What a mess. We handled our police escort in good humour the first day, reluctantly the second day and by today we were fed up. When we first left the hotel this morning we thought we’d been set free but before long a motorcycle was on our tail. “Enough,” we said to him as he pulled up beside us on the edge of town. “No police. Finish,” we added in broken but basic English to get our point across. The only thing we achieved was to make our minder drop back a bit further, a small concession as our frustration grew. It’s hard to be followed everywhere you go on a bicycle. We feel like unwilling contestants on Big Brother. Our enjoyment in exploring this wonderful country is gone now that the police are always watching us, scaring away locals who dare approach and making bathroom stops nearly impossible. There has been no real explanation as to why this started or what the “ground rules” are. None of the police officers have spoken English beyond some rough basics.
We were trailed throughout the day and by late afternoon, as in any bad relationship, we decided a talk was needed. A local football game was on and our minders had driven a small way ahead to watch the action while they waited for us to catch up. We stopped beside them and asked for a translator. A doctor appeared after some time and kindly helped to interpret. We were told we were being followed by the tourism police, that this was a service to keep us safe “just in case” and that we could ask for it to stop if we were unhappy. We made it clear that we were indeed very unhappy and that we would not go on if we were being followed all the time. We were seriously considering abandonning our trip in Syria altogether or at the very least taking the fastest route possible back to Aleppo. The reply came back that they would respect our wishes. No more. We checked again, just to be sure. “Finish,” was the answer once again and we set off on our own, intending to find a quiet spot to camp. (more…)