Joan Torres tour to Syria 2019

From Eritrea to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan, Joan Torres has been traveling to some of the most off the beaten track destinations on Earth since 2014. He is also the author of Against the Compass, an alternative travel blog, quite different from the rest, which aims at helping and inspiring you to do the same, always in a responsible way, with no rush, showing you the human side of the story and, above all, in a safe manner. It is noteworthy to mention that all the pictures accompanying my article are from Torres' Blog. 

In his personal travel blog Torres recites his adventures in Syria. The country had been in his plans for a very long time and finallyas it started to be easier for travelers come, he made the step. He spent one week there traveling independently and visited Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. Torres recounts "It was an amazing experience, very enriching, as I met loads of Syrians who told me their side of the story, plus I got to visit ancient, marvelous sites that were a real blessing to my eyes."

Torres says a lot of peoples have been lately asking him: why they should visit Syria, and why he did? He clarifies that he has numerous reasons. First of all, in the last couple of years, he has been traveling all across the Middle East, so visiting Syria, one of the most fascinating countries in the region, had been in his travel plans for a very long time. Another even more important reason is that "Syria is a great country, home to one of the oldest civilizations ever, so visiting Syria from a tourism perspective is a must-do". Torres added. 

However, most people asking that question tend to refer more to the ethical aspect of traveling to Syria, as this is a war zone from where many people have been forced to escape in order to save their lives. Concerning that point Torres clearly states that "Well, I want you to know that I fully understand why someone would not want to visit a post-war zone because, truth be told, destroyed buildings and misery are not pleasant things to see. Nevertheless, the first thing you need to know is that I travel to learn and become wiser and, yes, I am interested in visiting a post-war zone, because this is living history and I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and not through a biased newspaper."

He believes as well that traveling to Syria with the sole objective of empathizing with the locals is a good thing, "as long as you are absolutely respectful about the crisis, there is nothing wrong with he puts it.

He also emphasize the importance of ask Syrians what they think about the return of tourism to their country. "I can assure you that, since Syria used to be a major touristic destination, today Syrians are very happy to see that tourists are coming back because this is a real sign of recovery." He explained. 

Torres recounts that he traveled in Syria independently in January 2019, yet, didn’t book a tour. Since a lot of people asked him how he managed to visit Syria individually and freely; he reported a long story to clarify this matter on his website. However to summarize in few words: a tourism agency tried to fool him and threaten him, but he didn't respond, and booked a flight straight to Beirut, crossed the Syrian border. He added "as I expected, I managed to travel around Syria without any problem, including going to Aleppo and Homs by public transportation and Couchsurfing."

Traveling to Damascus from Beirut is the easiest way to travel to Syria. Beirut is only 115km from Damascus and the journey takes only 2 hours, including the customs process. Torres says "On the Lebanese side, they barely check your passport and, on the Syrian side, they take around 20 minutes, as long as there are no people, of course." First, they check your security clearance, and then you purchase your visa at the bank counter and give your receipt to the immigration officer.You only get a stamp, not a visa sticker .He explains that after getting your Syrian visa and resuming your journey, you will go through several checkpoints, but you shouldn’t experience any problem. He wittily added "In fact, some soldiers were joking with me about football when they saw my Spanish passport."

When asked about Syria as known to  be not particularly female traveler friendly, and if Joan recommends going there as a solo female traveler? Joan Torres replied:" When it comes to the local culture and open-mindedness, I tried to compare it with other Middle Eastern countries and, to be very honest, I didn’t see much difference versus Palestine and Jordan, 2 countries where females can now travel easily.In Damascus, you see loads of women without hijab and there is actually a large Christian population and, in their district, you find very open-minded people, like in any European capital."

More and more people are interested in making the trip to Syria not only to witness the war effects, which are unmeasurable and have affected every inches in the daily lives of Syrians, but as well to enjoy the remaining's of great civilizations, and the delightful generosity and hospitality of a prodigious people, who despite the fact that he is struggling to survive unbelievable and unbearable circumstances is still able to show empathy for the Other_ whoever is that other. 


Report: Lama Alhassanieh