Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travel Guide (Lebanon Inside and Out)

Above the clouds there was till some sunshine, sinking through them there was no below as they caressed the earth in a thick blanket of mist connected to the earth in a thin film of ice. Welcome home...

Below a small guide to traveling, my way, possibly your way, with a focus on Lebanon, my most recent source of exploration and mind triggering creative imagination... Feedback appreciated as always :)

Travel With a Friend
Traveling with someone makes the experience so much more enjoyable. No one ever sees what you see exactly in the same light. Have someone there to challange and broaden you views it makes the experience so much more intense. The memories you make will always be ones you can share, ones that are there to recollect and spinn off. (I imagine one day being old and telling my kids about those days and they will roll their eyes- that story again?! and secretly hope to have an adventure like that as well.)
I was lucky to travel with Alain, a Lebanese boy (should I say man?) I knew from Hawaii (Volleybal). Lebanon is his home and once he suggested to one day show me his country. An idea that grew into a reality. Traveling with him opened up doors for me through knowledge I simply didn't have before, gave me insight to a culture I didn't know anything about and tought me to appreciate my friend in a new way, set against the backdrop of home. Thankyou Habibi.

Walk Places
When you walk you find things that you didn't plan on. When you visit a landmark or attraction explore the area around it. Familiarising yourself with routes and sites creates a sense of belonging. Personally, I really like to get myself lost and then find my way home again...
These broken wartorn walls are not uncommon to the city scape between high rises and fashionable stores. It is for a reason they call this phoenix country. It rises from the ashes again and again.
morning rays
the phoenix ashes
as they grow

Walking through the souks in Tripoli you emerge yourself ino the past, old structures that may have been part of roman or byzantine buildings, renovated by the mameluks and ottomans. There are shops in little nooks with cultural pleasantries originated in different habits and religions and people. Oriental art is abundantly found, designs are generally done on brass, copper, china wares, lamps, carved chests, Persian Carpets and painted furniture. Various perfume stores sport beautiful rows of bottles with naturally produced smells of musk and gardenia and go under names that indicate their effects on others. Furthermore people smoke (hookah) waterpipe a lot... it is a common passtime in bars and though I'm not always a fan of the smoke I love watching it. It holds a certain charm. If you ever wanted buy one they are quite easily found, whole shops dedicated to the tradition.

Always be in for a Surprise
Don't expect to know what people think and why they act like they do. There are plenty stereotypes in the world but as soon as you get to know someone they usually break with theirs. In my experience people are generally kind and curious unless you mess with their values.
People in Lebanon have a tendency to really stare at me but in a harmless way. Generally curious and welcoming (those who spoke English and didn't feel awkward talking to me often told me welcome and asked how I liked Lebanon). At some point in the souks(market area) Alain commented on people staring and I told him he was just jealous. Not long after, -I was waiting for him to buy some treats- I got quite irritated by someone staring who just didn't look away. No shame at all! I mumbled to Al I was going to punch that boy in the face if he kept that up.
Al told me "I would do it for you but then you might accuse me of being jealous again."
To which I replied: "No worries I can punch him myself if I really feel the need.
To which a scarfed lady who had been standing next to me replied: GOOD ANSWER! and walked off. Can't say I had expected that and it definitely put a smile on my face.

Know Some History (Religion)
Knowing history helps you know what to look for. Sometimes you have to be pointed in a direction to see what there is to see.
The coastal plain of Lebanon is the historic home of a string of coastal trading cities of Semitic culture, which the Greeks termed Phoenicia, whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years. Byblos, believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, built by Cronos, was given it's name because the Phoenician city of Gebal was named Byblos by the Greeks, because it was through here that papyrus Bύβλος (bublos; Egyptian papyrus) was imported into Greece. Hence the English word bible is derived from byblos as "the (papyrus) book.

The Byblos castle was built by the crusaders from limestone and ancient roman structures. Interesting to see the different influences (and museum) on it's inside and fortification on it's outside. Spending some time on my own there I wandered into a bookstore and bought "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran (famous Lebanese author), sat at a little cafe and read most of it. Little book on life's wisdom. The site he loved and was later turned into a museum to comemorate his works of art and writing we visited a couple of days earlier. Researching Gibran you find he stayed in Paris (you can see a new technical skill and trend in his paintings) and he was a traveler finding his way amongst his people and those abroad. Sound familiar?

In Beirut I wandered into what originally was the Crusader Cathedral of St John (1113-1150 A.D.) the building was transformed into the city's Grand Mosque by the Mamlukes in 1291. Next to it stands, also quite grand, a church. I took a picture of course and dared to the door. They were prepared for visitors. Could I please wear this?! Inside it was spacious and cool. The lightfall form the ceiling impressive. This Mosque also contains the biggest chandelier in the middle east?? I wonder what a mosque needs something so pricey and glamorous for. It was a strange sensation to be inside and while looking at the people studying and citing the koran churchbells called the christians to mass next door. Somewhat like the Koran and the Bible standing next to each other in our living room book case. In this case the minarets (design) were the same, the two books have the first three pages in common (and much of the rest).

The Romans occupied Lebanon around the time of the birth of Christ and allowed some cities Roman citizenship. due to this reign the country now holds one of the best preserved Roman temple structures Baalbek situated in the Beqaa valley. The Gods worshipped were the Triad Jupiter venus and Mercury, superimposed on the indigenous deities Hadad, atargatis and a young male god of fertility and there are still local influences to be seen that deviate form the Roman style.

Talk To People
When you talk to random people you get bits and pieces of information about a place but not only that. You start understanding reactions and human logic set to the way people live, their hostory and their dreams.
I really wanted to take a picture of this boy but he was scared and ran at first. Alain asked him why and apparently the boy was afraid we would the gouvernment and he would not be allowed to work anymore. Who would have thought...

After entering a Maronite church and wonderign what difference this aspect of religion meant for christianity I asked the man outside what the deal was with the maronites (okay I used politically correct english but you catch the drift). He called down another man who in pretty decent english explained to me that saint Maroun was a preist and hermit who did missionary work and performed miracles and who had gained a lot of folowers. The people are direct decendants of those who recieved the faith from St. Peter. He also thanked me for asking and taking the time to listen to him. Nice man...

The Cedrus libani (Ceder of Lebanon) is native the mountains of the mediterranian region. In the past many have been harvested but being Lebanon's pride and national emblem the remaining cedars are held in respect and preserved. These trees are Giants of thousands of years and the air walking around the area was refreshing, giving one somewhat of a high, the air being cool after the first snowfall earlier that day, and the views through lebanon's heights only emphasise the majestic tree. (yeah it;s me at the bottom)

At the beginning of trip Al, Shady and I went hiking into Kadisha valley. Quite the trip with amazing views. Lucky for us it was still rather warm weather (very unusual for this time if the year in Lebanon it was dry and warm where there should have been cold and snow (in the picture where the light hits the mountain peaks there is usually a thick coating of snow). However it allowed us a hike. Down the valley past one of the meny monasteries that line it (the maronites took refuge there and up the other side. Right we went to that cave you see between our fingers. Not just to the cave, but INTO the cave. Crawling through the icy water on hands and knees wriggling through narrow edges and simply exploring. I absolutely loved it! thought these caves were nothign compared to the Jeita grotto's which were stunning and I have no pictures of (not allowed but please google!!!) this was quite an adventure! Coming out of the caves we had a campfire going and made soup in cans and ate other randomness we brought. Shadi and Al used to do this when they were boy scouts. Not bad, not bad at all!

Other than finding nature Tripoli is a trading city and on the mediterranean sea. Since it was becoming too big they devided it calling the other half El Mina, the port. Watching sunset at 16:30 over a calm sea on the first day and one over a stormy one (surf waves) the last day was a relaxing and meditative thing.

Usually the first thing I do is learn some of the local words. I must say Lebanese was not too hard to pronounce having many similar sounds as in Dutch but was a disaster to remember. It doesn't help if you have (a) friend(s) to do the talking for you. However it is nice to be able to thank and greet in another language. Another word for loved one: Habibi was used a lot and even though I dind't understand the langage it quickly became apparent that you use this in many ways, real love, friendly love and often with a high dose of sarcasm when needed.

Go Local
Hummos was already a favourite, now so is manushi and hmmm Alain's fathers fish sauce. Fattoush is yummy and the Baklava in Lebanon is to die for. The dates are amazing and I definitely should have eaten more of those but you know, there are only so many times you can eat in a day. Alain told me right at the beginning: They love you when they feed you, any visit, moment, occasion is a good time. Visiting many people and many people visiting Al, there was plenty of eating to go round. But going local is not just about the food, allthough those who know me know I love to eat :). It was also great to be part of a family. Alain's father and I got along well and we both had a love for books. He also told me stories about the war, the family, the people in their family which I met and quite a lot of and funny facts about Al. Alain's mother and I got lost in translation a lot, both of us speaking some kind of French but doing quite well with pointing smiling and an English word here and there. It is impressive how much a facial expression can say, good fun. She took good care of the family, with a passion, like moms tend to do. I got lucky.

There are many more things we did, saw... went wine tasting, walked through Beirut some more, we tasted all sorts of of food and explored childhood sites, I talked to all sort of people and it was altogether a beautiful trip. All I can say is GO and have a look for yourself.

Now I'm home. The clouds are still hugging the earth but after some snow we have a beautiful winter landscape with frosty trees and snowy roads. There is beauty wherever you want to see it. (But wave another opportunity to travel in my face and trust me to be tempted!)

Music: This Light between Us, Armin van Buuren
Quote: Certainly travel is more then the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. - Miriam Beard


Anonymous Isar said...

Hey hey! great job to go there... I heard its a beautiful place and lots to see (obvious from ur post) a picture of Hooka and no mention of me!?
we are on the plane back to Hawaii.
Keep up the postings.
peace and happy new yr!

12/29/2010 12:16 am  
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