A Syrian Footnote

“The awareness that we are all human beings together has become lost in war and through politics. We have reached the point of regarding each other only as members of people either allied with us or against us and our approach: prejudice, sympathy, or antipathy are all conditioned by that. Now, we must rediscover the fact that we – all together – are human beings, and that we must strive to concede to each other what moral capacity we have. Only in this way can we begin to believe that in other peoples as well as in ourselves there will arise the need for a new spirit which can be the beginning of a feeling of mutual trustworthiness toward each other.” — Albert Schweitzer

Our time in Syria is nearly over but before we roll further east we wanted to share some closing thoughts. Those who have followed our journey will know of our unsettling moments in the desert around Palmyra. We wrote about these because we believe it is important to be honest about our experiences and to inform cycle tourists in particular about what they may encounter. Unfortunately this decision to be completely open has led some readers to conclude that Syria is not worth coming to. A few people have come to the conclusion that it is entirely unsafe and we should hop on a plane back to the developed world instead of taking on Iran. Three shepherds join us for lunch

This makes us feel sad because it misrepresents a wonderful country and in fact an entire region whose people and traditions are poorly understood by the Western world.

We will leave Syria with a very strong desire to return. Never have we been treated to so much hospitality from literally every sector of society. Farmers struggling to make a living off the land and doctors driving luxury cars invited us into their homes with equal measures of kindness and generosity. Ordinary people took hours to show us around their towns and cities and truckers repeatedly stopped to load our panniers up with oranges.

Visiting WafaYes, we were unfortunate to meet some bad apples but we know, and we urge you to remember, that negative things can happen in any country. A relative had his van stolen from the streets of New York but we would not cancel our trip to the U.S. because of this isolated incident. Neither would we avoid all skiing holidays even though Friedel once wound up in a cast as a result of one. Why would we judge all of Syria because a tiny part of our two months here were less than perfect?

We think it speaks volumes about Syria that of all the travellers we have talked to about this country – and there have been dozens in the past few months – not one has had another downbeat incident to add to ours. No stolen passports. No aggression. Just many tales of cups of tea shared and wonderful sights seen. The praise has been universally positive.

From the point of personal safety, we have hardly ever felt more secure. It is interestingAmazing Apamea to note that when we think of cyclists killed or badly injured while on tour (thankfully their numbers are few) all the ones we are aware of have suffered at the hands of traffic in countries including Japan, Australia and the United States. It would be wrong to assume that we will be safe from harm’s way in a first-world country. There is a strong argument to suggest the opposite. We likely ran more risk cycling to work every day in London than by biking and camping on the backroads of Syria.

As we prepare to head for Iran, we leave Syria urging you not to surrender to stereotypes. Come for a visit and we think you will be more than pleasantly surprised.

Comments

  1. Becky
    25th December 2007 at 3:41 am #

    Greetings Friedel and Andrew,

    I hope you are enjoying a Merry Christmas and New Years sees you safe in Iran.

    You will be glad to hear that your experiences have not scared us away from Syria, although I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Eastern parts. We are planning to travel through Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan next fall.

    Thank-you for keeping an excellent travel log. I enjoy following your adventures.

    Cheers and Merry Christmas,
    Becky

  2. Zora
    25th December 2007 at 5:58 pm #

    I _love_ Syria! It’s the only place I’ve actively traveled to a second time just because the people were so lovely. Thanks so much for your commentary, both positive and negative. As an American, I find it especially hard to convince people that Syria is a wonderful place to travel. But it’s worth it. Looking forward to reading your bike guide for the Aleppo area.

  3. Zora
    25th December 2007 at 7:02 pm #

    And on the subject of your unwanted police escort: it was almost certainly related to your encounter with the truck driver. The Syrian secret police are pretty much on your case anyway once you enter the country–they just got explicit about it (as a more visible deterrent) once something sketchy did happen to you. Think of it as an Orwellian sort of hospitality–the government would just hate for something bad to happen to you on their watch. It’s for your own good! Personal security is one genuine bonus of a police state. Still…frustrating on a daily basis.

  4. Nicisme
    26th December 2007 at 11:04 am #

    Just wanted to say Merry Christmas and thanks for keeping up with your journal – it makes fascinating reading.
    Take care,
    Nicola

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