Published: October 15th 2009
October 15th 2009
For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
One week was simply not enough time for me to completely adjust to the face of modern Lebanon, a face that still bores many of the scars from decades of civil war and violent disputes with neighboring countries. Only three years ago Israel was laying waste to Beirut and southern Lebanon, which resulted in the loss of over 1000 Lebanese civilian lives, in retaliation to Hezbollah kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, an event which occured, I might add, while I happened to traveling in Israel.
And so upon arrival in the capital city I was not terribly surprised to see so many remnants of war; crumbling buildings ridden with bullet holes, such as the infamous Holiday Inn, stand in ruin as testaments to a very recent past, architectural corpses silently waiting to be demolished. One quickly realizes that this is not a finished story either, since throughout the country tanks and armed militia keep constant watch over many of city streets and intersections.
What I couldn't get used to, however, is the fact that so many reminders of war and destruction co-exist so freely with
enormous displays of capitalist modernity and wealth. The streets of Beirut, and in fact the entire coastal highway running the length of the country, are perpetually clogged with SUVs, BMWs and Mercedes, whose passengers sport outlandish European brand names and toss litter freely so that it builds up into enormous piles throughout the country. Upscale boutique shops and an infinite number of banks and ATMs stand side by side with bombed out complexes and gutted apartment blocks.
One interesting bi-product of relative stability following years of chaos and violence is that Beirut is reclaiming it's status as the party capital of the region, having once been known as the 'Paris of the Middle East' in pre-civil war days. Café and high culture are thriving, Lebanese cuisine is renowned and many say the best in the Middle East, and the local bar and club scene is rated as one of the best in the world.
One of my main plans while visiting Lebanon was to check out this party scene and see what if it could live up to it's reputation. And i couldn't have asked for anything more for my big Saturday night out in Beirut. It began
with many beers at the hostel with a host of international fellow travellers exchanging stories and advice. Around midnight we took to the streets of Gemmayzeh, Beirut's undisputed party district, where it seemed people were just starting their night out with late dinner and drinks on the street.
The neighborhood was completely overtaken with crowds of clubbers dressed to the nines and making me feel grubby in the best outfit I could produce from my humble traveler's pack. We started out in a small dance club where beers cost no less than 10 US$, and it was here that we encountered two local devout clubbers who, in famed Lebanese fashion, were extremely kind and took care of us for the rest of the night. They bought me drinks, drove me to the next club and home after, got us entry ahead of the huge line-ups at the entrance and bars, and partying with them was one of the highlights of my trip so far.
We finished the night at B018, the most famous club in Beirut, which is built in an old underground bomb shelter, and featured a restractable roof which opened up to the stars, excellent DJs,
and a dance floor which was solid packed from 2am to sunrise.
From Beirut I made daytrips to the famed ruins of Baalbek, passing desolate Palestinian refugee camps en route (nearly half a million Palestinian refugees live within the borders of Lebanon), and to the ancient port town of Byblos, where I snuck past cover charge at one of the lavish beach resorts to take a dip into the navy blue waters of the Mediterranean.
My accomodations in Beirut ranged from one of the nastiest hotels I have ever stayed in to rooftop mattress in a popular hostel overflowing with guests to the couch of a friendly American teacher who I met in a pub.
I concluded my Lebanese sojourn with a retreat into the northern Cedar Mountains where I stayed in a pretty little Christian village called Bcharré, perched precariously on the edge of Qadisha Valley, a deep dramatic canyon offering numerous waterfalls, lookout points, quaint villages and ancient Christian cave monasteries for me to hike to. My hotel owner was another typical Lebanese; unbelievably hospital and friendly, taking time to speak with me (lots of French practice!), constantly popping in to ask me if I
was doing alright, and bringing me complimetary snacks and coffee. I would say that, once again, it was the people above anything else that made my time in this country the most enjoyable! For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
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