I had a few days and had always wanted to see Beirut. Sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Middle East. I have worked with many Lebanese and have always been impressed by their love of country even though it is chaotic in the best of times.
Like many places I have been, I probably wouldn’t travel there now because it has become so unstable. It is a small, incredibly diverse country that has taken in many millions of refugees from Palestine and Syria. I honestly don’t know how they manage it particularly when they have often been without a political leader. A recent Civil War lasted 15 years and bullet holes are still visible.
The food is delicious and I hear there is a very active nightlife. I stayed in what is called the Hamra area in which there are lots of restaurants. I ate falafel sandwiches every evening. Delicious. I spent the days walking a lot, especially along the waterfront.
I decided to use public transportation to get out to Byblos, an ancient site. I walked miles to look for the “bus.” Finally, a Syrian guy befriended me and on the side of a road he yelled at a van that stopped. I was welcomed in and had to sit on the stickshift in between the two front seats. I honestly could not confirm where I was going. Awkward every time the driver shifted gears. Both French and Arabic are spoken, neither of the two am I great with. After about an hour of terrible traffic, the driver pulled over on the highway and indicated I should get out. There was nothing. I got out. There was an overpass that I went below and eventually walked a ways to get to Byblos, which was charming and interesting. The transportation was as interesting as the place.
When I explained my transportation to my Lebanese friends they thought I was crazy. I also went to some famous caves in which I took a short boat ride. I enjoyed just walking around and taking in the sights, but when I spoke to people there was a sense that something bad was on the horizon. They were correct. The normal chaos has become more pronounced and banks are making withdrawals difficult among other things. It is an amazing country in which you can ski in the mountains and swim in the sea on the same day but it seems cursed due to its many religious and political factions.
In departing from Lebanon two crazy things happened. I decided to relax by the pool for an hour as I had been walking non-stop for days. I went to sit in a lounge chair and it collapsed with my head snapping back on to the ground. I was terrified as I have such a history of spinal problems. I knew I was hurt but wasn’t sure how badly. I left for the airport early as I always do. There was a huge line up of cars. When I finally made it to the entrance I could barely make my way through the door. It was packed. There was no information and no workers to guide people. I knew I might miss my flight but really wanted to get home as my back was hurt and I missed my family. People were pushing aggressively to get through. The behavior was animalistic and tempers were flaring. No one was respecting elderly, babies, people with injuries. I finally decided I would no longer be polite and started to physically make my way through people. My flight was delayed and I made it but it was incredibly stressful and unpleasant.