2013-4-21 Lebanon: Beirut, Tripoli, and Byblos
A wave of emotions swept over me as my flight from Saudi Arabia descended into Beirut, Lebanon. Undeniably, there was a lot of excitement. For years I had dreamed of the day I would be able to walk the streets of Beirut and Byblos. I met many Lebanese in my travels. They inspired my cautious determination to visit their country. Their homeland was a place of joyful yet often terrifying memories. Many of them, had never returned to the country they grew up in. A 15-year civil war from 1975-1990 ripped the nation apart and a generation had fled war for peace. I see them everywhere, from South Africa to Germany, France, and the USA.
Somewhere as foreign as an airplane can feel like a comfortable refuge when a foreign land awaits outside the door. That feeling of excitement stepping into Beirut Airport? It wasn't alone. Entwined in excitement was a mixture of emotions. I felt a palpable sense of uneasiness and fear. Despite this fear, I was determined to visit Lebanon. Only 3 years earlier, one of my biggest regrets, I had delayed a trip to Syria because of trip logistics. In 2010 Syria was one of the safest countries to visit in the Middle East. Many travelers spoke of an amazingly beautiful country with equally beautiful and kind people.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, Beirut, Lebanon
It was 2013, and two years earlier the Arab Spring had sparked the Syrian Civil war next door. Refugees poured into Beirut, and there was a feeling that Lebanon would once again find itself engulfed in a civil war. Only weeks after visiting Lebanon, dual bombings would tear through mosques in Tripoli. One which I visited on this trip. In 2013 alone, 162 people died, and 1512 were seriously injured in bombings only months after I visited Lebanon.
Sidewalk produce stand, Beirut, Lebanon
What I found in Beirut was a city scarred, rebuilding, recovering, and full of hope. I took a taxi from the airport towards downtown. Upon arriving at my hostel, I found it doubled as an amazing little restaurant, cafe, and local nightly live music venue. I spent my first-night meeting locals and wandering around central Beirut with them. There was a mixed vibe in Beirut. I suppose you can only have so much hope for the future when a new war rages next door. Central Beirut reflected this sentiment in its buildings. the center had been rebuilt, but walk several blocks in any direction and bombed out, bullet scarred shells of buildings could be easily found everywhere.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque next to a Christian Church, Beirut, Lebanon
Overall I found Beirut to be a really amazing city. It beautifully sits on the ocean and is remarkably compact. Despite some hills, exploring the city on foot is simple as long as you keep an eye out for where you go. The southern suburbs can get rough quickly. Generally, I felt safe walking alone but more so when I was accompanied by locals. I suggest staying somewhere that allows you to meet local people. Lebanese are very open and generally well-educated and easygoing. Their knowledge and taste of the city will make a meaningful difference in how you visit Beirut.
Bombed out, bullet-ridden shell of an old building in Beirut, Lebanon
Many trips to Lebanon are complete without a trip to Tripoli. So much so, that I never intended to visit this northern city on the border with Syria. The war across town frequently spills over into Tripoli. Sudden outbreaks of violence can occur at any time here. The week after I visited, the city erupted in armed clashes and many deaths. The Lebanese Armed Forces are routinely brought in to quell the violence. Why did I visit? I didn't mean to. I boarded a bus in Beirut bound for the north and told the driver that I wanted to get off in Byblos. I was sitting in the back and didn't notice when the drivers switched before we left. Once I checked my phone's GPS, it was too late and we were 40 minutes past Byblos on the way to Tripoli. I figured I could catch another bus in Tripoli easier than getting off on the side of the highway and trying to catch one. On arriving in Tripoli, the bus dropped off everyone in various places around the city. I was soon the last person remaining on the bus and went to ask the bus driver whether he stopped at a bus station or looped back to Beirut. He looked at me terrified, and genuinely concerned at the thought of me wandering around Tripoli. The bus driver explained how dangerous the city was, and offered to walk around with me for several hours until it was time for him to drive the bus back to Beirut. He would drop me off in Byblos and told me not to worry about paying the bus fare. As we walked around the city, language differences kept us from speaking much, but I will never forget his exuberance at pointing out various mosques, the town center, a stadium, etc. He routinely showed me stores that he thought were particularly funny because of what they specialized in selling. We had lunch and boarded his bus several hours later. It was all an extremely kind gesture from a stranger who spent his break that day showing me around, and to the best of his abilities ensuring I didn't die on the streets of Tripoli.
Believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, Byblos is a completely beautiful ocean-side city that has existed since 8800 BC. I definitely recommend taking time to wander through the city, visiting the castle, souk, churches, and various ruins. Most of all, I would suggest spending your time relaxing in the old port—especially the ruins of the castle in the middle which are reached by awkwardly climbing to the top. Once there, you will find yourself in a perfect place to watch the sunset with a local Almaza beer.
Old Port Panorama, Byblos, Lebanon
Old Port, Byblos, Lebanon
Old Souk, Old City Byblos, Lebanon
Man fishing, Byblos, Lebanon
Old City Byblos, Lebanon
US State Department Travel Warnings: Lebanon
Beirut, Byblos,& Tripoli. Lebanon