Aleppo to Ath Thaura
10.03.2010 - 10.03.2010
We got up far too late to be hitching and cleared out the room With the help of the receptionist, we made a sign with the Arabic for "Ath Thaura" on it, and left the hotel. We grabbed a Shawarma for the road, and tried to get a taxi to take us to the road Eastwards to Ath Thaura. It was incredibly difficult to get him to understand, but he did eventually take us to a major road where we set up shop and began thumbing for a ride. This was the first time either of us had hitch-hiked. We felt like it was the beggining of something exciting. We stood there for a good 5 minutes until a local came up to us, read our sign, and then explained that we were on a road which went to the airport and nowhere else.
A whole lotta confused conversation and one pointless taxi ride later, we arrived 100 metres from our previous position, but on the correct road. We set up shop once again and waited. We quickly learnt that the Syrians have no idea what the thumb means-they just give you a thumbs up back and flash their lights. Hitchhiking is clearly not that common, as everyone gets about by Bus very cheaply, and as a result many of the locals don't really know what to make of it. They simply wave, smile, flash their lights, honk their horns, do everything except stop. The only guys who do stop are the busses, and each time we had to shake their heads until they finally left, totally bewildered as to why we wouldn't get on the bus that was going exactly where we wanted to go.
In the end, a white pick up did stop for us, and explained that it was going about two thirds of the distance. We wanted to ride in the back, but they invited us up front, apparently interested in us, so we hopped in.
There followed a fairly interesting ride. They had about as much English as I had Arabic, so fluent conversation was not on the menu. However, we did manage to have a few brief conversations:
The first was about cars. The guy kept short-shifting the van and revving the nuts off the engine, exclaiming "Ferrari". There followed a brief conversation which consisted solely in either the driver, me or Kit naming a car brand, saying either "Good/Mneeh" or "Bad/Mish Mneeh" and nodding at each other. "Lamborghini Good; Porsche Good" he would say. "Ferrari Mneeh, Fiat Mish Mneeh" we would reply.
Then followed the simplest of political conversations, in which he said "America and Israel are bad, Iran and Hezbollah good". Nasrallah, very good". Then he said "Britain" and twisted his hand "Hmmm ok". I think he was being nice to us. Far too kind.
Then he showed us various scars on his knee and across his back, and explained that he had got them from an American Apache that had been shooting up Mosul. I've always been a total cliche: that teenager in the CND top next to you on the bus (I don't actually own one, but I certainly could). However, when it's presented right in front of you like that, the war gets a whole lot more real than when you were watching it through your TV set.
Anyhow, the guy was basically a bit of a nutter, he drove like a madman, once trying to frighten people on the side of the road by pretending he was going to run them down, then turning away at the last minute.
Once in his town, he took us on to the bus stop. The sun was going down, so we gave up on hitching, and agreed to pay 100 SYP to get us the remainder of the way to Ath Thaura.
We arrived there in the dark, and sat down at a Shawarma joint on the main road in the town. Basically, it's a fairly small town with nothing of massive interest, but the peoiple were very friendly. After we'd eaten, we tried to set off into the wild to find a place to camp. However, the people simply wouldn't let us go. We were being trailed by kids, and all the locals kept trying to ask us what we were doing. They invited us to tea by the roadside, so we accepted, on the basis that the kids might dissipate a bit, allowing us to seize our moment to disappear down to the lake's bank and find a camping spot alone.
As we were having tea, scores of locals kept arriving and sitting round chatting. Initially it was just us and a bloke called Abdul, but by the end there were about 10 locals all sat round chatting. None of them could speak great English, apart from one guy called Motaz. He had a place in Hamah, and told us we could chill round there later in the trip. He was a really cool bloke, studying Psychology, so we have decided that we'll definitely folllow up on that later. However, none of the others could speak great English. They kept on giving us Tea and Nuts and trying to chat to us in broken English, whilst we tried to speak to them in broken Arabic. One bloke, Pater, offered me a ride on his 135cc motorbike. I rode it around the whole of Ath Thaura with him pillioning and directing me. He refused to let me wear a helmet on the basis that it would look weird and the police might stop us, so I went without. He was clearly massively proud of his bike, as it was Japanese, which is pretty rare out here. Tbh though it wasn't that great. It jumped out of gear a couple of times, and kept missing 5th whilst changing from 4th. The Exhaust Muffler was missing, so it sounded louder than a 1.2 ltr custom, whilst struggling to reach 80 kmph. Still, it was nice to have had a ride on a bike, and massively nice of him to let me.
They offered us to sleep at their houses, but eventually the Syrian police came down, and insisted that we go to a Hotel. The locals appeared to agree, and they eventually took us their in their car. There we paid 800 SYP (around 13 quid) for the both of us. In the adjoining room to ours were quite literally the worst cooking facilities I have ever come across. We battled with a properly dangerous gas cooker for a good hour to make a couple of pot noodles. The pans were so dirty that we decided to use our fresh water in the pot noodles, and boil it by placing them into pans of boiling water. By the end of it, the whole room stank of gas, though the noodles had been cooked to perfection. We retreated from the gas-filled kitchen to the dormitory, ate the pot noodles and then fell asleep to some BBC World Service.