A few weeks back, I travelled to Beirut, Lebanon. I feel it’s important to capture what I experienced in the few days I spent in the country. As my buddy and I walked ourselves out of the airport, we were immediately approached by a taxi driver hawking his goods. This was the first of many times a taxi driver would ask, often repeatedly, if we needed a lift. All for good reason as these guys charged huge cash for their service. There aren’t any meters in any cabs. So, it’s a guessing game as to the charge you incur for a trip. We picked the worst looking car at the airport and hopped in thinking it’d be the cheapest. Our mad man, the guy was true Lebanon, said he charged thirteen for a ride into Hamra. Hamra is where our hotel, Casa D’Or, was located. I thought it was a little high, but I didn’t know Lebanon at the time. We agreed and blew into town and by blew I mean sat in traffic for a long time in a junker with a mad man at the wheel. On the way, we got our first glimpse of what Beirut is all about. The remnants of the war are certainly still present. There are buildings with bullet holes and giant mortar round holes all over the city. It’s an unnerving thing to see having never experienced a sight like that before. There were guys walking the back streets with army fatigues and AK-47s at every corner. It didn’t help that every time we happened upon at tank with AK wielding army guys my cabby turned to me smiled and pumped his fist to the greatness of Beirut. The initial shock wore off a bit as we made our way to the hotel. We found it perfectly and handed our cabby the 13 big dollars he had agreed upon. This is when he said that what he meant by thirteen was actually thirty and it was just a slip of his muddled English. I began arguing as did he and we sat for a good 10 mins with him not accepting the thirteen I pushed into his face. Now, after seeing bullet holes, AKs, and tanks piled along the streets the last thing you want to be doing is arguing with a cigar smoking angry Lebanese cabby. I pulled out seventeen more big ones and handed it over. And, so, Lebanon begins.
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After shelling out my cash we checked into the hotel and oddly enough a 30 dollar cab ride from the airport is typical according to the hotel clerk, huh, and here I thought I got totally ripped. We spent 3 nights and 4 days in Lebanon and every day we made the most of it. During the day we’d take treks over the country and see the sights and at night we’d smash the night life. We did trips out to Baalbek, Byblos, Ksara, Jeita, and Harissa. Baalbek was one of my favorite spots. It’s a site of ancient Roman ruins with huge original standing columns. It’s amazing with striking beauty. As we travelled through mountains to Baalbek, I did notice certain changes. The streets as we approached became lined with yellow and green flags. Baalbek as I slowly became aware was an area populated by Hezbollah. In fact, the first thing I was offered when I left the car was a Hezbollah t-shirt. In fact, one guy actually attempted to forcefully put me into a Hezbollah t-shirt. I swore at that moment I would hire that man for my company’s sales team. These street vendors in Baalbek were aggressive. As a sales guy myself, I was inspired. And, as a sign of my approval, I had to by a shirt. Besides, it was a bargain, only 3 dollars. I pulled out my wallet handed over the 3 beans and slowly tucked my US passport deeper into my left back pocket vowing that on this day that passport would not be seeing the sunlight. However, the ruins of Baalbek are incredible and did an excellent job of removing the uneasiness you’re bound to feel after realizing you’ve just entered some serious Hezbollah territory.
The night life in Beirut is excellent. At night (every night), we hit Germayzee and attempted to see every one of the many many bars on that street. It was during these Beirut nights I realized the real appeal of the country. It’s the people. The people I met during just a few days were awesome. To describe it properly would be to simply say that everyone is looking to enjoy life. People are open and to say that about a country that sits smack dab in the middle east is something. It’s all about living each moment to the max and getting every last drop of enjoyment you can out of it. I loved it, and I embraced it.
Summing things up Lebanon is a country of intensities. Everything is at the brink and youre constantly sitting at the edge of your seat. The country itself is beautiful with mountains and greenery you never see in the middle east. The people are beautiful, friendly, and up to have fun and just enjoy life. But, there is a constant sense of it being like a powder keg that’s waiting to erupt in violence. The military is present at every corner and every man in the country, I know, is ready to drop it all for a fight. The country is an experience and it gives you a sense of how to live life on the edge. This is not your comfortable American suburb; this is where you live like mad, enjoy like no where else, and drop everything to war at all times.
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