After literally 8 days of excess and sleepless nights miraculously the three reprobates managed to wake up before 12, pay our hostel bill, catch a cab (tiny little fiat who’s boot didn’t shut properly) and drive over to the bus station area where we could catch a mini-van to Kadisha, or Bcharre. In typical Eastern fashion the cabbie dropped us off at the wrong place, gesticulating crazily in which direction the bus left from. The bus didn’t go from there. We ate a huge Chicken Shawarma, we waited, we walked left, right, up down, past shops, each passer by pointing either in the direction we came or one we had already been to. FINALLY we found the bus in the complete opposite end of where we had been told. It was leaving in 15 minutes. Empty. Tons of space. Seated we grabbed our waters and headed off into the unending sprawl that is Beirut. One hour later (after having passed the hotel where Anthony Bourdain was holed up for 10 days, photo above).
We finally escaped the clutches of the city, turning off from where the sapphire oceans lapped along the beaches and constructions of the city. What followed was one of the most beautiful rides on earth. High villages, endless fields, peaks, the sea further and further away, old ruined churches, markets, plantations filled with flowers, and then the higher altitude and the snow capped peaks surrounding Kadisha, the valley to the left with its limitless waterfalls and monasteries perched between rocky outcrops, ancient villages where Khalil Gibran ran as a child, and the slow ascent to where the village of Bcharre clings perilously to the side of the mountains.
Our stuttering bus dropped us off outside Tiger Hostel, and we were welcomed in by the kindest Ethiopian woman who had been working there for 3 years. We dropped our stuff off and headed out into the “town” to hit up some food with views to die for. Sitting overlooking the entire valley with the sun beating down, Almaza’s in hand, it rarely gets much better than that. Just before entering the restaurant an Australian on a tiny scooter stopped us, told us that the upstairs area at the bar next door gets “wild” after 10pm most nights, then sped off shouting “G’day mate”, we never saw him again. (Note: The bar was closed when we went back at 10pm, fat lot of good he was).
The rest of the day was spent walking around the town, climbing building sites for the best views, heading to an internet cafe to idle away the nonexistent nightlife with the towns pool table and a Mr Bean-like Englishman who was there for six months studying Arabic and was faulty of even the most basic social skills. He managed to learn the game of shark which Ruben and Jan taught him through bleary eyed explanations, and continued to stutter and splutter as only Brits do. The walk home was a long one, steep climb to the top of the mountain where Tiger Hostel welcomed us with its Ethiopian decor and innumerable paintings of Jesus and a fireplace with a painting of a fire draped over the front. Jan and I stayed up sipping Talisker and talking of old times while Ruben passed out from all the excitement.
We woke fairly early, met by two extremely amiable Italians who had just arrived. We ate a splendid breakfast and headed by taxi up to the fabled Cedar Trees of Lebanon. The drive itself was stunning, up higher into the arid high altitude desert-like nature. Old men shouted at us from the side of the road with their toothless grins, ladies sold fresh fruit hanging on ropes. We reached the top. The entrance to the cedar forest was closed due to “snow”, but a friendly girl told us to jump the fence and head in. We did so. Half an hour of trudging through snow with the sun aloft, gorgeous trees dotted around, and Jan creating a make-shift sled with a cardboard box and hurtling down the side of the mountain at lightning speeds. Snowball fights and the slow walk back down the mountain under clear skies with snow capped peaks and barren fields around us.
Walking one specific corner we encountered a man selling pomegranates. He shouted at Jan “You handsome man”, then Ruben came wandering down and he suddenly shouted “HEIL HITLER! MARIJUANA!!!”. “You want marijuana?”, “20 dollars”…. We politely declined and kept walking…”15 dollars”…. “10 dollars”… I held up my hand and signaled 3 dollars, and we kept walking…. “5 dollars, no 10 dollars”…. and 15 minutes later while we had walked almost a kilometer down the road we heard the distant echo of his voice bouncing off the rocks… ” OK… THREE DOLLAR”. Moments later an army guard picked us up in his battered car and rolled down the rest of the mountain back to Bcharre while attempting to communicate in my broken French. Back at the guest house, Miss Ethiopia had prepared a home-cooked stew from her ancient land which absolutely kicked our asses. It was super. That washed down with a local red wine set us up perfectly for the journey back to Beirut.
The last bus left Bcharre at 4 pm. By 7 we were back in the big city, back in the den of devils. Back to Talal, back to Brennan and Zee German. I had almost forgotten that I was to DJ at Torino Express that night, so I hurried back to get my laptop, threw on a clean t-shirt and waded through the glorious streets to begin. Suddenly it was 3am. Ploughed with limitless beers and tons of compliments I left the bar, said my farewells to everyone, headed back to the hotel, grabbed my backpack, jumped in a taxi and headed straight to the airport to fly to Istanbul. Completely exhausted and rather inebriated– it’s a miracle I even got through the security, but sometimes it does help to wear sunglasses.
As the early morning sun rose over Beirut I spent my last few precious moments sitting in front of two obese Danish women on the plane who spoke with such annoying, aggravating voices that I almost wanted to turn around and stuff a sock in their mouths. Constantly talking about how they missed Danish chocolate and how Beirut was ok, but Denmark was better, my eyes drifted out as the plane sped down the runway and as we lifted into the sky the mountains were visible in the distance.
The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.