Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
rox

A little bit Lebanon (lots of photos)

Recommended Posts

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.

Lebanon_religious_groups_distribution.jp

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

14700813_10210246321050971_6514123023818

14716264_10210246323851041_8526027983895

This is in my own hostel

14633578_10210246324891067_7375112867062

14721568_10210246327131123_9541708011956

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

14560020_10210246327411130_6620060918300

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.

14705609_10210246328451156_1217886635174

14712468_10210246353131773_8626795704804

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.

14718765_10210246343451531_9178552455746

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.

14612639_10210246348371654_2180566974152

This over/underpass and road are totally unlit

14681982_10210246347491632_6987149108412

14633466_10210246369212175_8544010716109

Surely

14716258_10210246380532458_8712591969538

Beirut is urban chaos at its best

14567475_10210246373772289_2248985906218

 

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.

14707776_10210246377732388_1428516208461

14711307_10210246378852416_7332773505544

 

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

14702362_10210246334131298_9005587720952

14570735_10210246334771314_8907503549327

14590011_10210246334931318_2660896896095

14753329_10210246335371329_3153025676876

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.

14753856_10210246335971344_9554348592342

14657533_10210246336131348_9087366679838

14720422_10210246336611360_6982236979694

14753922_10210246337091372_8326091502428

 

 

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.

14713740_10210246338691412_5604640163897

14718658_10210246339051421_7541712729137

14681642_10210246340491457_7798097537709

14715720_10210246365972094_4741286982506

14633675_10210246367692137_3586386106580

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.

14753345_10210246331611235_6196315515516

 

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.

14556579_10210246341811490_5488970895529

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

14753446_10210246364252051_1909715623654

 

14753370_10210246364332053_1381083593594

 

14560063_10210246378732413_1338724118582

 

 

14853287_10210246379892442_7400676374262

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.

14556602_10210246381052471_8897336713851

 

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

14859838_10210274819803422_8026502712614

 

14859717_10210274819203407_5725757517817

14890415_10210274820963451_2522321253971

14608795_10210274821443463_6486632977733

14712798_10210274822003477_4979604898046

14524598_10210274822283484_8364226100596

14856037_10210274823883524_8243057000056

14889732_10210274824963551_2991352376369

14883684_10210274862524490_4674108020381

14724648_10210274862844498_4927524505775

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

14853134_10210246328011145_9083706939477

14753249_10210246345891592_4258343565501

14753852_10210246371012220_5033895298039

14753658_10210246371172224_1981498146990

14691207_10210246372092247_4070708036123

The people who swim in Beirut are insane

14560004_10210246372492257_8137804457597

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.

14570715_10210246346331603_1406342339142

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

14608719_10210246320050946_7828261546507

14680645_10210246320330953_7451973450036

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

14859756_10210246350651711_3263561511621

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.

14859799_10210246349571684_7884194789449

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

14670647_10210246328531158_3556503054675

14859669_10210246352731763_4227452987673

14753284_10210246351531733_8837250807310

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

14589805_10210246350771714_9153887988495

14612444_10210246352411755_1971578457385

14608904_10210246353851791_4013090339966

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

14715423_10210246360491957_6003191310089

Window view from the flat where I was hosted

14855977_10210246360531958_3076448458498

French flag?

14570536_10210246368332153_1431963981670

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.

Hamra

14695315_10210246340451456_3466121957925

14690966_10210246341011470_1958605612859

14566494_10210246341611485_1336035560221

 

Downtown and surroundings

14715607_10210246318410905_2001179759612

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.

14543921_10210246320890967_7504654923071

Common sight in central Beirut every day

14859759_10210246321010970_8473109459211

Clock tower in the heart of Downtown

14615665_10210246321290977_1687647008426

14615605_10210246321970994_1261533730695

14707999_10210246322010995_4090752440391

14570738_10210246327571134_5459574604882

14753409_10210246327731138_5548677131619

14556574_10210246370412205_6532987089488

Famous ruined cinema near Downtown

14753232_10210246369932193_7602797818608

14708002_10210246380772464_4130273050567

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

14567575_10210246381212475_8646714562946

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

14589784_10210246318490907_6725209799121

 

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.

13662041_10210275055209307_3864739812626

View from the crusader fort

14884557_10210275056249333_5618708653712

Much sexier view from the Crusader fort

14890602_10210275057249358_1022293818146

Market

14633266_10210275058809397_8990957295825

14633462_10210275068569641_7848019666514

14633253_10210275073329760_6389397998409

 

Port

14856087_10210275071489714_2749268629620

14889981_10210275071329710_7308193893710

14884479_10210275061809472_6434943152420

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)

14859882_10210275066769596_1917706635927

 

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

14856038_10210275011048203_6995404560073

Just another day in Lebanon. This happens everywhere.

14876430_10210275011528215_4547281472093

Tyr waterfront

14889752_10210275011768221_7615627568320

14890363_10210275018528390_8087242986552

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.

14876414_10210275017448363_7447297068695

13662046_10210275024768546_4373887965453

14883442_10210275020928450_2506174302396

Tyr shopowner

14853112_10210275025328560_3052748576439

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Ruins

14883407_10210274718120880_9035815669398

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

14883637_10210274719480914_5400728622530

14889940_10210274720080929_1764185715192

14883513_10210274721640968_2632929278373

14876426_10210274721920975_6249859122850

Notice the person on the left for scale

14706932_10210274724241033_2203859716672

 

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://pbs.twimg.com/media/BOf7b9bCEAMrAgM.png:large

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)

 

14853095_10210274724041028_9617958772951

Central Baalbek

14889715_10210274719160906_3597792267081

Hezbollah flags are everywhere

14639679_10210274718000877_4737932740741

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.

14633282_10210274720480939_8794860696491

 

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

14853058_10210275119770921_3904183018047

14882261_10210275121890974_6179279165250

Deir Qamar from Beiteddine on the adjacent mountain

14859896_10210275116330835_6995557722643

14853098_10210275113650768_7627601629995

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

14633656_10210275113490764_7936177216691

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

14608900_10210275112330735_6672438940113

14855970_10210275111090704_4287655402056

14612477_10210275104730545_6091408516793

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

14706932_10210275177132355_1314816822369

14859915_10210275177332360_7126658961698

14681851_10210275176052328_2883281071879

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tripoli, nicer things than abandonments

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

14633249_10210274836483839_5239316089795

14853169_10210274808843148_1840735756409

Traditional soap factory

14884520_10210274829723670_3391113133209

Tripoli's grand mosque

14856150_10210274827323610_8462670453309

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

14725717_10210274835283809_4940541445501

View from the crusader citadel

14902771_10210274809683169_8639128212244

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.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bab_al-Tabbaneh–Jabal_Mohsen_conflict

14902898_10210274837243858_3364105279596

14853169_10210274809883174_6670824838623

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

14883583_10210274812763246_8498837481646

 

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.

14708121_10210185584692600_5346717776651

14853200_10210274736801347_5595159068100

The town of Bsharre can be seen on the left

14852984_10210274738121380_4310379028550

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

14615747_10210274730321185_6247233970475

14882175_10210274753081754_6183189302577

14853095_10210274735201307_7414561127836

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

14853153_10210274734481289_8991891209534

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.

14753801_10210274750561691_7788313745525

14876501_10210274754521790_1926532213087

14633569_10210274755521815_1876323848806

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

14856108_10210274755881824_6950179354579

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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".

14566237_10210246333611285_6559687330137

 

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.

14633711_10210246329651186_7176408492576

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

14708177_10210246329411180_3309008102049

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

14566305_10210246355731838_3060169329128

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.

14853238_10210246360131948_1628395507305

14712494_10210246358851916_6958401964551

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.

14633232_10210246368012145_3094702778450

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.

14856119_10210246354371804_6389334660230

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!

14524599_10210274832763746_4665263133472

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.

14633275_10210274862084479_4156159717749

14715600_10210274827283609_1614863999359

 

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.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Rox! Very intresting. Still reading :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×