Danger & Excitement in Syria!
A spot of bother from a well intentioned local.
James Bond had an ejector seat in his Aston Martin DB5, in the classic film Goldfinger. My Carawagon bristles with many gadgets, but such a seat is not amongst them. Fortunately, I have only needed to eject a passenger once. I was trundling north through Syria and had stopped to photograph the full moon rising over the desert. I was a little way off the main road that links Damascus with Aleppo, but clearly visible to the traffic. A large pick up truck turned off the main road and approached me some 100 metres up a track. Nothing unusual about that, or the three men that emerged from the cab. Much smiling and hand shaking later it was obvious we shared no two words of a common language, but they kept saying ‘Homs’ and pointing at one of their group, my Land Rover and in a general northerly direction. Homs was the next big town and I assumed they were requesting a lift for their colleague.
I reluctantly agreed and he jumped into the Carawagon and we set off, making awkward sign language conversation. He did seem rather too interested in my photographic activities for comfort though, often pointing at the camera and shaking his head. The penny dropped when we passed a roadside Police Station and he gestured for me to stop. His pals were still behind in the old pick up truck, also pointing to the Police Station. Knowing I’d done nothing wrong, but with no way of proving it, I pretended to not understand and carried on. Over the next few miles I weighed up the situation. He thought I was a spy, as did his mates in the truck behind, but there was only one of him and one of me in the Land Rover. At that time my Carawagon had a bog standard 200 Tdi engine and was running the lowest geared transfer box Land Rover ever made. It was no street racer, but probably had the edge over a 20 year old Mazda pick up, half full of rubble, so I decided to crank the old girl up to whatever it would do flat out on this good, arrow straight, tarmac road.
It was becoming a James Bond style car chase, but at half the speed. With my speedo nudging 70 mph I was slowly pulling away from the pick up. My captor was aware of this and kept glancing backwards to see his mates becoming progressively more distant. We passed another Police Station (of which there are many) and his gesture was more feeble. I ignored it anyway and sped on, the pick up barely visible now. I was just hoping the Carawagon would hold together. It was the fastest I had ever driven it and I had a further 4000 miles to cover to get home. My 16000 mile odyssey around the southern shores of the Mediterranean had been trouble free and I hoped this episode would not spoil an unblemished reliability record, by throwing a rod through the side of the engine, or blowing the head gasket, a common problem on ageing Tdi engines.
My confidence was building, however, as I took stock of the situation. The others were out of sight, but I still had my, by now visibly nervous, passenger. I judged that I was bigger than him, and probably appeared more threatening, in addition to which I had not had access to a shower for a week! Crazy haired, unshaven and wiffy, with wild staring eyes was the look I adopted for the final evacuation of my passenger. There was a roadside cafe that he gestured towards muttering something about tea and I thought this would be a good opportunity to be rid of him. I pulled over a tad too sharply, hit the brakes hard and reached across him to open the door gesturing for him to get out. Rather pathetically he asked for ‘cigarette, cassette?’. I gave him a helping shove and out he went, stumbling in the process, just as the pick up appeared as a small silhouette in my mirror. I roared off and didn’t slow down for the next hour, just in case they came to hunt me down!
That evening I reached the magnificent Crac des Chevaliers, a medieval castle that dates back to the Crusades. Behind it is a restaurant and camp site, staffed by very friendly Syrians who cooked me a good meal and showed me their camp site carpeted by bright yellow buttercups with a stunning view of the castle. I popped the roof up, rolled out my sleeping bag and breathed a big sigh of relief. It was a tranquil end to a traumatic day. My Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, had to wait a few more days, until I reached Turkey with bars selling much needed alcohol.
A peaceful camp site in view of the Crac des Chevaliers.
A straight road aided a fast getaway.