Dealing With Website Issues In Damascus

Dealing With Website Issues In Damascus

By |2016-07-21T23:57:36-04:00November 16th, 2010|Syria|57 Comments

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on the planet.

So much to see, so much to explore, yet I did very little during my first couple of days in Damascus. Sure, I wandered around the Old City a couple of times, devoured a large vanilla ice cream cone topped with pistachios and cashews from the famous Bakdash ice cream shop and sat quietly for some time in the Umayyad Mosque.

But apart from that, I was unfortunately quite busy with some website issues.


It all began on my first full day here, when I sat down at an internet cafe in order to check my emails. As I scanned through my inbox, one particular message immediately caught my attention:

The subject read: “Your Bluehost Account Has Been Deactivated

At first I thought it was ‘spam’, but upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was the real deal. Bluehost, the company that hosts all of my websites, had indeed deactivated my account and as a result, all of my websites were down, including

Of course, after reading the email over several times in a bit of a daze, I still had no idea why my account had been deactivated. I’m not the most technically-oriented of bloggers and the reason for the deactivation might as well have been written in Aramaic.

I spent about twenty minutes just staring at the computer screen, trying to process the situation and allowing the tension that quickly built up inside to run its course before I devised a plan. Once I was finally able to think somewhat clearly, the adventure that has proven to define my stay in Damascus, finally began…


After returning to my hotel in order to grab my laptop, I practically ran across the city to a Costa Coffee cafe, one of the few places in all of Damascus with reliable wi-fi. I hurriedly ordered what turned out to be a barrel of cappuccino and I sat down on the most comfortable sofa I could find, ready to try and tackle the issue at hand.

Unfortunately, after three hours at Costa Coffee and finding myself no closer to solving the problem, I was forced to leave the cafe. Costa only allows customers to use the internet for 1.5 hours and I had already begged the store manager to allow me to use an extra 1.5 hours as well. But when that allotment finished, I knew it was time to go. And so I packed up my laptop and ran back towards Souq Saroujah, the area where my hotel was located, in search of any kind of cafe that might offer some degree of Wi-Fi.

And I found one. It was a small, outdoor cafe set down a lovely, quiet lane.


Shisha Cafe

Now before I continue, let me try and offer some advice to anyone who may experience major problems with their website or internet business while traveling. When you are required to suddenly work on such a major problem, you don’t have time to be picky about which cafe you choose. As long as they have Wi-Fi, you better sit down and get to work.

However, I have now realized that there is one type of cafe that you should probably avoid, no matter how desperate your situation. You see, for some asinine reason, in my unstable state of mind, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down at a shisha cafe and puff on some apple shisha while trying to solve my website issue. This was perhaps the dumbest thing I could have done as after a few puffs of this fruity-flavored tobacco, I not only found myself to be disturbingly light-headed, but quite jittery as well. I simply couldn’t sit still, my body was vibrating and I could barely see straight, never mind focus on the issue at hand.

Smoking shishaAnd to make matters worse, I had just received permission from Bluehost to enter my WordPress account in order to try and fix the problem. They kindly agreed to grant me this temporary access under the one condition that I fix the problem immediately and preferably within the following 30 minutes. So there I sat, hands trembling, sweat pouring down my face, my eyes bugging out and the street around me spinning, all while trying to make sense of scripts, databases and slow query logs.

So naturally, after 45 minutes, I had again made absolutely no progress. And when the internet suddenly cut out (and I was informed that it wouldn’t come back on for the night), I quickly paid my bill, knocked over my chair while trying to stand up and proceeded to stumble down the road to a proper internet cafe that my waiter recommended.

Then, for the next 7 hours I sat in front of a computer in a shisha-induced haze, communicating with several AMAZING people that had replied to my frantic emails and twitter messages asking for help (see below for a list of these wonderful people!). Slowly, progress was finally made, and by midnight, I had all of my websites back up and running. However, I spent another three hours trying to make some further changes to this site in order to prevent this situation from occurring again in the future.

(The cause of this problem turned out to be a spike in traffic at Due to some database issues, my site’s performance was affected which put extra strain on Bluehost’s servers, causing them to shut down my account.)


At 3am, I finally left the internet cafe and walked back to my hotel, a bit less wobbly than earlier but still exhausted beyond comprehension. And of course, I didn’t really sleep at all that night as I could not stop worrying about this situation, just hoping that the issue was actually resolved.

At 9am the following morning I was back at the internet cafe where I proceeded to spend another 9 hours working on my site as there were still many changes to be made.

I still don’t know if the problem is fully fixed (about a week has now passed) but it has definitely improved and Bluehost has kindly re-activated my account. Hopefully this issue is behind me and can move forward once again.

So that was my introduction to Damascus.

Luckily, after the above situation, once I could relax a bit and breathe a little easier, I was able to enjoy the city and surrounding area significantly more. Between daily wanderings through the Old City, attending the Damascus International Film Festival, being invited to a local family’s home for an evening, visiting the only remaining Aramaic-speaking town in the world and meeting such a wonderful group of fellow travelers, I eventually left Damascus one happy Earl.

On another note…


NamasteI want to give a huge thank you to everyone who responded to my website ‘crisis’ and offered their assistance. It was your advice, whether through Twitter, email or Skype, that ultimately helped me solve this issue.

So thank you for taking time out of your days to help me out!

Ashit Vora for your Twitter messages and emails
Doug Farnes for sharing your knowledge via Skype
Randy from for all of your super-helpful emails
Jenny from for offering to put me in touch with her Website Developer
Kyle from for explaining the problem in a very easy-to-understand way
Raam from for replying to my email so quickly
Ali Dark for responding to my email and directing me to someone who could possibly help
Dan at for offering any assistance he could provide

And if I missed anyone, I do apologize. Even with a decent connection over here Twitter and Gmail keep cutting out and I know that some messages and offers of assistance were lost as a result.

Photo credits: Shisha Sign | Shisha Smoking
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  1. […] at all hours of the day and night, usually six or seven days per week, whether on the road in the Middle East, Asia or Australia or while living here in […]

  2. Globetrottergirls November 23, 2010 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    Earl, I think everyone who runs a website and travels can relate to this post!! We were just trying to coordinate the re-design of our website – exactly in two weeks when we did a lot of traveling and barely had wi-fi – it gave us quite a headache!! We’re hosting the website on a friend’s server at the moment, so hopefully we will not have any of the problems that you had to deal with.

    • Earl November 24, 2010 at 11:43 am - Reply

      @Globetrottergirls: It is a headache trying to get website projects done while on the road, even when things go relatively smoothly! There are just too many factors that could go wrong at any time 🙂 But hosting on your friend’s server seems like a good idea and I certainly hope that you don’t have to deal with any problems as well.

      Hope all is well in Central America!

  3. Michael November 22, 2010 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Hey Earl I totally feel your pain. We have had a couple of server issues on the road and the lack of internet access on our recent trip to Borneo and India created a lull that we could have done without.

    Ah the joys of keeping connected…

    • Earl November 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      Hey Michael – Thank you for commenting! It’s funny you brought up India because that I love to travel there as often as possible but it is by far one of the hardest places to stay connected. But it is part of the overall experience. I certainly don’t want to skip a country just because I can stay connected as often as I’d like, and I’m sure you feel the same!

  4. Forest November 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    I have been experiencing some big traffic spikes recently and ouch I have lost days on this stuff!!! Last week just before I went away for 5 days I had a break and it screwed up a lot of stuff finally forcing me to update to a $120 a month VPS server…. Ouch but that is the price you pay to keep these websites running. It’s funny that servers make traffic spikes a bad event!

    Glad it’s all fixed.

    • Earl November 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Forest – Such an expense is a bit hard to take but I’m quite sure the peace of mind is worth it in the end! I’m about to make the move quite soon myself…

  5. turkey's for life November 21, 2010 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Isn’t social media just fabulous?!! All that help so quickly. I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do. We’ve smoked many shisha (nargile) in our time but none quite so ‘strong’ as yours obviously was. 🙂

    • Earl November 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      @turkeysforlife: Fabulous would be a major understatement! There were several moments during those crazy couple of days where I was overwhelmed by how much assistance I received. Websites crashing while in Damascus seems like such a major crisis but social media instantly turned it into a manageable issue!

  6. Little House November 21, 2010 at 12:00 am - Reply

    It’s good to hear you were able to resolve your issues completely online. I know that I’m not very tech-savvy either and trying to resolve a problem in another country would have freaked me out! Hopefully you can now enjoy Damascus without the worry of computer problems. 🙂

    • Earl November 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      @LittleHouse: It is frustrating when we have no idea what is going on with the technical aspects of our blogs. We feel so hopeless when something goes wrong. But there’s always a solution, no matter where in the world we may be!

  7. Husam November 20, 2010 at 2:02 am - Reply

    Hey Earl, My name is Husam I’m from Syria Damascus in specific, incidentally i found your site and i read some of ur posts, i like them very much and I’m happy coz u love my country :), anyway if u still in Damascus I can meet u and give u some help, I know Damascus very well, specially the modern one, I wish u could stay more in Damascus as u stayed in Aleppo, and hope that u see whole Damascus from the top of Qasueoon mountain, coz it deserve i look

    Anyway I can be available if u need help after 4-5 days and by the way I can tell u were to find a reliable Wi-fi , coz it’s sometimes hard to find specially in the area where you’ve been, but in other places there’s more, i have one in my house i can let use it ^_^

    • Earl November 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm - Reply

      Salaam Husam! Thank you for such a kind comment and for your offer to help me out during my visit to Damascus. At the moment I am back in Aleppo but if I do make it back to Damascus (there is a chance I will) then I will definitely be in touch and I would be very happy to meet you and learn more about your city. And I did go to Qasueoon mountain when I was there, just before sunset. Such a beautiful view of the city!

      Thank you again for your comment Husam…

  8. Darren Alff November 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    My BlueHost account was deactivated as well at almost the exact same time as you. Like you, I had little idea why the account was shut off. They said it had something to do with having too many tables inside my databases.

    I was able to quickly fix the problem, but I was a little pissed off about the incident. I wish they had just emailed me first and told me about the problem, rather than cutting off my account with no warning whatsoever. Don’t you think that would have been fair? Same with you! Wouldn’t you have at least liked a warning before they cut off your account?

    • Earl November 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      Hey Darren – I do agree with you that a warning email would have been the courteous thing for Bluehost to do. Perhaps I will make that suggestion to them. Glad to here you fixed your issue quickly as well!

  9. Christophe "James" November 18, 2010 at 9:22 am - Reply

    It’s amazing : the more traffic you have, the more chances you got to have a cut !!!! What kind of hebergment is it ? I guess it must have been stressfull because this is your tool for working ! Finally that means that we are all dependant of something …

    Take care


    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm - Reply

      Hey Christope – That’s what I thought at first but it turns out that it was a problem in my website that caused the issue. So now that this problem is fixed, my site should be able to handle any traffic it receives. Hopefully!

      • Christophe ROUET November 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm - Reply

        If you need some help in the future for your database ( i think it might be the source of the problem ) i know a lot of informaticians/developpers/travellers who can help !

        Is your new web site ready ?

        • Earl November 19, 2010 at 12:03 am - Reply

          Hey Christope – I appreciate the offer and will certainly let you know if I need some assistance in the future. The new site is not quite ready but hopefully I will have it up and running soon!

  10. Emily @Travelated November 17, 2010 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Your Wi-Fi adventure reads like an action novel… running all over town to solve the conflict before time runs out! I’m glad you got everything sorted out!

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      Hey Emily – Haha! I never looked at it that way. Too bad all I was doing was fixing my websites and not saving the universe!

  11. meed November 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    it’s good to have back and I will email you soon to meet up in aleppo …. take care

  12. Henway November 17, 2010 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Wow, shut down because of a traffic spike? Just curious, how much traffic did u get that made them cancel your account? Seems very rude on their part, they don’t mention traffic limits at all when u sign up

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      Hey Henway – It wasn’t really the spike in traffic that caused the issue, but some database issues within my website that caused the problem. So now that those issues are fixed, my site should now be able to handle a spike without putting any extra strain on Bluehost. And the numbers kept changing but at one point my stats showed that 34,000 people visited my site on the day it all crashed…

  13. Moon Hussain November 17, 2010 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Haha Earl, not sure why you were smoking hookah when you were trying to fix a problem….. but I’m glad you’re fine! You’re entertaining every week.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Moon – Well, I don’t know why I was smoking hookah either to be honest. The cafe I went to only served tea and shisha so I really didn’t have much of a choice I guess. I had to order something in order to use the Wi-Fi!

  14. Andi November 17, 2010 at 2:38 am - Reply

    So so so happy that all is fixed and you’re smiling again. Though I must admit I did laugh a little picturing you stoned and trying to frantically fix the problem. I know you think it was probably the worst decision, but it might have been the best in the end???

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm - Reply

      Hola Andi! I can’t really complain now that I got it all sorted out, but it would have probably been a little better if the shisha had calmed me down and not made me all edgy! And I am of course quite happy to hear that my story made you laugh 🙂

  15. Natalie November 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Glad you got it sorted Earl. I would be mighty p******* if my host shut my down with no warning.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      Hey Natalie – Yeah, I was quite upset at first. But I didn’t have much time to stay upset as I wanted to get them back up and running as quickly as possible. But I do agree, a warning email might have been nice 🙂

  16. Ozzy November 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Happy it’s all sorted out now. But I have to ask what kind of Shisha was that? I haven’t found any that does that to you..unless of course it wasn’t really Shisha 😀


    • Ozzy November 16, 2010 at 8:24 pm - Reply

      Huh. Double posted.

  17. Ozzy November 16, 2010 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Happy it’s all sorted out now. But I have to ask what kind of Shisha was that? I haven’t found any that does that to you..unless of course it wasn’t really Shisha 😀

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm - Reply

      Hey Ozzy – It was definitely normal shisha, nothing funny about the stuff 🙂 I just think I wasn’t used to it and now that I think back, I’m quite certain that the amount I had was supposed to be shared among a group of people, no smoked by just one person!

  18. Kyle November 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Glad you finally got everything sorted out. Website issues happen and they always seem to happen at the least opportune time.

    On a related note, I think that the next time I sit down to work, I want it to be in a shisha cafe. It might not be all that productive, but it’ll be fun!

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 11:40 pm - Reply

      Hey Kyle – You should give a shisha cafe a try if you can find one. There’s a strong chance that you won’t get beyond turning your laptop on, but that’s probably a good thing as whatever work you are able to do would probably need to be corrected the next day.

      Thanks again for your assistance with my website issue!

  19. Shannon OD November 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    So glad you got that sorted Earl – what a headache…pretty incredible they shut you down like that without warning. I second some of the others though about a VPS – if you have a handful of sites it’s likely even more cost-effective.

    And people think travel is all mai-tais and beaches! Ha 😉

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      Hey Shannon – Ha! Mai-tais and beaches. Hardly!

      I’m definitely going to look at other options now. It’s worth having a VPS or dedicated server just so that I can sleep easy at night 🙂

  20. JB November 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Oh, forgot to mention that Hostgator simply blocked the offending site, not my entire account, which I think is pretty great. Sounds like your host just did the easiest thing for them and shut down your entire account. Not too cool.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      And I hope you get your issue sorted out soon as well! But I’m glad to hear that your other sites are still up and running. Hostgator seems to have done the right thing.

  21. JB November 16, 2010 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Interesting timing of your post as I just received a similar message from my host last night (I use Hostgator). Luckily for me, they provided a suggested solution, to use W3-Total-Cache, though I imagine another popular plugin, WP-Super-Cache would do equally well. Is this how you solved your problem as well? I am sure others would like to hear. I am actually still waiting for them to grant me access to implement the change as I write this.

    Strangely, the problem is with a site that I run which is not at all popular so I am still trying to figure out what caused the spike in traffic. I do run some other higher traffic sites and those I do host on a VPS.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      Hey JB – I did in fact install WP-Super Cache as part of the solution. The main issue was a “Top Commented Posts” widget I had on my site. It was taking too long to sort through all the posts each time the page was loaded and as a result it caused a major back-up when I had the traffic spike.

      And yeah, I was quite surprised that I didn’t even get a warning email. They simply shut it all down instead and the email simply told me I had 10 days to copy all of my files before they were deleted. It wasn’t until I contacted Bluehost that I learned I could try and fix the problem and they would re-activate my account. This wasn’t even mentioned in their email, which is the main reason I was left in a state of shock upon reading it!

  22. ayngelina November 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Wait, you get a bunch of traffic so they shut you down? Are you going to stay with them?

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Hey Ayngelina – Actually, the spike in traffic wouldn’t have been a problem had I not had some behind-the-scenes issues with the way I put my site together (which I did on my own without much site-building knowledge at all). So after making some changes that others recommended, there shouldn’t be any issues if I have another spike in traffic.

  23. Gillian November 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Arrrgghhh! We had website issues too while traveling but fortunately J has a ton of IT knowledge and was able to fix it up for me and, of course, we don’t run a business so we could take a more relaxed approach. Glad that it all worked out and that the social network was able to come to the rescue…great teamwork!! Cheers!

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Gillian – The teamwork was incredible…I couldn’t believe how many people immediately came to the rescue! Perhaps I should learn a little more about the technical side of things myself so that I won’t have to rely on others in the future…

  24. Lisa E November 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Hi, Earl. Crazy little adventure you had there, huh? I use Bluehost, too, and recently had something similar happen. It’s called “throttling” and has to do with exactly what you said–a spike in traffic of some sort (or in my case, “misbehaving plugins). It’s a nightmare! But fortunately, the Bluehost people are pretty helpful… Having said this, I’m beginning to wonder about the “dedicated server” possibility as a way of avoiding this.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you’re back online and I look forward to reading more about your time in Syria. So glad you enjoyed Damascus. It’s great, isn’t it? I found it hard to leave the place! 🙂

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Lisa – I do agree that the Bluehost support staff are super-nice. But the “dedicated server” option does seem like the way to go in order to remove the possibility of going through the same thing again. And yes, it was terribly difficult trying to leave to Damascus! Perhaps I will return again on this trip 🙂

  25. Andrew Murray November 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    It’s amazing how resourceful people can be in Syria with a laptop and a problem to overcome.
    Glad you managed to get the problem sorted Earl 🙂

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Andrew – I am still amazed every single day by what I can do with my little laptop. And just like with anything, if we have no choice but to solve a problem, we’ll find a way to solve it no matter where we are!

  26. Andrea November 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    That’s why you should host your important sites on a dedicated server or at least a VPS, then your host can’t shut you down for using too many resources.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Andrea – After this incident I am looking in to hosting my sites on a more dedicated server and I’ll be making the change quite soon. Thank you for your advice!

  27. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dave&Deb Travel Duo, Derek Earl Baron. Derek Earl Baron said: New at Dealing With Website Issues In Damascus […]

  28. Sabina November 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    You mean they purposefully shut down your account because of the strain on their servers, or the strain caused your accounts to shut down due to overload or something? I’m guessing it’s the former, or else they probably would have popped them right back up for you. That is really a scare. I hope you have it behind you forever.

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      Hey Sabina – Yes, they purposefully shut down my account upon noticing the extra strain that my site was causing. It was definitely a scare and even now I wake up every morning wondering if my websites have been shut down!

  29. Caz Makepeace November 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    So happy you are back online. This is what I love about travel so much- it’s not just the good things that make a great story. Whenever something goes wrong in my life now I always say “Well, at least it’s a story to tell”

    • Earl November 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Caz – Traveling definitely consists of more than eating and sightseeing 🙂 The problems and challenges are all a part of the adventure as well! And usually I also remind myself that whatever I’m going through will eventually make a good story…it does help me avoid getting too upset.

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