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Videos from Syria

Posted December 12th, 2007

Here are a couple videos we shot during our desert trek from Damascus to Palmyra. One is just a simple view from our bikes as we pedal through the landscape and another is short but funny: Cliff the camel finishing off a can of cola! We weren’t quick enough to film the whole thing!

92km Halabiyah to Raqqa

Posted December 12th, 2007

Friends who offer us teaWe were surprised to see our police minders already up and ready to go when we emerged from our tent this morning. They had a long wait, anxiously revving the motor on their stationwagon as we made our coffee, packed up our bags and slipped onto the road a good hour later. Our day started with some beautiful scenery as we cruised along the Euphrates river, which took on a dark blue colour in the sunlight, contrasting with the yellow reeds. On either side of the road, families were out working in the fields; irrigating crops, putting in fresh seeds or grazing sheep. At the edge of the first village we caught up with the police, who urged us to come sit and have tea with them. Perhaps that’s why they were in such a hurry earlier…. to get their first morning cuppa!

Two glasses of hot sugar-saturated goodness later and we were on the move again. The road now took us slowly away from the Euphrates and the further we got from the water the drier the land became. It was very clear what a lifeline the river is for this region. Sometime before lunch we were surprised to see our police minders waving goodbye. It was time for them to turn back to Deir-ez-Zor and we silently were thrilled at having our freedom again but it wasn’t to be. Two more new chaperones had kindly been arranged for us, this time in a Toyota Landcruiser. (more…)

62km Deir-ez-Zor to Halabiayh

Posted December 11th, 2007

Evening reflectionsThe old saying “be careful what you wish for” was never so apt. It was just a couple days ago that we were feeling slightly vulnerable and nervous after our experiences in the desert and perhaps the Syrian police force heard about our plight because today they gave us two minders of our very own. Well, that’s a little over the top.

We first noticed our men just outside of Deir-ez-Zor, dawdling behind us in a white stationwagon. We’ve had a few police tails in the last few weeks. Do we look that scary? Okay, we don’t always shower regularly but even still… apparently we cycle tourists are a terribly suspicious bunch. If only we spoke enough Arabic to make them understand that the king of espionage James Bond never travelled by bicycle so really, they don’t need to watch our every move. (more…)

63km Kbajeb to Deir-ez-Zor

Posted December 9th, 2007

Deir-ez-Zor's main streetWe emerged from the desert today after a week in its barren yet beautiful landscape. In a way we were sad to leave the scenery behind but after some of our encounters we were equally relieved to be back in more populated parts. Our return to civilisation came courtesy of the city of Deir-ez-Zor. Our first impressions are of a dusty yet friendly place that straddles a frontier, wedged between the desert and the banks of the Euphrates river.

Our hotel balcony overlooks the main street, which is technically a one-way road but bicycles and motorcycles regularly fly down the pavement going the wrong way, creating general chaos most of the time. The stores lining the sidewalk are a mixture of fast food restaurants (roast chicken, falafels, kebabs), fresh fruit sellers, hardware stores and just about anything else you can imagine. This must be a town where people come from long distances to stock up because the supermarkets only seem to sell food in vast quantities. Twenty packages of this, twelve tins of that. Everything is taped and boxed together and piled high in the doorways. (more…)

95km Al Hial to Kbajeb

Posted December 8th, 2007

Breakfast in the desertAnother sunny day greeted us as we rolled down the hill and onto the road this morning. We’d expected more rain for this time of year (and we may well get it yet as we head further north) so the dry weather of the past few days has been a nice surprise. The only town between us and the city of Deir-ez-Zor – some 150km down the road – was As Sukhnah so we stopped to fill our water bottles and do some shopping. The usual crowd gathered but, unlike the madness we encountered leaving Palmyra, this time two men kindly took charge and kept the kids from playing too much with our bicycles. They also showed us where to get everything we needed and sent us off with a big wave and a smile. It was a good start to the day.

Unfortunately our journey didn’t continue so smoothly. Once again we had an encounter that left us a bit shaken and confused. Things started going wrong when we stopped near a herd of sheep because of a dog that was barking at us and heading our way. The two shepherds came over to investigate us and we exchanged the usual greetings and smiles, followed by questions in Arabic we couldn’t understand but have come to assume are “where are you from?” and “where are you going?”. We duly answered both, the men tried out our horns and bells and then we started to go. “Goodbye,” we said in Arabic and waved as we put our feet on the pedals. Trouble. (more…)