You might recall that in my previous post I mentioned that my first few days of exploration here were pretty much alone and how a lack of companionship would be a concern for my remaining stay? Thankfully that concern was quashed the very day I published 'Beirut, Lebanon - "Paris of the East" so in actual fact I've ended up with the best of both worlds; one half of the week solo-style and the latter half with new travel friends.
Having spent several days enjoying down-town, Hamra and Bliss street, I felt I really needed to get out and see more of Lebanon. It was either that or look to leave this country earlier than I had hoped. Thankfully my travel friends were like-minded and so we had some decisions to make between us which conveniently brings us on to the following topic:
Is Lebanon safe?
Well, was Egypt safe? Was Israel safe? Was anywhere I visited safe? Despite its proximity to neighbouring Syria, to me it's as safe as almost anywhere these day - right up until the next attack or news story. Know what I mean? Speaking of Israel, did you know that my visit to Israel could pose a serious problem having wanting to visit Lebanon? In fact, I've met at least a couple of people over the months that couldn't even entertain the thought of coming here as their passports had been Israel stamped! To be clear, I would be rejected from entering the country and be kicked straight back out. Nice. Needless to say I'm glad I had the foresight to request that my passport was not stamped therefore allowing me to be here. Al-hamdu lillah.
Back to Lebanon, well officially the UK and US government consider portions of this land as 'red zone' territory. See here:
Beirut is currently marked as 'green zone' however some places we wanted to visit were actually marked as red zones - "Advise against all travel". Not words to take lightly.
Knowing that my folks would far from approve of me gallivanting across such territories alone (and probably at all), my travel friends are I took to some Internet research prior to making a decision. We felt it less foolish if we based our decision on up-to-dare news and equally importantly, from what we would hear via the locals. Combined, we were satisfied with the information we had gathered and so indeed off we set venturing to several cities and tourist attractions over two consecutive days.
First up was a town named Baalbeck. This is nearly 90 kilometres away from Beirut and although this might not sound like much, once you've had a taste of the mayhem that is Lebanon traffic and their semi-useless military checkpoints, well it's almost enough to put you off taking any form of automotive transportation. Still we eventually made it courtesy of several 'ser-vees' aka 'shared taxis' aka 'sheruts' but it still took us just shy of three hours which is a heck of a long time for what is largely a straight road!
Anyhow enjoy these Roman ruins folks as where I'm heading next after Lebanon will most likely put an end to these ancient wonders...
Above is incredibly well-persevered Temple of Bacchus - inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, obviously.
Below some wonderful mountainous views.
We also visited Tripoli. Not Tripoli the capital of Libya but Tripoli a city high up north in Lebanon as you can see from the map of earlier. In fact, it's the second-largest city in the country so this will have been a well-visited city in earlier, less troubled years. Currently Tripoli falls under 'red zone' territory (as does Baalbek) so we observant and mindful of this although we were not made to feel hostile, awkward or anything negative at all. Neither did we receive 'strange eyes' from the locals which is always a good sign and surprising considering we only saw literally a handful of tourists throughout the entire day and this includes the two cities!
I appreciate that when you hear 'red zone' you might rather naturally defer to a safety perspective but please spare a thought for people on the other side of these words too; the locals. With an infinitesimally small amount of tourists arriving here these days, the 'sellers' need to still be very active and therefore they will pounce without aggression as soon as they see tourists often distinguishable by shorts, shades and a backpack :--) Despite their failed attempts in selling to us, rejection was accepted and taken better than I thought which in turn, makes you feel even worse that you can't give a little bit of financial aid to every person in need you meet. Things like this genuinely continue to torment me more than the average person and I'm well aware of that.
24 hours later we would again have another full day visiting Byblos, the Jeita Grotto and the Jounieh cable car (Teleferique) of which a statue of Our Lady of Lebanon sits atop.
The Jeita Grotto caves were spectacular but no photos were allowed to be taken to the point where they ask you to leave even your mobile phone in a locker before hand.
Byblos, like Jericho in Palestine, claims to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. For us we found this to be a surprising little city and one we all felt charmed by despite being there only a handful of hours.
The Jounieh cable car (Teleferique) reaches something like 550 metres above sea level and once you've reached the top, you've effectively made it to a different municipality.
Jounieh cable car (Teleferique):
After two full days of exploration outside of Beirut, it was time to relax a little and re-appreciate the city and its surrounding beauty on this, my penultimate day in Lebanon. In an effort to see more of the city, I teamed up with a German fella and together we looked for (and found) a bike hire outlet. Fees paid, off we set in the direction of the promenade (the corninche) which thankfully offered flat terrain allowing good ground to be covered without too much difficulty for bicycle newbies like me. It wasn't before long we reached a beach and hung out there for a short while.
A popular attraction along the promenade is probably an area known as Raouché (Pigeon Rocks) - one of very few natural features of Beirut. It's a strange feeling to think that you only have turn in the opposite direction, head a few hundred meters and you'll be back amongst city life. Beirut really is a pretty cool city folks but hopefully you already felt that from my previous post.
See Pigeon Rocks below. (I was really chuffed that the camera picked up on such fine detail here with the sea and from the rocks themselves).
These last few days have been really fulfilling folks and I felt I had accomplished seeing a lot more of Lebanon than the average visitor does (if there is such a thing as an average visitor in these parts). This get-out-and-about motivation was largely driven by the people I met here which further re-affirms the importance of meeting people during one's travels.
The next time you hear from me I will have moved on from here and so the best I can hope for is that my portrayal of Lebanon has really surprised you - like it has for me. That said, I accept that many of you will think I was slightly crazy, brave or even stupid to have considered here in the first place but it looks like that 'risk' paid off, wouldn't you say?
If you previously thought I was indeed one of those adjectives, what must you think of the handful of people I met here who chose Lebanon as their 'holiday destination'...!?