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Lebanon

Rolling Around Lebanon

Seven days on the bicycle from an organized tour to a disorganized mini-mass

storm 64 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.


I had the most incredible shave and haircut this week. Life in Damascus continues to amaze me with its earnestness, simplicity and small pleasures. At least that's how I feel with the depth of knowledge three weeks in a place can provide. But that's not what this post is about.

I spent the majority of last week on two wheels. First, I was hosted by the Lebanese Military in partnership with a Swiss group in the Polyliban, a four-day bicycle tour of Lebanon's mountains and valleys. The tour followed a Ski-to-Sea type event called the Polyatholon. It was incredibly well organized, all logistics were handled by Lebanese volunteers and supported by the red cross and military who let us sleep in their barracks and even cooked for us. There were about forty riders from Lebanon and Europe (you can imagine the amount of kissing) and the common language was French, which allowed me to let my mind wander from time to time. They were all really nice folks and it was a lot of fun to explore some of the beautiful countryside of Lebanon I had not yet seen. In total we did about 300km and climbed something like 5000m on this route.

Also last week was the first Critical Mass in Beirut! Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride that takes place in cities across the world with no leader and no specific purpose except to celebrate cycling. It began slowly with me sitting in a park with four members of the press who had come to see what Beirut's cycling revolution would look like (here's what they said). However, one by one participants came to rescue me, some with bicycles, some without, some Lebanese and some oreigners living in Beirut. In total we had seven true participants, although we attempted to recuit a boyscout troop on bikes and the cycling bodyguards of a millionaire dog who were taking him for a walk. We might not have made a dent in the traffic of Beirut, but four new cyclists took to the streets of Beirut that day. Plus it was a ton of fun. I hope for at least 15 next month.

More photos are in the gallery
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On Saturday I depart for a two-week solo bicycle trip up to Aleppo from my home here in Damascus. All the best to you, let me know what's happening in your life!

Posted by dericvito 00:00 Archived in Lebanon Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Lebanon

I've been in Lebanon for almost three weeks now

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It's 3:30am and my is taxi racing behind and then between vehicles, fleeing the airport as if it was once again being bombed. Smog is pouring in the the windows as we pass 24hr fruit stands and nargehle spots. Soon I am in bed on the rooftop of a hostel in Gemayzeh listening to bass thumping from the club next door as I try to get some sleep.

It was all too overwhelming for my first day. The next morning I escaped from Talal's New Hotel, a hostel where I had spent ten days during the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006, to the mountains to meet my cousins Dean and Louise and Louise's father Elie. They were visiting Lebanon as well and staying in the house Elie's grandfather built. It was grape season and vines covered the house and most nearby houses in this small village. I was lucky to be able to unwind with family for a couple days before returning to Beirut to try to get engaged with the City.

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I planned my trip to be able to really dig into a few places and bicycle through others. Lebanon was I place I intended to try to really understand and find a place in. Basketball, bicycles and my network of friends and family were my primary tools for this task. My friend Meena lived here in 2006 happened to have a friend, Mac, who runs a streetball organization for youth. This friend was generous to invite me over and it turned out, let me house sit for three weeks while he and his wife visited in the US. So after a few more days at Talals, where I still had familiar faces from 2006, I moved to my own apartment in the hip neighborhood of Gemayzeh.

Basketball was my initial gateway to Beirut. A friend and occasional teammate in Seattle connected me to his agent here in Lebanon. So when I arrived I gave him a call. Within a few days I was practicing with one of Lebanon's best team, Champville and coach and matching up against the pride Lebanese basketball, a guy named Fadi (see photo). He is indeed quite talented and strong and had the personality that he would equally capable of leading an army as a basketball team.

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At the same time I got to work out with guys from the streetball organization. After a brief introduction to their mentor in a smoky 1970's like coach's office, we played a few games of three on three...not bad.

While I loved playing here, practicing with Champville felt like practicing with any team, any where. So after one exhibition game playing with Champville, and simultaneously battling my first bout with travelers stomach illness, I retired from my international professional basketball career after just one game. In any case it was fun to be there and see how excited the fans were about the game and to get a couple of buckets. I do hope to keep playing pickup and last weekend I served as a photographer for a youth tournament.

My bicycle is my other entre into Lebanon. I broke out the handlebar cam only a few times before being pulled over in South Beirut by an unmarked man on a scooter who told me that this neighborhood was not to be filmed and took down all of my information. Judging by the posters on the wall, featuring the leader of a group that starts with an H and ends in the name "god", I knew what neighborhood I was in and had a feeling I was pushing my luck.

When I was here in 2006 I had set up an internship with the environment organization Greenline, which has a similar philosophy as the organization Sightline where I did some work in Seattle, but with much less capacity and much more visible challenges. I was able to finally meet the president who I had spoken with on my last visit and through a conversation I suggested that Beirut should have a Critical Mass, a monthly event to celebrate and raise awareness of cycling. Beiruti streets are harrowing, but there are cyclists who ply the streets squeezing between taxis, scooters and military checkpoints. I'm currently talking with other cyclists here about how to make that happen.

This last week I was able to get around a little bit more an meet locals with the visit of Meena. When went up to the souk in Tripoli and the harbor in Jbeil, out to a few classy bars and restaurants in Beirut, and around to local art centers and vistas, meeting up with friends along the way.

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Lebanon is seemingly a country of contradictions. There is plenty of wealth but few public facilities. However, putting the country in the proper context of war and foreign intervention it's easy to understand why rules here are rarely followed and public goodwill is sparse. Instead, kindness here is demonstrated on the individual level. Fruit vendors who refuse to charge you for a single peach, taxi drivers who honk for your safety rather than to get you out of the way (sometimes).

Wealth is mostly imported. The Lebanese economy and many jobs serve foreigners, many from the Gulf countries (Qatar, Saudia Arabia, etc.) as well as Europe and the US. Many families have son's working in Abu Dhabi or Nigeria and tourism makes up the rest of the economy, funding an impressive diversity of bars and clubs and fancy shops and restaurants. In turn, the Lebanese economy has its own dependents, thousands of Syrians, Sri Lankans, Ethiopians and Filiopians are brought over to work in hotels, construction and as household helpers.

Still many things are hard to understand. The intense development, yet abundance of half constructed buildings. The sprawl in this country is intense as ownership of 2nd homes by residents and foreigners, many of Lebanese origin, takes up every free piece land far up the coast. The apparent disregard for the environment and materialism here give the West a run for their money.

This week I look forward to the visit of my sister, father and aunt and uncle. I've been waiting to for their visit to check out some popular sites. Meanwhile I hope to keep building connections and understanding in Beirut. After than, it's on to Damascus.

More Photos: https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/DJG/countries/Lebanon/

Posted by dericvito 05:09 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

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