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The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
April 22nd, 2007
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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria

(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)

Nicole

Summary        

My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.

Nicole

She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.

Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).

Nicole

No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.

Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.

Nicole

In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.

My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.

There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.

We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.

Nicole

For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:

http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/

From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.


You can always email me directly and anonymously at mattv99@hotmail.com

All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.

Nicole

March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):

Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.

Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.

Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.

An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.

Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.

March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:

"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."

Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.

February 11th, 2012 (Morning):

Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!

January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.

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Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 08:00 am (UTC)

Interesting comment

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Interesting comment took from Syria-news I have just read it …he was asking :if u can ask all the pharmacies in Hama if they sell a huge amount of “eye lance cleaning ” to somebody ..

all the best from my part to your family
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)

Re: Interesting comment

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Another interesting comment from Syria News:
Everyone in Hama with criminal record should be interviewed by police.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 10:42 am (UTC)

Is it time to call a professional team like 1SRG

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Is it time to call in the experts. You've done your best but haven't been able to find Nicole. I think you only have a certain time gap - longer and it's stale news - plus Gary is alone in Syria which is awfully stressful for him. Not to mention the stress on the rest of the family in Canada.

On Lonely Planet's site last year an American (Ryan Chicovsky) disappeared, in Laos and his family seems to have used this team (he hasn't been found but the company seem experienced in the actualities of dogs, government agencies etc.) Can you find a Canadian company that does a similar thing? A big question is did Nicole have travel insurance? If she did, have you contacted the insurance company to help?

http://www.1srg.org/1srg_about.htm
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 26th, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Is it time to call a professional team like 1SRG

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Two excellent suggestions that we hadn't looked at. I wish we had known of 1srg a month ago!

We'll investigate the 1srg option, but it may require the Syrian government to ask for assistance, which is trickier, given the state of US/Syrian relations. And the 8-week delay makes everything harder.

I hadn't thought of checking the travel insurance. We are now following up.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)

My Prayer for her

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Hope she is ok.my prayers for her comeback safe.really sad news.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 25th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)

Did you find the 3 Americans?

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Were the 3 Americans in her hotel found? If they were did they provide additional information?
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 26th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Did you find the 3 Americans?

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We did not find the three Americans, unfortunately. I was hoping unofficial channels would be faster, but very few leads turned up so we're resorting to the "official channels" route.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 25th, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC)

Something just isn't right

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Something just isn't right here (besides her being missing). She was last seen by the Cairo Hotel employee. No one saw her on the street that day? Or at the bus stop? She didn't ask directions or eat? That means she didn't leave the hotel. Or at least not far from it.

That doesn't mean the hotel staff had anything to do with it. It could have been a visitor or anyone stalking. However, I just can't get a niggling out of my head where I recall reports from travellers who had hotel employees peeping on them or otherwise harassing them. The ones I heard were in Jordan but still...it just niggles.

I wonder if any of the employees are involved with any dodgy groups like smugglers or sex traders. Any new employees? Who exactly did she have contact with.

I think you need to hire a private detective - maybe canadian to run this case. Maybe a retired police detective. They will know what adds up and what doesn't. Hire him and send him to Syria.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 25th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)

CBC

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The CBC interview is posted online along with the other stories of the National, it does not come up right away. I believe it's the third of fourth story.
http://www.cbc.ca/national/latestbroadcast.html
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 12:18 am (UTC)

If she got in a car with someone she trusted...

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If she got in a car with someone she trusted they probably were foreign tourist likely from Canada / US (possibly Europe). I mean if I was abroad and met Canadians/Americans, I would probably get friendly with them.
The car would have been rented. Perhaps you should review the car rental records during the period when she disappeared. There aren't many car rental companies in Syria so this would not be a huge task.
What about those 3 American tourists? Did anyone find them?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 01:43 pm (UTC)

Re: If she got in a car with someone she trusted...

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In over three weeks in Syria in March this year I never met a single tourist in a rental car. Maybe they were there but I never met anyone in a rental car - lots of guides and drivers, taxi services, tour groups, walkers, cyclists, public transporters but never a tourist driving a rental car.

therese
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)

Her e-mail

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If I were backpacking, met someone in another town, and we found out we'd both be in Hama at roughly the same time, how would we get in touch? No phones in the rooms, don't really want to share the hotel I'm staying at, but feel there would be no harm in exchanging e-mail addresses, that way I could think on it and decide if they email, if I even want to meet up after all, you need to get into her email account Matt, it seems like a great place to see her "communication records". You mentioned you were waiting on formal letters, forget that, just find a hacker and get into her account!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Her e-mail

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Why are there no updates on Gary? How is he doing? Is he ok? He must be going crazy by himself in a strange country.
Re: Her e-mail - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: Her e-mail - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 26th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)

Gary

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Matt,

Thank you for the message regarding Gary. We feel much better knowing that he is safe and sound. One must wonder how long he can last mentally however. I know Nicole and I feel a great sadness with this current situation. I hope that you find her soon. Take care of yourself and your family. We hope for the very best. You are all in our thoughts and prayers.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 27th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)

New video

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Hi, I've put up another YouTube - not to take anything away from what's already on YouTube, but to keep putting this out there.

I'm going to keep blogging it and emailing it to everyone I can think of.

Has anyone yet volunteered to translate? I know some people, but can't promise anything on their behalf. Do you want me to ask?

Anyway, the video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJukZqv22kQ

(Not the best, since I've never done anything like that before)

Laurie (www.threat-assessment.blogspot.com)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 27th, 2007 05:58 am (UTC)

Auto accidents in Syria

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Matt,

Checking Syria News in the page titled "incidents" in Arabic, I found a disturbing number of disturbing car accidents. They happen almost on a daily basis and mind you they only report the serious ones. Did you check all hospitals. Perhaps you should try to get the officials in Syria to get you a record of all car accident casualties around Hama from early April.
Did you notice how they drive over there?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 28th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)

Syrian in the U.S.A.

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Yes Matt, I really hope you guys having a nice end to all this. It's frustrating, but everything comes to an end. Hopefully something good comes up bro.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 28th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)

Syrian Private Investigator

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Maybe you could hire a private investigator in Syria(who also speaks english). Someone who knows the culture,language and how to get more information on your sister through various contacts. Someone who knows what's going on behind the scenes in Syria. And who might take a different approach than the police in finding her.

I typed "private investigators in Syria" in Google and there seemed to be some. Maybe there are some Canadian private investigators who deal with Syrian investigators and they work together. Just an idea.

Just trying to think what I would do if I was in your situation.

Take care
C
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 28th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Syrian Private Investigator

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Hi, I dont' want to write too much but:

- I think you need a contact in Syria, an investigator, someone you trust or someone Government, they needs to keep their ears open for news.

- I thought her diary was found outside? Surely this is the place to start investigating as no one would leave their diary. I think thoughts of travelling all over places without dedicating more time at this initial location, is a good idea.

- Perhaps you could write another Digg plug?

- What about a reconstruction, using someone who looks similar to your sister and visiting the spots she was confirmed to have visited. At the same time get the press to follow it and hand out flyers.

- Why not make the flyers as Business Cards, big sheets of paper are easy to lose/throw away whilst a business card with her photo/details on are more likely to be stored in a wallet.

Good luck!
From:thassan
Date:May 30th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)

GARY: Use Different ISP in syria

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Dear Matt and Gary,

There are several ISP's in Syria, the best can be accessed using SAWA or
AYA internet cards, you buy a SAWA card then you configure your browser to
use the user-name and password written on that card (Direct access cards
with/without subscription)

Please DO NOT USE the 190 ISP, it's very slow and always down..

I assure you internet didn't go down on other ISP's.

I always use SAWA cards
http://sawa.cec.sy

regards..
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 31st, 2007 04:48 am (UTC)

Canadian Police

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You may have touched on this but I'm curious, so maybe if someone reading along can answer. Does the Canadian government help at all with a search like this? No help from law enforcement whatsoever?
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:June 1st, 2007 01:16 am (UTC)

Re: Canadian Police

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While it sometimes feels that way, the RCMP (Canadian National Police) are bound by international conventions regarding investigations in other sovereign states. The Syrians aren't allowed to send people into Canada, and thus we can't send Canadian police into Syria. The Canadian government is similarly restricted.

That being said, both agencies have assisted as best they can, especially the Foreign Affairs staff in Damascus and the Ambassador to Syria.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 31st, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC)

People at work

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Hey Matt, now that you've been back at work for a bit, how about saying something like this when people ask for an update: "Thanks for your concern. I've realized that it's better if I don't talk about it at work - it's the one break I have from focusing on it. I update the blog regularly so you can find the latest there if you want."

The people you work with genuinely care, and want to help. So they might feel badly to learn later that you didn't want to talk about it there. So, you owe it to yourself and to them to tell them what you need here.

You could even send an email to the office... couple it with "Now that I've been back for a bit, I'd like to thank you all for your incredible support..."

BTW, I do know what you mean on wanting the break there. When my sister was in the final stages of her battle with cancer, and then when she passed, I really didn't want to talk about it there - it was my oasis of sanity. Yet the caring the people at work exhibited was one of the things I was most grateful for. It's a balancing act, but it's ok to tell people what you need.

Good to see the close up pic of Nicole posted again.

Thinking of you often.
Roberta
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:June 1st, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)

Re: People at work

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Hi Roberta,

Good advice, and I made use of it today. Managed to get quite a bit done at work as well as stay there for a full six hours!
Re: People at work - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:thassan
Date:June 1st, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)

Arabic website

(Link)
Dear Matt,

I've seen your new website it's ok for a start,
But, you should have the latest info on it like this blog,
I still want to help in translating this new site into Arabic
If you are interested please let me know,

These blog information are important I wish I caould help in translating
then into Arabic to be in reach of most Syrian population.

we pray everyday for Nicole.
good lock

regards
Thair HASSAN

I thing you Blog


From:thassan
Date:June 1st, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)

Arabic website

(Link)
Dear Matt,

I've seen your new website it's ok for a start,
But, you should have the latest info on it like this blog,
I still want to help in translating this new site into Arabic
If you are interested please let me know,

These blog informations are important I wish I could help in translating
then into Arabic to be in reach of most Syrian population.

we pray everyday for Nicole.

good lock Matt

regards
Thair HASSAN
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 3rd, 2007 04:34 am (UTC)

new web site - doesn't work

(Link)
Your new web site doesn't work under firefox; I can't click any links in the menu...
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:June 3rd, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)

Re: new web site - doesn't work

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Thank you for pointing this out. I've sent a message to our tech guys to confirm and correct.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 4th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)

Bedouins

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I am originally Syrian but have not lived there since I was a kid. The bedouins do have a different lifestyle than the ordinary Syrians in that they are nomads. They live (or used to live) in tents in the desert and tend to sheep. Even though they may not be considered sophisticated by some Syrians, the impression is that they do not have criminal tendencies. They are just very simple people.
Because they live in the desert in harsh environment, they are known for helping each other and other people so that the favours could be returned when they are in need. I do not believe there are any tensions between them and the authorities. However, I think some of them might be a bit isolated. Someone previously commented that everyone in Syria has a satellite and gets aljazeera. Heshe was wrong..the bedouins don't! If Nicole was in trouble and they found her they probably would be helping her.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 4th, 2007 01:04 am (UTC)

Re: Bedouins

(Link)
Also, check this link: homepage3.nifty.com/yagitani/megumi_en01.htm - 22k
It is a girl who lived with the Syrian bedouins and loved them so much she kept returning to visit. I truly believe if Nicole was with them she would be safe.
Good luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 4th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)

arabic churches

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It seems most cities have an arabic community, usually can find them via their church. I have been emailing Nicholes missing posters to arabic churches in my area, maybe others can do the same. This may also help with Matt's thoughts on the Bedouin people. You never know maybe someone has a long lost relative still living the Nomad life, we may end up with a contact.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 4th, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC)

Re: arabic churches

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It is unlikely that a nomad would make it to Canada..also they are muslims so their relatives would not be attending church.
[User Picture]
From:lux
Date:June 4th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
She has made Canadian national news, thank goodness. My heart goes out to you, wishing her safe return!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)

Fox News

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The American media will spare no effort in making Syria look bad and hence their interest in your story. Just make sure they are not using you as a propaganda tool.
The article in Middle East times (published from Tel Aviv) was also hinting that Syria is a bad place to travel to.
Fact is Syria is one of the safest places to be..things like that are unheard of..
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)

Hope is not lost ....

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Dear Matthew
I was just informed that Nicole is your sister... We had heard the tragic story out here on the West Coast, but I did not make the connection. I would like to encourage you to keep your Fighting Spirit armed and ready for action; be brave in the face of adversity and continue exploring all the leads/suggestions/hunches you've been getting. There's much to be said for the incredible effects of positive thinking. We can only hope and pray that this crisis is resolved as soon as possible, with the safe and expedient return of Nicole. Our thoughts and encouragement are with you and your family.

Jenn Fort (Jenny Alderson)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)
(Link)
Some tips

1. Web site of Hama
On the web site of Hama there is a list of all the important sites. There are 13 castles (not all easily accessible), among which is Shmemis. The castle is accessible through a small highway, but visitors need to climb a hill afterwards.
http://www.hama.ws/hamaruins.asp


2. Iexplore Community
I googled "Cairo hotel, Syria" I found a list of popular sites to visit in Hama, you should take a look

http://community.iexplore.com/planning/journalEntryActivity.asp?JournalID=39404&EntryID=42160&n=Qala%27at+Abou+Qoubeis


3. Web site of the Ministry of tourism
Here is the web site of the Ministry of tourism in Syria, and here is an explanation of sites in central regions (Hama and Homs)

http://www.syriatourism.org/index.php?module=subjects&func=listpages&subid=137&newlang=eng

Also Citadels in Hama
http://www.syriatourism.org/index.php?module=subjects&func=viewpage&pageid=1870

4. Tourist agents
May be you should start inquiring at Travel agencies (tourist agents) in Hama (popular ones) to see if any of their guides met or saw Nicole alone or with other tourists at sites or organized trips. If they accept, distribute the posters at their offices.
Here is a list of the ones in Hama provided by the Ministry's web site.
http://www.syriatourism.org/index.php?module=Boctouristic&func=search


From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)

Shamemis

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Hi,

I visited Qala'at Schmimis last winter. It's easy to go there, taking a microbus from the microbus garaj, in Hama, to As Salamiyah (about 3/4 hour). Once in As Salamiyah, the castle is a small hour of walking from the center of the town. The castle is alone in the fields, on a hill. It is a small one, very ruined. You can see it, just west of As Salamiyah, on Google Earth : it's a hill with a big "WELCOME" written on its slope with stones.

As Salamiyah is a small town where many Bedouins come for trading, maybe it could be useful to ask to some important Bedouins if they can collect informations among the families settling in the area.

From Hama, through As Salamiyah and As Sa'an, there are some buses going to Ar Raqqa, about 200 km eastwards : these buses ride just along Ar Rassafah, a well-known ruined city in the desert, just 30 km south of Al Mansurah (on the main road Aleppo-Ar Raqqa). There are also trucks on that road and a rest-place for them on the crossing with the main road in Al Mansurah (30 -40 km before Ar Raqqa). This road is not an usual one for the tourists and I've never seen in books that there were buses between Ar Raqqa an As Salamiyah (I just discover this this winter). On maps, this road is still indicated as a "track". There are just three or four small villages along, between As Sa'an and Ar Rassafah. So if someone could place some posters on the crossing of Al Mansurah (rest-place) or in the two Garaj (bus an microbus stations) in Ar Raqqa, and in As Salamiyah, just in case... These places are meeting points between the Bedouins and the people of towns.

I hope this could be useful for your quest.

Daniel



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