The rain pitter pattered on our tent throughout the night but by the time we emerged in the morning it seemed the clouds were clearing. We crossed our fingers for a sunny day ahead and set off southwards, continuing to hug the Lebanese border. Of course this meant checkpoints, checkpoints and more checkpoints. We went through at least six in the morning and then we stopped counting. The procedure was the same each time. Two or three guards would emerge, accompanied by a few locals, and the first question was about our destination. They didn’t seem to believe us when we said Damascus so we started saying Australia. This led to a long silence, followed by “No, really. Where are you going?”
Damascus seemed to be a good answer the second time around.
The rest of our morning was spent passing through small towns, continually glancing up at the sky to see if the darkening clouds were going to let loose on our heads. Eventually they did, of course, but happily we were able to run into a restaurant and have lunch while we waited to see what the afternoon would bring. Rain, rain and more rain turned out to be the answer. We pushed on for a while and then our patience ran out when we discovered the road we’d planned to take didn’t exist, or at least no one seemed to know about it. The road was clearly marked on the main map we’d been using but when we went to double check on another map we picked up from the tourist bureau we were more than a little surprised to see it didn’t exist at all, which tallied with the confused looks from the locals whenever we asked for directions to this mythical road.
You can never sit frustrated by the road for long in Syria without someone coming to help and so it was this time. Within a couple of minutes a truck pulled up and the passenger spoke reasonable english – always a wonderful surprise. “This road, it exists,” he said, “But it’s all mud and with the rain….” His voice trailed off here but we got the message. Dirt roads of dubious quality and heavy rain don’t go together with bicycles. We were now a little stuck. The alternative to the road we wanted was going to put us back at least half a day, time we don’t really have to spare since we’ve already been sick and going slower as a result. Our friend offered a solution. He would carry us and our bikes to the main highway, covering about half of the detour. That would leave us with the same distance to cycle to our goal for the day, the same as if we’d been able to take our planned route. It seemed a fair solution and so we accepted. A wet and windy half hour later we were on the main motorway going south to Damascus. Not long afterwards the sun finally returned to warm our backs and we flew into the town of Hasseh late in the afternoon.
We quickly stocked up on water and then set off to find a place for the night but with the motorway running nearby and a large industrial park also taking up space, good camping spots weren’t easy to come by. The first police guardpost we spotted seemed to be just the ticket. We rolled up and presented a letter in Arabic that explains our trip and asks if we can camp for the night. No problem. It never is here. A few cups of tea later and we were warming our hands over a stove in the guardpost, with our tent set up by a local water tower. There’s a guard here all night and he keeps on coming over to offer us bread, cheese, tea… anything at all. He even found us warm water and soap to do our suppertime dishes with. What a luxury!