48 km, 3.5 hr
We decided to team up with Wendy and Peter for our ride between Antakya and Aleppo. From our various discussions, it appears that we move at about the same speed (that is in km per day), and they were willing to take the ride to Aleppo slowly to account for our time off the bicycles. This is the first time since our ride into Trois Rivieres that we have ridden with other cyclists. We were looking forward to the company.
Our ride from Antakya to Aleppo began late in the morning. Since we did not wish to cross the border today, we only needed to ride for a few hours. Our plan was to camp one night, get up early the next morning, cross the border and ride into Aleppo. We were looking forward to cycling and camping again, but Becky was afraid that it might be too cold. With the early darkness, the nights are very long.
Once we were on the bikes, it did not take long to receive our first offering of Chai (tea). Since we were eager to get on the road, we respectfully declined that offer and a couple of others that happened while we were riding. When we stopped at a gas station to get fuel for Peter and Wendy’s stove, we were delighted to accept the chai that was offered. It did not take long for us to see the attraction of riding around Turkey with a fully loaded bike!
At about 1 pm, we were looking for a place to stop for lunch. Becky was starving and in need of something to eat. She noticed a road with a couple of nice cement blocks for leaning bikes at the bottom of a big hill, so we stopped. With a quick look around, we noticed that the land on both sides was military. Becky grabbed a quick chocolate bar, and even before she could finish eating it a person in military uniform carrying a large gun told us to go – we could not stop there. With the energy from the chocolate bar, we climbed the first big hill of the day, which brought us to the town of Reyhanli.
We had heard of a hotel in Reyhanli and decided to check it out, just in case we could not find a place to camp – with all the military around, wild camping would not be easy. We looked into the hotel, but it was a real dump. It would do if we couldn’t find anything else, but we still had an hour and a half of daylight left, so we decided to continue down the road looking for other options.
After another 5 km, we saw a place where transport trucks were parked with a restaurant. We stopped on the side of the road to converse. Within about 30 seconds we heard whistling and were being motioned to move along from someone in a military lookout tower on the other side of the road. We quickly turned into the transport truck terminal. Wendy and Peter had a note in Turkish asking if we could camp on the land there. The drivers were very friendly and welcomed us. They said we could camp anywhere within their large compound. They also invited us for tea and offered us use of their shower.
After a tea, as the sun was beginning to set, we found a good place and setup our tents. As we were enjoying a warm drink at our campsite, one of the drivers came over with his cell phone. Wendy and Scott had an opportunity to speak to his 13 year old daughter on the phone. Her English was not bad, but the connection was poor, so it wasn’t much of a conversation.
After supper, Wendy, Scott, and Becky went to the restaurant for a cup of tea and a brief visit with the drivers. The news was on, so we were able to watch as a journalist from Iraq throw a pair of shoes at George Bush. Showing the soles of your shoes is very rude in this area of the world, so this was intended as a significant insult. A comparison was drawn between today and five years ago, when the head of the giant Saddam statue in Bagdhad was dragged through the street and beaten with shoes. Wendy had her trusty Turkish-English dictionary so we were able to ask a few questions about driving trucks in Turkey and the drivers were able to ask us questions about us and our trip. The dictionary was a handy tool and allowed us to have a much more meaningful conversation than we would have had without it. We plan on finding a similar small dictionary for Arabic when we get to Syria.
By 8 pm, we were all tucked into our sleeping bags. It was too cold for reading, so we were soon fast asleep.