Wenn ich so etwas lese, packt mich die Sehnsucht:
Dear family and friends,
Children playing in a mosque Hello from Damascus, the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, where winter rain arrived today in full force. Thankfully we are listening to the water pour down from the dry warmth of a covered courtyard in our hotel and not from our tent!
Since we wrote from Istanbul two months ago we've experienced the beautiful and sparsely inhabited countryside of Turkey and sought out hidden beaches on its Mediterranean coastline but our great joy has been discovering Syria; a country that has surprised us over and over with the warmth of the people and its rich history. The farmland seems full to bursting with ruined Roman cities, while the cities draw us in with ornately decorated palaces and the covered markets of the souk that seem to run forever. Arafat tribute on a Damascus wall
There hasn't been a day since we crossed the border in early November when we haven't been asked to share a tea with someone, given some food by a shopkeeper or invited to spend the night with a family. Overtaking drivers honk, wave and flash their lights with incredible vigor and it is a rare person indeed who doesn't shout a greeting as we pass them working in the fields or standing by the side of the road. In Damascus, where you might expect the locals would be more jaded, we've been taken to see the city lights and out for an evening meal.
Even the military said hello with a heartfelt “welcome to Syria” and tips on what to see and do in the area when they came to tell us we were having our lunch on army land the other day.
Add in the cheap cost of living – even on our biggest days with a comfortable hotel room, meals out and bottles of wine we rarely touch 30 euros – and you can see why we are taken with this part of the Middle East.
The ruins of Apamea What a difference from the reputation Syria has abroad as an “axis of evil” and what a shame so few tourists come here as a result. All we can say is come quickly before everyone else realises how wonderful it is! If you'd like to hear a few more thoughts on Syria, along with a couple interviews with cyclists we've met lately, check out our latest radio show, recorded while we sipped tea at a Damascus cafe.
We would like to stay in the region, continuing south to Jordan, but the clock is ticking down on our Iranian visa. We have to use it by early January so now we'll turn north and cut a route across the desert to the ancient ruins of Palmyra, then across more sandy stretches to the banks of the Euphrates river, which we'll follow most of the way back to Aleppo.
The desert crossing could be challenging with cold winter nights but our new sleeping bags should be up to the task and we'll carry extra water for the very remote stretches. With a little luck, we'll spend a night with a Bedouin family and that will be a rich reward for tackling the difficult terrain. New friends in Syria
By late December we will be back in Turkey. A bus ride will take us from the southern city of Gaziantep across snow-covered mountain passes to the border town of Van and into Iran. Once we reach the north-western city of Tabriz we hope to start cycling again. From all accounts Iran will be even more welcoming than Syria (hard to imagine!) and our excitement is building.
Our longer term plans are less certain. We'd set our sights on Pakistan but the current turmoil there has put that idea on hold. A route through Central Asia is “plan B” but it could be a chilly ride in March. Either Andrew and a hovering bird in Aleppoway we should be in western China by springtime and our current temptation is to aim for autumn cycling in Japan, followed either by Australia and New Zealand or South-East Asia. Decisions, decisions! So many places call to be explored and we have trouble choosing just one path. If any map-gazers out there have another idea, we'd love to hear from you.
With that, it's time for us to sign-off and go pack our panniers for the next leg of the journey. Christmas is coming and we'll miss not being there with everyone for the parties and celebrations. We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and everything good for the year ahead.
Friedel & Andrew