Having departed Turkey a few days back, I finally arrived in Lebanon after my failed attempt to do an overland entry via Syria. The friends I am staying wth have an aprtment right in the middle of Beirut which puts me in very good position for exploring. Being something of a “”Mediterranean people” myself, I spent my first day walking toward the ocean. It was a bit of a longer walk than I thought but I reached it and to my surprise the natural coastline wasy very much still there. I ran down more excited than a 27 year old man ought to be to climb and jump from rock to rock. Having a ball doing this I also talked wth the many fishermen who were out there. They werent catching anything large but Ive been told that “a bad day of fishing beats a good day of anything else.” I did notice however a pretty clever system for storing the fish they had caught: instead of buckets they stored the fish in they accumulated pools of water left n the pitting of the rocks as the tide went out. This I suppose is one of the advantages of natural coastline fishng, as opposed to fishing from a bridge or a pier.
Leaving the coastline all climbed out, I made my way back to the road and got offered a boat trip by Aman (Iman?) I explained that I was good and took off but a few minutes later he was yelling after me to wait up and we ended up chilling for the next hour or two. When I expressed concern that he was leaving his job selling boat trips he explained that it was his first day and he had taken his first commission of 5000 Lebanese pounds and walked out. Well far be it from me to convince him that maybe he shouldnt skip out on his only source of income during the first couple of hours on the first day, so we ended grabbing a beer and looking for a scarf for me. After we had walked some, Aman started getting a little antsy and explained that he wanted to take the 100000 LP in his pocket to the gambling house and turn it into 50000 LP. Feeling I knew him well enough at this point to counsel him some, I said “yeah or maybe you dont go there and you wake up a little bit ahead tomorrow.” “No, trust me, its easy,” he assured me. So reluctantly I went to this underground gambling den with him, admittedly half interested to see what it is young, Lebanese males do when they are not working.
The place was literally underground but well lit and sanctioned so it wasnt dangerous or anything. But fuick was it ever depressing: grown men parked in front of video poker machines smacking the bittons like zombies and smoking endlessly. I took a seat beside Aman and watched the 20,000 credits bought with his last 10000LP (about $7.50 CAD) slowly dwindle. When he was at around 6000 credits I was like “dude cash out and well get out of here and grab another drink. At this point I figured alcohol was a more acceptable vice than degenerate gambling. However, I can only guess at that moment that the machine heard my plea and the good sense it made and saw fit to give Aman a four of a kind which put hom somewhere just above the 20000 credits he started with. “See, I can get up to 50, its easy.” “Alright my dude, well Im gonna peace out.”
Degenerate gambling is sad in and of itself but there are not a lot of opportunities here in Beirut for young people unless they are the best of the best, and similarly few opportunities for emigration to places with more plentiful work. So when that gambling becomes the only escape from a job you hate and a life of dissatisfaction its even worse. I would like to think that if I were in his shoes I would handle the pressures of life better but I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did and perhaps under a different set of circumstances I would have become that video poker zombie as well.
I took a long and meandering route back to my friends’ apartment but I saw a good deal of the city which worked for me. Since I had decided to head west the first day to the water, I opted for east the nest day to the mountains. That the mountains were obscured by blue atmospheric haze should have been an indication of how far they were. I dont know exactly how far, but I left at 830 am and when I finally reached a distant peak (the site of a Maronite Christian convent of all things) it was 1230. I admired the view but realized with some dismay that now i had to walk back. Now I cant even begin to describe how beautiful the views from the mountain ridges were. Just know that said beauty was rivalled by the complexity of the roads that ran up and down the various peaks. I ended up getting lost a few times in the various valleys (its a whole bunch of mountains) but managed to still find my way back by maintaining a westerly direction. Weirdly, I also made it back a little quicker which I think can be attributed to the fact that I was trespassing through property and bush-bashing the whole way. I even got stopped by the cops at one point wondering why I was in the rough on the side of the road. By the time I got back my feet were slayed.
In contrast to the last couple days of adventures, I have not left the house yet and its already noon. Today I will spend my time convalescing from the dual-afflicitions of a cold and athletes foot. The cold I woke up with yesterday and I find it ironic that I have only gotten it now that I am sleeping indoors; when I was freezing sleeping outdoors I was healthy as an ox. It has become a little worse since yesterday but I am getting lots of rest. Its more inconvenient than anything. Far worse to me is the athlete’s foot, which I daresay is a souvenir of my previously discussed trip to the Turkish Bath in Ankara. When I got to my friends’ apartment here in Beirut I kept noticing a slight smell whenever I was sitting at the table or something. When the smell began following me I assumed the worst and my assumptions were proved right: a double case of foot fungus and my brand new vibram Five Fingers shoes contaminated. Well I bought some anti-fungal cream for my feet which I have been applying but the only remedy for the shoes is to bag them up and put them in the freezer. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your friends if you can put your filthy contaminated shoes in the freezer with their food. I dont embarrass easily but I definitely reddened up here. Between the flu-like symptoms of this cold and the fungus on my feet, they gotta be thinking “wow, never inviting this guy here again.”
In any event, some prolonged freezing for the shoes and frequent applications of cream for me all day will hopefully mean that I am good to go for tomorrow or the day after and can enjoy Beirut and the surrounding cities to the fullest before heading to Egypt.