109km Maraka to Aleppo

Looks like a space colony...It was early morning when we first hopped on our bikes under cloudy skies and completely dark by the time we arrived in Aleppo. The weather had turned for the worse and we felt more than a little grotty after three days without a shower so we had two good incentives to push hard into the city. Throughout our travels in Syria, Aleppo has remained one of our favourite places so we were happy to return here. We felt very much at home as we pedalled the last few kilometers towards the Hotel Al-Gawaher, admiring a suprising number of Christmas lights in stores and homes.

Ahmed, a good friend as well as the hotel manager, met us at the door with a smile and a hug. A great welcome back after 1,700km of cycling around the country. After a shower, we sat down to catch up over a bottle of red wine and Ahmed gave us a possible explanation as to why we were followed by the police so intensely from Deir-ez-Zor. Apparently a tourist had photographed a military installation in this area a few months ago and shortly afterwards Israel attacked the same Syrian site, saying it was being used for nuclear research. We’ll probably never know why we were followed but this idea makes the most sense to us of any we’ve been able to come up with.

Our trek towards Aleppo took us through successive farming communities and we soon lost count of the number of sheep and goat troops we passed. The next time you step outside into the chilly winter air, think of the shepherd who spends all day grazing his flock out in the fields, no matter what the weather. A few had made fires and were huddling round them as the sheep picked at what little vegetation there was in the bare fields. Near lunchtime we passed many children on their way home from school who waved and cheered us on and we also enjoyed seeing the beehive style houses in the area. The older ones are freestanding structures that seem to be used to store grain or animals but many homes also have a domed roof.

Despite dozens of little villages, there was only one big enough to earn the title of a town and we were happy to be able to stock up on food here. Our panniers had been running close to empty after many days out in the wilderness and a fresh bag of Japanese rice crackers was just the thing to fuel our approach into Aleppo.

Now that we’re back in the city, just a day’s ride from the border with Turkey, we plan to take it easy for a while. We still have three weeks before we need to be in Iran and we are in no rush to spend that time in Turkey, where life is considerably more expensive and colder. Coming into Aleppo, we came through quite a few little districts we haven’t yet explored so that should provide us with enough amusement for a few days to come.

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    17th December 2007 at 10:18 am #

    Road notes: From Maraka the road runs almost dead straight to Khanaser and this town (population 3,600) is just about the only place for some distance to buy supplies. There is a small but well stocked food store with pasta, tuna, nuts, juice, cheese and other goodies. Another one further down the main street carries fresh fruit and vegetables. You can also find petrol, a pharmacy and a bakery here. From Khanaser, our map shows the main road running via Al Salhiyeh and Aq Rabah to Sfirah but we were directed by locals to the road running through Rasm Al Nafal, along the edge of a large lake. Despite appearing as a minor road on our map, this seemed to be the route used by most of the minibuses and other traffic. If you didn’t stock up in Khanaser, Sfirah has a number of shops but by now you are only 20km from Aleppo. Signs will direct you to the city centre, via the Christian quarter. When you pass a large cathedral you are nearly at the clocktower, around which are most of the budget hotels.

    What we spent: 20 SP petrol, 270 SP groceries, 525 SP wine

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