Since meeting up again with Tom “The Kid” Smith 5 days ago in Antalya,
Turkey, we have taken a leisurely course along Turkey’s Mediterranean
coast towards Syria. Turkey has a special place in all of our hearts.
One day we were offered tea 3 times (twice when we stopped to fill up
with gas, and once when we stopped to ask for directions in Antioch).
It is a country of spectacular natural beauty, uncongested roads, and
friendly people who all seem to want us to feel like honoured guests in
their country. To top it off, there is abundance of ruins, some of
which are in dramatic settings such as the tops of mountains or
overlooking the ocean.
One day I emerged from my tent, pitched next to the Mediterranean,
before the others had awoken (or so I thought). We were camped next to
the Mediterranean. I went hiking through a vast castle that we had seen
the previous evening just down the beach. I thought I was the only one
there until, from the window of a tower, I saw Jerry wandering around
the courtyard below, taking pictures every few paces. After exploring
the castle, we went for a morning swim in the Med. How many places in
the world can you explore a 2000 year old castle and swim in the ocean,
without seeing anyone else, all before breakfast?
We crossed the border from Turkey to Syria 3 days ago. The border
crossing took several hours during the heat of the day. The heat has
been oppressive, with temperatures regularly reaching 40 degrees
Celsius or more. It makes it hard to stay hydrated, even with our
camelbaks. The hydration problem has been compounded by the fact that,
apparently, the vaccine against travellers diarrhea that 2 out of 3 of
us took seems to have made little difference. We’ve all been suffering
the consequences for the past several days.
The first day in Syria we rode to the old city in Aleppo, an area that
has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our health related
issues prompted us to stay in a luxurious hotel deep in a maze of
narrow streets that would have basically looked the same a millenia
ago. Our room, accessed through a vine covered inner courtyard, was
richly decorated with tile floors and walls of intricate wood carvings.
The ceiling was two stories high and covered with artwork as well. With
the *ahem* air conditioning and large two room tiled lavatory complete
with fluffy towels, we were hardly ditching the comfort zone.
It’s hard to say whether Turks or Syrians are friendlier. Everywhere we
stop in Syria, as in Turkey, we are immediately approached by people
offering to help. In Syria, we’ve become so used to it that when we
want directions to a hotel or ruins, we just stop and wait (never more
than a minute) for someone to approach us and help. If they don’t speak
English they will shout out to people passing by until someone can
explain it. Failing that, they will often just lead us there in their
vehicles. Last night when we arrived in Damascus, we stopped outside of
a car washing business. They told us they got off work in a few
minutes, offered us tea, and then hopped on the back of our motorcycles
to direct us to the hotel.
Since leaving Aleppo we’ve gone on a tour of some of Syria’s
archaeological sites. In the same day we rode our motorcycles through
two ancient cities. We rode down the main street of the ruins of the
ancient city of Apamea, 2 kms long and lined by 600 giant columns on
either side. We also rode our bikes through Serjilla, one of eerie the
“Dead Cities”, built by the Byzantines, that dot the Syrian Steppe.
That night we stayed in Hama, a major tourist destination because of
its famous wooden water wheels.
Yesterday we rode to Croc des Chevaliers, a castle perched on the top
of a mountain, guarding a narrow corridor leading to the Syrian
hinterland of old. I felt like I had slipped into a fantasy world. This
is the castle of childhood imagination.
Last night we stayed in Damascus, the longest continuously inhabited
city in the world. Today we are heading out into the blistering heat
with the intention of crossing the border into Jordan.