August 14, 2000 GMT
Syria - 2

Damascus (08-08-2000) till Aleppo (14-08-2000)

Back to Syria. I reached the Syrian border at 1.30pm. and went through the hassle to get out of Jordan and into Syria. I was ready for a battle as the first time I entered Syria I had to buy a one month insurance for the bike (minimum) which was still valid for 10 days. But there was no battle at all as soon I showed the insurance they accepted it directly.

I drove directly to Damascus where I visited my former colleagues again as they were still there. But close to leaving as the machine was running almost without any problems now.

I only spend one day there now, before going to Hama.

Finally I got my palmtop back, so hopefully this report is going to be different to the previous ones in this matter, it's not just a summary of places and sights I've visited but hopefully more like a story.

Thursday, 10 August, I spend the morning packing my stuff, and have a last shower so I was ready to leave Damascus. Fully packed I drove to the factory where Geert and Uwe were working. Actually they weren't doing anything at all as the machine finally worked well. When they were ready to go back home at 14.30 we said goodbye and I headed for Hama, just over 200 km. using the highways and checked in a hotel (slept on the roof), did some shopping in town, had some food and strolled around seeing already the first Noria, a huge wooden waterwheel formerly used to elevate water used for irrigation. You can hear them from far away as they are really groaning because the wooden axe is rotating on a wooden block causing friction.

The next morning I visited several wheels but and took some photo's but they're not all that nice. Around eleven I left the hotel heading for Palmyra. I didn't use the highways but took some small roads through the desert although they were all tarmacs. The scenery was absolutely magnificent, never thought that it was possible to create such an interesting landscape only using sand and stones. Hardly any traffic and hot. Although not as hot as a desert supposed be (the heat wave in Turkey was worse). Entering Palmyra was great as you drive through the ruins before entering the town. I immediately disliked the place as everyone was trying to get me in his hotel and at the locally grocery shop they asked 'tourist prices' which immediately got back to normal as you leave the shop when you refuse to pay those prices.

I went to the castle to have a nice view over the ruins in the late afternoon, and I wasn't the only one. Back at the hotel I noticed that the antenna of my GPS was broken. The hotel owner had told me it was safe to leave the motorbike outside, but the street kids were touching everything. I had a quick look at it but the antenna didn't receive any satellite anymore. I already had learned not to make any impulsive decisions or reparations so I put it aside. Had a diner in a restaurant on the street together with my South-Korean roommate.

The next morning I got up so early that all the restaurants were still closed so I had to eat the things I had on my motorbike. I visited the historical sites but refused to pay the SYP 300 (USD 6) for the Temple of Bel and slipped in together with an organised group of Italian tourists and it wasn't really worth it the money. Actually I had enough of all those (Roman) sites, I already saw so many of them, so I got back to the hotel to pack the bike.

I planned to drive to Aleppo via Rasafeh but the hotel owner thought that a part of the road to Rasafe was a real desert piste. This sounded really great to me. So I headed to As-Shukna were this road started and filled up my tank completely before heading north.

I met there an Italian couple on a motorbike and they just came from Rasafeh, but they followed the tarmac road and so had a detour via Deir ez-Zur, but they were driving a roadbike. They were told that the direct road was dangerous because it was easy to get lost on the desert piste because of all those different tracks everywhere. Now I needed my GPS the most for navigation it didn't work and I had to use my hand compass. I decided at least to give it a try, and as long as I headed due north I had to hit a tarmac road within 150 km.

After having some troubles finding the right road out of the village, the first 30 km. were still tarmac but ended in a small village. I confirmed by the locals I was still on the right road and then headed into the desert. At first you try to remember which way you went at forks, but there are so many and you have to keep on driving and fully concentrate yourself on the piste. Very soon I found out that it really doesn't matter which piste track you take because sooner or later they all come together again. Just check that it doesn't go to a small village or a barn and its general direction is north. I liked it so much that I was disappointed that I hit the tarmac road already after 38 km.. The remaining road to Rasafeh was easy and all tarmac. So my first desert navigation experience was a real positive one and definitely tasted for more.

Rasafeh was an old walled city, which was a real pleasure to walk around as it was very remote and hardly visited by tourists. The only place around was a place you could have some drink and food and where you had to buy the entrance ticket. First I had a couple of teas and went inside the city and strolled around for about an hour. It didn't have a real attractive building or so but its restful peace which was really pleasant. Together with the fact that it was in quite an original state (not so much restoration attempts) made me like the place.

Back in the restaurant I had some more tea but when I asked for food they had to admit that there wasn't anything left. So I left the place and headed for Aleppo trying to find a place to rough camp. I found an abandoned barn not far from the road and parked the bike perfectly out of sight. However within 5 minutes a military truck appeared and 5 guys with guns demanded me to leave. I had found a sleeping place directly opposite of an army base which wasn't a clever thing to do. So I drove on and took a small dirt road leading to a field and parked the bike on the sand, made a dinner and slept well next to the bike until the sun came up and hit me.

I was just putting away the sleeping bag as a small bike appeared out of the fields. This guy was living there with his family just in a small tent. Although you could hardly call it a tent; it was a piece of plastic on some sticks tied with some ropes. He was getting some water and when he returned he invited me for some tea. So I was following him on my bike into the fields. The tea turned out to be a whole breakfast. I had a little Arabic phrasebook and so we had a kind of conversation. I had to take some photos of his kinds and send the pictures to him. He wrote down his address in Arabic on paper. The mail was not going to be sent to his 'house' but to the nearest village, but as long his name was mentioned on it wouldn't be any problem.

So I left for Aleppo. Not far from the main road there was a little castle. I tried to find it but didn't succeed. However I had a great time on some dirt tracks along a huge lake.

After reaching Aleppo the normal problem in Syria appeared: nobody can point my current location on the city map. Even police officers are looking at the map and don't know where they are (on the map I mean). So I drove around for a while till I crossed a railroad track and managed to find the station. From there on it was easy to find the hotel I wanted to go to. In the late afternoon I went to the bazaar and had a great time there just strolling around, smell all the different spices and watch the local people buying things.

The next morning I went back to the bazaar early expecting that the most activity was during the early morning but it was almost completely deserted so I went back to the hotel and packed the bike, ready to go back to Turkey. Using small roads I arrived at the border and crossing it was no problem at all. I had a free crossing into Turkey by using my Carnet as the last time I had to pay USD 20.

Posted by Martin Rooiman at August 14, 2000 03:04 AM GMT

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