60km Hama to Ein Halaqim
Our traveller’s bug is proving hard to shake. It’s been over a week now since Friedel first got sick in Aleppo. We spent several days feeling tired and without any real appetite and then, just as we started to feel better in Hama, Andrew had a relapse. We extended our stay in Hama to rest up and even checked with a doctor to make sure we were doing the right things. Andrew may never forgive Friedel for calling the doctor, therefore leading to the shot he had to get in the behind. Ouch! At least the medicine seemed to do the trick and we both felt well enough to carry on today. We hope that a few more days of antibiotics and plenty of sleep (it now gets dark by 5pm so dozing isn’t hard to do) will sort us out before we land in Damascus a few days down the road. Our route out of Hama took us west, towards Crac des Chevaliers, perhaps the greatest crusader castle anywhere, or so all the guidebooks and our fellow travellers tell us. We’ve got some hills to tackle before we get there but we are rewarded by views of thousands of olive trees along with the odd fig and pomegranate tree as well.
Olive orchards are turning out to be excellent camping spots for us in Syria, offering ground that is normally flat and plenty of cover from the road. We continue to be invited in for tea and dinner constantly as we pedal along and today we stopped for coffee with a doctor, his wife, a teacher, and their four children. We refuse most invitations though. Partially because we would still be back at the border if we took up even a fraction of the kind offers and also because it takes so much energy to have dinner with a family; staying up late to explain our story and answer a string of good-natured but probing questions. Our lack of children always come up. In the Arab culture, it is unthinkable that we would choose cycling the world over raising six or eight kids. Instead, we see our tent as our home, a little bit of space that is ours to retreat into after a day on the road and that’s where we prefer to be most nights. We are also reluctant to impose on a family which offers a meal out of a sense of duty to the foreigner but may not have much money to entertain visitors, particularly when they feel obligated to buy expensive food like chicken to serve to us.
Today our desire to socialise was taken down a further notch after a motorbike brushed against Andrew as we were cycling. The driver, only a teenager, had been laughing and showing us how he could drive without any hands on the controls. Thankfully both Andrew and the bicycle were perfectly okay but it has made us a little more cautious. We have to say that vehicles in general have been very courteous and given us tons of space on the road but the motorbikers seem to have an intense curiousity about us and love to drive alongside us, trying to start a conversation. Sometimes they will just ride in front of us very slowly until we are forced to pass and then they speed past us again in some bizarre form of leapfrog. Most of the time this is nothing more than an annoyance but occasionally we get pushed closer to oncoming traffic than we’d like and we also see some dangerous driving as the locals attempt to impress us with their tricks. The obvious solution is just to stop but then we find ourselves in long conversations each time. If anyone has ideas for how to handle this, please let us know!