I was travelling solo through the Middle East, and all my family and friends were worried about my travels to Syria. Living in Canada they had all read about Syria as ‘the axis of evil’ – a place of horrors. But from my travel book’s description of ancient fortresses and markets set in secret passageways – the allure of adventure was too exciting to give up. Danger or not - I was going to Syria.
Leaving Turkey by bus I had travelled all day to finally arrive in an ancient Syrian town set in the middle of the desert. The region was experiencing a heat wave in the middle of what was already the hottest time of year. As I stepped out of the bus the humidity stopped me dead in my tracks and I struggled to put on my over sized backpack.
Within seconds a large crowd of anxious taxi drivers surrounded me – all vying for my business. One driver was pulling the knapsack off my back, while another was tugging at my sleeve, guiding me in the direction of his car.
In the distance I noticed a minibus waiting for customers. It looked like the same type of white minibus that I had been taking in Turkey. It was an extremely convenient system - one simply waved their hands to be picked up and then yelled ‘stop’ when one wanted off. It was cheap – safe - and best of all – hassle free.
I gently pushed past the taxi drivers, walked in the direction of the minibus and jumped on. A couple passengers were already seated, waiting for the driver. I threw down my huge backpack and took my seat. As time went by a few more customers got on, and eventually the driver finished his break and started the engine. The girl beside me spoke English and asked where I was going. She translated the location to the driver - and with no more than that we were off.
As I had just arrived in the country, I didn’t have any coins, just large bills that I had exchanged in Turkey. When I handed the bill to the driver he wouldn't take it, and no matter how much I insisted he refused to take the money.
About ten kilometres later the minibus slowed to a full stop – and the young girl told me we had arrived to my travelers’ hotel. As the young girl climbed out of the minibus with me, the driver said something to her. She turned to me saying, “My father is very pleased to have met you”.
As it turned out I was not on a minibus at all - but riding in the family vehicle – and apparently everyone was too polite to tell me.
Red faced with embarrassment I asked the young girl if her family at least lived in the area...but she looked at me with a smile and casually mentioned they lived about fifteen kilometres in the other direction.