Axis of Evil

Trip Start Apr 09, 2006
1
20
148
Trip End Jun 09, 2007


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Flag of Syria  , Aleppo,
Saturday, May 13, 2006

The bus ride from Antakya into Aleppo (requiring a border crossing into Syria) went about as expected. My bus was supposed to leave at 7:30AM and I dutifully showed up at 7:15AM. I gave my passport to the bus company (leaving my passport with someone is still difficult for me but it's the order of the day here) and bought a few breads from a street vendor for breakfast.

About 8:15AM the bus manager arrived at the bus to distribute our passports. There were only about 10 of us scheduled for the trip. As an aside, the buses in Turkey have been great and a fairly good value but, of course, their processes get on my nerves a bit. Each bus has a driver, bus manager and an attendant. OK...so I'm paying $20USD for a 12 hour bus ride...but I could probably pay only $18USD if they dumped the manager and attendant. I can bring on my own bottle of water - there's no need to have someone there to deliver one.

Back to the story...as we get our passports and jump on the bus a group of seven women arrive and start chatting with the driver. I would find out later that they were all Georgian and the discussion certainly heated up. It turns out they wanted to ride our bus after they sat down to a full breakfast followed by tea. And they let them since the bus was so empty. We all know how I enjoyed that!

Finally rolling by 9:15AM and made it to the border crossing without any real issue. We stopped 15 times to pick up random people along the roadside, but that's standard procedure. Getting through immigration took approximately 2 minutes for everyone on the bus - except me. There was one other non-Turk or Syrian passenger from Singapore who even got through without issue. I, of course, was sent back to a small room with three Syrian officials who took turns asking me about my travel history and future plans. I quickly (and almost honestly) answered each question and was finally sent back to the front to stand in the main line again. I say "line" but queuing is something entirely foreign to this part of the world. As each new person arrives they simply push to the front of the mob that is there to push their passport in front of the official.

Anyway, I was finally granted entry after the immigration dude spent about 15 minutes inputting information (again, it only took about 30 seconds for other nationalities). Whatever - I made it! We headed off for Aleppo but seemed to be having trouble with the front door of the bus. We pulled over while the three bus employees looked and talked and looked and talked. Rolling again for about 10 minutes until we pull off the main street and stop. The bus manager is having a loud discussion with some greasy guy. Eventually the greasy guy comes out with a welder and begins going to town on the bus door. Weld - grind - weld - grind - weld - grind - polish - and we're on our way again. We finally rolled into Aleppo at about 1:45PM. The journey should have taken two hours.

I arrived in Aleppo and found my hotel fairly quickly, despite finding only Arabic writing on the buildings and street signs. It is rather difficult as I can't even really tell when one Arabic character ends and another begins. I found my way with the help of many good samaritans. I've never had my guide book in my hand (looking at the map) for more than 30 seconds before someone stops to ask if they can direct me.

The people so far are just as expected. They are as welcoming and inviting as I've heard. I spent a few hours with two local men of about 25 years last night. They saw me buying dinner from a falafel shop (for about $.30 USD) and came over to talk. Only one spoke English but we enjoyed chatting and they eventually took me to a juice bar around the corner & bought a round. He works in the souk and I told him I'd stop by to see him while wandering around there (he works in a women's clothing shop, so no pressure to buy!).

The souk itself was great!! I think it's much better than the covered bazaar in Istanbul. The souk feels very authentic, perhaps because I saw only a few tourists there while wandering for hours. If I had room or money I'd buy a few things...but alas I'm on a budget here. I heard from many before I left that Syria had a few ATMs connected to the outside world now. Perhaps they are in Damascus, because there's no sign of any here. I'm limited to the ~$350USD in cash that I have until I get to Lebanon or Jordan. I really shouldn't have any problems with that much money as it really is dirt cheap here but I'm trying to ration a bit just in case.

I also explored the old Citadel and found it interesting. It's a World Heritage Site that is undergoing restoration / conservation at the moment. I got a nice student discount with my international student card - thanks Cynda!
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