I left Istanbul (Turkey) on the cheapest flight I found to Lebanon which arrived in Beirut (the capital) that used to be called the “Paris of the Middle East” at the inconvenient hour of 2 am. I was extremely lucky that I have very good family friends in Lebanon, and I was even picked up at that hour at the airport!
Lebanon was and is a very important destination for me, as my great grandfather was Lebanese. He was from a small town in the mountains by the name of Tannourine, and he left Lebanon in 1890 for Colombia. I had always heard of Lebanon and this town so it was incredibly special for me to finally go.
Lebanon is nothing like what you have in mind. It is not a desert. There are no camels, and it is very safe. It is actually way more Mediterranean with beautiful colored seas and beaches, lush green mountains, even with snow where you can ski, Here, see for yourself!
I used Beirut as my base as the country isn’t so big and ended up spending the longest amount of my trip in one city, almost 3 months! I was also extremely lucky to find a Couchsurfing host who allowed me to stay for almost all 3 months and took amazing care of me, my now good friend Rita.
I spent my time in Lebanon exploring, but also feeling at home. I read, studied and practiced my french a lot as it is a former French colony (until 1943) and still many people speak the language (as well as Arabic and English). I also learned very basic Lebanese Arabic. I was lucky enough to find people to play football (soccer) with and was playing 2-3 times a week. I also practiced my mini-djembe drum. But my favorite thing to do was go out on a bicycle to try to get lost and discover new neighborhoods and experiences.
Below in the side-show you see this fascinating city that has such sharp contrasts between the beauty, grittiness, opulence and scarcity, With its history and scars of wars, delicious food and a love for life. Beirut is beautiful and has lovely architecture and has some extremely nice areas. I enjoyed exploring these, but probably more the not so nice ones as well as refugee camps, all of which I explored most of them by bicycle and tried to take it all in.
Below some of the trips I took to different regions and attractions around the country such as to Byblos and Batroun, Saida/Sidon and Tyre, the Chouf Region to a natural reserve to see the emblematic Cedar trees and the beautiful Beiteddine Palace. I also went to the Beqqa Valley and the very impressive Roman Ruins of Baalbeck. And even to the Qadisha Valley to do some trekking and visit a Colombian priest who has been a hermit living in a cave for over 16 years!
I was very lucky to connect to my cousin Ramy and his family that were lovely and invited me to go skiing twice in the beautiful skiing area of Faraya. His amazing wife, Celine, and their kids stole my heart and allowed me to feel at home with family and try snowboarding again and finally get decent at it!
Another very good family friend, Celina and her family invited me to visit the North of Lebanon and the cities of Tripoli and the pretty Akkar region that goes up to he border with Syria. I even went to see the border and was sad I couldn’t go in to see this country due to the sad and difficult times it is going through.
I found Lebanon to be very similar to my home country of Colombia. Both are countries that people associate with their difficult and violent past, although they are safe now.
I will try to stay away from the politics, but a rough idea of its turbulent past is the following: This former Phoenician civilization suffered several wars (including a civil war between Christians and Muslims and the offshoots of these religions that lasted from 1975-1990, It also suffered wars with neighboring countries of Syria (who occupied Lebanon from 1976-2005 ) and Israel.
It is a Christian country with a lot of religious diversity and tolerance with 18 religions claimed with many different branches and offshoots of Christianity and Islam. Currently the situation in Lebanon is stable, but there are estimates that around 2 million people, 1/3 of the population is composed of Palestinian and Syrian refugees that do not live in very good conditions and have very limited rights. At the same time it is admirable that Lebanon took in their neighbors in after having been hurt by these neighbors in the past.
I am going to miss Lebanon and Beirut. It has some of the best people and food in the world and it is rich in history and character and is a place you should definitely visit if you ever get the chance!
Hermit/priest father Dario Escobar
Lebanese Civil War
Syrian Occupation of Lebanon
The Israeli-Lebanese Conflift
The Druze Religion