Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dead Cities, Roman Ruins, and Waterwheels in Syria

So much for writing less in these. Those last few were long. My hope for my second real day of riding in Syria was to visit a couple of the dead cities and end up in Apamea for the night.

The sixteen headed sunflower monster!

It felt great to be out riding. My legs were having none of it though. I suspect that had to do with a serious lack of food. Call it a hunch. I am not sure what inspired me to try to ride on no food. I guess I just figured I would eat along the way. I ended up doing 88km.

A random dead city.

Getting to the dead cities was relatively easy. I couldn't find the first one because it had the same name as the real town next to it. Whenever I asked for the dead cities site by name, they just pointed to the town. I eventually gave up on that one because there are hundreds in northern Syria. They were used in the Byzantine period, but then abandoned. No one really knows why. It is assumed that trade routes shifted. I made my way for Serjilla, which does not have a current city counter part. On my way there, a curious thing happened. A girl smiled at me. After four or five days in the conservative Aleppo area, I didn't really realize it, but no women engaged me in eye contact or conversation. I know married muslim women are only supposed to talk to their husbands, but I thought it was different for single women. I'm not sure. I just know it was a fantastic smile that her family did not see her give from the balcony.

Serjilla, Syria.

Having been deserted for 15 centuries, Serjilla is still looking pretty good. There were a couple stone buildings that still had their second stories. They may have been rebuilt. I am not sure. You can even make out the arches of an ancient hamman, but no one was around to give me a good scrub down. On my way out, a few men called me over. This was a reoccuring theme in Syria. When traveling, you dream of these experiences. However, as I was on a bike tour and trying to get somewhere, the number of invitations in Syria was a bit overwhelming. Some people just want you to sit. Some want to share tea. Some want you to stay the night. They are very, very welcoming.

This might have been the tavern.

Another great ruin at Serjilla.

I chose to join these guys. They were teachers who wanted a quiet place to spend their day off. We had tea. We chatted. They wanted me to know that the main message of Islam is peace. I asked him about the extremists. He said they are out there, but they are not the majority of muslims. It is a good answer that I believe in, but that answer doesn't convince people in power. After spending way too much time chatting, there was no way I was going to make it to Apamea. I chose to camp where I was which turned out to be my best, and only, campsite in all of Syria.

This ferris wheel is the smallest I have ever seen.

The morning mist across the northern Syrian countryside.

The next morning, I was out the tent door and on the road early. I wanted to get to Apamea early to beat the heat. The ride there was not particular memorable. It just kept getting hotter. The ancient Roman site of Apamea sticks out. It is a 2km road of columns on a plateau. There is nothing else around. I remember two thoughts while running around the site. They rebuilt it. It used to just be a pile of stuff. I asked if this was a good idea about things like the Stari Most in Mostar. That bridge was rebuilt, but with new material. I like the idea of rebuilding the Roman ruins if they are just going to leave all the stuff there. It might as well look pretty if it is going to be there. My second thought was that that I really don't like the touts. They were riding their motorbikes through the ancient site harassing everyone to buy their crap. It took away from the site a little bit. The guys who tried to overcharge me for my ticket don't say a word to them. They make sure to yell at every tourist though. There are very few people there. You can really sit back and enjoy it (if you get away from the guys on the motorbikes).

The street of ruins at Apamea, Syrian.

I am amazed thees columns fell down and the finer stonework did not break.

After leaving Apamea, I decided to catch a bus to Palmyra. If you had asked me to name anything about Syria before planning this trip, I would have said Palmyra and rogue state. Since Palmyra was the one thing important thing that I knew, I wanted to make it happen. I had hoped it would be my first desert riding, but since I got stuck in Aleppo, I just didn't have the time. To the mircobus!

There were a lot of trucks painted like this. I have no idea why, especially with the PC-World.

The microbus was interesting. The guy strapped my bike to the top and charged me double. I wasn't thrilled, but it was cheap so I went with it. While he was tying my bike up, these two 12 year old-ish girls were asking for money. One was in a full burka. I said no. They would not leave. I told them to go away. The people who spoke arabic told them to go away. I almost hit one with my bike while I was lifting it. They would not move. They just kept gently prodding you with their open faced palm that had a few coins in it. I don't think I have encountered that level of persistence before. I don't give money directly to any beggars anymore so I really didn't like it.

The noria of Hama.

I had to bike across Hama to get from the microbus station to the big bus station. If I was an urban planner, I might put them next to each other, but I'm not, ccertainly not in Syria. On my way across town, I checked out the huge 4th century norias or waterwheels that can be as big as 20 meters. All of them have been refurbished or rebuilt, but you would not have guessed based on how old they look. Some look like they are about to fall over. Unfortunately, the water was so low that none of them are turning. When they do turn, they make a loud groaning sound.

Another 5th century noria in Hama, Syria.

After a quick visit along the river, it was on to the bus station. The bus was almost an ordeal. The driver didn't want to take the bike. I am not sure why. He through a fit. The salesman came out and told him to shut it and load the bike. He did. I got dirty looks. I do not know what the issue was. I never do though. On to Palmyra, the jewel of Syria.

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