My last day in Lebanon, to be spent in Beirut again, a place I hadn’t grown to love – it was love at first sight. Perhaps it was the novelty of it being new, perhaps I’d only seen the good parts – but it isn’t just the buildings, the lovely wide corniche, the design….it is the atmosphere, the feel of the place that I’ve fallen in love with. This was also the last day of my mini Middle East adventure, a journey that had taken me to some incredible places, witnessing incredible things, meeting all kinds of characters along the way, and having experiences that will stay long in the memory. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Not a lot of the Middle East, admittedly, but it’s a start, and I’ll be back in the region for sure – the people for one are worth coming back for – Syrians and Lebanese especially have been among the most hospitable and friendly strangers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet on my travels. So today I was in a reflective mood, and not in a great hurry to do very much, possibly due to feeling incredibly ropey all day, very possibly to do with all the fun I’ve had in the evening in this, the party capital of the Middle East.
Lunch at the Crepe Cafe brought me around a little, and I headed down to the Corniche to get a blast of Mediterranean fresh air. It was a beautiful clear sunny day, and the fishermen were out in force, catching lots of weird-looking thin silver fish with long noses. Instead of walking towards downtown, this time I ventured the other way, and came to Pigeon Rocks, Beirut’s only ‘natural’ feature. It was pretty unimpressive – 2 rocks, one with a hole in the middle – but it seemed pretty popular with tourists, hordes of them snapping away at the rocks as the sun set behind. I followed the corniche around and saw a public beach around the bend, and a cafe perched on the cliff-edge – Le Grand Cafe. I sat down and ordered a mint and apple flavoured sheesha, a mango juice, and a mint tea, all of which I gratefully supped as the sun set over a small fishing boat way out, and a group of 4 fishermen stood on a rock in front.
I stayed for a second mint tea – this was too relaxing and beautiful a scene to contemplate leaving just yet – and when the sun had set I left, and wandered down the corniche on a long stroll towards Hard Rock Cafe. I sat at the bar and ordered a B52 and a pint of Almeza, as I was feeling distinctly under the weather and in need of a pick-me-up. I read Rolling Stone magazine, and had another B52, another Almezza, and a burger. Felt slightly better. Here I was, in a city whose name is still associated with so much that is bad, in a Hard Rock supping international shooters and reading Rolling Stone, while a band from the US behind me played a mixture of contemporary rock and latin hits, and a crowd of moneyed Europeans partied. How very cosmopolitan. How very Beirut. Whatever that is. Beirut has the amazing opportunity to rebuild and rebrand. Will it want to be the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ as it was once known? Perhaps it will become another Macau or Las Vegas. Perhaps a Singapore. But no, there’s too much in the vicinity, too much natural beauty, culture and rich heritage for it to succumb to such trappings. It’s a city that embraces change, needs change, and has the people to make it happen, but a proud people that should ensure we see something different and very special from Beirut. A personality of its very own. Watch this space.
I left Hard Rock, and wandered the streets listening to my ipod. Back at my hotel, as I’d already checked out, I slept on the sofa in the lobby, and at 1:30am I went by taxi to the airport for $20. I was far too early for the 5:10am flight, but I didn’t care. I got to Egypt after bidding Beirut goodbye, and was at once reminded at immigration of the utter carelessness and dis-organisation of the Egyptians. They really let themselves down, when their neighbours, somehow treated with suspicion by the International community, go out of their way for you. Greedy, lazy and over-reliant on tourists, Egypt will wake up soon and have to sort itself out from the foundations.
I had to wait a few more hours for my flight to Manchester.
England. It had been a year since I’d last seen most of my family. I was looking forward to 10 days of peace and quiet, time to chill, drink, be merry, ponder my future, reflect on my past, plan my next adventure perhaps. Then it’s back to Singapore, and onwards we go…..