It’s 11.45pm in Beirut, and I am sitting on the hotel balcony having just finished a Tuborg! Just about to crack open a can of Wideman, brewed in accordance with the German purity law, but not the taste law. Much needed relief after a hair-raising taxi ride back from the seaside at Byblos.
We spent the day checking out the Crusader fort and roman ruins at this ancient port. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but is lovely to walk around its old restored souk on a lovely sunny day. Don’t eat at the Old Patio in the souk area, €10 for a not very nice frozen pizza. There are lots of nicer places around the port to eat. The few hours we spent at Edde Sand beach club were great and we enjoyed a few drinks while the kids messed about .
Anyway after eating we decided to head back to Beirut so walked up the town to where we were dropped off on the motorway that afternoon by the express bus to Tripoli in the hope of picking up a bus on the return journey. We were joined at the side of the road by two Bangladeshi’s also traveling to Beirut. Four or five bus’s stopped to find out where we wanted go to but none were for Beirut then a smallish bus pulled up, very full, with people standing, the two Bangla boys hopped on and we tried to explain that we would wait for the next one. The driver and his assistant were all for chucking the two Bangladeshi’s off, called them up from the back of the bus where they had stationed themselves after getting on, they were actually getting off when we made it clear that we would find alternative transport and wouldn’t be taking their places. The two boys were definitely part of the army of cheap imported labour that do the jobs the Beiruti’s are now unwilling to do, so I am not sure but reckon their treatment on the bus had a racial undercurrent to it.
We decided to get a taxi back to Beirut and the first one we hailed, a battered 280e Mercedes from circa 1980 pulled over and we negotiated a rate $10. Which wasn’t much more than the bus had cost us, we all piled in, Lisa and the kids in the back, me up front. The driver made it clear that the $10 was to get us to Dowhra, which is downtown in east Beirut, we needed to get to Alhamra which is in west Beirut. He wanted an extra $10 to get us there so we argued back and forth with him explaining himself to Lisa in the back and Lisa freaking out because every time he would speak to her he would give her his full attention and not the road. He kept using his own Lebanese bills to show us how much he wanted and I was using mine to tell him how much I wanted to pay and he would hand them into Lisa in back and ask for her agreement and things were getting a little confused and chaotic. We eventually had to settle on Dowhra and things settled down. He broke open the chips, very spicy, this involved more turning around to offer them to Lisa and Axel and Elka. Then we got the photograph of the sweetheart out, which involved more turning around to show the backseat passengers. I told him she looked like the back of a bus and he was very happy with this. Lisa wasn’t enjoying any of this, in the back with Elka on her lap and no seatbelts, our driver spending more time looking at us than the road, meandering all over the place in heavy Sunday night traffic, speeding up, nearly sideswiping cars, breaking sharply. The he pulls out a black bag from the footwell of the car and opens it up and offers me a large tin of Heineken, which I take. If I am to die in a car crash in a muslim country I’m going to die with a drink inside me. This is the paradox of Lebanon, parts of which are very conservative and parts of it, which are hedonistic to the extreme. I’m not too sure what my friend in the taxi is saying to me but it is either he never drives with more than four large tins in himself or he has four more to go. Cheer’s.