Travel to Damascus Syria
Rode into Damascus on a four hour, $5 bus from Latakia on the northwestern coast of Syria. I have always wanted to travel to Damascus since the day I set foot off of the old farm, and this would be the day.
It is funny how traveling to a place that you have always dreamed about going to is akin to learning how to play a much loved song on an instrument: the magic seems to dissipate upon meeting the reality. The fantasy world of magic places and magical songs is precious, but shedding away these fantasy goggles and seeing your dreams for what they are is vastly more interesting. I knew that traveling to Damascus would slice away a large chunk of the magic that I have always held for the place, just as learning to play the guitar diminished many of the songs that I once reveling in the mystery of. But fantasy is easy to replace with brick and mortar impressions.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Damascus, Syria- April 20, 2009
Travelogue —Travel Photos –Travel Guide
Click on map to view route of travel.
The gray buildings of Damascus’s suburbs speckled the surrounding hills like grim concrete tombstones. In the valley below taxis swarmed the beehive of streets and teem them over with exhaust and honking horns. Syria’s capital city lived up to its title: it is definitely a capital city. Big and busy, there is a lot going on in Damascus.
Chaya and I stepped off of the bus at the Harasta station, which sits a handful of kilometers north of Damascus’s center, and was the hang out of the usual gang of taxi vultures. I shooed them away with a gruff chorus of “No thank you, leave me alone,” and I walk passed their ongoing ensemble of “cheap, cheap, taxi to hotel, mister! need a hotel! . . .”
There was obviously a cheap way to get into the city center by bus, I just needed to find it. I rounded a corner and found a pow wow of mini buses waiting for passengers. Long distance bus stations are often located by the highways that run by major cities, and far out of comfortable walking distance from the city center. Taxi drivers swarm these stations and tell you that you need to use their service if you ever hope to get out of the station again. But this is not true:
There are usually always cheap city buses that go from the station and into the city and nearby suburbs. All you have to do is write down the part of the city that you want to go to and begin showing it to people. Or if you speak then local language just ask around. You will be sent around from person to person until you are eventually lead into a bus. Just hop in and show or tell the driver where you want to go, and he will usually tell you when to get out.
This bus ride cost 40 cents to the city center of Damascus from Harasta garage.
Sometimes a traveler is just a pinball ever being knocked around by other people’s paddles. Chaya and I were knocked around to the bus I wanted to take, told to get off of it at some intersection that I could not provenience, and then was passed from person to person through a series of streets looking for a district that had cheap hotels.
We previously lined up a Couchsurfing host for Damascus after getting a seemingly never ending stream of rejections, but I had an odd feeling about the guy we was suppose to stay with. Such feelings are difficult to explain, but they feel like the tugging of a snot nosed child upon your shirt tails: they do not really hold you back, but they act as a constant nagging that you may not really want to keep going the way your are heading. In travel, I have found it best to follow these little coat tail tugs.
I find it best to trust yourself to know what is good for you.
I talked with the Couchsurfing host in the morning by telephone from Latakia, and the situation seemed a little odd. I sort of wanted to abandon the whole deal, but did not quite know how to explain it to Chaya:
“Yeah, well, we have a free place to stay in Damascus but I don’t think we should take it.”
“I don’t know.”
Traveling with another person makes you a little more logical in your pursuits, and I did not mention my adverse feelings about this couhsurfing host. Feelings have to do with a person’s deeply buried library of emotional bookmarks, and have little to do with logic. It is sometimes a trying endeavor to speak words without any sort of logical backing. So I did not mention my baseless reservations about couchsurfing in Damascus.
We arrived in Damascus as the sun was high in the sky, and figured that we my as well check out the cheap hotel options before going and meeting the CS host – I wanted to find out what we were working with. It would be much easier to logically backup canceling the free couch with our host if we could supplement it with a cheap hotel.
Upon arrival in Damascus, I found that ALL of the cheap hotels that I had previously jotted down in a pad of paper were booked solid. Full, full, full. The face of “budget” travel has changed. Young people with large supplies of money are on the backpacker’s trail, and they seem to not have any problem with giving out their credit card number to hotels so they can make reservations.
So, all too often, I arrive at a hotel to find them all booked up with reservations. I could not imagine planning out my route step by step and making hotel reservations every step of the way. This is a complication that I do not want in my life. I am also not willing to spread my debit care number around to every hotel that I stay at. I do not know of a single long term traveler who makes hotel reservations. It is a deep pit of precarious complication.
We eventually found a place that could take us on for around $20 a night. Not cheap by any traveler’s standards, but not that expensive either in the circumstance. The “budget” hotels that were listed in the LP were actually more expensive than this in real life. But paying $20 for a room in Damascus was enough of a enough price to prompt me to call the potential CS host that I had some reservations about.
So I called up the host from a phone at a sidewalk cigarette and newspaper stand. He told me where to go to meet him but I had no idea what he was talking about. I gave the phone to the guy working the cigarette stall and the host gave him the directions in Arabic. Now we were again back to being knocked around like a pinball – having no real idea where our inertia would take us. The cigarette stall guy yell the address that the host told him to another guy in the street who then relayed the message to a taxi driver. The taxi driver then swung his paddle and knock us like pinballs to our destination.
It is easy to travel in the Middle East. If you do not know where you want to go you just have to ask someone in the street, and they will ask everyone who walks by until someone is found who can help. It is very easy here to get an instantaneous temporary chaperon who will make sure that you get to where you want to go. In this way, traveling in the Middle East is very simple. You just have to look stupid, tell someone where you want to go, and you will get there.
We got there, for better or worse.
We met our host at the designated place and he greeted me almost too warmly. His kisses on my cheeks that is the usual Arab mode off greeting were much too long for my comfort and the fact that he lead me away with his arms around my waist was a little uncomfortable. Arab men have the tendency of being a little more touchy feeling with each other than their western counterparts, and I am not the type of fellow who gets tied into a knot over another man touching him, but this was a little too touchy feely for me.
We then walked over to his university where we met his friends. Everyone was watching a soccer game that was taking place in a paved lot of the university. Chaya and I attracted a lot of attention and everyone, including the soccer players came over to meet us.
This situation should have put us at ease – we were meeting our peers in a country that is politically off limits to my own – but there seemed to be something hidden that I could not fully detect. I was not at ease. Everyone was smiling and having a good time, but something seemed a little too weird for me. Our host was a little pushy and would not let us out of his sight.
I have stayed in people’s homes all over the world, I have used Couchsurfing before in many different countries, but I never had such an odd feeling before upon meeting a host. I did not want to go to this kid’s house. I wanted to bail. The urge to conserve my quickly dwindling travel funds was no match for my urge to get out of the situation I was in.
My host began talking about how we were going to go way out into the countryside the next day at 7AM. I said that I did not want to go. There seemed to be something going on behind this kid’s eyes, there seemed to be something hidden behind his smile. I wanted to get out.
I told him that Chaya and I were going to walk down the street for a second to get a falafel sandwich. He said he was coming to. I told him to stay and watch the soccer game. It was this league’s championship and he cared very much about watching it. But he still followed us. We bought our sandwiches and returned to the group. The group was comprised of senior English literature students, and they all spoke my native tongue perfectly.
I was going to have to be clever in voicing my impressions to Chaya. But the game kept on, and my host brought me up to the front row of the crowd while Chaya was left behind talking to other students. This situation should have been good – we were with a bunch of English speaking university students in Syria – but it wasn’t. I have no further explanation for the emotional responses that were triggering off inside of me. My tact soon turn to brutishness and I turned from the front row and weaved through the small crowd and picked out Chaya.
“What do you think of this situation?”
She was more creeped out than me. One of the students said some creepy things to her.
It was time to get away.
I walked up to our host and told him that we were leaving. He gave us a slightly difficult time. I spoke firmly and walked away. He followed. I said that Chaya was sick and that we were going to move into hotel. He tried to take us to his home. We walked towards a minibus, hopped in, and rode away back to the old city of Damascus.
We returned to the hotel that we checked out earlier, and the mananger offered us discount of his own initiative. In our relief, we paid out the cash and returned to being market walking, mosque visiting, regular old tourists.
There is no guide in travel other than gut feeling. Your body collects a library of emotional responses for various situations and circumstances that your mind is not capable of reading. I cannot speak logically about what provoked my warning light to turn on in the presence of the potential CS host, but I was surely going to listen to it. This is called instinct.
Instinct is the great life raft of travel that logical thought knows naught. Never let your mind get in the way of your instinct. Do not fight your gut feelings. If your legs start running, follow them with all your might.
A traveler has no pressure to feel obligated to anyone they meet on the Road. If you want to travel a different way, then you are free to do so. If you want to get out of a situation that you put yourself it then just leave it. I find no reason to convince other people of my intentions or desires. On the Road, I know that I make my own life every second of the day.
Nobody can really make you do anything. Perhaps freedom is just the knowledge that you are justified in running out any irrational whim that strikes at your heart.
Mini-pizza making oven in Damascus.
Damascus Old City market.
Bus transportation in Syria
Travel to Damascus Syria