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I have never been so scared in my life. I came to Lebanon with Hezbollah more on my mind than anything else. Though they were a bit whacked in the head (slightly understandable in light of the recent war and devastation), it was, surprisingly, the Christian fundamentalists that got to me.
My trip, however, started on a different note with 2 nights out on the piss in Beirut with my friends from Syria. We met some amazing people, as well as some losers. With huge multi-culturalism mixed in (there were even Indians about) it was a lot like home (maybe that was because of the Indians), but a lot more expensive.
At one point we also chanced on 2 young Lebanese. It was interesting talking with them. Both were Muslims. Both had lost a lot in the last few months. Both were good friends.
One was a hardcore Hezbollah supporter determined to defeat Israel.
The other wanted peace, in spite of his major losses.
It was great meeting 2 liberal people, who would talk about everything that had happened. Like Iraq, though, it was harrowing hearing them talk about the atrocities that had taken place. I wasn't keen to bring this up again, but it really was yet another reminder of just how lucky we really are.
After drinking and hangovers my friends went back to Syria whilst I stayed behind and had a day off. It was during this time that I met Martin the German. What a legend. He was a mix between Che Guevara, Gandhi and David Hasselhoff. And he would be my travel companion for the next week.
It was absolutely wicked hanging around with him. Perhaps German people aren't so bad after all? We ended up in Tripoli on the first day of our trip, finishing the night in a boring town by smoking nargila on the beach. Respect.
Then we headed to Bcharre. I had read that it was beautiful and it was. I didn't know, however, that it was the HQ for fundamentalist Christians in Lebanon. We met quite a few strange characters and it was lucky that I was with a German, because for some reason, they like Germans. After a while though we changed my nationality and my religion. We told people them that I was a Catholic German. And it worked.
We left quickly the next day, hitchiking our way over the mountains to Baalbek. It was quite famous and, though I'm not usually interested in a bunch of old rocks, the Roman ruins there (the biggest in the world apparently) was marginally interesting.
Next stop, a winery in Zahle. We had a great tour around the place and did some wine tasting. Drinking alcohol for free is fun.
After that Martin and I returned to Beirut for a night. The following day we headed south to see for ourselves the aftermath of the war with Israel in the last few months.
Palestinian refugee camps are not nice. We didn't enter them out of respect for the inhabitants but looking in from the outside it was clear to see that the people were living in squalid conditions. It is a shame that in a country so rich this kind of crap still goes on. It is also a shame that the don't have their own country.
In the afternoon we managed to get out to one of the villages that had been totally destroyed. We had a drink first, with the nice guy who had shared a taxi with us to the village, and then went wandering.
It was not pretty. I hadn't expected to see so much devastation and it, quite literally, blew me away. Martin and I met many locals, all of whom had been affected. One family chatted to us happily, as we sat in front of their totally destroyed house. It is amazing how people continue in the face of ruin. There were Hezbollah posters everywhere, and undoubtedly everyone we spoke to was a supporter, but neither I, nor Martin, ever once felt threatened. I would liked to have stayed a little longer to meet more people but as it was dark and Ramadan we had to get going. We hitched a ride with 2 (probably drunk) guys back to the nearest major town and then caught a bus (that was continuously playing Hezbollah songs) to Beirut.
I saw a lot in my one week in Beirut. Things that aren't in 'our' media back home. Did you know that the Lebanese government does nothing useful, and that Hezbollah are the ones giving out money to the civilians and in charge of the reconstruction programme? I heard that not only from other foreigners, but from many charity organisations situated in the country. Not that I'm turning into a Hezbollah supported, but it was one of many things that I had not heard about before - t'was interesting.
So that was Lebanon. I left the next day, intent on passing through Syria to Jordan. But I was asked to pay $52/26quid for a visa to cross to Jordan. I didn't like the idea of paying so much for the 2 hours I needed to make the trip so I stayed in Damascus for another 5 days instead. I crashed at my mate's place (cheers Jonny and Julia), slept late, woke up late, played Command & Conquer a lot, as well as a game called Chicken Invaders (similar to Space Invaders) and got drunk, during which time Julia decided to pluck my eyebrows. It was an interesting week.