A Drama Free Entry
After our brief drama on the Turkish side of the border, Syria was comparatively a breeze to enter. We’d already arranged our visas, so we were processed in ten minutes (although it would have been five had the border official typed a little faster).
Back on the coach, we were exhilarated to be in a new country, especially one that was so unlike anywhere I, at least, had ever visited before.
The change in scenery was apparent as soon as we left the border post. The land was dry and spotted with low scrub and rocks. It was more mountainous than we had expected, but at this stage, the road to Aleppo was mostly flat.
Road-signs were in Arabic, and occasionally English. ‘Aleppo’ was spelled about six different ways on six different signs.
Kicked off the bus
On the short drive from the border to Aleppo, we struck up a conversation with a young American guy who was also travelling in the same direction. He spoke some Turkish, and more Arabic than we did so when the bus driver dumped us on the outskirts of the city, insisting (or rather, lying through his front teeth) that the bus station was ‘100 metres away’ we were happy to let the American take charge of the situation and help us find our way to our hotel in Aleppo’s new city.
It was the middle of the day and it was hot, Middle East hot, and we were walking with full packs in direct sunlight. Aleppo was a crush of dilapidated taxis and car horns, the buildings run down and the streets dirty. All but taxi drivers ignored us.
We walked up a hill, past Suleiman’s Tomb, and tried to negotiate a taxi once we realised we were farther away from the New City than we thought. No one wanted to take American dollars, and, overhearing our predicament, a young Syrian guy asked if we wanted a lift in his car – it was having its oil changed just across the street.
Driving in cars with strange boys
If Alicia and I had been alone, there was no way we would have gotten into the car with a stranger, especially not as fresh arrivals. The American seemed to think it would be okay, though, so soon we were slinging our packs into the boot of Ahmed’s car and off we went.
We seemed to drive around for a long time, and I suspect it was because Ahmed was so happy to talk with us about his country and about the World Cup. We ended up no where near our final destination, but it was a pleasant introduction to a country home to some of the friendliest people we’ve ever come across.
Again, we tried to flag down a taxi. It was only getting hotter, we’d run out of water, and our bags were feeling heavier by the minute. As usual, the Lonely Planet map made little sense, and the locals gave us strange directions.
Finally, we were again offered a lift by another man who insisted he knew where we wanted to go. So again we were off in a stranger’s car, only this time, it was a ute (a pickup for those of you not familiar with the term ute), and there was only room for one person in the front cab.
Aleppo’s Star Attractions
Naturally, being women, Alicia and I were relegated to the metal tray. I think we entertained all of Aleppo that day as our driver struggled with the traffic and to get directions. Two red-faced, sweaty and smelly western girls and their backpacks sitting in the back of an Aleppan’s ute. We shielded our eyes from the sun and laughed at the craziness of the situation.
Finally, though, we were dropped off at our hotel. Like Ahmed, our ute driver didn’t expect any money in return for the lift, and after we shukraned him profusely, he disappeared back into the traffic.
Although it was double our usual budget, our private room had a ceiling fan, air-conditioning, a balcony and two huge beds. We sat under the fan and laughed, and as usual, the effort was worth it.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.