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June 17, 2009

A short trip—مشوار قصير

Filed under: Touring — admin @ 12:58 pm

After several days in Hama hoping for Elaina to recover from her mysterious illness (which at this stage has been diagnosed as a kidney infection resulting from heat exhaustion), I’ve taken off on my own.  Elaina seems to be on the mend (yet still not ready to ride), and with enough experience in Syria under her drawstring to make do without me.  She’ll stay in Hama for another night before heading off to Damascus by bus (they use the word “pullman” here).  It’ll take me a couple days to get there.  I’m writing from Homs, the next big place with a hotel south of Hama, having ridden a mere 55km with few substantial hills to speak of.

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I started out pretty early, around 5:45am, and got the video (above) I’ve been meaning to record of the groaning noria (waterwheel) in the center of Hama, the sound of which rather reminds me of some droning unoriginal goth song, or a loop tape of a creaking door in a horror movie, or the soundtrack to Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”.  I next stopped to get a sip of coffee from a street vendor out early.  Like so many others, he refused payment.

I took a bit of a long route out of town, first following the Orontes River, then arching out to the east before rejoining the main highway. This was unintentional, but it worked out well, allowing me to avoid the suburban expansion on Hama and head straight into the countryside. Most of the rest of the ride was along a calm frontage road, with only the occasional slow motorcycle or over-laden produce truck.

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Along the way was this weird amusement park.  In the distance, in the second picture, you can see the large power plant that mostly dominated the landscape.

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I got a bit confused around ar-Rastan, misdirected by hand-painted signs on the frontage road (presumably the old highway) indicating that the road was cut off at the tunnel ahead. I went back up the hill and got on the main highway, only to find the exit to the right blocked off. There was a gap in the barrier, so I went through, but came upon a military unit running down the road, which looked like it went the wrong way, anyway. I went back up the hill again and, after seeing a few motorcycles coming from the supposedly-cut-off road, just took the original road I had been on and found that the road wasn’t actually cut off at the underpass, it’s just that cars are not admitted onto the ar-Rastan dam. There is a small gap, though, big enough for pedestrians, bicycles and small motorcycles to pass.  There were a couple guards on the bridge with bayonets attached to the ends of the rifle, so I refrained from taking any pictures, as I know their sensitive about places like bridges and dams around these parts, nevermind that the guards were sleeping.  I did, however, previously snap this picture of the artificial lake behind the dam, with the power plant in the distance (double no-no).

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After crossing the dam, I skirted the edge of the town of ar-Rastan and eventually came upon a bit of a gut-wrenching scene.  Up ahead of me, I saw a small group of people running frantically about—too frantically for this early hour.  A limp body was being lifted into the back seat of a car, and as I drew closer, I could see the broken motorcycle in the middle of the street and a young woman with a bleeding face and blood all down her front walking on the side of the road toward me.  I slowly cycled closer still and saw people standing around with blank stares in their eyes and their hands over their mouths.  As I rolled past, I saw the pool of blood on the pavement, the pair of sandles, a splayed notebook and a broken pencil.  I shuddered and wished I knew the proper words to say or the proper gestures to make at a time like this to convey that my concern and grief was with theirs.  The car overtook me a few blocks up the road and made for the front door of a local clinic/hospital.  About 10km later, for the first time in Syria, I saw a motorcyclist wearing a helmet.  I’m not dogmatic about helmets, but still, I wonder if he saw the accident, too.

Approaching Homs, I passed another government grainery, again with it’s line of tractors waiting to drop off wheat.  The traffic got predictably more chaotic in town, and I eventually reached the center of the city and took a break to get my bearings at a park.  It was still only 8:30, so I sat for a while on a park bench.  I was offered another little cup of coffee and talked for a bit with a local barber, who told me I could get a good bowl of foul just behind us.  I had a good cheap breakfast (US$1.30) of foul and yogurt, then circled around a bit before finding this internet cafe.  Next stop:  the monastary at Deir Mar Musa.


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