Near Hama to Rrustan
Distance: 78 km
Time elapsed: 4:21:00
Average speed: 18.6 km/ hr
Max speed: 34 km/ hr
Temp: 29 C
Weather: Hot midday, otherwise cool evening
When the sun rose, we packed up and followed one of the young guys we met last night, Tariq, to his family's house, sitting on the front porch with his 9 siblings and mother. Her hair and hands were painted dark red from henna, and face wrinkled with age. Most of the family was fasting, because this is the day before Eid, one of the two major Muslim holidays. This day celebrates all the pilgrims making the Hadj to Mecca, and families around the world sacrifice an animal (usually sheep) for a 4 day feast/rest.
Prelude to Hama's wheels
We easily cycled into Hama and spent the afternoon exploring the river's once-spinning wheels. Though the water level is very low and stagnant, at one time these wheels sucked (hopefully clean) water up to the aquaduct and carried it throughout the town.
Central park, dotted with old wheels
Chris and I wandered some markets from the modern town, bustling with people buying Eid sweets, then to a park outside the Old Town. Here is where the nicer wheels sit, rigged with lights to illuminate them at night. We walked around a few wheels, then through the old town's worn streets and into an artist's shop. The man inside has been painting Hama's streets and river for decades, documenting it's drammatic decline in bright, splotchy watercolors.
Chris contemplates great things at the wheels
Riverside view, once lined by enormous Ottoman homes
Mosque in Hamah's quiet old town
Realizing the day was half over, we left town and continued south toward Hims. As the light disappeared we were still on the highway; we wanted to find some food and camp, but no restaurants in sight. Unexpectedly, a city appeared before us, leaving us no choice but to head in and see what we could find. Up from the main road we saw a family around a large campfire and decided to take a chance-- we approached them and flat out asked if we could camp on their roof. I think they were a little baffled by us, especially arriving by bike, but welcomed us in anyway. The mother sat cross legged on the porch, grilling some sort of meat filled dough balls, and distributing the charred paddies to children, friends, and neighbors who stopped by to wish a happy Eid.
Soon the father told us to grab our bags and bikes and put them in his truck. We have become excessively go-with-the-flow, so without even blinking chris and I found ourselves barreling down a winding dirt road out of town. Suddenly I remember the state department website report from earlier this year where a tourist was bound and robbed by someone he befriended in a cafe. Shoot. Is he going to dump our bodies in this desert and walk away with our passports and money?
As it turns out, the family has a summer home outside town, surrounded by olive orchards. He brought us in to the upstairs sleeping area, turned on an old radio, and asked Chris to draw some cartoons on the patio wall. I stayed inside comfortably reclining on the cushions and drinking hot tea. Eventually he said Ok you are tired. I will come back in the morning. And then he left! What I had feared to be an uncomfortable night in search of camp turned out to be a private holiday suite. Thank you Isa and family, another testament to how awesome Syrian people can be.
Olive groves surrounding their summer home
Isa shows his manly man skills