Seeing the sights....

Trip Start Mar 19, 2005
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Trip End Mar 30, 2005


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Flag of Lebanon  ,
Friday, March 25, 2005

well, have had an interesting few days.

was wandering past the place des martyrs the other night, where demonstrations have previously taken place, and realised there was something going on. as the guys i was with had big cameras, they were mistaken for being press, so we were given the full story: monday was mothers day here and tuesday childrens day, and so they were combined and 1001 children had gathered to commemorate hariri's assassination. they had laid 101 roses at the shrine to him in the plaza, near the tented village used by protesters, and then they sung two songs which he liked. these children were all orphans, or disabled - deaf, blind, mentally handicapped, and after they had finished, 43 balloons, identifying the organisations they were part of (which orpanage or school etc) were released.

the following day, a friend and i headed south. we visited beaufort castle, a former military outpost located on one of the highest ridges in the area. it has had an eventful history, and was possibly built during the byzantine period, then used by arabs and later by crusaders. it has even been used in modern times, when, during the 1970s it was occupoed by palestinian guerillas. unfortunately, when the israeli army (which occupied it for around 20 years) retreated about 5 years ago, they blew up parts of the castle to destroy traces of their occupation.

from there we went on to see the fatima gate, which, during the war, was used as a border crossing into israel, until their withdrawal. apparently the site is now popular with picnicking lebansese - bit of a strange spot, as its marked by a burned out army vehicle, complete with hezbollah flag. didnt see any soldiers, so am not sure quite how fortified the border is. still, it was quite weird to know that crossing the border would mean i would be unable to reenter lebanon. and we drove along side the border too, just marked by a fence, no soldiers in sight.

from there, we went to the al khiam dentention camp, a prison that was run by the south lebanon army during the occupation. it was a really sobering experience. prisoners were held there without charge, often in tiny cells, frequently in solitary confinement, and were allowed perhaps ten minutes of sunlight every ten days. things werent much better for women. many were tortured and two were 'martyred'. it is now a museum run by hezbollah (party of god) and has signs all round it, telling what rooms were used for - eg: solitary confinement, room for the bosses of whippers etc. the video was also quite harrowing - recreating scenes of prisoners being tortured, conditions they were kept in and the history of the camp. not the most likely tourist attraction, but i felt it was worth visiting.

yesterday got off to something of a surreal start. we were woken by the owner of the hostel banging on our door about 6am. he was accompanied by an armed policeman (with rifle) demanding to see our passports. apparently they were looking for someone, but once theyd checked our passports, they left and we just went back to sleep. it was all so bizarre i wasnt actually sure if id dreamt it or not!!

once i actually got up, i headed off to byblos, which formerly was a watering hole favoured by international celebrities and the mediterranean jet set. the main reason for visiting is to see the ancient ruins there. the city ramparts date from the 3rd and 2nd millenia bc! it was really interesting to wander round the site, which has a crusader castle, temples and royal tombs. but it was diffficult to get an idea ofwhat it would have looked like, since things such as the roman theatre have been moved from their original location. the theatre is a reconstruction adn has been sited near the cliff edge, which gives stunning views out to sea, but is not exactly authentic! still, its a cool place to wander around, and was very interesting.

then i headed to tripoli (no, not the capital of libya!), the second largest city in the country. it has quite a different atmosphere to beirut, and i liked it immediately its a much poorer city, and also suffered a lot of damage during the war. i didnt actually do any sightseeing when i was here, preferring instead to wander round the souq. at one 'shop' a guy was asking me to take his photo, first him at work - cooking felafel, and then with his son. he spoke only a little more english than i speak arabic, but because i took his photo, he gave me a felafel, and invited me to sit down, someone else gave me a drink, and somehow i was invited back after my wanders for a coffee. im somewhat at a loss to explain how this arrangement was made because of the language barrier!

anyway, i continued wandering through the souq - great for green leafy veg and some fruit, but not great for touristy stuff - and met several kids who were happy to pose for pictures - the wonders of digital cameras meant they were delighted to see the results instantly. i enjoyed seeing all the spices laid out. dont know what most of them were, but it was intersting that when people were buying them, they were given handfuls of each, all mixed together, rather than keeping them all separate. another stall holder asked me to take his photo. he spoke a little english, and had lived in germany - i think he said twenty years ago. his friend then gave me a few traditional sweets - kind of like turkish delight, and covered in pistacio nuts. i was invited to sit and chat to them, which i was happy to do. i could see we were getting curious looks from the passers by. everyone is interested in tourists, always asking where they are from (its actually easier to deny my scottish roots and claim to be english, much as i hate to do so!!) and always asking what tourists think of lebanon. the easy answer is that its a great place, and the locals are very friendly. its true, but i think they are reassured to hear it.

more wandering and i came to a famous landmark in the city - an old citadel. i was sitting in the sun nearby when some kids came over to chat. at first there were only one or two, but soon after about six others came over to join us. they knew a few words on english - donkey for some reason, and crazy so they took delight in pointing to each other and telling me they were crazy! one or two were obviously studying english, and asked the typical questions you learn at school - whats your name, how old are you, where are you from. when i said england - they were delighted to say "beckham"!!!! hes got a lot to answer for, that guy. but it turned out they were not fans (smart kids) preferring the talents of ronaldo and co!!!

i then headed back to meet up with the felafel guy. on route, past stalls with sheeps heads (lucky i have a strong stomach!) and skinned animals hanging there - didnt look too closely, so not sure what they were - i came across some guys about my age, smoking their nargileh - water pipe. they asked if i wanted to take a photo - yes of course! they then offered me a smoke. when in rome (or in this case lebanon).... so, after them showing me what to do, i gave it a go (sorry mum!). cue predictable reaction - i started choking - which of course they found hysterical. a few people stopped to watch as i gave it another go which inevitably had the same result - everyone found this most funny. i took a couple of photos and they took some of me. i actually dont know what the pipe tasted of, but they use fruit tobacco which always smells lovely when i pass folk smoking it.

and on to my rendez vous with mr felafel. he got me a coffee - its so strong but fortunately it was very sweet, so i managed to drink it. think thats the second cup ive had in the last twelve months!! i couldnt stay long as i had to leave to catch my bus back to beirut, but the attempts at conversation were quite amusing - ask me what we talked about and i might just tell you!!!

all is well here - hope it is wherever you are.

Jo xxxx
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