It was very difficult for me to wake up although the time was already 10am. However, I summoned up my courage, helped to pack, had breakfast and at 12 o’clock we departed. Perhaps we chose the worst time and day to travel!
By following an eastern route towards El Dor, we went into Syrian Desert! It wasn’t so hot, though, for the particular time and place. We met very few vehicles on our way and the vegetation we saw was limited. Vast pieces of land stretched towards all directions. At times, we met/saw small tornados, many of which crossed the road. The feeling was amazing when we passed through them.
Having traveled about 70 km, we reached the crossroads which drove to the village called “As Sukhnah”. According to the map, the road to the castle of “Qasr al Hayr ash Sharqi” started from there. While we were discussing about whether the crossroad was correct one, a young man from the house opposite the street sighed to us to go there. By assuming that was some kind of a coffee shop, we thought that it was a good moment for few minutes break. As it was proved later, the place was a house and the kind young man called us to have a rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak english so, we had to communicate using sings and some Arabic expression: that our guide knew. He wanted to take a picture with our motorcycles and, of course, we did him the favor. He offered us a bottle of cold water, the most precious good found in the desert and we departed for the nearest village As Sukhnah.
However, it wasn’t actually a good idea. Unfortunately, the asphalt-paved road ended at the village and for the place we wanted to visit there was a road where some works took place but couldn’t understand what they were about. Also everyone we stopped to ask –mostly companies of young people and children- what we managed to do is lose our time… most of them did not understand a thing and couldn’t read the map. The ones who understand some things tried to convince us to take them along rather than guide us. The hot weather along with the tiredness made us frustrated.
We left the village and we returned to the highway. We decided to head towards the east so as to approach the castle. We tried to look for the crossroad and/or some sign but we only saw some small streets which crossed the highway… of course, with no signaling to where they headed! At about 40km later, we found a narrow asphalt –paved road, without signaling which headed towards a deserted valley with no sings of life or any settlement. We decided follow it.
On our way, I kept thinking that we had taken a wrong direction. At times, the road stopped for a few meters turning to a dirt road and then it continued for some meters further. We trevelled for some 30km until the majestic walls of the castle called “Qasr al Hayr ash Sharqi” emerged in front of us. It is a well-preserved castle with a deserted monastery in its interior. Although it was situated in the ticket house found at the entrance of the castle. However, our time was limited so, we only made do with the admiration of its exterior.
We continued our ride through the same amazing landscape. The place was deserted. We met 2 or 3 settlements where the houses were constructed according to the typical architecture of four-squared houses. Even if they seemed deserted, the reality was that the hot weather had kept their inhabitants in their houses. When we passed the third village, we drove though a narrow, remote route where we didn’t meet any vehicle. The landscape was bare and inhospitable, making you wonder how people could live there!
After 50km we reached the castle “Ar Rusalah”, or what had left from Byzantine Empire. It is also impressive. Feeling exhausted through we only took some photos and we continued our journey to Ar Raqqah (60km), the town which is situated on the banks of the river Euphrates. While approaching, the scenery change completely and the deserted landscape was replaced by cultivated lands.
When we entered the town the first thing we saw was the bridge which connected the opposite banks of the river. On its banks, the citizens of the town found a place to rest and to have fun and/or enjoy the cool atmosphere. We stopped for a rest and to have a look at the map of the area called “Qalat Jabir”. What happened during our few-minute stay there cannot be describe! A number of people gathered to have a look at the “sightseeing”!!! In other words, the crowd was observing the motorcycles and us as if they had never seen one before! Some of them were taking pictures and others, like 3 young people, asked from us to take a picture with us. To be honest, I started feeling choking with stress due to the large group of people… We decided to begin our journey again after refueling our motorcycles… but there the situation got worse! A lot of people gathered again making the owner of the gas station angry. When we rode our motorcycles, small children run behind us… it was like a scene from an old greek movie!
By following a western route we reached at the crossroads with the signaling “Jabel”. We followed it for the next 50km. The ride was indifferent to us according to what we had seen so far. On our left, we could distinguish large overgrown pieces of land and the river. The road ended up in an area full of pine trees and a bridge guarded by soldiers. At that point, we realized that we had done extra kilometers on our way to Ar Raqqah. The guard informed us that we had to go back (4-5km) and pass near the newly built arch, so as to visit the castle “Qalat Jabir” and the lake “Buhayrat al Asad” created by the river Euphrates. This is what we did.
At the end of our journey (20km) an overgrown piece of land full of pines emerged at the coast of a small cove. A lot of people were enjoying the luxury of a nice beach and clean waters. Following the narrow small street re reached the castle of “Qalat Jabir” where the street ended. It was impressive!
Earlier than that, we had seen a sign which led to a beautiful a countryside fish tavern. We decided to spend the night there. The moment to dine had arrived and we chose to taste the “specialite” of the place which was fish. Although the service was very late –we had to wait for more than an hour!- the food was delicious and cheap! While the night settled we enjoyed the amazing colors of the sun as they fell on the waters of the lake “Buhayrat al Asad”, a lake created by the dam of the river Euphrates.
However, the greatest moment of evening was when we met Jambel and his friends. Misa, Lida and Daria were students from Russia who did their postgraduate studies at the Department of Foreign Languages in Halep (Aleppo). They had also visited the place for the weekend. The area is famous for the free camping possibilities it offers. For this reason people stayed. Jamber invited us to put our tent next to them.
The evening passed in a really agreeable way by chatting, making jokes and –of course- drinking russian vodka… something which kept us awoke almost all night enjoying the breeze under the starry sky. We talked about our journeys, theirs studies in Aleppo, the situation in Russia, the recent war with Georgia. They were really friend and congenial. A very pleasant a acquaintance.