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Friendly Syria-Backpacking the Middle-East

Updated on May 28, 2011
Haggling in the streets of the maze-like Old City in Damascus
Haggling in the streets of the maze-like Old City in Damascus

We entered the border to Syria from Turkey at approximately 8:30 AM, and after what seemed miles of barbed wire fences and gun towers, we entered the and for the next 8 hours, we sat on a bright red, hard-plastic bench, waiting for our visas. The official policy concerning an American's entry into Syria is that a visa MUST be obtained while in America. The unofficial poilcy, so we had heard, was that yes, after an excrutiatingly long wait, an American may obtain a visa. The all-important question it seemed, was who our parents were. After that it was our occupation, and then of course duration and exact location of stay. As bureaucratic as it may have seemed, there was an extremely lighthearted and consequentially, surreal feeling about the whole procedure. Syrian soldiers ,in full uniform, pistols tucked haphazardly into their belts, were in-so it appeared-very good moods. Rarely was the attitude of authoritarian entitlement displayed, rather an attitude of men at work, joking and laughing and enjoying their time on the clock in spite of all the drudgery.

The lovely and Majestic Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
The lovely and Majestic Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
The souq al-hamidiyya-shop after shop after shop.
The souq al-hamidiyya-shop after shop after shop.

Perhaps around 12:30, I found myself in conversation with a man named "Sammy" who had very strong opinions concerning our involvement in Iraq. Whether or not I agreed with him was inconsequential. For all intensive purposes, Sammy was right, and would continue to be so until we had obtained our visas. It just turned out that Sammy pulled a lot of strings at the border, and apparently, accepted bribes. To make a long story short, 8 hours and $95 later we were in possession of two Syrian visas. Next, Sammy found us a cab, showed us to our bus station in Aleppo, helped us get our tickets, showed us which bus to get on, and finally, helped me find an ATM. It is odd, to say the least, to enter a country like Syria. Road rules are loose. Everything seems to move at a faster pace. People are yelling and I have no idea about what, and damn, do they stare. But Sammy, and the kids at the bus station yelling, "Welcome to Syria!" as if they sensed my bewilderment, made entry into Syria a breeze. Damascus, its capital and largest city, was every bit as good.

A little Arabic goes a long way

The narrow, labyrinthine streets of Old City
The narrow, labyrinthine streets of Old City
The Umayyad Mosque
The Umayyad Mosque

Damascus, Capital City of Syria

I honestly can not say enough good things about Damascus. From the very beginning, to the very end, people were helpful, outgoing, and friendly. Spending the majority of our time in the Old City, we were inevitably lost for what seemed hours in its incredibly labyrinthine and almost cavernous streets. Very often did we rely on the good graces of the people of Damascus to help us find our way. One group of teenagers we asked for directions from seemed practically enthused by the notion, and quickly uttered every English phrase they knew, "Good Morning!" (it was night) and "Welcome to Syria!"(which we heard a lot). Even Andrew's attempt at baksheesh(tipping) was refused, as the boy promptly put the money back in my hand. As helpful as the people were, their instructions inevitably led to the same pattern-take a left, then a right, then a left. Besides being lost 75% of the time, there was not one negative experience in Damscus. We saw the splendor of the Umayyad Mosque, smoked a nargileh at An-Nafura cafe, and gazed upon beautiful antiques at Georges Dabdub. Despite the negative media coverage concerning Syria, I highly recommend a visit. The food is delicious, the people amazingly hospitable, and despite the falling U.S. dollar, syria is dirt cheap. A vast amount of history is on display here as well. The lovely and well-preserved Roman ruins of Palmyra, The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and the Crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers, are just some of the awe-inspiring sights in Syria. Just make sure you get a visa before leaving!

Remants of Rome are everywhere in the Middle-East
Remants of Rome are everywhere in the Middle-East
A great pastime in Syria, sipping tea and smoking a nargileh
A great pastime in Syria, sipping tea and smoking a nargileh


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    • saudia profile image


      6 years ago

      good story thanks for share

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 

      7 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      Very nice story, good pics...........

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello, I am an an arabic Tutor from Damascus, you may contact me if you are intersted in some clasess ...

    • Riviera Rose profile image

      Riviera Rose 

      7 years ago from South of France

      I'm sooooo jealous - would love to go to Syria. It's definitely on the 'to do'list. Thanks for sharing.

    • jreuter profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Reuter 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Dave, thanks for the grammar tip man, I'm honestly a little embarrassed!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Cool journey dude - well done, much envy. For future reference btw, in case you're thinking of doing another "On The Road", the expression isn't "For all intensive purposes", it's "For all intents and purposes".

      Shine on.


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Have you been to Egypt yet? How would you compare both countries? I'm looking to take an Arabic language course and just hang out for about a month or two. I've been to Egypt, but not Syria.

    • jreuter profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Reuter 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      It should. Just be patient and accomodating. Good luck, and I hope you have a good book to read.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm in Turkey now and want to just "show up" at the border. Just hoping it works out...

    • profile image

      Istvan Morit 

      9 years ago

      Hey sounds like you had a great trip. I went there last summer. Had a most wonderful time and am currently reminising. I spent about 4 weeks there and believe me it was the best 4 weeks of my life then again im only 15 and haven't had as many expieriences as i would like ;)

    • jreuter profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Reuter 

      10 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Hi Aline, I did this trip during january, feb, and march of this year, which, weather wise, isn't ideal for syria, but was great for egypt. As far as solo traveling for women, this is a question I hear all the time, and while I wouldn't highly recommend it for anywhere in the world, I would say that syria is very safe. I probably met between 4 or 5 western women traveling alone in the middle-east, and not one of them had had a bad experience. I guess If I were you I wouldn't worry about it too much, but the ideal situation is always with a friend or two.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi, this is great! When did you go? Do you think it is safe for western women to go? I feel unsafe going by myself...


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