Springtime in Syria is the perfect time to travel. In the western and northern parts of the country, wildflowers are in bloom and the sun is beginning to shine reliably again. In the east, it’s not yet too hot to be exploring ruins.
One of my favorite trips we took in Syria was to Lattakia in mid-March. The Mediterranean coast of Syria is refreshing any time of year, but in the spring, the orange groves that spread across the countryside are just beginning to bloom and so the air, cooled by sea breezes, smells heavily of orange blossoms.
The historical site of Ugarit (Ras as-Shamra) is located near Lattakia. If you stay at the Blue Beach (Shaati al-Azraq), it’s even within biking distance along a pleasant, flat country road. Bicycles are available to rent for a few dollars at the traffic circle in front of the Cham Palace.
Jeremy and I went with three friends, and chose to rent a four-person bicycle to ride to Ugarit. Since there were five of us, I squeezed into the middle of the back seat and did my best to weigh as little as possible.
We started off briskly and made good time at first. Gradually, however, our excitement wore off and we realized that the 4-person bike was a piece of junk. The tires were low on air and the gears did not turn smoothly. What’s more, the metal it was made out of was really heavy, making it hard to pedal even with four of us working at it. We took a pit stop by this stork, who was tied by the side of the road, to decide what to do – there were still several kilometers to go before Ugarit.
We decided to stash the bike somewhere and take a service the rest of the way. After struggling for another kilometer pedaling our increasingly massive, awkward bike, we saw a stone building off the side of the road that looked vacant. We rode the bike over and hid it behind the building, and then caught a service to the ruins of Ugarit.
Most of what’s left at Ugarit are foundations of ancient buildings, which makes it a great place to play hide-and-go-seek or sardines. The setting, of course, is gorgeous, with the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains on the border with Turkey visible in the distance. In its prime, Ugarit was located right on the coast of the Mediterranean, but the sea’s coastline has since retreated.
After clambering around the ruins for a while, we caught a service back to the bike’s hiding place and rode it back to the rental shop, and they were none the wiser.
You would think we would have learned our lesson, but when we were in Lattakia a month later, we rented bikes again. This time, we went for single bikes, so everyone could have their own. Before setting off, Jeremy was skeptical about his bike. He pointed out to the renters that the wheels looked dry and cracked. The employee assured us there wouldn’t be a problem. But as soon as Jeremy pedaled into the parking lot at Ugarit, one of the tires popped with a loud bang.
On the way back, Jeremy flagged down a passing Suzuki truck to take him and the bike back to town and even managed to get some of his money back from the bicycle renters.
Despite all this, I would still recommend riding a bike from the Blue Beach to Ugarit. It’s a pleasant ride and a great way to stretch your legs after traveling by more traditional methods in cramped buses and services. Just don’t hold me responsible for anything that happens to you along the way. :)