We arrived into Hama after a squishy, several hour long (including a rather lengthy border crossing into Syria) service ride. Hama is a large city (pop. 1.6 million) that has managed to maintain a quaint small city feel within it's inner core. The main attraction here is the 17 huge (up to 20m in diameter) wooden waterwheels called "norias". The cool thing about these norias is that they are wholly made of wood, (including the the axle and the support for the axle) so when they turn, the friction of wood on wood makes this eerie mournful groaning sound that sounds (to me) like a cross between hundreds of motorcycles idling and hundreds of ghosts howling. Norias have apparently been around Hama since the 4th century, though the existing ones are only 800 years old (haha, only!) though...
While in Hama, Felipe and I wandered around yet another old city, but they never seem to get old to us! Lots of character and plenty of friendly people! We were invited into the handicrafts shop (I can't say which type of handicraft, as it would give away the identity of a birthday gift for Bonnie) to see them do their "craft". While there, I was chatting with one of 8 brothers from the family business and he ended up inviting us out to spend the evening playing pool and table tennis with him and his friends! A really neat experience to see how the young locals spend their time!
From Hama, we were able to take a couple daytrips into the surrounding countryside. We saw:
- Qasr ibn Warden: the Byzantine ruins of an old fort and church in the middle of the desert, which was constructed with a mix of black basalt and mud brick.
- Sarouj: one of several small "beehive" villages where they still make some houses and other buildings (using mud only) in the shape of upside down beehives. A young (probably 4 years old) local boy decided to give us a personal tour of the village (in arabic), and we then sat down for tea with his entire family.
- Qala'at ash-Shmemis: the ruins of a castle perched way up on the top of an ancient cone shaped (and likely volcanic) hill.
- Apamea: the ruins of a 2nd century Roman city which has a columnade (main cobblestone street flanked by columns) that is over 2km long!
- Musyaf: an ancient castle that looks over a small village in the mountain range west of Hama
- Crac de Chevaliers (aka: Qala'at al Hosn): which is the amazingly well preserved ruins of the only Crusader castle never to have been taken by force. When I think of the middle ages and what castles and live must've been like, this place is exactly what I had imagined!
And from Hama, it is off 200km east to the desert ruins and oasis of Palmyra!
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