53km Ein Halaqim to Msheirfeh
Crac des Chevaliers. It’s perhaps the most famous crusader castle in the world but on the road we had some uncertain times trying to figure out where it was. Not until the last few kilometers did some signs start to appear but by then they were a bit useless since you couldn’t really miss the castle on its hilltop! Each spelling on the signs was a bit different from the other: “Krac des Chvalliers” or “Crac de Chevalier”. None of them warned us about the steep climb up to the castle. The last couple of curves are contenders for the steepest grades we’ve tackled on our bikes and at one point a few local kids tried to give us a push! Once at the site, various people wanted to become our guide but we disappointed them all by refusing, like we always do. We have a lot more time than money so we just wander around on our own and read our guidebooks. Even inside the primary defence wall, more people were selling postcards and offering to be guides. It must be low season; they don’t have the energy to persist. The Citadel is just huge. Going by a floor plan in our book we managed to tour around the site fairly quickly and, although it is mostly in ruins, we did enjoy seeing a large hall with impressive vaulted ceilings and some of the living quarters, which still had flowers and leaves carved into the window edges. Unfortunately the rain was starting to make its presence known and today wasn’t a day to see the rolling hills from the top of the castle. They were mostly all covered in clouds.
After leaving the Citadel, we flew down the hill, through a few villages that seem to be mostly Christian. Far fewer women wore headscarves and we passed a number of churches. Soon we were venturing close to the Lebanese border. Taking a few minor roads, we stumbled upon a small military check-point. Just a tent with a few mattresses to sleep on inside of the tent and a teapot, of course. It must be manned 24 hours a day. Three men approached, all smiling. At first we thought we might be turned back for being so close to the border – we weren’t even sure if our road would actually cross into Lebanon or just keep close to the frontier – but it turned out they were more happy to look at a passport than to trouble us with any questions. The Iranian visa got a long examination and then they all welcomed us to Syria. With all that taken care of we asked if our directions were good. Thankfully they were. We can never really tell with our maps, which appear detailed but often bear no resemblance to the actual roads.
Not long after the rain started to fall so we stopped in our favourite camping spot of late, an olive grove. This one is fairly close to the road but it’s a quiet street, just running through some villages, and after a few locals came to check us out we were left in peace to doze the night away.