A big part of the ease I felt there was partly due to the green and the hills that surrounded me. Now THAT felt more like it. Home seemed like it was just a quick look out the car window rather than a 19 hour flight away. But probably the biggest reason why Lebanon seemed so easy to be in was because, through a random connection with a friend at my compound, I met a cool guy who decided to be exceptionally welcoming to me. Ziad, over the course of my weekend became a great friend and, as you'll come to find out, an actual saviour. I'll get into that later. For now, let's concentrate on all the awesome things about Lebanon that Ziad introduced me to.
I knew I had needed this vacation and I got exactly what I needed and then some. Riyadh can be a cool place in many ways, but it's a brand new city. Everything is shiny and fresh, which is good. For me, though, it's given me a new appreciation for places with history and places that have had time to develop character. Beirut has TONS of that. Let's put it into perspective, the Romans lived there! It's been a key port of trade since the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century (and probably earlier...keep in mind I'm just doing quick Google searches here). Some crazy history resides in the streets of Beirut. Even recent history that shapes not only the streets, but also the minds of Beirut's citizens. This is a result of the civil war that lasted for 15 years and only ended around 1990, and with remnants of unrest still effecting the city and country as recently as 2005. Character is something Beirut has in spades. Oh, and the people. They smile! In Riyadh, there is a general sense of negativity among the people there. I still haven't quite put my finger on it, but it seems that everyone is always simply waiting to either be dealt with negatively or is ready to deal with someone else negatively. It's really not my scene at all. Often I find people look at me suspiciously when I'm my usual smiley self. Ah, but in Beirut people have smiles on their faces for no other reason beyond their own inner happiness. They don't take themselves too seriously. It's something I had taken for granted back home. I appreciate positive people so much more now. And the green space. Oh the green space, how I've missed it. If there is anything I will never ever take for granted again it is green space. I appreciate every single blade of grass, every quivering petal, every fluffy bush, every towering tree so much more after having spent three months among the beige sand.
|Having fun with Ziad at Bike Generation|
|Bike shop boys working on the bikes.|
|Saeed's calendar entry reminder of my arrival.|
|The scene at Torino Express|
|Shouf Biosphere Reserve|
|Countryside near Shouf|
At the end of our ride, the Reserve Ranger (and yet another of Ziad's friends... I swear, Ziad is the Mayor of Lebanon), Houssam, picked us up and took us to his hut to warm up by the wood stove and drink tea he had made for us. Soon after we found ourselves dry and hanging out at Houssam's nearby beautiful guest house eating peach preserves and dates and drinking Turkish coffee. Remember how I said being in Lebanon felt pretty regular? This is what I meant. It was like I was simply home, hanging out with the people I had known for a lifetime doing regular everyday things. And yet, I was half a world away from home. Gratitude isn't even the word for how I felt about life at this point. And it didn't end there. On the way home we stopped at this random, would never have seen it, tiny indecipherable side-of-the-road eatery that made flat bread on a huge convex shaped pan-like contraption. They spread an orange mixture called mankoushi kishk onto it and it was delicious. But the best part was that the mother, father, and son all were there talking with us and making food for themselves to eat as well as me and Ziad. And, of course, Ziad soon discovered that the father had actually worked with his father. I'm sure the father asked Ziad in Arabic, "who's your father?" in typical Cape Breton Islander form in order for this information to be discovered (for those of you reading this that are not from Cape Breton Island, don't be concerned if the humour of the last sentence is lost on you). The feeling of being "down home" was never ending. It continued right on to visiting Ziad's parents and having his father hook me up with a sweet deal for getting my bike onto the plane with no extra luggage fees. It pays to have connections with airlines.
|Protesting against private companies taking over public space.|
|Beautiful new, yet empty, buildings|
|Hanging out at the waterfront|
We soon came along to the publicly owned areas again where I experienced men fishing off of bridges and others diving for their catch of the day. Ziad took me through the American University of Beirut campus where he had gone to school. Yet again, everywhere we went Ziad was greeted with people who knew him. I swear, if he doesn't run for a seat in government in the next 10 years I may disown him as a friend. The campus is gorgeous and oh so green! I was reminded of the University of Vancouver campus and was instantly greeted with that ever familiar feeling of academia and expanding minds. It made me reminisce of school and reminded me of how much I loved it.
Off of campus we went
|Chatting with the divers.|
|American University of Beirut|
|Cool apartment building|
|At the souvenir shop, checking out some vintage t-shirts made during the civil war.|
Alas, biking was not to be on the menu for the next day. In fact, nothing was on the menu for the next day as, if you'll recall that leftover pizza from two days prior, I had contracted food poisoning. I have never been in so much pain as my stomach protested the unwelcomed bacteria that was running rampant inside of it. I couldn't move and the only person I could think of that would be able to help was, of course, Ziad. My knight in shining North Face arrived and, God love him, he packed up my suitcases without complaint and carried them to his truck while I somehow managed, in cramped and bended state to get in and be driven to his place where I eased into bed and tried, unsuccessfully, to be a gracious guest. I didn't make my flight, even though Ziad had worked so zealously to get my bike packed up in a box and ready to go on time. I was so embarrassed. Ziad's mother and father even stopped in to help. I did my best to drink the tea and eat the plain rice that they offered. The only thing that seemed to work was ginger tea and the miracle pills that Ziad's father had given me. I was miserable and had no idea how I was going to manage to get home in the state that I was in. I tried so hard to think of all the positive things that were
|A church and a mosque as neighbours.|
It took six days for me to get back to work after the food poisoning hit. Talk about an extended vacation. While resting in bed, suffering through stomach cramps and watching episodes of The Tudors and viewing biking videos on PinkBike, I was able to think of how wonderful my trip to Lebanon was. It's not often that you get to travel to a place and experience the "real" people that make it what it is. This is the way travel should be and the Universe gave me a wonderful gift to have been able to see Lebanon like this. As usual, I am oh so grateful for my life. This particular portion of my life happens to be no exception.