (the Arabic name for the wooden water wheels) in Hama, and the biggest of them carries the water 22,5 m above the water level.
 
Special candle: We got this special candle from Ahsley in Ankara to celebrate our border crossing into Syria.

Nomads: It was pouring, while we tried to leave Homs. We asked a couple of locals for the direction to Damascus and everybody piloted us to the bypass, so that we had to cycle a couple of extra kilometers. Finally back on the right road the owner of a small shop next to the motorway invited us for a cup of tea. His shop was nothing more than some wooden boards covered with a plastic foil. After a welcome drink out of cardamom, we got very sweet tea (in Syria they boil the sugar together with the tea). We told the shop owner about our journey and because it was still pouring, he offered us to sleep in his bed in the shop. Of course we refused this invitation (nobody has to sleep on the ground because of us). After about one hour, the sister of the shop owner joins us and we also showed her our small photo album. Finally the shop owner invites us to his house. After refusing this invitation three times (the normal procedure in Syria) we agree. We follow the sister to the house and after pushing our bikes through a small forest and some paddocks, we arrive at the house: a 4x10m nomad tent! We were brought into the heated common room, where the entire family and some neighbors were already sitting on the floor. Because of the poverty and despite of this because of the great hospitality of this family, we felt quite uneasy at the beginning. For dinner we got bread, cheese, olives, eggs and tea, served on a big plate on the floor. Though the lifestyle was quite simple, there was also a small TV (black and white) in the corner. The electricity for the TV came from a tractor which stood in front of the tent. After dinner, a couple a friends came for a visit. One was a musician and started to play a local instrument (an on string violin) and to sing. We didnít want to show off with our digital camera and decided to do without taking photo until one of the friends took out his mobile phone with an integrated digital camera and took some photos! A mobile phone with a digicam was even in Germany in 2003 quite unusual, but here in a nomad tent where the people had no proper shoes and just some wet branches to heat, it was quite bizarre. But nobody except us seemed to realize this big gap between rich and poor. After the concert we slept very well on a mattress and a few blankets in the common room.

Snow in the desert: From the nomads, we went back into the rain, although it was just rain during the first couple of kilometers. We started to climb higher into the mountains and suddenly it started to snow!!!! The higher we climbed, the heftier the snowfall became. There was no real shelter and because Nadine was quite tired we took a break between some walls (once parts of a house). A bit later there was already so much snow on the road that a car stopped and the people got out to throw snowballs to each other. Finally we stooped at a petrol station for a hot tea, to warm up. We managed to spent the night in a restaurant (on the floor in the kitchen) on the highest pass over the mountains at around 1400m), while it was freezing cold outside (may be -10 degrees C). At least the scenery at the next morning with the snow in this mountain dessert was worth all the suffering.
 
Damascus: Damascus was our first oriental city. Just the traffic would be worth its own story, with busses, trucks, cars, cyclists and passengers all together on the road. There are traffic lights, but nobody cares about them and so there were several policemen at each junction, trying to coordinate the mess. It was a real miracle, that we didnít see any accident. The old bazaar (covered like a modern shopping mall) was extraordinary beautiful and fascinating.
 
Bosra: We planned to spend Christmas in a Youth Hostel in Bosra. According to our guidebook the Youth Hostel was built into an old amphitheatre, once built from the Romans 2000 years ago. We arrived already on the 23rd in Bosra and cycled straight to the hostel to check it out. But what the warden told us was anything but not good news. No, the hostel was not fully booked or extraordinary expensive, it was completely closed one year earlier. We were so disappointed that we even didnít want to visit the amphitheatre. Instead we cycled a bit around the town and saw some of the old wall and houses, which were still used from people for living. Always if there was a white or colorful painting on the stones, a family lived behind them. We even were not allowed to stay on our own, because we were found from some kids who thought it would be great fun to jump around us. When the kids finally destroyed a water pipe, we decided that it would be the best to leave. Because the border to Jordan was quite close, we decided we cycled to the checkpoint next morning.

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