Syria 1: 14.12. - 24.12.2003
Route: Idleb, Hama, Homs, Damascus,
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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