We 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.
A man who spoke good English was also there during this handover and we asked him why we were being followed. “For security,” he replied. “Is this area dangerous?” we asked. No, apparently not, but the police were there just in case. We found this explanation more than a little humorous. Rarely did we need any help but when we could have used extra hands – for example, when four sheepdogs came racing from nearby fields and surrounded us – our men were nowhere to be seen. Probably in the next village drinking tea!
The new patrol wasn’t nearly so relaxed and insisted on keeping close behind us, which made bathroom stops nearly impossible. The flat farming land didn’t help this situation either so when we found a few small hills of dirt we decided to run behind them. Our minders were completely confused by this and pulled in as close as they could in their car, getting out later to investigate just what we’d been doing back there. The secrets of cyclists revealed. Now we have an idea of how Paula Radcliffe must have felt in the London Marathon! Despite cursing the police all day, they did come in handy when we got to Raqqa, leading us to a very nice budget hotel which we’d not likely have found on our own. Whether they plan to continue trailing us as we head for Aleppo remains to be seen. Surely they’re bored already?