Beirut, thinking too much

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
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Trip End Nov 18, 2002


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Flag of Lebanon  ,
Sunday, October 6, 2002

CAUTION: As I looked over my entry for Lebanon, I realized that one may get the wrong impression of the country by looking at my images. My most andrenaline packed and memorable experience in Lebanon was a visit, which I took to the largest Palestinian Refugee camp in Lebanon, Ein Hilewe. It just so happened that the day I visited was the 2nd anniversary of the intifada ( The Palestinian uprising which is responsible for most of the bloody headlines you see on CNN ). Thinking I was a reporter, protestors where more than happy to let me take pictures of them holding up pictures of Saddham Housein or Yasser Arafat while stomping on American flags. Pictures which I've uploaded ( in all I took over a hundred pictures of the protest, online are just a few ).

So, as you flick through the images, it would be wrong to think that Lebanon is a rebelious country in a state of Chaos with a hatred for the west, to the contrary, Lebanon is as west as you can get in the Middle East, with prices rivalling the most expensive in the world. Trendy bistros sit next to the Virgin Mega store, ATM's dispense both Lira and US dollars and the nightlife ( Which is a rarety in this part of the world ) is an unbeatable experience which only dies down as the sun rises over the green mountain ranges.

Read on for a better explanation of this beautiful country and my adventures during my visit.

-- Beirut, thinking too much.

It was time for a new country, I was ready to leave Damascus after a long stay in Syria's capital city. Over the border, to the west, Lebanon, once nick named "Paris of the Middle East", awaited.

I packed up my scattered belongings that I'd strewn around my dorm room which had been my home for a week, and joined Johnny, my Swiss friend, to the Baramke bus terminal. He was off to Jerusalem. I had tickled his curiosity enough the night before to convince him that going to Isreal for a few days would be possible, and relatively safe, if he stayed away from some of the more dangerous areas. Before leaving west bound, I shook Johnny's hand and waved goodbye to Syria.

As I sat on the bus, I looked out of the window and thought, as I'd been doing alot recently, about my soon to end trip. Busses were always the best place to arrange your thoughts, think of upcoming travel and to sort out a mish mash of new mental imagery resting in your head, waiting to be sorted out. I was tired of travelling and had been taking my time, relaxing a lot more than my usually fast passed travelling, but at the same time, the thought of going home was a scarry one. What would it be like? Would I be the same person as I was before? I hoped to retain some of the good values and kindness I'd learned from the generosity of others.

Although I was feeling run down, I could have easily kept bacpacking. After 7 1/2 months away from home, on the road, it wasn't simply a holiday, or travel, it was a new life style. A new way of life. My daily routine had drastically changed and I wasn't sure what going back to reality would be like. The start of a mental adjustment in preperation of going home was beginning.

Luckily, the return home would be a gradual progression from Exotic Syria to Modern Lebanon to Western London and finally to my homeland, Canada.

-- First impressions

"PLEASE!!!!" I begged the border police as they scrutinized my passport.

"PPPLLLEEEEAAAASSSEE, there's room!!!! Right there!" I repeated as the Lebanese waiting in line behind me tsk and nudged me to hurry up.

He shook his head repeating, "No space..." positioning the Lebanese entry stamp over a tiny space in the top corner of page 21, where I'd asked him to place the Lebanese entry stamp.

"Please... I have no other pages. Common, I really need you to stamp that corner. Right there."

He wasn't impressed. "No space" he was turning the stamp vertically and horizontally to see if he could squeeze it in.

KLANK!

I smiled a statisfying grin.

"Thanks! You saved me..."

He grunted and finally planted the stamp in the top corner reluctantly.

Horah! 2 clean passport pages left. I managed to enter Lebanon without wasting a passport page. I only had 2 left. One page for Jordan and one for my Lebanon exit stamp and the return Syrian ones. It was a tight fit but if all went to plan, I could make it home, with a passport so bloated an extra exit stamp would cause it to disintegrate.

I jumped back into the bus where a dozen Lebanese men waited patiently for me to return. "heh, sorry for the delay." I said to the displeased group.

As we rolled in to Beirut, the Syrian man next to me pointed out the passing buildings. Most were spotty with bullet hole freckles. Reminders of the brutal civil war that plagued the country before.

As we rolled into Beirut a convertible Ferrari zoomed ahead of our bus passed a contrasting backdrop of old, crumbling, bullet riddled houses flanked by modern trendy shops.

Beirut was a city in transition. The ambitious multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild the city was in full swing. The trendy shops selling everything from designer clothes to the latest music surrounded legacy buildings of a troubled passed.

Beirut was by far the most modern, upscale city in the middle east. Rivalling Paris' Champ Elisee and New York's Madison Avenue in both style and price. Surely enough, some of the prices where in fact higher than in Paris, like the 5$ coffee I bought at a simple cafe.

I quickly checked into a highly recommended, cheap and friendly hotel and went out for a bite to eat.

"Bonjour" the well dressed consierge greeted as I entered what initially looked like a small eatery.

"Bonjour"

Lebanon was very french. It seemed that everyone spoke more french than Arabic, although the official language was Arabic.

The man ushered me to a seat after snobishly looking me up and down, pausing to stare at my tattered sandles.

"Heh... " he puffed softly, "Excuse me? Is there a problem?" I asked with equal snobishness ( which was very unlike me ) causing him to brake his stare and walk away with his nose held high.

"My god, this is only a small restaurant, I wonder what other places are like" I thought wondering if the entire country was this critical of my ratty travel-wear. Later I would find out that it mostly was.

The menu listed all of the usual fast food and street-food staples from the middle east but with a classy twist. Falafel, Shawarma and Kebab, all available at 10 times the cost but on a clean plate served with style. It was kind of like buying a chilli dog at the ritz carleton.

I munched away at a 13$US kebab and headed back to my hotel.

"Salut" I greeted the cute French girl I'd met at the hotel as she tried to precariously cross the busy main avenue.

"Ahh Allo, how are you? I am going for a fruit juice, want to come?"

"Sure why not."

We walked down the corniche which followed the mediterarean to the Pelican Rocks, a trendy hang out place were over-priced drinks were served overlooking 2 giant rocks sitting in a small cove. Hardly an amazing view but in concrete Beirut, a nice get away all the same.

We sat there, chatted as she breifed me on her experiences in Lebanon for a bit and finally walked back the 7 km stretch back to the hotel before the sun set.

-- Day trip to the Palestinian Refugee Camps

I'd heard from several people that it was possible to visit the Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps, where tens of thousands of refugees lived, ever since their arrival from present day Isreal. However, I didn't know that I needed an invitation from the UN to visit.

The night before, I'd also meet a girl at a club on Beirut's nightlife mecca, mono street, who had moved into a camp near Beirut to volunteer.

Before entering Lebanon, I had been mentally trying to figure out what I would do with my remaining time in the Middle East. Having already seen every country which would allow me across it's borders, the idea of helping out at the camps was one I was deeply interested in.

"Yeah, I'd like to visit the camps tomorrow, but I was told not to go alone." The young Portugese woman next to me in the lobby of the Al-Nazih hotel said.

"Would you like to come with me?" she asked.

An interesting offer. I'd just arrived and wanted to go out for some of Beirut's infamous raunchy nightlife again. A visit to the camps would be difficult to squeeze in.

After thinking about it a bit, I decided to go out to the clubs, for an early evening and to join her to the camp the next day.

That night I went out with Michel, the owner of the hotel to Beirut's hip club street, Mono Street. Mono street was filled with Beiruti's dressed immaculately and partying like nothing I'd seen before in the Middle East. Beirut was different. We danced the night away until 2am, to return for some shut eye in preperation for the next day.

With some difficulty I pulled myself out of bed in time to meet Sandra at 9am and we headed off to Helleway, the largest refugee camp in Lebanon near Sida, after a large cup of coffee.

We had no idea what to expect. We hadn't called ahead, nor did we have any information, only enough to get there and back.

We jumped into a taxi and he took us down to the camp, 45 minutes away from Beirut.

"Ok, you are here." the Taxi driver said, stopping the car in a small street lined with half dismantled cars.

"This is it? Really?"

"Yeah, what did you expect?"

"Umm, well, tents for starters"

"Yeah, this is alot more... ummm... like a city" Sandra agreed

The taxi driver clarified, "Nono, the palestinians have been here for 24 years! This is a small city"

Sure enough, the taxi driver was right, the camp was more like a run down city. Infact the camp was one square kilometer, jammed inside were 70,000 refugees, making for a very tight fit.

"You have invitation right?" The driver asked.

"No, we just decided to come see"

"Ohh, Hmmm, well, you need a UN invitation to visit. Ok, let me take you to the UN office, maybe they can help."

The driver brought us down the tight alleys, barely wide enough for a single car to pass through and left us at the UN spronsored school.

We walked in, and made our way to the man in charge by way of hand signals and body language.

"A Salam a Lakem" we greeted the man behind the large desk, flanked on either side by men.

"Can I help?"

"yeah, we would like to visit, and I would also like to know if it's possible for me to stay in the camp to help for a few weeks."

"You mean Volunteer?"

"Yeah"

"Ahh, good... that is good, but unfotunately I did not receive any approvals. I cannot help. you must first call the UN head office in Beirut and arrange for special permission. You should have called before... now, unfortunately, we cannot even take you around the city."

"Your kidding... We came all the way here. Is there anything you can do?"

The man called over someone and spoke in Arabic to him before pulling us outside.

"Ok, this man will help you. He will find you someone from the PLO ( Palestinian Liberation Organization ) to take you around. This is all we can do. Luc, I must thank you for comming."

"Nono, thank YOU for helping me."

"No, it is important for you to see the camp, thank you for coming here."

"Great, that's excellent, thank you"

We were brought back to the checkpoint we had entered through, although I hadn't noticed it on the way in, where 6 men with AK47's sat on plastic chairs and talked while sipping chai.

"This man will help" the head master offered after briefing him.

A scruffy looking man, wearing jeans and a torn t-shirt, stood up from the pack, nodded, grabbed his machine gun from his chair and began to walk us down the street. Hassan spoke no english but having an armed guard, I felt more at ease pulling out my camera and strapping it around my neck.

Sandra and I began to snap pictures away as we walked through the dirty streets. Eletrical wires clustered around overhead poles making a spider web of mesh above our heads. Young palestinians ran across the streets and giggled as we walked passed used car part shops and cigarette vendors. The concrete buildings seemed to be piled one atop the other in a hap-hazard way.

When we reached an alley, our guard pointed down it to a blue UN sign. We had no idea what was down the alley but it was obviously something which he thought might be of interest to us. We nodded a stern "yes" and followed his lead.

It was a child care center. When we reached the reception, a few women greeted us, not speaking any english, they simply took us from room to room where we met dozens of small palestinian children playing, much like kids did any where in the world. Aside from the fact that our guard casually swung a machine gun under his arm and that the entire complex was plastered with pictures of Yasser Arafat, it almost didn't seem like we were inside a refugee camp. We sat and played around with the children or a while. As with most countries I'd been to, when ever language differences prove to be a road block, a digital camera broke all barriers. The children giggled and poked at the camera, looking at their trapped faces in the tiny screen.

When we finished passing through all the rooms, we sat in the reception with 4 teachers and our guard. Luckily, one spoke a little english.

"Hmmm, ok, ummm, is it possible to work here. You know, as a volunteer." It was beginning to sound like calling the UN for permission and going through red tape would take too long so I decided to see if I could bypass the system and help out with the day care center.

"You? Here?" They all giggled after my request was translated to the group.

I turned to Sandra, "Hmmm, I didn't see any men here. I guess they think it's funny that a man would want to work here, not a very Arabic thing to do I guess."

"Yeah, you're probably right, I don't think men work in the child care center."

"You want live here?" the palestinian woman said

"Ummmm, well for a while, to help."

One of the large, veiled, teachers sitting under a framed image of the Dome of the Rock, surrounded by barb wire which was being torn apart by bloody hands, said something vaguely in my direction.

"She say, she would like to give you a gun."

"What? A gun? Errrr, I don't understand... why?"

"She say for protection."

"Heh, no thanks, I don't need a gun, I have a guard" I said pointing to our new friend who was slowly starting to relax and occasionally even smile.

Everyone laughed, and the guard smiled vaguely taping his AK47, almost as if to say, "Don't worry, I'll protect you"

Discussion was nearly impossible, we sat there quietly as they phoned a dozen people trying to find an english speaking friend to accompany us. As a slew of calls failed, we finished our chai and walked out waving to the children.

"Yella!" I told Hassan. "Let's go"

We walked down the streets following Hassan, not knowing where he was taking us. Posters were plastered on all of the alley's walls showing masked terrosists aiming rifles and sling shots at Isreali tanks. A small door was graffitied with David's star over which a black X was drawn over. Clearly, staying polically neutral, as I always did, was key here.

We walked for some time stopping in a small factory where women made Palestinian flags, embroydery and Yasser Arafat parafanalia.

Through a tiny maze of streets we walked up stairs to sit down in an unknown room adorned with pictures od Yasser, flags and images of war.

"What is this place?" I asked Sandra.

"I have no idea"

A man was stretching out a palestinian flag in the hall, stapling pictures of Arafat on it. The flag was larger than a buik and it took 4 men to hold it.

After 20 minutes, a young woman walked in.

"Hello, you speak Arabic?" she asked

"Shway ( A little ), English?" I answered

"Yes, I speak little english"

Luckily Hala spoke enough english to explain to us what was going on. It was the 2nd anniversary of the Intifida. The Palestinian uprising which was sparked off by Arial Sharon's visit to the Muslim charished, Dome of the Rock, 2 years ago.

"My god, Sandra, do you realize that we just stumbled into the camp on the aniversary?"

The demonstrations were set for 4pm, it was 1pm.

"Hmmm, what do you think? Do you want to stay for the demonstration?" I checked with Sandra to see what her risk tolerance was.

"Sure, why not..." surprisingly, she was in.

Hala, joined our group and ventured of through the camp, explaining what Hassan couldn't using sign language.

We walked through the souq, a small, typically Arabic street were the locals could buy their fruit and clothes. The athmospher was tense as eyes beemed towards us wondering what we were doing there. Reasured by our over-protective side kick, Hassan, we walked on, snaping pictures with the confidence of a professional.

"... Sharon!..." a man barked at us as we walked passed his fruit stall. The loud cry of the Isreali president's name seemed very aggressive.

"Hala, what did he say?" I whispered into her ear. I usually didn't ask for tranlsations when I was shouted at, thinking it was better not to know, but in this case I was curious.

She smirked, almost refusing to translate, "Ummm, he say, you take my picture and send to Sharon."

"Ohh,..."

There was still 3 hours before the demonstration began. The adrenalin of being part of the mass demonstrations, of which I'd seen hundreds on CNN over the years, was starting to build. My heart was pumping quickly.

We continued on walking down the streets to kill time. It seemed that every 5th person had a machine gun in this town. Wether sitting next to a shop or walking down the streets with his kalishnokov resting on his shoulder.

"Wait one second please" Hala ran down the street and ducked into a building, leaving Sandra and I with Hassan.. A short 5 minutes later she ran back to see us.

"Come, a diplomat would like to see you."

"Why?" I asked with futility as Hala ushered us in quickly.

We followed her to the building where 3 men sat on the steps stroking their rifles.

We marched inside as they hushed us in. Inside, we entered the largest of the rooms where a balding man sat speaking into a cel phone behind a large wooden desk. He was surrounded by large men, sitting and standing around him, each armed to the teeth.

"Marhaba" I greeted, he paused his telephone conversation and with a sweeping hand, smiled and told us to sit on the couch in front of him.

"What are we doing here?" Sandra whispered to me as we sat on the leather couch facing him.

"I have no idea."

We sat quietly for 10 minutes before he finally ended his call. We had already been served tea and coffee and were eager to find out why we were in this office. The office was decorated in the, by now, typical palestinian decore we seen before. Images of Yasser Arafat, Palestinian officals and flags adorned his walls.

"Hello, before I begin, let me say, thank you for coming here. I speak only little english but first I say welcome and thank you. You are safe here and we wish you a good stay"

"Uhhh, thanks."

Although he apologized for his lack of english, his english was the best we'd seen since we arrived.

"I am sorry for the long call aswell. It was of major importance. "

He flicked on the TV which was mounted in the corner of his office, just above his private security guard's head.

"You see, today is 2nd anniversary of intifada. 150,000 people, in one hour will demonstrate in London."

"right, the anniversay. I'm sorry but are you a politician?"

"Yes, I am the representative of Yasser Arafat in south Lebanon"

I turned to Hala who was sitting net to me and asked quietly "Safara?" ( Safara being "embassy" in Arabic )

"Yes, this is embassy of Palestine"

We where sitting in Yasser Arafat's Lebanese Embassador's office. For all we knew, he could have been speaking to Yasser himself.

"Please, if you have any questions, ask me." he offered

We struggled to find some a-political questions before finally asking about the rally scheduled for 4pm.

"yes, I have a question, we have heard of the demonstration today."

"Ahhh yes, you must come."

"Yeah, we'd like to but... errrr... it's ok for us? Safe?"

"Yes of course, you will be my guest. If you like, I give you poster of Arafat and you can hold it up for CNN. Then you will be on TV."

"Heh" I casually coughed and changed the subject. I wasn't too keen on having my face on CNN holding up a portait of Yasser Arafat.

"You know, our friend Mr. Bush. This very powerful man" He said in a musing way, "He thinks we have Al Queida here, how can we have room for Al Queida when we have no room to sleep! Children are on the streets and Mr. Bush says we have links to them. I think he is funny."

The phone rang again. He picked it up and quickly dialed a number on his second line. "Excuse me.. I must take this call". He was holding one phone to each ear.

"Yella?" I asked Hala as the embassador picked up the phone.

"Yella.." she said. "Ok, let's go"

As we began to walk out, he gave us his card, put the phones down and shook our hands.

Only a few hours were left before the rally. We took the time to taxi out to neighboring Sida for a falafel.

When Hala declined to take any money from us for the food, she told us that the embassador had given her money to take us out.

"He say, take them to Sida and buy them food." We were being treated to lunch by the "Embasador".

My heart was slowly beginning to speed up. I'd seen many protests on TV and they did have the nasty habbit of turning violent at times. With the massive amount of munitions and whispers of Al Queida running amuck in the complex, this could be a dangerous event to witness. Would I be safe? It was a crap shoot.

We sipped tea, waiting, as I loaded my arsenal of cameras with film and batteries, ready to play the CNN photographer roll.

4PM flashed on my watch. I took a deep breath and rallied the girls. "Ok girls, time to go."

We jumped into a taxi and rode back to the Refugee camp.

As we pulled up to the first row of oil barrels, painted red, green and white, we could see the rally had begun. Hundreds of flags waved in the air and crowds jumped and shouted waving ak47's high.

"Here we go!" I said before we all marched into the crowd.

At first it seemed like madness and I wasn't sure how to react. Children waving pictures of Yasser Arafat tugged on my arm and jumped all around me asking for their picture to be taken. The street was full. over a thousand protesters jumped arund and waved flags. PLO security was out in full force, it seemed that every second person was shaking a machine gun in the air, police, locals and even children.

"Come." Hala pulled us to the nucleus of the event where everyone was facing. We pushed people aside, making our way through the crowd as people people ways once seeing our cameras, obviously thinking we were press. Our white sking was our passport, as people turned and saw our color, the crowd dispersed and let us through. They were used to seeing photographers here and all posed for pictures one by one.

In the eye of the storm, machine guns were flailing up high and chants were called out. High up on the podium was our diplomatic friend, the embassador shouting passionately into the microphone.

It was at that moment, surrounded by guns and angry palestinians, that I remembered reading, before I took the trip, how the best way to stay alive in these situations was to avoid crowds. From our position, we were in the worse place. It seemed like every part of my body was being yanked and pushed as people jokeyed for their pose to be taken in a picture.

A palestinian man pulled me close. "Which newspaper are you with?"

"None! Tourist!" I shouted over the screems. He looked puzzled and pointed behind me. Two young boys that couldn't be older than 8 years old were holding up an ephagy of Bush and Simon Perez. The distorted image portayed them being hung and blood spewed from their mouths.

To appease the men, we clicked away.

I pulled Sandra close, "Hey Sandra! Look down" I pointed to a ragged crumpled clothes at our feet. I had been standing next to it for 10 minutes before realizing what it was. It was an American flag which was being trampled on by the two men next to us.

"Ok, let's back out..." I grabbed Sandra's arm and followed Hala back behind the crowd. Behind the crowded group was a couple hundred other's all walking down the street, waving giant flags and holding up posters.

"I have to reload!" I shouted to the girls, straffind aside to an empty oil barrel. I pulled out my camera and some fresh film. As I tried to load my camera, I noticed that my hand was shaking from the massive rush of adrenaline. I pressed my arm against the barrel to steady it and slid the new film into the holder. "Ok, let's go".

A giant cloth was being held horizontally down the street by 20 children. "It is the names of all the people who died in this conflict" Hala explained, shouting loudly so that I could hear.

Next to me a small boy, probably only 5 years old was standing on an oil barel. I flicked my eyes towards him, catching Hala's attention. The boy was holding an assault rifle and was yelling. As we took photos, people crowded around and begged for their turn. Children being the most pesky, jumping in front of positioned shots, effetively ruining them and pulling at us. The overall frenzy of the situation was so adrenalizing that I could barely keep steady.

To escape the madness I jumped into the back of a parked truck and stood high above the crowd, shooting down at them. Old women posed giving the piece sign with their hands. I'd never had it so easy taking photos. Given the circumstances, I was surprised. All it took was for me to point at one person from the crowd, no matter how distant, and they would gladly smile and ready themselves for a picture.

Although the event seemed to be underscored by violence, given the large amount of bloody effegies, machine guns being shaken high in the air and torn american flags, everyone was extreamly curtious. Hala, at times had to brush some agresive onlookers away as they cussed an shouted, but a desperate feeling of the desire for peace could be felt. A feeling that hopefully could be summed up in a photo I took of 3 palestinian women, one smiling, the other holding up a baby while giving the peace symbol.

When my film ran out, 100 pictures later, we thanked Hala and she ushered passed the mass of people, out of the checkpoint to a taxi.

"Thank you so much for helping today"

"You are welcome, have safe journey"

We jumped into the cab and rolled off to the bus stand to catch a bud to Beirut as a convoy of dark windowed 4WD's rolled by, sirens blarring.

"Hezbolah" The driver explained.

We sat back, still full of adrenaline in silence.

"You know, Sandra, I think we could sell these photos to CNN"

"Yeah,... hehe... I think I want to be a photographer, that was such an experience"

We both sat quietly, reflecting on all of the events which we'd gone through in only 10 hours and slowly made our way back to Beirut.

Back in Beirut the modern cleanliness and progressive city seemed like an extreme contrast from the refugee camp only 45 mnutes away.

Sitting in the hotel lobby, we realized that we may have been on the evening news, mixed in the crowds of protesters and flicked on the Lebanese news.

News of protests from the West Bank and many other cities around the world flashed on the TV. Luckily we hadn't made it on the news.

"Hey Sandra, what are you doing?" I asked noticing that she was behind the counter typing away at the free internet terminal.

"I'm sending out emails to news agencies to see if they want to buy my pictures"

"Right, ok... well, let me know you turns up."

Later that night, we had some cheap Lebanese cuisine ( a rareity in uber-expensive Beirut ) and I passed out early watching Satelite TV in my room. "MMmmmm, TV in bed, what a treat.". A calm ending to a manic day.

-- Easy Travel in Lebanon

Lebanon, one of the smallest countres in the world, was an easy country to travel in. After spending a night in the comfortable Al-Nazih hotel and getting to know the owner, I decided that I would visit the country, using Beirut as my base.

Another factor made me want to stay in Beirut, I was tired of travel. Using the family-home-like hotel as my base, I could easily and slowly make my way to all of the country's sights.

As the days ticked by, I slowly visited museums and ruins. Taking in one a day as to justify to myself that, at least, I had done something that day.

For a country as small as it was, Lebanon had a surprisingly large number of attractions. The country's history ran deep. Thousands of years before Christ, one of the most prosperous ancient civilisations, the Phonecians, used the several, now-lebanese cities to run their lucrative trading ports. Their only evidence which remained was that of scattered ruins. The romans, Greeks, Byzantines and Muslims all left their mark aswell leaving a smattering of ruined cities, temples and castles throughout Lebanon.

After my Refugee camp experience, I spent the next 5 days touring.

Day one was Byblos, an ancient town dating back to Phonecian times, 45 minutes north of Beirut. The town had since been used by the Romans, Crusaders and Muslims. Today all that was left was a tiny section of the city where the ruins had been restored, only a quick visit was needed. I had seen so many ruins that after a quick tour to fullfill my need to actually see the place, I headed back.

A day later, I had met a Lebanese man, Nino, at a Cyber Cafe, and he had offered to take me around Lebanon. I took him up on the offer on day 2 of my country tour and we visited the Jietta Grotto, a facinating set of caves, 10km deep with mind boggling stalagtites dripping in waves and spikes from the moon like ceiling. We ended the day by visiting a giant statue of the Virgin Mary perched atop a mountain on the coast of Lebanon.

On Day 3 it was time to see the big attraction, Balbek. I'd heard so much about the temple ruins that I was sure to be dissapointed, but I wasn't. The ruins, 2 hours from Beirut was the sight of an ansient Roman Temple. What made it so special was the fact that it was very well preserved. The mammoth stones used to built the temple, which was dedicated to various pagan roman gods made sure it would survive the test of time. The temple took 250 years to build ( Wow... ) and was taken over and reused for various purposes by sucseeding armies over the centuries. First, the Byzantines changed the stuctures around a bit converting temples to churches after Emporer Constantine converted the Roman empire to Christianity in 300'ish AD. Then the Muslims had their turn and used the temple as a fort, adding walls, turrets and arrow slits to the temple. The different eras in the temple's life was very visible as I walked through the sight with some australian friends I'd met 10 minutes before over lunch.

On my last day of touring Lebanon, the day which I would see the last attraction I'd planned to see, I ventured of to the Bcharre Cedars. From Beirut it was 3 hours there and 3 hours back. A long journey for a 30 minute walk amongst the cedars. The trees deserved the visit though. The giant trees were part of the reason that the Phoneacians were successfull. The trees were some of the largest in the world and the ancient people traded them with Egypt, the Jews ( The ancient Temple in Jerusalem was actually built with these trees ) and also used them for their boats. Today only 12 ancient tree remained, it was said that the tree lived 1500 years before expiring. The size of them was a sure testiment to their age.

In Bechare it was cold, a complete contrast to the heat of coastal Lebanon. The cedars, high in the Lebanon mountains had a cold home reminicent to Canada. The landscape and weather made you wonder if you were really still in the middle east. As I made my way back to Beirut, the landscape changed back to tropical heat, my fingers thawing slowly on the descent.

-- Time to go

I had been debating with myself, what to do with the remaining 2 weeks of time left before my flight to London. 2 weeks didn't seem like much compared to the months I'd been travelling but seeing as I'd already seen most of the Middle East, aside from countries which refused to let me in, I was growing weary of sitting around in cities, waiting for time to trickle away.

When I awoke that morning, I had an idea "Hmmm... I wonder if I can go to Cyprus".

2 short hours later I had a ticket for a flight to Cyprus and back to Amman. I could spend 2 weeks in Cyprus before flying home.

Sitting in the Cyprus Airways lounge chair, signing my Visa receipt at the airline office, I realized that I had no idea what there was to do in Cyprus, where to go and wether I'd actually enjoy myself there. I signed the visa bill and got the sales agent's attention.

"Ummm, what's there to do in Cyprus anyways?'

He looked puzzled, "Excuse me?"

"Well I kind of decided to go to Cyprus 2 hours ago, and I really don't know much about the place"

"Ohh," he chuckled "don't worry, you will enjoy yourself"

I couldn't get very many other details from him aside from his confident "Don't worry" comments. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any guide books either. I made a few quick searches on the Internet and had a quick look at the map to atleast get an idea of where I was flying into. This time, I'd have to wing it.

That night I checked my email,

"Hey pal! It's Chadi, I just got your email" the email read.

Sure enough, 1 hour after I booked a flight out of the country, my friend that I was supposed to meet emailed me. Chadi, the Lebanese man I'd met in Syria was supposed to take me around the south of Lebanon, the DMZ. He knew how to get all the permits needed and I was excited. Unfortunately, it was too late now, I caught him on MSN and set a time and place for us to meet for at least a late dinner before I left, I would have to wait until next time to visit the south of Lebanon.

We met that night and after a dark secret was revealed that he didn't get along with my hotel owner, Michel, we parted ways and I decided to go out with Michel for one last late night in Beirut. We danced the night away at some local clubs until 6am. The next day I spent the day recovering from a hang over and an emerging cold before getting ready to fly to Cyprus.

One last country before I would head off to London. "Cyprus, here I come."
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