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9/02/2011 (julian solo)– Homs to Qalat al Hosn (Crac des Chevaliers)

March 6, 2011

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Packing up becomes a bit of a meet and greet session as employees at the depot arrive, see my tent and venture over filled with curiosity.  I pack up and say thanks then head off on the motorway east, past a landfill site and place that seems to sell everyone in Syria their distinctive red water tanks.

Motorways are unpleasant but its sunny and theres at least some stuff to look at like the guys who risk their lives walking along the reservation individually cleaning the reflective rectangles which sit a regular intervals.  I see the castle sitting at the top of the hill and I’m kindly reminded that if your going to build a castle you usually do it at the top of a big hill so better start priming those muscles.

I stop for lunch at the roadside sit on a big pile of truck tyres and eat fresh thin pancakes topped with tomatoes, zatar and cheese, cooked on the back of a flat bed truck whilst watching countless air-conditioned coaches rumble past.

Off the motorway I have two options, the castle now sits directly above me nestled at the top of a very green and very English looking hill, 7kms of 13kms.  I choose 7km times getting on.  The hills were pretty excruciating, super steep and I can see why it was the shorter route.

I make it to the top, the castle now sits beneath me.  It’s as I remember it from a trip over 10 years ago and I’m eager to make my way inside to see what I can remember.  Being a tourist attraction people want payment for leaving my bike somewhere, no thanks I say I’ll carry it up to the office.

The castle is immense, it was built during the Crusader times and could hold up to 2000 people at one time.  The size of everything is astounding, how did they carry all the materials for something this size up here!  Even things like the oven and the storage are super sized.  I can see why I was so fascinated by this place when I first came, its in fantastic condition and you can really imagine how it would have been when it functioned.  I look up at the interior wall which is guarded by a moat and think of the poor sods, that if they’d got this far would have been lucky, but are then faced with a 50m high wall with boiling oils and arrows released on top of them.  The castle I read was only relinquished by way of a trick.

I think about camping inside the castle but all my stuff is outside and people are being told to leave because its closing.  I venture out and down the hill, picking up some lamb from the butchers.  I find a great camp spot off the road and around a hill, it overlooks a valley, the sun is setting and the castle is in view just to my right.  I dump all my stuff and sit and enjoy the place before it gets dark, after which I set up the tent and cook the best curry I’ve ever eaten, whilst listening to some very strange cheering coming from some animals in the valley below.  Bar the strange noises camp feels safe and relaxing, and I think about the spot im camping in would probably have been one of the last places attacking forces could have hidden before attempting to invade the castle

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