Bus Trip from Homs to Palmyra, Syria

Exhausted But Not Ready To Sleep

Derek Perspectives, Syria 38 Comments

Bus Trip from Homs to Palmyra, SyriaAs I stumbled onto the bus, all I could think about was finding my seat and passing out. I had reached that point of exhaustion where my brain was able to do little more than perform it’s most basic functions and and even an attempt to speak resulted in a jumbled collection of incomprehensible caveman sounds.

The time was only 3:00pm but the day had already been quite full of activity. From the moment I woke up at 7:00am, I had spent much of my time climbing around castles, with the time in between spent sitting in a vehicle that meandered through curvy, sleep-inducing mountain roads. The problem was that every time I fell asleep, we arrived at our next destination and it was time to explore once again.

I’m not complaining. My time spent climbing all over the spectacular ruins of Misyaf Castle, a medieval structure rising high above a small Syrian village dominated by fig and pomegranate orchards, was time well spent. Apparently, Misyaf Castle is not listed in many guidebooks and to be honest, even though this site is definitely guidebook-worthy, I hope it continues to be left out of future editions. Having an entire castle all to myself is not something that happens often in life.

The other highlight of the day involved my return to Krak de Chevaliers, the castle where a small group of us had been chased around a week earlier by a security guard who tried to close the castle while we tried to enjoy a few extra minutes inside. This time, I had a full 3 hours at Krak and as one might imagine, this second visit was even better than the first.

After Krak de Chevaliers, I traveled straight to the town of Homs, where I bought a bus ticket for the two and a half hour trip to the desert oasis of Palmyra.

And as soon as I boarded that bus, the exhaustion took over. I found seat #31 and plopped myself down, preparing for what I imagined would be a blissful two and a half hours of deep, deep rest and relaxation. Waiting until the bus pulled out of town, where it began it’s journey along a quiet desert road, I finally took one last glance out the window before closing my eyes.


I didn’t sleep at all on this trip. In the end, my eyes refused to remain shut despite my overwhelming exhaustion. I tried to recline my seat. I tried to lie down across two seats and stretch my legs into the aisle. But nothing worked and after each attempt I found myself staring out the window at the desert landscape once again.

Why couldn’t I sleep?

The reason is simple. I was in Syria. I was rolling through the Syrian Desert and there was no way my mind would allow me to miss a moment of it. Everything my eyes fell upon forced me to try and make sense of the unfamiliar world outside. Whether it was the infinite stretches of sand, the beautiful rock formations in the distance, the isolated mud hut villages and Bedouin encampments, the herds of sheep or the odd person walking alone across the desert with no starting point or destination in sight, I needed to catch a glimpse of it all.

When we travel, even what at first appears to be just a barren landscape, will reveal to us all sorts of questions, answers, challenges and lessons if our eyes are open wide enough. And on this bus journey, which could have easily been through the Bangladeshi countryside, the Australian outback or the heart of Nicaragua, as much as I wanted to sleep, my brain was smart enough to refuse me this wish. As a result, I observed a part of Syria that I would have otherwise missed and upon leaving the region, would have still never even known existed.

The desert, as it so often does, proved to be full of life beneath it’s surface. Children played outside, shepherds led their herds to water, small army outposts consisting of a handful of soldiers living in tents appeared in the most improbable of locations. I was also left scratching my head each time I noticed another barely visible dirt road that stretched far into the unknown without any sign of civilization in any direction at all.

And by the time the sun began to set behind the hills and sand dunes, creating that purple, all-encompassing glow that only the desert seems to know, I was wide awake, ever so thankful that I didn’t miss a single minute of this seemingly uninteresting bus trip.

How do you view the world when traveling? Do you try to observe as much as possible and not miss out on anything?

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Comments 38

  1. I love to travel overland (or on boats), precisely so as not to miss the landscape, as you do when travelling by air. I’m very jealous of you for seeing both Krak de Chevaliers and Misyaf.

    I think overland travel wins out over air travel any day, precisely because you can opt to sleep, and the sense of continuity you get, the people you meet, and the landscapes you see.

    We’ve just got back from a trip into Australia’s Red Centre, and it’s an infinitely better view of the country than hopping from airport to airport, city to city…

    1. Hey Theodora – Traveling across the Red Centre is a great example of a place that offers so much more than it may at first appear. That has always been one of my favorite overland trips as I remember barely sleeping at all as we traveled from Adelaide up to Darwin. I’d choose overland travel any time as well!

  2. I love Syria too and enjoy every minute of it. Definitely not what I’ve expected before going there. Palmyra is amazing and definitely less touristy than the many other UNESCO world heritage sites like Petra etc. I’ve missed Misyaf Castle though. Maybe next time. Great article by the way

    1. Hey Amer – Thank you for the comment and glad to hear you loved Syria as well! And I agree about Palmyra. I thought it was incredible that you could just walk off into the desert and explore the site on your own, which is so much better than paying an entrance fee and being herded around.

      Misyaf is worth it, although I never even heard about it before the day I went. It was one of those excellent surprises that occur from time to time on the road!

  3. Ahhh the joys of overland travel. Thanks for bringing the Misyaf Castle to our attention, hopefully I’ll make it back to Syria one day and check it out. Although the Krak was still mentioned in guide books, in the early nineties you actually had to get the key from the care taker and open and close the gate yourself. I’m interested to know how touristy it is now?

    1. Hey Jason – Krak is quite touristy these days for Syrian standards. There were at least 6 large motorcoaches parked in front each of the two times I visited, with a ticket office immediately upon entering and even guards to check your tickets while inside. I’d say there were about 150 visitors when I went, and plenty of guides inside who will take you around! I can only imagine how fascinating it must have been when you were there.

      Even Misyaf had a ticket office inside despite there being no other visitors!

  4. I think your post makes an excellent point. I often find myself more tired when I came home from than a trip than when I left. I push myself hard when I travel because I want to see so much. Completely understand the not sleeping idea because you want to soak it all in. We have such limited time in the places we visit so we want to soak it all up. In some ways, I guess we can catch up on our slip in the next town or when we get home.

    1. Hey Jeremy – When traveling, it’s much easier to convince ourselves that we’ll sleep once we arrive at our next destination. There is so much motivation to stay awake. But then we arrive at the next destination and repeat the process all over again. I still find it to be worthwhile and glad to know that you do as well!

  5. I share your fascination for enjoying every part of a trip and being able to observe and learn from the possibly boring bus journeys.

    I sometimes shoot videos out of the window, and then watch them in super slow motion to see the people and the surroundings more clearly. Walking around, some people change their expressions to you, but driving by offers a perspective to see people in their natural routines. It can be pretty cool!

    1. @migrationology: I like that video idea Mark. It’s virtually impossible to take in or even notice everything just by driving by so your videos must lead to some interesting discoveries when you sit down to watch them. I shall give that a try myself and see what I’ve been missing!

    1. @krantcents: Even the desert has plenty to see. Just the sight of a remote village far off in the distance forces a traveler to try and imagine what life must be like in those parts and anything that leads to such contemplation surely has its benefits!

  6. I just got back from Antarctica and when we docked I couldn’t help but get off the ship… even if it was 20 degrees outside.. lol. the boat was rocking so hard through drake’s passage that i would wake up every 30/40 minutes.. crazy

    1. @WanderingTrader: Well, if I ever make it to Antarctica, I’m not sure I would be able to sleep at all during the passage with so much to see outside. Hopefully you were able to enjoy your trip there regardless of the temperature!

  7. You paint a tale that reminds me of pulling the old night shifts. Oh how I would have loved to close my eyes, but I couldn’t and unfortunately that wasn’t because of the ever changing landscape…

    It’s funny though, the sun would come up and much as you described – suddenly I’d be wide awake, where before I could barely keep my eyes open…

    Have fun back in Syria!

    1. Hey Andrew – There is something about staying awake at times when the body would ordinarily want to sleep that leads to that unexpected burst of energy after a while. I guess it’s being overtired, but it’s good to know the body can muster up some extra strength when needed!

  8. I love Road trips for this very reason. You can’t possibly visit every place in a country, but by staring out the window on these long journeys you can certainly get to know more about it and almost visit the whole country.

    1. Hey Caz – You said it perfectly. While bus trips may not offer the most in-depth of travel experiences, there is still so much to learn just by looking out at our surroundings, even on a simple ride between two destinations.

  9. You painted such vivid pictures, and when I first started reading, I thought I would just be immersing myself in stories of an exotic land which I could vastly enjoy, but to which I could not really relate. Then you started talking about the Bangladeshi countryside and the Australian outback, and I realized I can relate to your experiences in Syria.

    When I was younger, I used to visit Mexico with my parents, and we used to drive for hours and hours – basically an entire day – traveling from one state to another. The road we took led us through kilometer after kilometer of “nothing” – just a rather barren landscape wit the occasional church tower visible in the distance, a small cluster of houses around it. Along the highway, there would be random bridges spanning the road, making one wonder who would be out there herding their livestock across the treacherous asphalt. As a younger child, I slept for the long “boring” stretches. But as I got older, I too found myself fascinated by the world on the other side of the glass that constantly challenged my assumptions about it and offered me tantalizing glimpses into a life that to me was so alien – and therefore fascinating.

    I find myself doing the same in other countries. My husband’s family lives in a rather rural area of Norway, and even a drive to the nearest town is an opportunity for me to not just see lakes and clusters of houses but to get a surreptitious glimpse into the Norwegian way of life.

    1. Hey Anis – Thank you for sharing such a personal comment. What you described is exactly what I was getting at with this post. Those ‘boring’ landscapes beyond the windows, whether of cars, buses or trains, offer so much more than at first appears. Just to catch sight of one person is enough to learn something about life wherever you may be and to increase one’s curiosity and desire to learn more. And after all, that’s what traveling is about for many people.

      I think it’s excellent that you continue to recognize the value of such glimpses during your visits to Norway and elsewhere and that you continue to challenge your assumptions at times when many people prefer to tune out!

    1. Hey Natalie – So I guess you prefer trains whenever you can? Then at least you can wander around without getting too restless, hopefully. 🙂

  10. The not sleeping thing is real.. hope you get some rest soon.

    Whey I fly to Asia (I seem to never sleep on the plane) I can stay up for 30 hours in transit and then arrive in the Philippines in the morning and still stay up all day.

    I know it’s probably not as much sleep deprevation as you experienced but it’s true, when there is something new and exciting to experience the brain won’t let you sleep!

    1. Hey Randall – Actually, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be able to stay awake for 30 hours in transit and then a full day afterward, so you definitely take the prize with that one! You’re absolutely right though, sometimes the brain just refuses to rest when it has so much to look forward to…

    1. Hey Ayngelina – Even though I arrive feeling good about not missing any part of the journey, usually it doesn’t take long before the exhaustion finally does catch up with me and I’m passed out in my guesthouse room, completely oblivious to the world outside for a few hours! And it is easier to stay awake during the day of course and at night, I do tend to sleep a little if there’s nothing for me to see out the window…

    1. Hey Jill – Falling asleep in any vehicle can definitely be a useful skill! But it’s good to know that you’re able to remain awake when you want to as that would be unfortunate if you automatically fell asleep every time you entered a vehicle 🙂

    1. Hey Brooke – I won’t ask about the random places you’ve passed out in. Or should I? Now it’s stuck in my head and I’m left wondering what kind of places they’ve been!

  11. I used to get so frustrated when I would be on long train or bus trips with friends and the second they got on they would pass out. I on the other hand couldn’t have been more excited to see what would pass by in front of my eyes.

    1. Hey Andi – You sound similar to me in that respect. Even though I do try to sleep sometimes, I’m not sure my body has ever allowed me to do so when traveling through a new country on a bus or a train!

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