I feel quite empty at the moment. I am in Istanbul at the airport and waiting for my connection flight to Basel. I flew in from Damascus, Syria last night. I spent 4 days in Syria. A country you don’t know much about. A bit scary, or very scary I must say.
Through a friend of mine, we had organised Jarkko, a professional bodyguard from Finland, who spontaneously accepted to go on the trip with me and bring me back to Europe safely.
Never ever I would go to Syria alone after reading the news what is going on in Syria The Finnish embassy does not recommend any travelling to the country. I ignored this recomendation and we took the flight from Istanbul to Damascus. Two races was on the program. Golan I and Golan II.
At the airport we were picked up by the organizers. I felt like beeing in a movie. We payed 45 euroes to enter the contry. Got a stamp in our passports and was shuttled to the hotel. Dark as in a grave, was the hotel entry hall. Scary like shit. Locked the roomdoor and tried to sleep a bit. We arrived 4 in the morning.
I woke up way too early, but could not sleep. Went down for breakfast and met the coach of Ukraine’s men’s team. He spoke excellent english and I started to ask questions about the race. The men’s race had taken place the day before. Kalasnikovs, guns, heavy ammunition so to say was beeing seen everywhere. Should I feel safe or be scared like hell? I was scared like hell.
We went out for a walk. I wanted to withdraw some money. I had read on internet that it is possible to withdraw money with a visa card. I tried, but it did not work. I was told that this is a sanction towards Syria. A protest from the outer world against the political situation in Syria. I don’t know, might be true.
We continued our walk. I wnated to make some pictures. A pile of watermelons by the road, a fruit shop you could say. I had to take a pic of that. Unfortunately a mosque happened to be behind that watermelon pile. Two pictures made and a police came up to me. Speaking arab. I just wanted to disappear. He let me go, we did not understand each other. I spent the rest of the day in my hotelroom.
The organizers drove us to the race site. A highway that was closed was our race course. 15 km down the road, a turn and back again. Well, at least there would be no cars because the traffic is crazy in is country. There seems to be no rules and if there are any they are not being followed. My puls was 200 on the way to the start and 200 on the way back. Insane!
The race in itself was difficult. I went away with the three girls from Ukraine. Of course they started to attack me, but cold not drop me. So it came to a sprint where i finished 3rd. That was fine. A flat course makes it impossible to go away, even if you are the strongest one.
In the evening I felt bad. My stomach was aching. I think it was just too much. Being afraid, being nervous about the race made my body react in this way. Luckily I just felt bad shortly.
The instructions you get when travelling to Syria is “avoid the Golan Hights’. What do we do on our rest day? You can forget training, the traffic is too dangerous. I would not go out cycling in Syria. I would not even drive a car here. So we go sight seeing. Where? To Golan. Yes, the organizers took us there. I almost wanted to phone the Finnish embassy and say that we are in Golan. Having UN soldiers there made it feel safe though. We also were escorted around the area, so we were under control all the time. Interesting visit! This is an area where you as a normal tourist won’t be able to enter.
I knew what to expect. I was not so scared anymore. I just wanted to have the race done and get back to the hotel and pack my bike. The first lap, i.e. 30km, was neutralised, because of the political situation. So we were told. Ok, respect it. 60km of racing after the 30km warm up. I did not want to go with the girls from Ukraine, but had no other choice. We were very soon in the front. I refused to work. They as well. Why? How stupid. The bunch caught us again. I attacked again. Ukraine was with me again. I did not know what to do. I decided to go up in the front and safe as much energy as possible. This time they did not start to attack me towards the end. In the sprint two of the girls blocked my way. That was very mean of them. I had to break and reaccelerate. I finished 3 rd again.
Back to the hotel. I packed my bike. Went to buy a newspaper because there was an interview with me. Tried to sleep for an hour. Was brought to the airport. Did not have to pay anything to depart from the country. Got a stamp in my passport. Free to go.
A big thank you to Jarkko for being there to protect me. Felt secure to have a real professional with me durng theese days.