Traffic Exists. Hitchhiking Possible; (6) The great race to Beirut

Vor den libanesischen Bergen in Syrien.
Vor den libanesischen Bergen in Syrien.
From the archive. This article is about my trip to Syria in 2008.

It was at the high time of one of my first nights in Syria/Aleppo when the following picture was taken. Somewhat in the summer of 2008. We had been on our way to a Couchsurfer and had some kind of transport problems, I don’t remember it right. Ralf and I started to stop cars to get rides for our group (of at least 10-15 people). We were finally – all together – picked up by one of those great Toyota Pick-Ups that were driving around in Syria everywhere by that time.

betrunken auf dem Pick Up
Slightly drunk with our Czech friends Pavel and Mira.

Already my arrival to Syria had been a huge coincidence. The idea to go there arose when Ralph explained me in the year before that he would go to Syria. Hitchhiking there from Germany. I just thought: “Sure, I’ll do that too, sounds fun!” We haven’t made any plans together. I knew he was on his way, but I had no information on when he had left Germany and where he was located at the moment.  In Aleppo I entered the house of my host and who was sitting there, on the couch? Ralph. “Cheers”. “Yo cheers, you here as well?” “Just checked in 15 minutes ago”. Well, the world can really be a freaking small place. Two guys from Czech Republic called Pavel and Mira have been there too.

Back to the night on the Pick-Up. We all were a little drunk, full of euphoria and had an evening of fun. Our plan was to hitchhike to Beirut the next day. When we heard, that our two Czech friends were “hitchhikers”, we of course had to challenge them for a race there. “Come on guys! We can do it! You against us!” We pushed ourself with that idea the whole evening long and I can clearly remember us facing each other at 4 am on the street calling us names, grapple with each other and just trying to celebrate a little rivalry. We were competitors from now on!

We found out later that both of them had never really hitchhiked before. Only taken a ride once from a truck. Not very optimal for that route. Also: Travelling in Lebanon was something the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had clearly put a warning on during this time. The route was also not very easy to hitchhike. We were a bit overmotivated and drunk the day before, to push our friends into this crackpot idea. That Mira and Pavel were total greenhorns, makes the whole thing much funnier in retrospective.

We started at sunrise and soon after the first ride, we were invited by two Syrians for a very good breakfast with a lot of Humus and bread. I will never forget the olive oil, so delicious. Holy shit. That was really good stuff. With a short detour to Hama, where we checked the old water wheels, we worked our way south and were soon seeing the Lebanese mountains at the horizon.

Our last ride was a Jordanian couple, with a stranger in the back. She looked as if she had already tried quite some plastic surgery and her husband (?) like a rich, suspicious Macho, who loves fake tits. The stranger in the back was the best. Not speaking any English word but constantly talking to us. He was a very funny guy indeed. We were boozing down the curvy road, super speeding, towards Beirut. One of the not so many rides in my life where I really feared death when on the two laned road four cars were passing each other parallel. And that on this steep terrain. Our driver was no better.

Straße Richtung Libanon. Hier stoppten wir unseren finalen Lift.
Street towards Lebanon, where we catched our final ride.

We made it to Beirut before dark, but when we exited at the bus terminal, we hat a fight with our last ride. Our driver suddenly realized that he was a taxi, pointed at an old writing on the car and wanted to see some money. This was Ralf’s time since he was denying paid transport as consequently as nobody else. We were hitchhikers! And maybe also a bit cheap. A strong discussion followed. The two of them formed a good couple. The one angry, wild and with arms waving, the other one calm and strategically stubborn making clear that nobody was going to pay anything here. Several times I thought: “Now it escalates, now he will hit him and make us to pay.” But that did not happen and of course we did not pay as well.

As we finally had our backpacks back in our hands, we went towards the meeting point. We asked the first soldier for the way and he was going crazy, when he saw us. “You are the two Germans! You lost the race! Hahaha!” What? Damn, the two Czech had made it before us? How could they have made it, ffs? We were disappointed. It became clear later: They had taken a bus at the border. Within the competition rules this means a disqualification. Ha! We won the great race to Beirut! As price they should have invited us for 2 beers, which we never got until now. If you ever read this guys: Yes, you still own us beer! Gambling debts are debts of honor!

Satisfaction occured the next day. We checked out the city. At some point Pavel and Mira vanished without a trace. We waited a long time for them, but they were gone. Later I received a SMS from Mira: “Durchfall* as fuck! Sorry guys, we had shitstorm at Starbucks. See you in the hotel.” Years later we were still laughing about the Denglish. Epic SMS. It might have come from the Falafel, that both had eaten the day before at the border. Looking at Miras soft knees it was pretty obvious already.

Shitstorm alert bei Mira. Kurz vor dem großen Blast. Seine Beine sind schon gekrümmt.
Shitstorm alert. This shot was taken close before Mira experienced the huge blast. Look at his legs.

Ralph was hit the day after. Heavy shitstorms on our way back to Aleppo. So badly, that he agreed to take a bus . A very rare case. He must have felt close to die. Because: We never take buses.

Good old Syria. I miss you very much. May you overcome all the misery. May you be peaceful and safe one day! It was my favorite country to travel in.

*German and means Diarrhoe

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