MIDDLE EAST - part I
Across the bleeding heart of the Levant: From Turkey over Syria and Lebanon to the West Bank
> Journeying 5 months across the Middle East where part I covered Turkey, Syria, Lebanon & Palestine / West Bank <
Let's admit it right away: When the talk of town is the Levant, we are talking about a true love affair. We have been many times to the Middle East on smaller visits and longer journeys. One of the best journeys is to travel from Istanbul to Cairo. This 5 months journey took us along parts of long-forgotten trade routes that carried frankincense and myrrh, spices from India, gold and exotic African animal skin. Once rivaling the Silk Road, this route was lifeblood of countries such as Jordan and Syria.
Arriving in Istanbul’s airport during Spring, we travel across Turkey's Western Anatolian plateau (Ödemis, Tire, Kaplan, Birgi, etc.) before we push inland to the Pammukkale plain. We then travel south down to Mûgla and east to reach Turkey's Lake District. After a few days here, we reach the Cukurova Plain on the border with Syria. Along the way, we visit some of the remotest parts of Central Anatolia, while enjoying the scenes and sounds of the timeless Turkish life. Turkey is easy-going travel and most stop-overs on our route to Syria are rewarded with friendly locals and a excellent food. As it is Spring time, the tourists have disappeared and as we travel east the energy rises due to the area’s proximity to the Kurdish regions and the Syrian border. For more taste of Turkey see our Hippy Trail journey and Kurdistan page, or neighboring Iraq.
Crossing into Syria we also cross into the core of the Levant. Here, we explore some of the most important sites, cities and places across Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank / Palestine. It is not always easy to travel here. Logistics and language can be a barrier, but this can be handled through flexibility, patience and humor. The most vital component is risk and risk management. Thus, our travel style is a bit schizophrenic as in “pick the best places, but circumvent conflict zones and conflict situations to minimize risks". This said, we also feel that this astonishingly complex region has a double-face: it has conflicts, wars, and religious hard-liners making travel here challenging. On the other hand, it is a region that is home to some of the most hospitable and friendly people on the planet. Add in lively streets, colorful markets, and good cuisine, and then we have it: our love affair.
Already during our very first trip here, something happened that challenged every stereotype we’ve ever heard about. Most often, people would not only greet us with a warm salaam alaikum – they would do much more. Sitting in a coffeehouse enjoying a hookah with sheesha tobacco, people would spontaneously start a conversation or offer a game of backgammon while also insisting to pay for both. Often within minutes, they would invite us home to meet family and friends and share meals. We have experienced this courtesy many times anywhere between Aleppo and Amman. Talking to family and friends at home and abroad we always seek to inspire them to do this trip: travel across the Levant. They, too, will forever change how they see and perceive the Middle East.
Continue to Middle East part II for leg two on this journey.