Elderly Tourists Young Backpackers in Syria
I was surprised to find myself surrounded by roving gangs of geriatric European tourists after crossing a hellish and remote seeming border into Syria. The taxi from the border drop Chaya and I off in front of the Baron Hotel, in Aleppo’s new city, which was the rendezvous point to meet our new couchsurfing hosts. As we rejoiced in trotting the streets of yet another country, we could not help but to be taken aback by the shear quantities of khaki wearing, camera touting, old white people striding by us gleefully in the Middle Eastern night.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Aleppo, Syria- April 15, 2009
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I have always thought of Syria as being a somewhat remote country outside of the pale of tourism, and I have never heard of the city of Aleppo before I began traveling towards it. I did not think that I was traveling towards any sort of tourist base camp. When I arrived to find the city’s streets teaming with old French and German tourists, I could only laugh at my surprise.
I like being surprised in travel, because this is an obvious sign that I learned something: that I have ripped the fuzzy goggles of exoticism off and seen a place for what it is. Surprise is the great key to localizing your own ignorance and sluicing it away. I do not want to discover the exotic, I want to discover what is. I discovered that this city in the north of Syria is full of old, white German and French tourists dressed from head to toe in tan khaki.
Far from being a closed off and rouge sort of country, Syria’s arms are wide open to the travelers and tourists of the world.
At first impression it seemed as if there was an overabundance of old tourists in Aleppo, but on second glance I realized that this is because there is an under representation of young backpackers. The tourists are here doing their tours, but the backpackers are oddly not present.
It is my impression that this is because the Middle East is not a region for drinking in bars and partying into the night. I will probably never uderstand why the bulk of the world’s youthful travelers venture across the planet just to sit in bars with their fellow countrymen. It is a very rare occurrence that I meet a person under forty years of age traveling in places that are outside of the backpacker party circuit.
I have observed less than one youthful traveler to every 20 old tourists in Aleppo, and I think this ratio will remain constant as I travel further into the Middle East. It is my impression that this is in large part because this is a region of the world that is not known for its nightlife: the Middle East is not a place to party. This is fully evidenced by that fact that I have hardly seen a foreign face in here not over-ripe, wrinkly, and far beyond its glory days bar hopping and chick shagging.
Perhaps these old tourists are now traveling to see the places that they missed while sitting in bars when they were young. Aleppo is an awesome city and Syria seems to be an awesome country to travel in. But the joys of this region are not to be found on a night time bar stool, but in the streets, souqs, and wide open deserts. This is a land for chasing wild dreams.
I smile because I know that each traveler that I cross paths with in the Middle East is chasing the farthest horizons – they are traveling here to be here. This is the type of travler whose tales will resonate in my ears and get stuck in my mind. This is the type of traveler who would not be struck dead piddling away full days travel funds on the temporary extravagances of late night barroom revelry. I have a feeling that I am in good company here in the Middle East.
This part of the Middle East should be a bright beacon to budget travelers: transportation, accommodation, and food is cheap, the people friendly, the traveling is not complicated, the cities are ancient, and the landscape is beautiful. This is the criteria that I use to guide my path around the planet. I can go to bars in my hometown; I have no idea why so many backpackers travel to far off locations to just do the same things they do at home. I will never understand why this is.
To each their own, but I have the fleeting suspicion that my own is in the interesting morning light of regions like the Middle East. I travel to chase down the lands of my wildest dreams.
I think that I may have been sun dried and aged far beyond my years.
But whatever the case, the Middle East is wide open and welcoming to travelers.
Market in Aleppo. Syria is a place for meeting friendly people, having good conversation, getting out into beautiful places – not for drinking in bars.
Elderly Tourists Young Backpackers in Syria