Caving with ACC is easy. And because I used to organize so much of it, it generally fitted with my schedule. I never organized it to include elderly services driven by smugglers intent on exploring the retail opportunities in duty-free. As much as we laugh at Chris’ driving hes never actually hit another car (just a fender bender, though the car then started making worrying noises). He almost always drives on the correct side of the road, unlike our servicee driver, who went through the Lebanese border the wrong way, leaving bemused men waving sub automatic machine guns at us. And I tended to know whether I organized a trip for the morning or the evening.
I had confirmed the rendezvous with Tony of ALES, but I was pretty certain that it was for the evening. after all to make it to Chatoura for 7.30AM I’d have to leave Cham at 4.30, and Sundays a weekday over hear, a spot of evening caving makes sense goddamnit. My assumptions aside using the phrase ‘PM’ instead of ‘the evening,’ over a dodgy Skype connection to a third language English speaker clearly wasn’t bright.
On arriving at Chatoura I quickly discovered my mistake. Oh well, I thought. I was adopted my a man, who took me on the serviecee to Beirut, driving over the breathtakingly beautiful Mount Lebanon range in the sunset. My Arabic was good enough to sustain a conversation that we both enjoyed, which made me want to dance. Ali was a Palestinian, and seemed quite keen to tell me about the war, although unfortunately my Arabic doesn’t extend that far yet.
After some faff at the hostel, which remembered me from my visit with Hellie, I went in search of a phone call to Pierre, who I was supposed to cave with on the Monday.
Lebanon is an odd little place. Poor Muslims seem as surprised as they are pleased to meet a European learning Arabic, and love to talk to me in it. At the other end of the scale are the people I’d never dream of talking Arabic to, who make me feel that my french is totally inadequate. What they have in common is a welcoming friendliness of a totally different flavour to that displayed by the Syrians. As I was walking to an internet cafe some guys belonging to Lebanese type B asked me if I was Ok, and ended up driving me and 4 Poles across town (and Beruit isn’t small) to an internet cafe. apparently the drivers uncle’s the chief of police, so he doesn’t need to obey the laws about seat belts.At the internet cafe the microphone didn’t work, but with some lateral thinking and a little help from my friends (cheers guys) it was arranged that Piere would pick me up from the Hostal in Geramazy, just north of the center. At this point I should probably explain that the middle east has yet to invent roaming charges, and once at the border Syrian phones just stop working.
Monday morning I woke, bright and early, and looked out of the window at a sniper on the roof of the opposite building. Pier never showed. I phoned, the owner of the hostel having gone and her place on duty been taken by a poor Syrian guy. Turned out he wasn’t allowed to take his car anywhere near central beruit, and that although he’d phoned the hostel no one had picked up. he agreed to wait for me in a Beruite suburb, so I left to get on a serviecee.
except i was told in no uncertain terms i wasn’t to leave the hotel for another two hours. It was Lebanese independence day, and the situation there at the moment is a bit unpredictable with a high-profile trial raising tensions (your clue as to what I’m talking about is 2007). with a parade in Beirut and the PM and co in attendance no one was taking any chances and Beruit was locked down. I did not see this as a nitty-gritty cultural experience.
After about an hour I tried again, walking away from the main road to the bus station. My Arabic somehow got me through the first check point, and after that they became easier. every road junction was blocked off with tanks. helicopters were over head, the were snipers on every building and I had a knife in my bag. eventually I made it to the bus station, which was closed. I walked the 3 Km Dowra and the edge of the locked down area and got a servieece to the rendezvous. unsurprisingly Piere had left.
I was adopted by a film crew, who took me along to their set and taught me some useful Arabic. they were chatting away to each other in a mix of Arabic and French. eventually though we had to be quite, which was pretty boring so I went to Babylos, which is kind of like a middle easter Abereron, with added ruins. I really liked it, and its hard to overstate how stunning Lebanon is, and it really shouldn’t be, seeing how developed the coastal strip is.
eventually it was time for me to head back to Damascus. Suffice to say that the is a reason that I’ve never organised ACC transport to include Saudi men armed with Arak and cheep perfume. I’ve told some of my friends hear about this, I get to the ‘au’ of Saudi before the start commiserating me.
To say Gulf Arabs aren’t exactly popular here is an understatement, they get a bit too excited to be out of the peninsula, often coming to Syria solely to sleep with Iraqi refugees forced to prostitute themselves. The word for ‘homosexual,’ a much worse insult here than in Wales, is also apparently the colloquial term for ‘Saudi’. I can’t remember it.
Tourism 7/10 caving 0/10