Syria – Hama

(Continued from “My Journey Through Syria in 2011 – Aleppo“)

I spent a few nights in Hama, arriving from Damascus by bus. Again the time period was May of 2011. I intended to stop here to take a day trip to the well-known Crac des Chevaliers castle just west of Hama. At the hotel there was just one other tourist, a young man from Japan. The hotel owner spoke fluent English and was really helpful in pointing out places of interest in the area. There were curfews after about 9 PM due to rising tensions. This was around the beginning of the disaster that would soon unfold over Syria. There were no violence, protests, or rallies in Hama at the time – just an atmosphere of concern. There had been skirmishes in Daraa, which is in the southwestern portion of the country, that had killed scores of people. The owner was more cautious about the events going on unlike the owner of the hotel in Aleppo where I stayed previously. The Aleppo hotel owner had little concern about rising tensions and just brushed it off as something temporary.

The town of Hama had a sad history. Back in 1982 the elder Assad, Hafez, ordered the army to come into Hama and take on the Muslim Brotherhood which was opposed to the government. It was a bloody battle that killed thousands of citizens and destroyed much of the historic city center. Some remnants still remain however:

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My Journey Through Syria in 2011 – Aleppo

I did a big Middle East tour back in the spring of 2011. I was traveling solo. This was near the beginning of the Mideast uprising. The reason I went was to see some of the historic sites before it was no longer possible to do so. It was timely because Syria was being devastated not long after I left. It was right in the beginning of the Arab Spring. There were curfews in Hama and Damascus on some of the days I was there, but overall things went very smoothly. Safety wasn’t an issue and I did my research before I left. I had read up on travel guides and forum posts prior to my travel. At the time it was a decent country. Crime was practically non-existent. Everybody had enough to eat and somewhere to live. What is portrayed in the media about the country is about the exact opposite of reality. I was in Syria for four weeks. Tourism not surprisingly was almost non-existent. I didn’t write about my travels at the time. Wish I had jotted a few things down, but I had planned to rely on my photos which I took hundreds during the trip.

Before Syria, I had spent three weeks in Turkey – mainly in Istanbul and Cappadocia. And before that I was in Egypt, where I had started my trip. I spent a night in Antakya, Turkey the day before I left for Syria. In May I crossed the border from Turkey into Aleppo. I had gotten my Visa several months ago back in the States. You could not do it at the border. I actually went to the Syrian embassy in DC to pick up the Visa. At the time I lived just across the Potomac River.

Upon crossing the border I noticed a big change in the living standards. Turkey was solidly a second world country, but Syria was more upper third world. The standard of living there was similar to Mexico. The immigration’s building in Syria was pretty shabby and deteriorated. Turkey’s building was a lot more modern (below):

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ALEPPO

It took about an hour to get from the border to Aleppo city center. I had a some difficulty finding my “hotel”. Of course a hotel here is not like a hotel in the states. The place was recommended by Lonely Planet Middle East travel Guide. I didn’t know any Arabic except for a few simple words and numbers. I asked somebody in a shop for directions. He knew some English and gladly helped me out.

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I eventually found my hotel. The place was clean and comfortable. The man who worked in the hotel spoke good English.

When I was in Syria I realized my ATM card wasn’t working. In fact it had never worked. I shouldn’t have checked the card before leaving home. I was running low on cash which I originally had $3000 on me. It had carried me through Egypt and Turkey. Few places during my trip accepted anything but cash. I was getting a little worried. Fortunately I was able to get my dad to wire me money through Western Union. The money would last me several more weeks.

My Hotel (Each of the photos are clickable):

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