Beirut Runaround & Road To Damascus: Will That Be Visa?

Sunrise over Damascus

Sunrise over Damascus

November 2009

…catch flight from Cairo to Beirut, not cheap at $240 OW, but if I can get the visa to Syria for pocket change, then that’ll save me $100 or so… made hotel reservation for Beirut without clear directions to where it was… turns out Jal el Dib is way north of town on the road to Tripoli…great.  After blowing off the hacks, I get some info from the tourist office on how to get there by bus… complicated, but better than a fifty dollar taxi ride…

Third time’s a charm.  After two botched attempts and a long ride up the Christian casino coast—Slavic go-go dancers and whores I hear—I finally get off at the right place… $7 total from the airport, and the last $4 was optional if I’d wanted to walk the hill… real hotel, too, full-fledge, though the room is a “standard” one in the “annex,” sounds ominous…

Place of worship in Beirut

Place of worship in Beirut

It’s huge, with fridge and kitchen sink, everything but the microwave.  I’m good, good and hungry by this time, too, since I’ve hardly eaten all day.  I’ll make up for it tomorrow… Independence Day…  Lebanon is independent?  Christian Lebanon, I think.  Whatever happened to Walid Jumblatt anyway?  I used to like him and his Druze militia.  They were cool.

…turn on the TV and what do I see?  Porn, hard-core Christian porn right here in the heart of the Middle East… what happens without the prohibitions I guess, just like capitalism and corruption, Christianity and porn go together.

…seem to be getting a rogue Wi-Fi signal also, somehow from somewhere, so manage to check my e-mail if I hold the box just right.

…sleep poorly for the second night in a row, air-conditioner seemingly unable to adjust, so I finally turn it off.  Winter’s coming to the Mediterranean quickly.

…think I’ll just chill out here in the suburbs for a day, take my chance on getting a same-day bus to Damascus.

…enough adventure on the buses to last a couple days… second wrong-way driver seemed to want payment for carrying me far past my intended destination.  I stiffed him.  We might meet again.

Christian Church in Beirut

Christian Church in Beirut

At least all those wrong buses gave me a tour of Beirut.  I might’ve seen enough already.  But by now I’ve dicked around so long that my dirt-cheap flight to Qatar has gotten more expensive, so that might change my entire approach to this current trip, especially if Jordan and Amman turn out to be the chill deal that they’re looking like, second only maybe to Egypt in the region.  I’m a firm believer in brilliant mistakes, the more the better.  Make your plans carefully, but always leave room for serendipity, too.  That’s named for Sri Lanka.  There must be a lot of happenstance there…

…Independence Day, prices high availability sparse, eating apples out of necessity, lack of imagination or better options…by the third day I’m hungry…normal system shut down…on a different frequency now, i.e. not often.

So I get up early… There’s a bus to Damascus …bus can only take me to Syrian immigration.  After that I’m on my own.

…get to Immigration around 10 a.m.  The official reads me the riot act…  One hour passes and then two.  I’m getting really hungry by now, so eat another apple.

Finally after… FOUR, FOUR HOURS!  I get my visa… bus with empty seats preparing to leave… in like Flynn… they’re drinking beer… they offer me food… fare is twenty dollars to Damascus… yeow! can’t wait to see what a taxi costs… two bucks!  He’s apologetic.  I gave him a tip.

…sun’s going down at 4 p.m. and…it’s cold here… don’t know Damascus’s elevation, but it must be up a bit… hotel in Damascus is a runaround … flakey transactions… not the pinpoint honesty of Egyptians, nor the defensiveness, either…

Feeding birds in Damascus

Feeding birds in Damascus

no Wi-Fi here, not in my hotel…  a Russian cultural center, though… old school…mostly it’s a familiar affair, Assad by name.  Pics of father and son everywhere, staring down benignly and leaderly…

I’m feeling weak … spacey … three-day almost-apple-only diet… force-feeding solid food, but don’t have much appetite for it… just pomegranate juice… squeeze ‘em with orange juicers…  for a buck and a quarter, get about a half liter of the stuff…

…old city is nice, though, one big souq, reminding me of …old Hanoi … a bit more Byzantine in atmosphere… Damascene, haha… catch up on … shopping, buying sunglasses and a nice carpet-bag … that laptop will fit into… snug as a bug.  I’ll have fun letting people guess where it’s from.

… schedule to leave Damascus for Amman… wake up early …and sh*t my brains out… Six a.m. finally comes…  Finally seven o’clock … night clerk says no problem for another night… I go outside and there’s absolutely nothing shaking at an hour that’s typically considered “rush” in most Western cities…

Now I’m on a real fast … just smoothies and ice cream, just enough so that my stomach doesn’t eat its lining.  “Feed constipation, starve the runs,” that’s my motto… Catharsis has its benefits.  St. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus.  I get the runs…