Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Northern Lebanon

My ride to the Syrian-Lebanese border was pretty uneventful. I stopped at a fruit stand to get a snack. While there, I tried to reach a friend's friend to meet up with them, but it wasn't meant to be. I want to say next time, but how many times does one person visit Syria? However, he is a bike tourer, so who knows. He also aspires to ride 100km a day. That could be a good pairing for me. His next tour is the 88 Temples in Japan. 1400km in 14 days. That sounds downright delightful.

Life at the Syrian border was not as delightful. I had to go to one office, then another, then another. Half the guards wave you over to chat. I assume I have to do something official. They just want to know what your story is and don't ask for any documentation. Anyway, while trying to get my stamp to leave the country, I was pointed back out of the building. I left and went to the last checkpoint. They sent me back because I didn't have a stamp. Eventually, someone pointed out that I needed to buy a 500 Syrian Pound piece of paper. The store was selling it for 600. The stamp said 500. This seemed pretty clear cut. I ended up paying 600 after a lot of back and forth. When I left Syria the second time, it was only 500. Grumble, grumble. I wonder how many times I can write that about things. It is only a $2 difference, but I get really caught up in the principle.

After leaving Syria, I passed through almost an entire Lebanese town before reaching their border control. Things were a little easier. I thought I needed money for a visa. An on the street changer tried to give me a really crappy deal. In the standard Middle East way of things, about five guys gathered around to watch. I don't like it. I decided to go back to a different money changer who had a much better rate in the town I had passed through after leaving Syria. The guards stopped me. When they found out why I was going to get money, they said the visa doesn't actually cost anything for US citizens. The money changer tried to be helpful after I did not need his services. I just can't make that transition so quickly. Oh well.

The lush green of northern Lebanon.

The olive trees I had heard so much about from Kate that add a little flavor to your hummus.

When I finally got underway in Lebanon, I wasn't thrilled with the welcome I got. A couple people on motorbikes buzzed me. A few other screamed from roads or the sidewalk to try and scare me. On the other hand, when I finally got past that, the roads were in great shape. The trees were huge. It seemed lush compared to Syria.

A shanty town on the beach.

Then, I found the more populated part of northern Lebanon. It was dirty. It was poor. Poor in the country can still be functional. Poor near cities comes across as poverty. There were camps of people with houses made out of scraps. The kids were digging through garbage piles for who knows what. They were right on the beach though, which has to have a few perks. I would not have been brave enough to eat fish from those waters though. The cars were emitting a ton of pollution. When I went to the mountains later, I saw this thin line of black hovering above the coast. Ick.

A fisherman throws a net off the trash covered beach.

Interacting with people was a mixed bag. I crossed armed check points, some armed with tanks. The soldiers were all very friendly. I talked to a couple random people about my plan and the end of the conversation left me a little concerned if I should have revealed so much information. I can't name a single thing that gave me this feeling, it was just a hunch about the people I was talking to. There were many others who were absolutely brilliant to talk to. One of these guys gave me my best falafel in Lebanon. I'll remember those guys in the long run. One of the guys invited me to stay at his place. I should have taken him up on his offer.

The view from my falafel lunch stop.

My second armed check point. I was too nervous to take a photo at the tanks one.

When I finally arrived at Tripoli, my crappy Lonely Planet guide book steered me wrong. The one hotel was closed and another was quadruple the price. I can't believe how much it cost for what it offered. Also, every place wanted dollars. They don't want Lebanese money. I assumed they would tie themselves closer to the euro than the dollar, but who knows. Maybe they know the dollar is making a come back that I don't know about. After an hour or two of trying, I found a place to stay. I found some dinner and took a stroll on the waterfront promenade. When I stopped to use the Internet, I think we lost power fives times in an hour. The store operator assured me that this was the norm which baffled me. They had the computers hooked up to an external power supply and only the monitors to the walls. Every time the power went out, the kids would groan because their shooter game had been interrupted and one would run somewhere to turn the power back on. I assume they were flipping a fuse.

Tripoli, Lebanon (yes, that is a horse on the beach).

My first day in Lebanon was all over the place. I hoped the traffic and pollution got better. I hoped I kept finding friendly people instead of people thinking they are clever enough to scare a biker. Though I was happy to be biking again, the reservoir wasn't deep enough to deal with too much nonsense. On to the mountains. On to the goodness.

This cat was using this as the world's largest cat litter box.

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