Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trip to Lebanon

We made it to Lebanon Sunday night Dec. 26 around 9pm. After getting refreshed, we met up with some of our co-workers who were already in Beirut a few days. They took us down the street- Hamra Street, to a place called Oscar Wilde Bar. Our co-workers were saying that "this is the spot!" Although, bars are not my thing, I tried to make the best of it. But I don't smoke & don't drink so it was uncomfortable being in a small building full of smoke & drunk Americans who in their stupor kept talking about how beautiful the women are lol.

After some time there, we decided to go to the "Sky Bar" which I've heard about. We went inside & it was pretty empty around midnight. It turns out it wasn't the "Sky Bar" whose roof opens up, but in fact a casino. A casino with no slot machines or poker tables- I wonder what they meant by was a restaurant/bar, with a small stage but no dance floor. My co-workers wanted to leave b/c of how dead it was. Then this gal comes up to me & asks if I wanted to sing for karaoke. I said YES, so we waited a half hour. I sang 2 songs & a co-worker sang "Bad to the Bone" & busted out his harmonica & blew the place away. I didn't know he could sing or play harmonica! Then the locals sang some english songs & finally, scores of people poured through the doors & soon it was Arabic karaoke with people dancing & clapping their hands. It was a very classy place & it got so filled with people it was hard to walk to the bathroom, yet as the evening progressed more people kept coming.

Day 2. My boyfriend & I start walking down Hamra street to find out how to get to Baalbek, which is a city with amazing ruins of roman temples where they worshipped Jupiter, Venus, & Mercury. One cab driver said $160, we walked away from that offer. Then we ask this cab driver who was chillin on the street, parked in the most inconvenient way, how much. After haggling with him, he said $100 round trip.

So we get in his silver Mercedes Benz with leather seats & the cab driver starts chatting with us. His name was Kamal. He was extremely friendly. He got a phone call & said "this is my madame!" He then showed us pictures of his madame & kids. He would look at us through his rear view mirror while he drove- very often it made me nervous he would hit someone. Then he said his madame wanted to come along with us & asked if that was ok. We said yes, so we went to pick her up. Odd huh? lol. Her name was Amal.

The ride to Baalbek took over 2 hours to get there. There was SO much traffic b/c schools & business are out by 2pm. And we were going across Lebanon & into the mountains, passing many cities. It was exciting.

We finally made it to Baalbek's Temple Ruins. 2 seconds did not pass from getting out of our car that a vendor came running up to us trying to sell us scarves, books, tshirts- anything he was selling.

We walked away & Kamal said to be firm & quick with them. So Shawn & I go into the site while Kamal & Amal go their separate ways.

We see these HUGE pillars & temples in impressive detail.


As we make our way towards the exit, I see one of the vendors poking his head to look through the door. Once he saw us coming, he took off. As soon as we walked out of the temple site, we were hit with 3 vendors trying to sell us stuff. One guy was trying to sell us Hezbollah t-shirts!

After fighting our way back to the cab, Kamal took us to eat at this delicious restaurant. It was kind of awkward because their English was broken & our Arabic was almost non-existent so there were some moments of awkward silence, but we had a good meal with some good company. Kamal really loves Amal. For an Arab cultured man, he was very affectionate with her & they were both so giggly. Kamal had to be in his late 40's & Amal looked like she was in her late 30's. I have a picture of them in my photo album.

The drive back was VERY long. Did I mention that there were a ton of military checkpoints we kept going through to get to Baalbek? I wanted to take a picture but Kamal said not to do that.

Later that night we walked around Hamra Street, had dinner at an Italian restaurant, then ate some yummy gelato.

Lebanon is country with constant civil unrest.

It was interesting to see just how many churches there were next to mosques. One other thing that I noticed was that the country celebrated Christmas as a holiday. They decorated their city with lights, tinsel, and there were a lot of Christmas trees- fake & real ones. In Kuwait, you only saw Christmas decorations in grocery stores & malls. Grocery stores because they sold the decorations & malls to sell winter clothing.

Hamra street reminded me of Downtown Fullerton & Hollywood on the strip. The streets were VERY small but there were actually Stars on the sidewalk like in Hollywood. It had a college town feel & people LOVE to constantly honk their horns.

Day 3 (or 2.5), walked down to the beach. It was the Mediterranean Sea, I've never seen it before. You could see the snow capped mountains in the distance.

The Lebanese people are very good looking. They are very stylish. Lebanon is definitely not a rich place. Buildings & flats are very old & wore down. There were a lot of beggars, especially Palestinian beggars.

There was so much more I wanted to do on this trip, but 2.5 days was just NOT enough. There's a ski resort, there are several caves, there is hiking in the forests.....SO much more but time had run its course.

I would definitely go back. The people are very friendly, lively, open, & much more liberal than Kuwait.

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