Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
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It all started with a visual assualt at the Larnaca Airport. About 15 flights were departing for the UK and former Soviet states all at once and the terminal was mobbed with infrequent flyers. An elderly couple about mid 70s sat down across from me and the woman was attempting to erase decades by wearing a black miniskirt and spiked heels. One would think that after 70+ years of living, she would acquire some sense of decency but nope. Not her.
This beauty flying to Newcastle kept her legs spread wide open for 30 minutes and continued to scratch down there as she shifted back and forth in the chair
A twenty minute flight where the flight attendants accomplished two beverage services and duty free sales dumped me off in Beirut (yes, Beirut!) late last night and I needed to find my way into town. Nonexistent public transportation options made me face the music and look for a cab. Being ripped off by a taxi driver was the last thing I needed at 11pm. Of course all the nonlegit taxi drivers hit everyone up as soon as they come through the doors from baggage claim into the terminal. I had already done my research and knew that a taxi should cost no more than $8-$12 and to pick up a marked one at the queues. All in all that price really isn't too bad for late at night and especially in a new place.
A $40 ride with one of those gypsy cabs was my first offer and I told him no way. That absolutely offended my wallet. He insisted that is a fair price and I asked him why it only cost me $8 a week ago (Great trick to use by the way)
Avis also offers rides into town so I stopped by their desk and was told $20. One of the guys asked if I was from Canada, and I thought what the hell. So I said, "Yes" and the price magically dropped to $10. I asked how long it would be and the guy said "ten minutes." Ten minutes came and went and I asked how much longer. He again said "ten minutes" and I started to walk away. Keep in mind the plane was only in the air 20 minutes and finding a ride was taking longer than crossing over to the Middle East. He immediately jumped on his cell phone and started yelling at someone I presume to be the driver. At 11:20pm waiting around just isn't what I have in mind so I made my way to the taxi stand.
After negotiating with 8 different drivers, I found prices ranging from $20 to $100 to get to where I was staying and that of course that tariff includes the American tax. One guy asked if I was from Canada and I said, "Yes, Toronto." Being from Toronto gave me a full refund on the American tax bought me an eight dollar cab ride
Looking around online I found an absolutely awesome price for a hotel that billed itself as newly renovated. Hostels don't exist in Lebanon so a cheap hotel was going to have to do. I know to take "renovated" with a grain of salt from previous travels in this region and I am so glad I did. A shrine to the late 70s greeted me but soon enough I was checked in and making my way upstairs. At the same a loudly honking Mercedes pulled in and out popped a newlywed couple. Muslim wedding dresses leave much to the imagination and the bride's head was fully covered. It looked like she was wrapped up in an ultratight satin blanket with flashy rhinestones sewn into it. Or maybe that was the light from the gaudy rhinestone chandelier reflecting on here. Who knows.
Turns out their room was right next to mine up on the 8th floor and I can report that her first time obviously overwhelmed her senses. I don't even smoke but was ready for a cigarette three intense minutes after everything had been consummated. Now here's the weird thing...when they were done not two minutes later several people came to their door. Being nosy, I peeked out the peephole, and it looked like their parents. Now if that isn't disturbing I don't know what is. You see, parents of the groom inspect the sheets for telltale signs that the bride is still a virgin. I will leave it at that. Judging by the congratulations I have to assume she passed this test.
This sex palace is the Beau Rivage Hotel which means beautiful shores. I came to find out that the hotel had been closed for a few years and reopened recently. Maybe that is what "renovation" means over here. You don't have to redo, just reopen. Now here's an interesting tidbit I didn't know at all until today...The hotel was the headquarters for the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon until they withdrew in 2005. Some people checked in but never checked out. Supposedly people were tortured here as well. Kinda eery actually to have slept somewhere with that kind of history. Oh well, it was dirt cheap and the sheets were clean in my room. Not so sure about next door though.
Having read that Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East and is making a resurgence I had high hopes for my visit and woke up early to get a good start. The hotel was two blocks off the beach and I headed down there first. The beach was coarse brown sand and litter was strewn everywhere. About the only thing going on down there at 7am was a brown dog trying to hump a German Shephard who wasn't having any of it. She kept sitting down and snarling at the male dog when he tried to make his moves. She finally gave in after about five minutes of this song and dance. I think they lasted longer than the newlyweds.
I asked the reception desk where I could walk to that was interesting. His reaction was, "Walk? Who walks? You don't walk...taxi." I was ready and willing to see Beirut and give it a chance but found out several things...there is no public transportation; there is no way to walk around; it's just miles and miles and miles of highrise hell. The few sidewalks that do exist are a foot and a half high and every 15 feet or so you have to step up or down. Doing a stairmaster workout in the humidity was not my idea of fun and honestly the city was just absolutely filthy and unappealing so I cut my losses and decided to move on.
So this is the Paris of the Middle East? Whatever. At least I can say I have been, but there are definitely better places out there. I thought about heading out to the countryside to see if this barren landscape holds any surprises but decided against it. Beirut is perfectly safe but I didn't want to accidentally wander into any hot zones, especially near Israel.
Every inch of the earth next to any roadway is piled high with plastic bags, litter and anything else people can toss out of a building or a moving car. I am not even going to try to paint a nice picture of this city...it is more like Projects of the Middle East. Yep, time to abandon ship and move on. I found out this is just a place to party late into the night rather than anything else anyway.
At promptly 8am I checked out of the hotel. I needed a taxi to the bus station and the reception desk clerk told me it would be "ten minutes." Just like at the airport ten minutes came and went and I asked him how much longer. His response was, "Ten minutes." I reminded him ten minutes had already passed and all he could come up with was, "Oh, you want to go now?" No stupid ass. I want to sit around on this crappy faded blue velour chair pushing springs into my butt in your 1970s lobby all morning. He told me I could walk down the road to find a taxi if I needed to go now. I thought people didn't walk here...
I found my cab and the driver asked if I was from Canada before we even settled on a destination or price. Yep, proudly Canadian, sir. Of course I am from Toronto. After ten minutes driving through blocks of highrises stained black from who knows what, we arrived at the bus station. Along the way the driver pointed out that a mosque was next to a church and both can coexist. People in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Malta, and others were also quick to point this fact out. I guess in the US we just take for granted that a synagogue, Catholic Church, and a Baptist Church can all share the same intersection without incident or war.
"Ten minutes" was the departure time of my van to Damascus and of course add a few ten minutes on top of that for the actual time. Forty minutes was a more accurate departure time and the first 45 minutes of the ride took us higher and higher above Beirut. Is there a building code that says every structure clinging to these mountains must be over 5 floors tall and made of rotting concrete? Picture the North Georgia mountains but in the desert. Now cover every inch of them with highrise and midrise apartments and then sprinkle in a liberal dose of garbage. There you have it ladies and gentlemen...beautiful Beirut..the Paris of the Middle East.
Driving in Lebanon is an interesting experience as well. The roads don't really have stripes for lanes and people just maneuver wherever a free bit of asphalt presents itself. What would be a four lane roadway back home is about 7 or 8 here and nothing really moves when you have thousands of subcompact pieces of crap spewing exhaust while trying to outmaneuver their neighbor. If our van's bumper was more than a foot away from the car in front, someone would slide right on in with loud constant honking.
Sitting in the front seat brought all this up close and personal and even more so because this was one of those vans with the flat fronts and no hood. A guy behind me had some kind of muslim prayer beads was fingering them the whole time. At some point we almost rear ended a Mercedes and I accidentally dropped the biggest F bomb I've had in a while. He understood the intent I presume because he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me his prayer beads. Right there in my hands I held the Islamic equivalent of 1-800-DIAL A PRAYER and I wondered if Allah would answer. Evidently he didn't because we had near miss after near miss on the way into Damascus. Then again, we never collided so maybe the beads do work. Thank you Allah for delivering me safely to Syria!!
The van service's office was the last stop in Damascus and the driver told me in limited English one of their cars could bring me to where I was staying. Dubiously I asked how much and he told me we would find out. The front door was locked with the clerk taking a nap behind the desk in plain view. Ten minutes later he finally woke up and we went inside...This dude was oblivious to the phone ringing and constant banging on the glass window and door.
Now let me just preface what happened next by borrowing something I once heard Judge Judy tell someone..."On my worst day I am still smarter than you." These schmucks didn't realize that I knew a taxi across Damascus should be about a buck fifty to two bucks and not more. To say I was surprised at all when they told me $20 would be a lie. Now how is it that I can ride across a border in a van for $10 but a ten minute cab ride is double? Oh hell no.
This schmeckelhead offering the $20 ripoff told me to sit and I noticed he was moving towards the key in the door lock which was down by the floor. Now here is why on my worst day I am still smarter than him. I knew if I sat down I would be locked in so I tossed my big bag over to the door to block the lock. No way was I sitting down either. It was time to stand up and fight like the Canadian I am, eh? He kept insisting that no taxi would take me for less than $30 and his $20 was a deal.
Just because I am Canadian doesn't mean I personally am going to be the target of crooks and thieves such as at the airport in Beirut or here in Damascus. I gave them a piece of my mind and flagged down a cab after about twenty minutes of aimlessly wandering around some strange city. The best part of that adventure was that I ended up paying no more than I should have...about a buck fifty. It pays to do research beforehand, ask questions of the locals and stand your ground. Oh yeah, the taxi driver asked where I was from and I said, "Canada." He told me nice people live in Canada.
I love a good adventure when I travel and today delivered bigtime for me so far. The day is young and I have an entire city to check out here in Damascus. It's ok Beirut was a bust...I am more interested in Syria and I am getting a great reception everywhere I turn. Except at that van office of course. But you can't say that is a Syrian problem..I've traveled the globe and taxis will try to rip anyone and everyone off. That is about all that is consistent across the world and that is why I avoid them whenever I can. I will report back later what I find in this loud, crowded, vibrant city.