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Water wheels

+ bike wheels

Hama, like all the larger Syrian towns was filled with parks and fountains, but there was something unique here, very large wooden waterwheels, norias. The river that the town straddles has cut a very deep valley and these big waterwheels lifted water from the river high up to aqueducts that took water to the farmlands and orchards that surrounded the town. Being the end of summer the river was little more than greenish smelly pools, the norias were still, but when the river flows their turning is said to produce a weird mournful groan that can be heard all over the city. Just now, the quiet peaceful tree filled parks would be a welcome respite from the heat

I often left the trike unattended for short periods, I lost nothing more than a small pole that flew both an Australian and a Syrian flag. I had ridden past a secondary school as morning classes had ended, a mob of boys had run alongside me for ages, laughing, joking and just being boys. I didn't even realise that the flags had been souvenired until later when a very schoolboy came racing up to me on his bicycle and after stopping me, handed me a small black plastic bag and pointed to where my flags should have been. On opening the plastic bag I found a larger Syrian flag, the boy explained in English that matched my Arabic, that the other boys had embarrassed both the school and the town and would I please take the new flag as recompense for the loss of the originals. We spent a few minutes attaching the flag to one of the orange safety flagpoles before the boy silently disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. So, on arriving in Hama I left the trike, unlocked, on the footpath while I arranged a hotel room for myself and for somewhere to leave the trike

As always it attracted a large crowd of curious onlookers, the various bits were closely inspected and tested - especially the two Air Zounds air horns; they were an object of fascination for boys of all ages. On many days I refilled the air bottles half a dozen times after an appreciative audience found the button to sound the startlingly loud horns

Most hotels in Syrian cities occupy the topmost floors of an inner city building; where lifts exist they are invariably smaller than the smallest telephone box, so, the trike almost always had to be carried up stairs when I stayed in a hotel, today to a storage room on the fourth floor but mostly it was taken to the flat roof. Often when the trike was stored on the roof, when the time came to carry it downstairs again, I'd find it covered by a sheet of plastic, or I'd find that it had been washed. One morning I found the wires from the dynamo to the headlight that had started to fray had been very carefully repaired and taped - it was such a good job that it's still the same now

There are plenty of bicycles in Syria, mostly the omnipresent black Chinese made jobs that weigh a ton, but also plenty of fat tubed 'mountain' bikes for the young boys. Every town, other than the smallest remotest villages, had a bike shop of sorts. The stock was often pretty basic but with a bit of bush - mechanic ingenuity these places could fix and/or supply almost anything. And here I was carrying three spare tyres, spare tubes and a whole assortment of bits and pieces plus a tool kit that could cope with the biggest jobs and so added somewhat to the weight I was hauling

The GTO trike weighs in around 18 kg and I was carrying camping gear, as lightweight as I was prepared to buy - the less the weight the greater the cost - a few clothes and personal stuff, a map or two, the bike spares and toolkit, and the ubiquitous Lonely Planet guide all squashed in and around two panniers plus of course water - fully loaded I carried 7 litres. Some days it felt like the loaded trike weighed a ton. Next time, I told myself, half of this stuff is staying home, especially as I didn't use hardly any of the tools and none of the spare bike bits