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A little bit Lebanon (lots of photos)

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As some may know, I spent two weeks in Lebanon in October.

It's a fascinating country and I dare say one of the most diverse ones on Earth for its size, which coupled with local sectarian mentalities is why it had a 15 year long civil war between 1975 and 1990, and tensions are still felt 26 years after it ended (Israeli occupation of south until 2000, Syrian occupation until 2005, devastating Israeli bombing and invasion in 2006, flareups and clashes between various groups until 2009, and a spike in bombings and clashes in between 2013 and 2015 - it's kind of calm now).

Here's a sect map of Lebanon to illustrate the blessing and curse which is its diversity. It's interesting that locals will boast about the country's unique religious diversity while it has caused so much strife and the locals themselves are often suspicious of members of different sects and seldom go to regions where another sect is a big majority.


Still, daily life goes by normally, and it's a pleasant place to visit providing you don't stay in Beirut for too long.

However I was fascinated by Beirut so I did stay there for a while and basically walked through 90% of this compact but very crowded, cluttered and claustrophobic city's neighborhoods and suburbs.

Here are some photos in two categories - the ugly and the beautiful, categorized according to the accepted international standard of my subjective opinion. And added info to perhaps make this crazy place less of an unknown for you.

The Ugly

Most of Beirut

Beirut is incredibly dense. Concrete is everywhere, (re)construction is everywhere, war ruins are everywhere. The one word to describe Beirut is contrast. Luxury five star hotels are flanked by abandoned war ruins, Ferraris and Lamborghinis drive by refugees sitting in the streets, run down neighborhoods and refugee "camps" without basic utilities are flanked by fancy new upscale glass residential buildings, decaying and smelly streets full of garbage lead into spotless new bars or restaurants that offer fine dining.

There is a huge military presence and walking randomly will probably lead you into a heavily fortified checkpoint in about five minutes - these include concrete barriers, portable pillboxes, barbed wire, armed soldiers and often one or several military vehicles, often armored. Taking photos around these guys is a bad idea, which is great since the most beautiful part of the city with the most historic ruins, mosques and churches is saturated with military presence, as it's also the part of town where important state and international institutions are located. I didn't take photos of these (not that I didn't try, but usually there's one soldier at least who's very alert all the time) but they look like this, this or this. They are prevalent all over the country, but especially in Beirut. Armed patrols are also common on major city roads, convoys of 3-5 Humvees with .50's mounted in the back, soldiers manning them. Hezbollah also maintains its own checkpoints in areas where it's dominant, like south Beirut or the south and northeast of Lebanon.

There is only one public park (excluding the American University of Beirut's campus which is also kind of a park) and it's far from the city center and was closed to the public until 2015 for "security reasons".

Construction and ruins and contrasts



This is in my own hostel



Your typical protected building, only this one didn't have armed guards, but you can see concrete barriers and tiny windows.


Garbage is a massive problem in all of Lebanon, it's normal to throw water bottles and lunch leftovers out of cars or public transport. Here I took a picture of Beirut's most known and photographed attraction, the Pigeon Rocks, from a slightly different perspective for more context.



Beirut's Holiday Inn hotel worked for less than a year after it opened in 1975. As the civil war broke out, militants fought fierce battles over this and other high rise hotels because they offered a vantage point over much of the city center. Now, over 40 years later, it still stands in ruin, towering over the posh center of Beirut, because of an ownership dispute.


Electricity is a problem in much of Lebanon, and even in Beirut, most of which has the luxury of 24 hour electricity, going outside the city center one will notice that street lighting simply doesn't exist in some places. Couple that with rubble or pieces of large garbage like remains of scaffolding lying on the pavement sometimes, or open manholes. Joy. Towns and villages outside of Beirut rely on generators to cover the outages - these are frequently provided by private companies that cover entire neighborhoods or villages and turn on automatically a few seconds after the outage starts.


This over/underpass and road are totally unlit





Beirut is urban chaos at its best



Dawra is an eastern suburb of Beirut and transport hub for anything going north or northeast of Beirut. It's an area heavily populated by south Asian and African immigrants. They're a caste of their own, and work almost exclusively as cleaners or gas station clerks. I was surprised to see that Lebanon has so many immigrants from far away, but apparently they can get jobs that the Lebanese themselves don't want to do, and there are entire armies of these immigrants working low tier jobs everywhere around the country. These people are (like Syrian refugees) royally ripped off by their Lebanese landlords. As my host Marwan told me, a 2 room apartment costing 400$ per month is rented by the room by the person for 100$ to immigrants/refugees, thus you would have two families living in one apartment, each in their own room, paying 100$ per person each, and being from Africa and Asia these are usually bigger families.








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Refugee "camps"

Lebanon has twelve Palestinian refugee "camps", and I put this in quotes as they are by no mean camps these days, but cities or city neighborhoods in their own right. Think of them as favelas. They were tent camps in the 1950's when they were established after the Palestinian exodus, over three generations they built shanty buildings there. During the Syrian war the refugees from Syria poured into these camps and now often outnumber the Palestinians (of which many managed to leave for the west or elsewhere during the prior decades), and there are south Asians and people from other poor areas of the world living in them as well as they are by far the cheapest places to live.

The conditions in these camps are appalling - there is rarely running water, electricity is scarce and wiring wild, there's virtually no sewage and the way the buildings were built ad hoc makes them dangerous to live in. Supposedly several people die from electrocution or in structural collapses every year. Generations of Palestinian refugees as well as newer ones don't have citizenship, cannot legally own land and are barred from working in most professions.

The camps also have a reputation of being dangerous, Lebanese will often tell foreigners to avoid them completely, especially at night, and they usually avoid them and stigmatize them a lot themselves. Also most embassy travel advisories tell you to avoid them. This is a bit unfair and over the top, as the vast majority of people in these places are normal and decent people brought there by very shitty life circumstances. I had a night walk near the southern administrative borders of Beirut and turned north-east as I started noticing that urban decay and general shabbiness started increasing the further south I went. Then I bumped right into Mar Elias refugee camp in near-complete darkness, noticed an Arafat on the wall and many Palestinian flags, turned the other way and made myself scarce as I remembered all the bad press about these places.

BUT but but but, later my host told me that if I'm interested in the camps (and I was, because effed up places always interest me) it's perfectly safe to go to Shatila camp. Actually most of them are safe during the day, especially for me as I was told I don't look like the obvious foreigner.

So I picked up two German tourists who were also staying at my host's place and we went to Shatila camp. We took a cab to the Kuwaiti embassy which is between Jnah and Ghobeiry suburbs, on the edge of Hezbollah turf (which is itself not unsafe unless you take photos). We walked along the southern edge of Shatila camp until we came to the entrance of the main market street that goes straight through the camp north to south. The southern part of the camp is Shia, probably full of Syrian refugees since flags of Hezbollah, Nasrallah and Assad are prominent. It's also the most run down part of the camp. As we walked northwards we entered Sunni areas. The people live on top of each other's heads in the stench of garbage and sewage here, it was quite sobering, especially when you take into account that after a 15 minute walk from here you can go to five star hotels or to a posh Lebanese wine festival, as we did later that evening. (they make excellent wine!)

Even though walking through crowded streets of the camps isn't inherently unsafe, when my German friends thought we'd walk through some side streets, I soon insisted that we go back since there were scarcely any people around, and the locals living there gave us weird looks. Not that the locals are evil or anything, but the fact remains that with so many Syrian refugees there will be at least a small percent who are jihadists affiliated with or supporters of extremist organizations like Jabhat al-Nusra/Jaysh Fathe al-Sham or even ISIS. A lot of criminals and jihadists wanted by the state hide out in these camps as there is no state security presence - security is left over to the Palestinian Fatah or other local militant organizations in mutual mistrust which sometimes even engage in firefights over disputes. So even if 99% of the people are chill, there's still the chance of running into an area where a jihadist cell lives, or passing an informant who calls his buddies to ambush and abduct you, or something of that ilk. the chance is extremely small but it's there, and this is much easier to do in vacant side streets than in a crowded market street.

I also went there another day with another person I met who was interested to see it.

Shatila camp, along with the adjacent Sabra neighborhood, was the site of the infamous massacre during the civil war.





Kurdish family from Afrin (apart from me on the right and a Romanian girl I met on the left) canton in Syria which I bought hookah tobacco from. you can make out an Abdullah Ocalan shrine in the corner in the back of the shop.







We later also visited Mar Elias camp that I bumped into that other night. It's by far the smallest camp (about as big as two city blocks, Shatila is a square kilometer), and unlike Shatila, there were almost no people in its narrow streets, and aside from the electrical wiring it didn't even look that bad, had painted walls and was clean. We weren't worried about being alone here as this camp is tiny and the least infamous one.






As foreigners are a rare sight in these areas, locals are often very hospitable and interested in them. Here is a group of Syrians who noticed us because of the blonde Germans I was with. They asked us questions about where we're from and what brings us here, and offered us welcome.



The traffic in Lebanon is atrocious. And fun.

This is a normal way to park your car here. All of these are parked. In so many places you have to walk on the road because the pavement is full of parked cars.








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Armenian quarter of Bourj Hammoud. It's near Dawra, just east of Beirut's administrative border. It's also very run down. Lebanon has a large Armenian population which came here as refugees 100 years ago during the genocide in Turkey, just in case you thought Lebanon didn't have enough going on with refugees already. There used to be many Shia living here before the war, and it's the birthplace of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah. You know you're in Armenian territory when F**k Turkey graffiti start appearing on the walls.

It was sunday so most shops were closed.









Armenians are of course Christians, like 40% of Lebanon. Being a Christian is a thing in the middle east, so you'll often find crosses everywhere, even as graffiti on the walls.



Tripoli's abandoned railway station

Tripoli is the second biggest city in the country, and the most turbulent one. It's Lebanon's conservative Sunni capital, and has a significant Salafist presence. Tourists are often deterred from going there, but it's reasonably safe in the town center or on the riviera. I went there to meet with locals and foreigners on a free walking tour organized by one very cool guy from Couchsurfing.org.

One of our targets was this very picturesque abandoned railway station from the time when Lebanon had functioning railways. With several late 19th century steam locomotives and warn torn relics strewn about, it's almost like a little wild museum. It's been bombed out and abandoned since the war.

The group















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The Beautiful

Beirut has pretty parts as well, like the Corniche, virtually the only part of town where one can escape the claustrophobia and smog. It's a long walkway basically going around the city's entire coastline. Many people come out here in the evenings.






The people who swim in Beirut are insane


The Pigeon Rocks which I already mentioned, are probably Beirut's top photo spot. They're at the south end of the Corniche. They even cleaned up the garbage a bit here. Here their beauty pales in comparison to yours truly.


My hostel, Saifi Urban Gardens, was a little green oasis in all of this concrete.



Muhammad the know it all receptionist. Very friendly and very "Arab-direct" :D


The Christian neighborhoods of Beirut are mostly in the north-east of the city. This is the nicest part of Beirut, a bit run down and not as fancy as the central districts of Hamra and Downtown, but not as sleazy as them either. These neighborhoods have charm. Being Christian, this is also the nightlife hub of Beirut, as in Muslim areas nightlife is a lot more curbed. There are countless small bars and restaurants lining the streets here.

These areas are Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Armenia street and Achrafieh. There are Christian areas further east than these but they are more rundown or are outside of the city proper.


For a moment I had to double check that I'm not in Tokyo




There's a lot of street "art" around in these parts.







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Ras al Naba is a mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhood where my first host Marwan lived. It's also not a bad place, and many surrounding neighborhoods are nice too. This is literally 10 minutes walk from Shatila camp. Marwan's roommate Maher joked that when shit hits the fan, this is the area where all the fighting will be concentrated, as it's near the blurry line dividing Shia from Sunni majority parts of town.


Window view from the flat where I was hosted


French flag?


Hamra street and Downtown are the posh center of Beirut, despite being 15 minutes walking distance apart. Downtown is where all the important stuff is, Hamra is more like the posh place to go out at night, both feature top tier hotels and restaurants.

The problem with Downtown is that it could be called Ghost town. Due to increased security threats because of the Syrian war, and several bombings in 2013 and 2014, the military has completely sealed off Downtown with checkpoints and barricades, allows no vehicles inside, and until recently didn't even allow native Lebanese inside without a reason (but did allow tourists). Because of all of this, the place is near-completely empty of people and goings on, which is sad because you can find pictures online from better times when the area was packed with people. And it's been beautifuly reconstructed after the war. Even if it was, like much of Beirut, reconstructed by former PM Rafic Hariri's company Solidere, and of course he became a billionaire. However, karma had other things in mind and he blew up in a bombing which sparked the 2005 Ceder Revolution and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. This is the way things work here lol.






Downtown and surroundings


Right next to downtown is the huge new Al Amin mosque, and between it and the christian areas of east Beirut is a vacant strip of parking lots and construction projects several hundred meters wide - this is where the front line was during the war, the infamous "green line", called so because of the foliage that grew there from lack of human presence.


Common sight in central Beirut every day


Clock tower in the heart of Downtown







Famous ruined cinema near Downtown





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View of Beirut from the mountains northeast of it, near Rabieh, where my second host lived in a posh apartment. Unlike from within the city, Beirut is splendid from up here.


The brown hill on the right is the landfill. Yes it's within city limits. Yes it stinks for miles. Yes it's overflowing.



Hope I've given some insight into this schizophrenic, indescribable chaos of a city. It's really hard to describe the vibe of this horrible yet kind of morbidly awesome place to someone who's never been there.

Now moving on to the true beauty, which is Lebanon beyond Beirut.

Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) is an ancient settlement with a UNESCO port from Phoenician times. The place is very tidy and pretty and kind of a tourist trap price-wise. It's majority Christian, like most places west of the Lebanon mountain range and north of Beirut up until Tripoli - this is the Christian heartland.


View from the crusader fort


Much sexier view from the Crusader fort











I ate a modest but tasty dinner here and had a hookah and juice. For 30$. But since I shamelessly and impossibly survived in Beirut for under 10$ per day the few days before this, it was ok to balance out. (maybe 30$ isn't a lot for dinner in the UK, you'd pay 50-70% less in a good place in Croatia, as long as it isn't a very touristy place on the coast)



Tyr (Sour in Arabic)

Fourth largest city and the southernmost main city, close to Israel and the tense border. Tyr is Shia majority and Hezbollah turf, their flags were everywhere. We came there on the eve of Ashura which is one of the most important Shia holidays and the time of year when the probability of extremist Sunnis attacking or bombing Shia targets is by far the highest, as Shia worshipers hold large religious and political rallies during this time. Hence, security was very high, Hezbollah very paranoid, and the heart of the town as well as the port were cordoned off completely - they didn't want anyone planting bombs or doing other such naughty things. Still, we had the rest of the town to explore, two UNESCO ruin sights (I won't post pics of those as they aren't anything special in comparison to Baalbek, more on that later) and a nice beach. Despite the Ashura related hustle and bustle, Tyr seems like a very eloquent and laid back town and I regret not having stayed there for a few days. Lebanese people agree with this and like Tyr and its people.

On the way to Tyr


Just another day in Lebanon. This happens everywhere.


Tyr waterfront



Hezbollah flags were in a lot of places, for example this building that maybe I shouldn't have taken a photo of. The Shia do love their flags, and since it was Ashura, holiday related flags were simply everywhere even more than usual. It was handy in Beirut for recognizing in whose hood you're in at the moment, lots of green and black flags = Shia neighborhood.




Tyr shopowner



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Baalbek is the site of the most epic ruins in the country. The Roman ruins are truly monumental and pictures don't do justice to how large these columns and temples are, nor to the scale of the area which they cover.

Baalbek is also another Hezbollah stronghold - actually it is its birthplace, even though Hez's HQ is in a secret location in south Beirut's Haret Hreik neighborhood.

Baalbek is also 10-ish km from Syria, the area around sees clashes and incidents from time to time, and going around the villages outside of Baalbek and near the Syrian border isn't advisable. Even though the rebels have been largely cleared from the Syrian side of the border, Islamist cells still operate in remote areas, and a week before I went to Baalbek, a local couple from a nearby village in the mountains was abducted by ISIS linked militants and brought over into Syria. Still, Baalbek itself is safe, as are the major roads around it. Hezbollah is very well organized and keeps it that way. The ruins were full of foreign tourists.

The most no-go area in Lebanon lies 20-30km north and a bit east of Baalbek, basically the extreme north-east corner of the country along the border, especially around the town of Arsal. This is where ISIS and Al-Nusra hold territory in the mountains and have not yet been uprooted by the Army and Hezbollah, even though their offensive capabilities have been crippled.

Baalbek is very tidy and beautiful for Lebanese standards, Hezbollah has a lot of money (through smuggling in the Bekaa valley which has been endemic throughout history, wealthy officials who support it and of course because of Iranian support) and its strategy to win over people is to provide local services that the ineffective state can't provide properly, such as uninterrupted electrical power, schools, order and similar.



Supposedly the "largest cut stone in the world", a human is about half as tall as the bottom side on the right





Notice the person on the left for scale



The very beautiful shrine of Sayyda Khawla from afar. I didn't take close up photos because it was Friday prayer and the first one after Ashura, and it was extremely heavily guarded, probably many of the local high Hezbollah officials attended. The shrine has been bombed in 2013.

Closer photo of the shrine outside and inside:


http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/43078100.jpg (I've seen a few interiors like this in Iran so not a huge loss for me)



Central Baalbek


Hezbollah flags are everywhere


The other side of those mountains is Syria. The besieged rebel held pockets of Zabadani and Madaya lie a few kilometers beyond the border. Madaya made news a bit less than a year ago because of the starving besieged population.



Beiteddine and Deir Qamar - mountain villages south of Beirut. Beiteddine is famous for its fabulous palace which doubles as the president's summer residence (ignore the fact that Lebanon had no president for two and a half years due to political deadlock until two weeks after I got home when they finally elected Michel Aoun for the role). Deir Qamar is a picturesque village a few kilometers from Beiteddine.

I don't have interesting photos of the palace and it's huge so it would be a lot of photos (impossible to picture in a single frame), but Google has.

Deir Qamar



Deir Qamar from Beiteddine on the adjacent mountain



This kind Christian couple abducted us for some coffee and talking :)


And for trying to sell us their produce, of course.




This is in Brumanna, a mountain village 20 minutes east of Beirut





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Tripoli, nicer things than abandonments

The old souq - Tripoli is perhaps the best city to get an authentic middle eastern feel in Lebanon



Traditional soap factory


Tripoli's grand mosque


And its pretty restored clock tower, better than the one in Beirut


View from the crusader citadel


The main reason why Tripoli is on travel advisory warnings:

Bab al-Tabanneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods in north Tripoli, as seen from the citadel. The first one (left) is Sunni, the second (right, on the hill) is Alawite. These two impoverished neighborhoods have been engaged in lasting clashes/borderline war (including RPG and mortar fire) two years ago over their support for the rebels/government in the Syrian civil war. Many Sunnis fought for the rebels in Syria, and many Alawites for the Assad government. Both neighborhoods are among the poorest in the country, and lack of opportunities makes their inhabitants find purpose in shooting at their neighbors. Ironically, the street that separates the neighborhoods (can be made out in the photo) is officially named Syria street.



Posh residential area next to the huge never-completed modernist Tripoli International Fair area



And the crown of natural beauty: Kadisha valley, the town of Bsharre on its edge, and the nearby Forest of the Ceders of God reserve

The valley/canyon, a UNESCO site. This is a majority Maronite Christian area, the valley served as refuge for persecuted Christians throughout history.



The town of Bsharre can be seen on the left


Bsharre, the mountains beyond are the highest in Lebanon, although the tallest peak is out of sight.




Mountains above Bsharre, on the way to the ceder reserve.


The Forest of the Ceders of God reserve is one of a few places where the Lebanese ceder is preserved. The tree has been famous throughout history (and is on the Lebanese flag), which is probably why it has been brought to near-extinction for its wood. Some of these trees are ancient.




And during winter there's a lot of snow here, so you can go skiing. Ski lift visible.




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And last post: the interesting people I met :)

Marwan and Vi - my first hosts. Marwan hosted me in his place through Couchsurfing.org, Vi is his girlfriend. Marwan comes from a Shia family but is not religious, he lives in this nice apartment with his roommate and firend. Vi is his French-Algerian girlfriend. They're great people and very interesting to talk to. One funny anecdote was when Vi was complaining about Brussels having a reputation as an uninteresting place, and Marwan responding that it IS uninteresting (they visited it together, Vi loved it and Marwan didn't), then under Vi's pressure he gave in and admitted that "Ok, there are interesting parts of Brussels, I especially liked the Arab quarter".



German couple - Alissia and Martin - were also Marwan's hosts at the time I was there - Alissia studies Arabic in Beirut, Martin came to visit her. We went to Shatila together on my first trip there.


With a Syrian shop owner in Shatila, he wanted to take a picture with us. We bought cookies.


All of us together at Vinifest wine festival on Beirut's Hippodrome.


Anamaria - you've seen her on other pics, a friend of Vi, she came to the apartment after the Germans left. She was volunteering with refugees in Bekaa valley for several months, finished that and was now just traveling around Lebanon for a few days before going home. We spent three days traveling to Tyr, Beiteddine and Bsharre before she left.



Christophe - it's sad that I only have this photo of him (guy in the black shirt) as I spent three days at his place and he was a great host. He lives with his parents in the mountains near Beirut (the mountain view of Beirut pictures are from his balcony). With the beard and hair he looks like a proper jihadi, which got him searched on a random Hezbollah checkpoint by some very suspicious guards once, he told me. But he comes from a Christian family and is a really really all around great nice guy, works in an NGO which tries to improve the living conditions of refugees in and around the camps, among other things. He's also a musician and singer doing small gigs. His parents are well educated, travelled and eloquent people who greeted me warmly into their home, the first time they ever did something like this (Chris used to live alone, now he's between places so staying with his parents for a while). The other people in the picture are his NGO coworkers who we went out with one night.


Anas - I know this guy from an online forum for about a year, we talked about Lebanon a year ago and he told me that if I ever come I should contact him and he'll show me around his home town of Baalbek. I met him in a place in Achrafieh, Beirut, where this photo was taken. We were supposed to meet in Baalbek "after Ashura, because I don't think it's a good idea for a foreigner to come here during Ashura." When I came to Baalbek he didn't respond on the phone for hours and I left for Beirut in the evening. He apologized later and said that his infant kid ended up in hospital due to an asthma attack - they didn't know what it was back then and were in panic for several hours. He's pro-Hezbollah (it's a legitimate political movement in Lebanon) like probably most people in Baalbek, and a funny and well informed guy. Currently trying to set up a business in Belarus.

When he apologized about not being able to meet in Baalbek, he asked me if I was there at 7 PM. I said no, I left at 5. He said there were warning shots fired into the air, and that "Some Syrian must have gone too far" - there are a lot of Syrian refugees in Baalbek like elsewhere in Lebanon, and a lot of very well guarded Hezbollah buildings and residences.


Hadi - organizer of the Tripoli walking tour when we saw the train station and other places. Really cool guy who enjoys inviting foreigners to Tripoli and showing them cool things off the beaten path for free. Oh and he's also a PPL pilot which I discovered half an hour before we parted ways after hanging out the whole day!


The people on the Tripoli walking tour. Half were Lebanese, mostly from Beirut, the others were from Iraq, Pakistan, Germany, Ukraine and myself from Croatia. A very fun and chill group.




That's it.

Perhaps it isn't tailored to DD forum so much because I wrote this to use on several forums and an a future travel report that I'll publish online (with lot more info).

I hope you found this piece interesting, or informative, or enjoyable, or at least just pretty to look at :)

Lastly, I'll leave a little thought soup that I wrote on Facebook from Lebanon half way through my trip:

It's been almost a week and I still struggle to wrap my mind around this fascinating place, and to write anything meaningful. On the first night, a German-Lebanese guy I met at a couchsurfing event asked: "How do you describe Lebanon to someone who's never been here?"

I never really understood the depth of that question until I ventured deeper into Beirut. I thought I knew this place somewhat because I've read quite a bit about it, but experiencing it first hand has been an exercise in humility that left me dumbfounded. How DO you describe a place with such appalling contrasts that you come across every five minutes, the decaying streets of Gemmayzeh which lead into brand new expensive bars, the Ferrari shop in the middle of the vast flat area in the center that used to be the frontline, the luxury hotels next to bombed out 30 year old ruins, the refugees sitting on the streets watching Lamborghinis drive by, parts of the city where the streets smell like shit but the restaurants offer fine dining? A place where the Downtown area which was rebuilt to look like fucking Vienna and is just as spotless, only to then be literally turned into a huge army base - surrounded by omnipresent hideous concrete barricades, barbed wire, bunkers and army positions that protect the government buildings within, thus making the whole area devoid of people and pretty much dead.

How do you describe the Palestinian/Syrian refugee "camps" and the inhuman conditions of living within? How do you describe that from places like these, without basic utilities like clean water and reliable electricity, or indeed with buildings that may collapse any second, you can cross the street and stand in front of new luxurious glass residential buildings (as in the case of Mar Elias camp) or that after 15 minutes of walking from Shatila camp, you can attend a posh wine festival?

How do you describe a place with such vibrant, people packed and dynamic Sunni and Shia areas of southern Beirut, but where intersectarian suspicion runs so high that even taking photos could land you in trouble with Hezbollah or various Sunni/Palestinian groups that have a local presence. A city that one can cross on foot in little more than an hour, yet one that houses no less than 9 religions in it, and where intersectarian sparks have ignited armed conflicts and indeed, the civil war.

But most of all, how do you describe Lebanon's spirit, and the fact that it's probably one of the best examples of "life goes on" anywhere? How do you describe the spirit of a place where people were partying in one neighborhood while Israel was bombing the shit out of another? How do you describe the spirit of a people that are so proud to be Lebanese and that will boast of Lebanon's religious diversity, even though it has caused so much destruction and death through the last 40 years? How do you describe the insha'allah attitude many people have about life and death, and the whole "while it's good, let's enjoy it" mentality which permeates everything?

As my host's roommate Maher said: "If there was a bombing in the next street, we would just go out again the next day and do things as we used to do them. We just don't care anymore."

I can describe all of this here, but I didn't really, because it's so much more than these mere words, and it runs so much deeper. The unique vibe of this place is not a thing you can describe outright, it's a feeling. A feeling for which language is ephemeral, because just as soon as you think you've found the right words, you come to realize that they don't really do any justice to it at all.


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Very interesting, I look forward to your next journey and the photos you provide. Thanks Rox

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What an amazing place. Thousands of years of human history, love, life, strife and misery all compacted into such a tiny little country. Thanks for the tour.

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