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Oasis driver Nev crosses Syria last week

Our Oasis Driver/Leader Nev sent an update of his experience of crossing through Syria last week.  (Oasis UK office would like to add this is purely Nev’s factual observations of what he saw and experienced crossing Syria this week – it is one person’s snapshot of Syria.  Oasis Overland are currently not taking groups through Syria).

Nev & Ahmed at the campsite in Damascus

Sitting at the Turkish border it’s fair to say I was a little apprehensive at what I was about to do the following day – drive through Syria. Having watched reports on TV and newspapers about what was happening there I think I had reason to be a little nervous. But that said, having spoken to our local contacts and agents in Syria who were telling us that the situation there wasn’t as bad as was being portrayed by some sections of the media we had decided to transit one of our expedition vehicles through to Jordan – hence why I was now on the border.

By following our agents advice and sticking to the main motorways it proved to be no different to any other drive day in the Middle East. The northern Syrian Bab al Hawa border crossing was clogged with Turkish trucks, but that’s nothing unusual. With some assistance from agent and local guide Ahmed it was as smooth as could be expected. Ahmed then agreed to accompany me on the drive to Damascus, just in case I needed an Arabic translator if I ran into trouble.  I saw a small military presence just south of the border but traffic flowed freely past.

Chillin out in a Cafe in the souk in Damascus

Ahmed was a wealth of information during the 4 and a half hour drive to Damascus, telling me about towns and cities that had been hotspots of revolutionary protests along the way such as Homs and Hama, but driving past them was just like any other time I’d driven that stretch of road before, uneventful. During that drive I was only stopped once coming into Damascus at a military checkpoint, just to receive a “hello” and waved on. In Damascus I stopped and stayed in the New Kaboun campsite in the outer suburbs. Thinking this could be my last time in Damascus I thought I’d better venture into town to check out the scene.  The centre of town and the souk was its normal bustling and friendly self, however I received much more attention than normal from shop owners who were keen to ask me what I was doing there and where all my fellow travellers were. It’s hard to explain to business owners who have had little or no business for 3 months that tourists aren’t visiting simply because of what is written on a website. “How is it you dare to be here?” one man asked sarcastically, “Syria is unsafe!” while serving me another cup of tea. I chatted, smoked shisha, drank tea, shopped and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the city like every other time I’ve visited, no problems. It seems to me that although there are troubles in some areas the vast majority (or all the people I met) are going about daily life as always, but suffering from a serious lack of business due to the drop in tourism, a theme repeated right across the Middle East at present.

The following morning I was away early to beat the traffic and once again had a free run on the 2 hour drive straight south to the Nassib border crossing with Jordan. There was some more military close to the city of Da’raa, but not effecting traffic on the motorway bypass to the border. Nassib border was very quiet and again assisted by our agent Fajer, had a smooth run through. Driving away from Syria for the chaos of Amman I was thinking mostly about those shop owners, sitting, waiting, wondering when the business will come back, soon inshallah.

Big thanks to Fajer (Damascus) Ahmed (Aleppo) and New Kaboun campsite Damascus for their help along the way.

Nev – Oasis Driver/Leader

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