Man vs Wind

20 03 2011

I don’t think I’ll have any more votes. I thought I’d put the “come home” option exclusively for my mother and, unless she has found a way around the IP filtering, it seems there are others are not giving their full support. Well, despite that option being equally in the lead as I write, I’m not going to. If only because I’ve had my visa for Iran approved (but it’s not yet in my passport).

I think I left the story last time in Damascus. I had, I thought, arranged to collect the Iran visa in Damascus but I got there too quickly, before Iran had a chance to think about my application. So I visited a few embassies mostly to pass the time between showers and established that the next lot of visas can’t be got in Damascus. Where ever I end up going. I was a bit indecisive, do I wait here, or go for a bit of a look around Syria? Lebanon? I decided that so long as it rained, I would stay, but a break in the weather came too quickly (my legs were enjoying the break and I was enjoying the food). The weather report said nasty things about Lebanon (and I could see the snow on the closer mountains), and less nasty, but not terribly nice things about western Syria. I figured it would be warmer and dryer in the desert.

So I rode for a day with a beautiful tail wind, along a desert road that had an alarming amount of heavy transport and conspicuous signs to Iraq and Baghdad. I (wisely I would suggest) turned off the Baghdad road before my options were too limited. To cut a long whinge short, I then battled a headwind for the next week, even though I changed direction several times. I’ve spent a long time in the company of that wind, but I can’t work it out. When I stop moving, I can barely notice the air moving, but as soon as I start, it feels like a strong wind. I know, I know, rain drops keep falling… At least it wasn’t raining as well.

So what about Syria? I figured I might be here for a while waiting for the Iran visa, so I took a loop that went way out into the desert, toward the Iraq border, and joined the Euphates River. I’ve followed the Euphates, upstream, to the huge Al Assad Lake, and then cut across a large expanse of flat, irrigated, ex-desert to Aleppo. So I’ve ticked a lot of sights:
Palmyra; Smack in the middle of no-where, desert-ville, an ancient city.
Syrian Desert; Flat and warm and surprisingly green with even some flowers. I imagine this is just good luck, there must have been some rain recently, a few days gave me the impression that this stretch could be like a furnace later in the year.
Euphates; One of the cradles of civilisation, damned and tamed nowadays, but I found it more pleasant that the other biggie I’ve seen recently (the Nile). Possibly that was the influence of the people.
Halabiyeh; A thumping great castle, that was clearly greater in the past (the Euphrates has covered the lower part of it with mud over the years).
Qal’aat Ja’abar; Another castle
Rasafeh; I had to back track to see this one, but it was worth it. More ruins in the desert. I still don’t understand why they built this one 30km from the river. I know it was at the intersection of the trade routes, but couldn’t they just move the trade route? Surprisingly well preserved ruin with (so I’m told by those who should know) some interesting architecture.
Syrians; quite simply the nicest people, as a group, I’ve met. I was slightly concerned after the first few days of being in Syria that I wouldn’t get anywhere – Day 1 I stopped to buy something and couldn’t pay for it until I’d eaten beans (lunch) and drunk tea with the shop staff. Bakers were giving me bread (is this heaven?). Luckily the overt friendliness has reduced, and I’ve learnt how to ride past with a wave, but quite often I will be called over to have ‘chi’ (tea) at three or four places in one village. Needless to say if you accepted all the offers, you’d never get anywhere (and I tend not to accept many because I feel rather ridiculous when I can’t say much more than my name and where I come from in Arabic, still). Everyone is curious about the biker. I can get the whole village worth of children following me to buy oranges (wether I want to or not).

So that brings me, around a 1000km later to Aleppo. It has a castle, and souqs. And other things I’ll find out about tomorrow. And it had an email waiting for me that talked about my Iran visa being ready for collection in Turkey. The agency should be able to get it sent to Damascus, so that means I can head back south again soon and then untangle my route toward Turkey. I’m glad I didn’t try to see Lebanon now – I’ve bumped into some other travellers who were just there and say lots of bad things about rain and snow in the mountains.

Desert and headwind beats mountains and rain (in this case – mountains + snow would normally trump desert, but not when there’s a bike involved).



2 responses

21 03 2011

“When I stop moving, I can barely notice the air moving, but as soon as I start, it feels like a strong wind…….”. Perhaps this is a sign that your just cycling too fast !
BTW. I voted for “Stop being a slacker, go and visa up and tough it out in Central Asia. Planes are for wimps”. Not bad for a glider pilot turned cyclist.

24 03 2011

Too fast? You wouldn’t say that if you saw me… Maybe something more like “how can you stay upright going so slow?”. But slow and steady… Imagine the headwind I would have if I was gliding…

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