None of the employees at the eight bus companies spoke English, or French. All the signs and schedules were in Arabic. Outside the offices the most persistent beggars on earth managed to unceasingly penetrate language and cultural barriers. There are not many moments in life when one feels utterly useless but this was one of them.

Some places simply feel like the end of the earth. Forgotten, abandoned dead-ends, hopeless hellholes where you wonder why people stay. The bus station in Latakia, Syria is one of those special antechambers.

Near the edge of town behind the train station, the long distance bus station is tightly porous, like a lot of facilities in Arab countries. The official entry is firmly but selectively controlled – armed guards look in bags, they stop people for no reason and generally remind the neighbourhood that they are there. Meanwhile, as the guards strut, almost everyone walks into the station through the dozens of unofficial entries – through holes in the fence, or by ducking under the red and white driveway barrier. And the station is a busy place. It’s one of the few ways out of town… and Latakia is a town everyone should leave.

– written before the current battles tearing Syria apart