Aahhh, Syria. It made headlines in 2011 NO thanks to the uprisings that happened, which eventually led to a civil war. 😐 But of course, there will always be pros and cons in everything — especially when it comes to traveling. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised to know that Syria CAN actually be a travel destination, too!
Just take my featured traveler Jeremiah as an example. 😉
But of course, just like my other featured travelers, I first asked Jeremiah how his love for traveling started. This is what he said: “I’m not really sure when, but I’m certain that I love traveling — domestic, international, or just about anywhere in the metro. My mother always tells me that I’m the kind of person who can’t stay put in one place. I always find myself walking and roaming around, but not necessarily getting ‘lost.’ I love discovering new things and searching for things that I don’t know. For me kasi, the best way to understand other cultures is to experience them. So what I always do is make sure that I experience things from a local’s point of view.
“When I was a kid, it was really my dream to ride an airplane. Seriously, it was such a big dream that time kaya feel na feel ko talaga dati whenever we welcomed our balikbayan relatives at the airport — it felt like airplanes were just a few feet away from me. When I started working, that’s when all my ‘travel dreams’ came true one by one.”
And CAME TRUE, they did! He further shared, “The first country I’ve visited was China. We went to Xi’an to participate in the National Model United Nations (NMUN). This was the first time that NMUN went outside the United States — it was less expensive kaya ako sumama.
“Then when I started working for the (Philippine) government, a lot of travel opportunities opened for me — but not just travel as leisure, but as a member/representative of the Philippine government to official meetings of international importance because these are our commitments. So far, I’ve been to the Syrian Arab Republic, the UAE, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and Russia.
“But then again, I love traveling because I love the Philippines. Sometimes it’s hard to represent the Philippine flag kasi ‘pag nandoon ka na, hindi ka naman tatawagin base sa pangalan mo. You’ll be addressed based on the country you represent. It’s hard, but it’s also fulfilling.”
The Syrian Escapade
Jeremiah‘s Syrian escapade wasn’t really something he expected, but it turned out to be one of his memorable trips. He admitted, “My trip to Syria is one of the best things that happened to me. Going to a country like Syria is a very rare opportunity. It didn’t really enter my mind that I’d be able to go there because for me, Syria isn’t really any traveler’s first choice of country to go to — especially if it’s for a vacation or tourism purposes. That’s why the things that are currently happening there really sadden me, though I went to Syria before all that even began. Of course, I’m praying that the civil war will end soon because Syria is one of the cradles of civilizations and its culture is something that the whole world must be able to experience.
“I went to Damascus [the capital of Syria] at the age of 19 and I was still just three months at my work. It was really a challenge for me but at the same time, I was very excited because I knew that I was doing something I could be proud of.”
We’ve all heard it: work hard… and play harder. But in the case of Jeremiah, he definitely knew how to work hard AND travel harder! He remembered, “After attending to our official business, I got the chance to roam around Syria. We went to the Grand Mosque of Damascus or the Umayyad Mosque. If you’re fond of learning about the history of Islam, you’ll be overwhelmed while in Damascus. According to Wikipedia, after the Arab conquest of Damascus, the mosque was built on the site of a Christian Basilica dedicated to John the Baptist — who is also honored as a prophet by the Muslims. I took a photo of the shrine, believed to be where the head of John the Baptist lies. This mosque is also considered one of the holiest places in Islam. The Umayyad Mosque holds great significance to Shia and traditional Sunni Muslims as this was the destination of the family of Muhammad, who walked there from Baghdad. Moreover, the place where the head of Husayn (the grandson of Mohammad) was kept can be found there. Ito palang yung napupuntahan ko nun pero sobrang fulfilled na’ko kaagad kasi Damascus is really important in the history of Islam.
“The following day, we visited a number of souks (markets) and historical landmarks around the city, especially the churches. I also had the opportunity to visit the monument of Saladin. As most of us know, Saladin is a very historic figure with a chivalrous heart. He led the Muslim opposition to the Franks and other European Crusaders in the Levan. And if my readings are correct, he was able to form his sultanate in some parts of North Africa and Syria.
“We also went to the House of St. Ananias in Damascus and we attended a mass in a church where St. Paul was baptized by St. Ananias himself. We also went to two churches in the middle of a desert (I believed this is somewhere near the borders of Syria and Iraq): the Church of Saint Bacchus and Saint Takla in Ma’loula. This is outside Damascus and the travel time was approximately one hour and a half. Ma’loula is an ancient and predominantly Christian village in Syria. And according to Wikipedia again, it is situated at an altitude of more than 1,500 meters. Most of the inhabitants there have preserved their spoken language — Aramaic, also known as the language spoken by Jesus Christ. It’s a different feeling to hear the language believed to be used by Jesus. Iba talaga. When we attended a mass, the priest even gave us different religious artifacts and blessed us afterwards.
“As for the food, ang hinahanap-hanap ko talaga ay yung mga lamb chops, kebab, baklava, and hummus. Anything Mediterranean is really okay for me. Yung handmade ice cream din pala nila na sobrang dami ng pistachios sa isa sa mga souks nila dun. Even though the weather was cold when I went there, I still kept on eating ice cream because of its different taste that I can’t fully explain.
“Overall, Damascus is very beautiful. With its rich history, culture, and status of being considered one of the oldest inhabited ancient cities, Damascus is a place for people who love history and have the passion to study West Asia. The architecture is magnificent — as if you were brought back to the old civilization with very unique and distinct cultural manifestations.”
Now that we’ve established the fact that traveling is a big part of Jeremiah‘s life, what makes it still interesting for him? He answered, “Traveling for me is still the best way to understand cultures and know the significance of one’s existence. You can read all the books you like about a particular place, but it’s way different when you actually experience how it feels like to be there. Just like any other thing, you need to experience it before you can fully comprehend it. Your love for traveling is something innate, thus it comes from within and it can’t develop overnight. Traveling isn’t something that you should envy. It’s your passion and thirst for knowledge — to search for a deeper understanding of one’s self, life, and culture.
“Furthermore, traveling taught me a number of realizations. Considering the fact that traveling is very expensive especially abroad, I’m fortunate that the profession that I chose to be in has the provision for traveling. Traveling taught me independence and the ability to recognize the diversity of the world and its people. It also made me understand that we’re living in a cosmopolitan sphere where borders are in one way or another irrelevant.”
Having said that, what are his future travel plans? Jeremiah said, “My dream destination is Maldives. However, I’m still hoping that I can visit the following countries someday: Nepal, Bhutan, North Korea, Ukraine, and Argentina.”
Lastly, he leaves us all with these travel tips: “Research on the history of the place. Experience culture through food (particularly street food). And as they say, EAT WHERE THE LOCALS EAT. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to get lost.”
An escapade-worthy answer, indeed!
You can also check out my other featured travelers HERE.