Early one morning I found myself in the middle of a beeping, parping and screeching scrum of white mini-buses. This was the Hop Hop mini-bus station (brilliant name!) on the outskirts of Homs, the third largest city of Syria and the industrial centre of the country. It was here that I would be getting a connection to Hama. The station was over-whelming. There were so many people rushing about, all looking for the right bus to get on. A man asked me where I wanted to go, then grabbed my backpack and beckoned me to follow him through the chaotic compound. I had to run to keep up and narrowly avoided being squashed by several Hop Hop buses which darted about in all directions. Before I even had a chance to think, me and my bag had been packed into a mini bus with 11 other people and we were speeding down the highway to Hama. I think that’s when I started breathing properly again.
Hama was my base for several days and I took a few day trips organised by the helpful folk at the Cairo hotel where I was staying. My favourite day was a trip out into the sedate Syrian countryside which provided a relaxing break and a huge contrast to the madness of the Hop Hop station.
First stop was to the impressive Byzantine ruin of Qasr ibn Wardan, made almost entirely from sandstone.
We then moved on, continuing through the rolling fields and beautiful countryside that could have been Italy, until we reached the rather strange and curious structures of the beehive houses in a small village named Sarouj.
The small group that I was with were allowed to go into one of the beehive houses and we had tea and biscuits with the family who lived there which was a great experience. The cool interior of the mud house provided a welcome relief from the intense heat of the day outside. We spent a long time chatting with the family, playing with the children and looking through their extensive collection of postcards from passing travellers. Eventually we had to leave this tranquil place and head back to the bustle of Hama which was a shame. I could have happily stayed there for a long time.