“When in Doubt, Travel” … in Syria?!

Hey .. What are you doing?

Nothing .. just hanging around with the guys in Bab Touma

Look I’m leaving to Tartous in one hour, do you want to join?

Dude it’s 03:00 AM.. Do you think we can find spare seats for all of us now?

That used to be a very normal conversation in old days Syria. Women would travel on their own from city to another at night without having to worry about anything because it is just normal. It was very common during exams to see students travel from one province to another to take an exam and go back home the same day until the time of the next exam; bus stations used to be active and energetic 24 hours a day, airports were always crowded and busy, you could barely distinguish what time of the day it is there.

Travel between Syrian cities and towns has always been as smooth and safe as moving between rooms of your own house. Before war you could travel from anywhere to anywhere inside Syria literally at any time, ANY TIME. Night travel was most popular especially if you want to finish an errand in another province and go back homethe same day; no one ever worried about safety because it was the norm, what could happen?? Nothing!

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The journey between Aleppo and Damascus through the international highway is /356/ km long, it used to be a four-hour by the bus, and a trip between Latakia and Aleppo through Ariha highway used to be around two and a half hours. After 2011 the situation changed; Aleppo-Damascus trip could take more than ten hours, and between Latakia and Aleppo around nine hours or more, from Latakia to Damascus it could take up to 5 hours by bus. Moving between different provinces and cities became more difficult, especially from 2012 onwards.  Risks increased, kidnapping, snipers, fighting, checkpoints, and more, all those caused people so much fear and worry from travelling at night.

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Flights became super expensive and very difficult because many airports went out of service or their performance declined as the demand rose. In October 2015 Latakia international airport was turned into a military airbase, Aleppo International airport is out of service for civilians too since 2012, Damascus international airport is not what it used to be in the past as sanctions have had their catastrophic effect on its work, and Qamishli airport works but prices are triple the official cost and booking a flight needs a lot of luck. Areas around Aleppo and Damascus airports witnessed heavy clashes and the mere thought of going there was absolute lunacy during some periods.

Therefore, buses remained the safest transport method -better than private cars- they have very specific routes that are protected by the Syrian Army. Nonetheless, people were no longer willing to risk their lives by travelling at night, trips around the country would start with sunrise and end before sunset to guarantee that the whole trip would be safe and comfortable. As a result, numbers of trips declined and here came the rise in the popularity of mini buses (AKA ‘vans’) that provide faster and easier trips as they are more convenient  because they would pick you from your place and drop you right at your destination, unlike buses, where departure and arrival are at fixed points which are mostly far from residential areas and have become relatively unsafe during those past five years as they became a  target for mortars.

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Early in the summer of 2016 night trips came to back to life. According to Assafir Lebanese newspaper in an article published on September 7, one of the companies between Latakia and Damascus now runs 13 trips a day and at peak time the number increases; people now feel more comfortable to move around at night, things are starting to go back to normal as Syrian army has secured more areas during the last year. On September 10, 2016 first busses entered Aleppo through Al Ramouseh  (South of Aleppo)road coming from Latakia and Damascus after 4 years of suspension. This is more like a revival after death for a city that used to be Syria’s economic nerve and that has suffered siege for too long a time. Yet, Aleppo international road, which is faster and easier, is still out of service.11

First buses coming from Latakia and Damascus have entered Aleppo through Al Ramouseh a while ago[this was published on Sep. 10. 2016 around 16:00]

Cities like Dier Ezzor remain completely disconnected from the rest of the world due to the heavy siege on it by Islamic State; moving out of and into the city is near impossible, humanitarian aid is air-dropped, and people who work at government institutions have so much difficulties in getting their salaries most of the time.

As movement inside Syria is gradually improving, we hope to see more people being able to get back to their homes and to see social and economic life healing little by little. We are not trying in any way to promote an unrealistic picture, nor to make it too colorful, but we feel obliged to shed the light on the slightest changes in issues that touch a very sensitive nerve in the countries life and balance.

And yes, when in doubt travel .. to Wonderland!

*Google maps captions are for international roads and the approximate time of trips before war.

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