Welcome to a safe, perfect country for vegans and plastic surgeries – Lebanon.
You can’t define this nation in a few words, as in this country you can find everything from religious fanatics to prostitutes… a cultural mix, rich heritage, traditional, metal music, alcohol, fun, prayers and refugees….
It’s forbidden to enter Lebanon if you have visited Israel previously. But in my case, the officer even didn’t check my passport :). “Are you alone?“, ‘Yes‘, ‘Impossible, it’s Lebanon, you’ll have a boyfriend soon‘ and asked for my phone number.
Taxis from the airport to the center are 15-20 dollars, but negotiate before entering as the drivers can ask you to pay $50. Taxi drivers propose their prices, but if you don’t agree they ask how much you want to pay. Always agree a price to avoid future misunderstandings. All the taxis are Mercedes so you’ll see one quickly. From my experience in Arab countries, it seems the worst drivers are in Lebanon. To cross a street was a real challenge. They don’t like to let pedestrians cross. It’s easy to have an accident as sometimes they don’t even look, sometimes driving while talking on phones.
In parks and on beaches are waking vendors who sell tea. On the streets people were often asking me to take pictures of them. In Tripoli there are fewer tourists and the locals are more curious. The Lebanese are curious people. They call each other by nicknames. Shisha is smoked everywhere. Small Picas are a typical local breakfast. In restaurant they ask for tips, they can even stand above your head waiting. Lots people say that this or that is free. That you must take it, but then they ask you to pay. Be careful.
Some locals offer to help and can follow you, but need to be clear to them from the beginning. ‘Maybe/As you wish’ here usually means ‘Yes’. In the streets they don’t bother tourists, they gather. In poorer districts they tend to talk more to foreigners. Guys are more motivated to talk while girls tend to keep some distance, but there are exceptions. I met a girl from a religious family, who was less than 30, already divorced and living alone! Their kid lived with his dad as she had less money for supporting it, but they agreed to both take care of him, letting the kid stay in one apartment or the other.
People in general are friendly, though some men are too friendly. Some guys tried to impress me with their English or French knowledge, it was terrible, but at least they tried :). A Policeman even wanted to kiss on the cheek 3 times after they gave me directions. Lots of Lebanese were always ready to play board games, get out, dance, have fun and go for short trips. They go to Damascus to party on the weekends, as it’s the only close country where they can visit.
Mar Mikhael Street is that one where you can find the night life. The street is just full of bars and nightclubs. It’s Arabic Europe. People here dress how they want. Prostitutes exist here, and it happens that businessmen provide such surprises for their foreign partners, a visit from a hot girl.
I met lots of Lebanese who want to go to Europe for better life, and to escape from their very corrupt politics. Friends told that lots of guys have left to work and study abroad, but most of girls have stayed. The country doesn’t have enough men for all the women. It’s one of the reasons to have surgeries to look as good as possible, in the aim to find a husband. I even saw some guys wearing plasters on their noses. It seems they wore it just to show that they had surgery, or just to look good and show that they take care of themselves. Girls tend to wear lots of makeup and high heels. Some local guys tried to have my attention, by explaining that they like me look natural.
In this country Christians and Muslims live in harmony. Muslims mainly live in Tripoli while Beirut is a more Christian city, with many unreligious. Lots of people pretend to be religious and show off by putting huge statues of saints in their gardens. It’s a local fashion. The rich use a big statue in their gardens to show off their wealth. There are lots of religious decorations on Beirut streets too. It’s normal to go to the churches in the villages, as communities are small so people talk. But it’s more often a place to show off a new dress, or shoes. As there is nowhere else to put on nice new clothes. My Lebanese friends joked that if someone doesn’t go to church, it means that they have no new clothes to wear :).
There are girls who wear scarves and dress like Europeans. If a Muslim girl doesn’t wear a scarf, it’s not a problem. But if a girl wears a scarf for a lot of years and then decides to remove it, then she loses her reputation. People, and her family start to spread rumors about her, and friends leave her. At work though at least they don’t mind, so she could keep that.
The Baatara waterfall and Byblos are good for a one day visit from Beirut. Byblos is an old town. It has a marker where it is best to buy local souvenirs, and the best restaurants. A beautiful place. Pictures of Baatara waterfall are great but in reality was less exiting. It is forbidden to get close or you have to pay extra. Lots of Lebanese ask for money for each supplementary service. There is lots of free space around the waterfalls. A big choice of where to park, but if you want to park close to an entrance you need to pay. Parking 50 meters further away is free, at the entrance to see the waterfall, 4000 Lebanese pound. Locals mainly park in the pay spots, as money doesn’t have such a huge value for them. They like to impress and look cool to others.
Bsharri welcomes foreign travelers with open arms, as normally they don’t go there. It is home to the oldest skiing area, the Cedar ski Resort, and to Lebanon’s first ski lift, which built in 1953. The resort is about a two-hour drive, 130 km from Beirut. Bsharri is the town of the only remaining and preserved original Cedars of Lebanon. It is the real heritage of Christian culture in the Middle East. The town has also the biggest cathedral in the region, with magnificent views. It is called “The city of churches” as it has 37 of them. What is cool in there this place is that you are above the clouds. It was the first time in my life I saw clouds below me while not being in an airplane. If you go there take snacks, lunch with you. There are no restaurants in this village, just one further up at a ski resort. There are just 2 small shops. There are stray dogs everywhere, but all they want (except food) is some love and attention. Silence, fresh air, magic.
They live in communities and keep together. Arabs often have servants in their homes. Even those who are not rich have them. There are many African girls going to work there. They live in an apartment for free and get some money for their work.
I heard from my local friends that to rent a flat is crazy expensive. Those who rent for lots of years pay the same price as they used to pay from the beginning. The owner of a flat has no rights to throw out tenants, as he would need to pay them 20% of flat price.
A cool musician offered to host me at his apartment, where he stayed with his parents. Sounds nice? I wish it was. When I entered, his aggressive cat attacked me, so I had to hide in a kitchen keeping the door closed as that creature was jumping to open it. What was that? Yes, he received that cat as a gift! The only type of a gift (not talking about Pakistanis who expected to be ‘unpacked’) that I would give away. That cat used to attack everyone and was so noisy that you automatically tried to keep something in your hands just in case. The only person that cat loved was his mum, all the rest were his victims. All evening we had to stay on the terrace with the kitchen and balcony doors well baricaded. When leaving I had to slowly open the kitchen door to check for the cat, and then run out of the apartment without even saying goodbye to his parents. I love animals.
Beirut center is full of many super expensive, beautiful, modern buildings. Lots of them have terraces and there is lots of greenery around. There is still left some old architecture but most is in such bad shape that it’s better to destroy it and build something new. If you’re looking for more authentic and old heritage, Tripoli has it. This town has a different spirit and looks more traditional. People here are less open to European culture but seem cooler and more welcoming than in Beirut. The standard salary is around 800 Euros; however poor people earn around 100 per month.
It costs 5000 Lyras to catch the bus from Beirut to Tripoli, which is around 70km. Buses leave from Hebron station every 30 minutes. The last one is at about 17.00.
In Tripoli there was less chance to be alone, as people like to talk to strangers more here. Once when I was in a park and I saw some guys. One of them was deaf, and he tried to talk to me. It’s crazy hard to explain things in mute English to an Arabic speaking deaf person. Luckily I knew how to write in Arabic so we communicated a bit in writing. He was nice and insisted to help me take my luggage to my place. I couldn’t get rid of him. Then he just pulled me in for a kiss in a corridor, as this was the way he expected me to pay for his help. The vision of a kind, good hearted boy was gone.
In Tripoli I saw lots of military and tanks. I was wondering if they still have conflicts there. I was informed that they keep military there to make people feel safe as they suffered a lot during the war and still feel the pain. They feel anxious not seeing military, which could protect them. Lots of buildings are “decorated” with bullet holes. The old town still looks as if it’s fresh out of the war. Locals were asking for pictures and were ready to show me around. But be careful as some can follow you, retell something and then ask for money.
One evening I had to meet my Couch Surfing girl friend. I asked around 15 taxi drivers to take me about 3 km to a given address, but nobody knew where it was. It showed on my map and still nobody got it. They kept asking where I wanted to go. I kept repeating that I need to get close to a mosque. Nobody understood me. Lots of people came and couldn’t understand where I wanted to go. I even showed the address in Arabic. Nothing! Such dumb taxi drivers I never saw before in my life. In the end I had to call my friend to come to pick me up. Other days I preferred to stay in the Haddad hostel (10 dollars for a shared room, 15 dollars for an individual room) to avoid complications reaching places.
One of the proud local celebrities is a Soap maker. If you’re in Tripoli, pay him a visit. Sadly he can’t speak any English, but his eyes spread warmth and smiles. Even though I was not going to buy anything he found time to show me around and explain things, with a translators help. It was a real pleasure to see a traditional, local production atelier. Don’t miss the chance to visit his place if you’re looking for useful, authentic local souvenirs.