With 3 days in Lebanon - what would you do?
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Really: what would you do?
I would like to begin this entry by congratulating Lebanon for taking the lead as: ‘the country I have spent the most amount of time in since the Saga began’.
On February 19th 2014 I reached Greenland onboard a ship. On April 23rd 2014 I left Greenland onboard another ship. On December 13th 2017 I reached Lebanon onboard a ship. Yesterday was February 15th 2018 and I’m still in Lebanon...
Days in Greenland: 63
Days in Lebanon: 64 (and counting).
Congratulations Lebanon! You are now the country I’ve spent the most amount of time in during the Saga. While I love both Greenland and Lebanon the two reasons for the long stays are different:
Logistics: I was struggling with finding a ship to take me away.
Bureaucracy: I’m waiting for a visa for Syria.
The two main obstacles of the Saga are nearly always logistics or bureaucracy. One thing both Greenland and Lebanon have in common: I’ve made snow angels in both countries...
Marc is a dear old friend from Denmark. We both ended up as ski instructors in Austria back in November 2001. We’ve been good friends ever since! Marc and I enjoy being goofy :) We shared a room in Austria (Maria Alm) in a house together with 14 other young people. Marc and I immediately agreed we wanted to decorate our room with posters portraying puppies and horses on their hind legs...on beaches in the moonlight. Like a little girl's bedroom. Marc copied some Chinese symbols on a strip of toilet paper and hung it from the ceiling lamp in the middle of the room. I liked Marc from the beginning but didn’t give him much credit for being a smart person. He was just goofy. I was really wrong!! My birthday is in December and that year I was given a book with 1001 questions and answers. One evening after work we sat and did 501 questions and answers. The next evening we did the remaining 500. To my astonishment Marc got about 98% right and I got around 60%. He knew stuff about the wives of kings that lived hundreds of years ago. He knew things about countries I’d never heard of. Marc knew about elements I didn’t know existed and much more. That book changed my mind about Marc. Never judge a book by its cover! Marc is a few years younger than me and is also from Denmark. When I worked in Libya (2004 - 2006) he visited me. When I worked in the Arctic Circle (2012 - 2013) he visited me. A few weeks ago he asked how long I would be in Lebanon? Last Monday he arrived in Beirut! :)
Marc is a teacher today, is engaged to a beautiful woman and has a 14 month old son. He had been joking about wanting to eat falafel every day here in Lebanon. Falafel is according to Wikipedia originally from Egypt but is wide spread. Before he arrived I began to work out where we could get falafel? Beirut is full of restaurants serving Italian food, Japanese food and what not? I hadn’t noticed falafel anywhere but Beirut has everything and sure enough there are a few famous falafel joints too. It was raining when Marc’s airplane touched down on the tarmac and I picked him up holding a sign reading: ‘Mr. Pierce Lance Pumper’. There are card games portraying cars, where the objective is to beat the opponent by reading the cars top speed, weight, build year etc. Back in Austria Marc and I found varieties of such games with trucks, boats and other vehicles. Our favorite game was one with fire trucks and one of the trucks was called Pierce Lance Pumper, which we joked sounded like someone from an adult movie.
Fish display at Spinneys.
Our Uber brought us from the airport to where I stay in Beirut. We immediately went for a walk and I wanted to show him a Lebanese supermarket called Spinneys! It’s so extreme in its size and display that I can’t think of a supermarket in Denmark that can match it?!? Marc was impressed just as I. Then we headed to a sort of wine bar that sells exclusive rum, whiskey and wine. It’s really posh and I’ve walked past it many times. They also have a bar so you can taste the products. We had a welcome whiskey and went back into the rain looking for falafel :)
I couldn’t find the falafel joint so we settled at a English type pub/restaurant (Greedy Goose) and had our dinner there. We enjoyed a few local beers (961) and a meal. When we were ready to leave the Greedy Goose embarked on a pub quiz so we stayed a little longer and came in second-last of five. We better get back to that book again ;)
Greedy Goose pub quiz.
Marc only had three days in Lebanon. I dearly needed his company because as I wrote logistics and bureaucracy are responsible for the main challenges during the Saga but these days my mental state is weighing in hard. I’m not doing all that well but I’m trying to keep on keeping on. I was so ready for the Middle East when I left Cyprus. It was going to be the new chapter of the Saga and I figured Lebanon would be really easy. I was offered to come onboard a ship from Cyprus to Lebanon and the transit time would only be 10 hours. Immigration in Lebanon had other plans and I wasn’t allowed to disembark the ship. No explanation was offered? I continued with the ship to Egypt and later on boarded another ship back to Lebanon where the same happened. As such I ended up in Cyprus again a full month later and had lost a lot of momentum. A few days later I had made it to Lebanon on a third ship coming from Turkey and I was welcomed into the country. Then I just “quickly” needed to reach Damascus in Syria which is only three hours driving from Beirut. I’ve been in Lebanon for 65 days now and nearly all my Middle Eastern momentum has been sucked dry. I really needed to see an old friend.
Marc didn’t want to see anything in particular. He just wanted to spend time with me and observe as he followed along. On our first full day together we got up early, had breakfast and headed towards the coastal road from where we could jump on a bus to Byblos (Jbeil). Byblos is recognised as the perhaps oldest continually inhabited city in the world. It’s a modern city today but the old town and old port gives a glimpse into what life might have been like. It was another rainy day but fortunately we are not made of sugar. The bus ride to Byblos takes less than an hour so I figured it would be a good option for us. We found our way to the castle which sits on the coastline in all its magnificence. The castle has a little museum which also gives a good idea about Lebanon’s past. Afterwards we walked the old streets, observed some fishermen and took some pictures.
If you haven't been stuck in Beiruti traffic in a Lebanese bus then you probably haven't really been to Lebanon.
The rain gave up during the afternoon and the Mediterranean boasted some amazing views for us. We found a café and sat down for water pipe and tea. Marc had brought the fire truck playing cards and Pierce Lance Pumper was revived once again. We were on the outlook for some falafel but ended up eating taouk which is a traditional marinated chicken shish kebab. Then we walked back to the coastal road and found our way back to Beirut, where we promenaded the streets of Beirut Souks, the marina, the corniche (waterfront) and Beirut downtown before returning home. On our way back we found the Sahyoun brothers, who have set up two falafel shops right next to each other. Finally falafel!!
The look of falafel satisfaction!
At the falafel shop we ran into Akram who I met skiing two weeks earlier. Marc and I had been hoping to go skiing but the season has been a bit strange in Lebanon this year so we were uncertain if we could due to rain and unusual warm temperatures. Also transport from Beirut to Mzaar ski resort isn’t easy so we had been working on a solution. Akram lives 30 minutes from Mzaar and offered that if we could make it to Achkout then he could offer a ride from there? We finished that day watching a movie and relaxed...
It was in and out of the clouds to begin with.
The next morning we got up early and called an Uber to get us to Achkout ($21.86). Once we arrived we called Akram who had bad news: the slopes were closed. Akram suggested that the slopes might open later that day and offered us to come by for coffee and hang out for a few hours. We were unsure what to do and walked a bit further up the street where we saw a sporting goods store. Some ski googles were on display and Marc wanted to take a closer look. A sales representative named Lebanon (yes!) approached us and we small talked for a while. It turned out that the store rented out skis and boots. Lebanon told us that he had rented out more than 10 pairs that morning and that he was sure that at least some of the slopes had to be open? We decided to rent our equipment then and there and just needed to work out transportation to the slopes. As it turned out Lebanon’s father was a taxi driver and 30 minutes later we were well on our way heading into the gray clouds. At Mzaar (the largest ski resorts in the Middle East) we got our lift passes and sure enough a few of the lifts were operating. The weather forecast was spot on: mixed clouds and sun. It was partially foggy or semi clear and that was good enough for us. There was less snow than when I first went two weeks earlier but the slopes were good.
And finally the sun burned through and we had some blue skies.
We called Akram who showed up later. As the day progresses the weather got better and both Marc and I managed to get sunburned after all. It was a great day on the slopes just like 17 years earlier and we had about six hours skiing and being goofy.
Marc and Thor's epic ski video production number one: https://youtu.be/7s4W-DVpBw8
Afterwards Akram gave us a ride back down to Achkout and offered us lunch. We had a royal meal at Akram’s home before finding our way back to Beirut. That evening Marc and I made a few videos, had another whiskey and enjoyed our last hours together in Lebanon. A final game of fire trucks was played :)Last night I arranged for another Uber to take him to the airport at 03:00am. I saw him off on the road next to the taxi. Thank you for coming to see me and for being my friend!
Hanging out in the rain at the marina.
Lebanon is truly a mix of history. It has everything ranging from the very old to the very new. I’m a believer in the Big Bang theory where all that we know of began billions of years ago in an explosion. According to the by now well proven theory, everything was compacted into a very high density and high temperature state until it rapidly expanded and formed our universe. How it got to that compact state to begin with is beyond anyone’s guess? Anyway, I’ve been toying with the idea about how Lebanon is in such a compacted state of culture and history within a tiny Middle Eastern country. Just playing with the thought of having Lebanon as the only country in the world I can see Lebanon expanding into all the countries of the world filling them with culture and history. With only an extra day together with Marc we could have chosen from thousands of things to see and do. With an extra day we might have visited the Jeita grottoes, the mineral museum and the national museum. I would have loved to show Marc that. We could have ventured into the bohemian part of Beirut known as Hamra. We could have seen Raouche Rock and much more. We could also have played more cards ;)
Zaituna Bay, Beirut.
I’m really privileged here in Lebanon on several levels. I have a great place to stay, I have made many friends here in Lebanon which I regularly see, I'm doing well on a $20/day budget, people are trying to help the Saga move forward and generally I have my bases covered. On another level I’m struggling. I want to go home and I have 60 more countries to reach between Lebanon and Denmark. Every extra day in Lebanon is a day less I’ll spend somewhere else. Not all is lost and there are still some “birds left on the roof”. Now how to get them into my hand? Your help and support is appreciated. Let’s get the momentum back!
Marc and Thor's epic ski video production number two:https://youtu.be/SyfpwSLlxvc
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Losing momentum.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga