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Chevrolet, Palestine, and Exceptional Hummus

We woke up in our room at the Safwan and decided to indulge in a little bathing.

We had not done so in quite some time. In part because the arid climate of Syria kept us pretty dry, which made us feel clean, and in part because the poor quality of the showers at our beloved Hotel Ziad Al Kabir in Damascus had been quite the deterrent.  In fact, Scott later disclosed to us that he had been afraid even to use the bathrooms for missions more serious than urination.

So it was in an atypically shiny and manageable state that we emerged from the Safwan, hopped on our cycles, and headed out into Latakia, in search, unsurprisingly, of coffee. Not far into the search, as we were driving by a central park, we spotted a fellow wheeler who had attached a few of those Jordanian style giant coffee urns to his cycle.

We decided we had better try some and found it to be truly delicious and mind bogglingly cheap. So we propped the bikes up against a wall and began to settle down for a few cups.

While we were drinking coffee and admiring the fellow’s cycle, a man wandered up to us and introduced himself as Samer.

He was excited to learn about our trip, and brought us over to take a look at his car.

It was a Chevrolet pickup truck, of which he rightly assumed we would approve being Americans. As we were taking a look at the car, a giant water truck showed up and began hosing down the streets with a mighty high pressure hose. The fellows running the hose were also quite friendly, and made sure not to soak us, which was no small task, such a torrent were they handling.

When we asked Samer to a recommend a good breakfast joint, we found ourselves quickly and inescapably compelled to eat breakfast with him. So off we went together, Samer driving his black and yellow striped Chevy, and we following behind.

He led us to a very local establishment, which sported a simple, but tantalizing menu. They offered piping hot homemade flatbread, hummus, babajanouj, pickles, and plates of tomatoes and onions. Despite the simplicity of the menu, it was obviously a popular local hang out, just filled with people. Each table sported a fantastic aluminum oil-can shaped olive oil dispenser and a few ramekins of spices – salt, cumin, and paprika. At Samer’s direction, we ordered a few of everything on the menu, and were just blown out of the water by what arrived.

The hummus was delightful, thick and oily, with a few whole chick peas thrown in.  The pickles were crunchy and delicately flavored. The bread was steaming and soft, with just a hint of crunchy brown exterior.

As we ate the, owner of the place came out to chat with us. He too was very interested to learn what we were doing in Syria on these bikes. Samer seemed proud to have us there, and we were certainly proud to be there with him. At the end of the meal, the customary free tea was brought out to the table, each small cup accompanied by a rather giant egg-cup sized serving of sugar. They were certainly into massively sweet tea in this country.

After we had eaten, the owner took us for a little tour of the operation.

The tour took place quite diligently underneath a giant poster of the president of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and the late brother of Mr. Bashar Al-Assad, Basil.

It was clearly an institution.

Full of hummus and bread, and feeling just great, we bid our new friend goodbye, pausing to take a group shot before hitting the road.

A fellow wheeler showed up, just as we were executing the shot, and joined in as well. The more the merrier, we figured.

Then we headed out into Latakia, excited to learn more about this city. We first plunged down to the coastline, where we caught sight of the same blue Mediterranean that we’d swam in in Lebanon. The temperature and the humidity were rising quickly as the day wore on. And as we continued to wheel down the coast, we realized the easy to handle dry air of Damascus had given way to a downright sticky climate now that we’d reached the seaside.

We spotted a local public beach, and headed down a gravel drive to investigate. Soon the gravel drive turned into more of a hiking trail, which in turn dissolved into a path too gnarly for our bikes. So we carried our cycles the last few meters to the beach, where we were able to climb back on and continue wheeling, now over hard packed sand.

The beach was very popular, with all kinds of stands selling various goods, food, and even haircuts. We wheeled back up onto the road, where we saw a large wooden ship’s hull that was perhaps being repaired in the middle of the street. It had obviously been there a while now, for traffic had parted around it so frequently as to have worn new roads into the packed sandy ground.

As we wheeled on, we soon found ourselves in a decidedly new, and decidedly poorer neighborhood. We were forced to stop from time to time, as Claudia was starting to feel none too well in the stomach. Despite our repeated questions as to whether or not she would rather turn back, Claudia was determined to continue wheeling, which we respected.

And so on we went, deep into what we would soon learn was the Palestinian refugee neighborhood.

Claudia had become increasingly in need of a rest room, and so we began stopping from time to time to ask to use a business’ facilities. Unfortunately, all the businesses seemed to have no bathrooms for women, so we wheeled on, hoping Claudia would be able to continue to hang in there. She did, of course, and valiantly, until we were able to find a nice restaurant that granted her admission to its restroom.

As we rode on, we saw all kinds of interesting pro-Palestinian graffiti, unpacking of which is more than encouraged in the comments. Along with the graffiti, we stumbled upon a number of interesting plaques and posters. This wheel was proving unusually fascinating.

Soon we turned off the main streets, and began wheeling the alleyways, cutting across the refugee neighborhoods, stopping from time to time to check on Claudia and to drink water. We were sweating profusely in this city.

As we rode by, the locals were extremely welcoming, calling out to us, and smiling as we cruised past. Soon we were dumped onto a particularly muddy and traffic snarled street, from which we made our way back up toward the center of town.

As we rode, we passed this interesting operation, which seemed to be sporting a roof doubling as a refuse storage zone.

We were joined part way back by quite the obnoxious gang of little wheelers-in-training, and soon we found ourselves so harassed, that we began pondering ways to lose them.   They had been swerving in front of us dangerously and shouting at us in languages we couldn’t understand, coming up so close to us, that we feared we might lock handlebars and both go sprawling into the filthy street. Something needed to be done.

And it was thus that we ended in an uphill struggle to outpace them on the climb back to the high ground of the city center. The superior gearing and general hardware of our Dahons was in our favor, but the kids were tough and Claudia was weakened with sickness.

So we struggled on, climbing, and steadily gaining ground. Somewhere around this stand where kids were selling circular pretzels, we saw our chance to shake them and took it, pulling a quick unexpected licht onto a very busy street.

Suddenly we were on a slight downhill and began to pick up speed fast. We could hear them shouting behind us, but we had good headway now.

By the time we whipped by this very well branded intelligence agency building, we were pretty sure we’d lost them.

Now the sun was hanging low, and we were back in the city center, where we headed around the large roundabout and continued back to the vicinity of the Safwan, which turned out to be in the container port district.

We had to stop when we saw this very violent faceless scarred head statue.

If anyone can tell us more about it in the comments, we would be truly grateful. With bikes parked next to the scarred head, we sauntered over to a viewing platform and watched containers being moved around by giant clawed machines, as the sun set over the port of Latakia.


  1. Kathryn | October 18th, 2010 | 9:34 am

    Who would have thought cranes could be so beautiful?

    Great post, guys!

  2. Albert | October 18th, 2010 | 11:13 am

    Have you already gone back to America or being in Taiwan?
    Hope that the lastest country would bring you two an unforgettable memory all your life.

    Albert DAI, coming from Taiwan.

  3. laura | October 18th, 2010 | 2:47 pm

    fascinating! love the hummus food porn! *that* is the book cover 😉

  4. Val | October 22nd, 2010 | 11:23 am

    I never imagined that large ships being loaded with containers could be beautiful—but that is an amazing shot of the port at sunset!!

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