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6th of May, 2012
I left on this journey about a week ago, spent 11 hours in Frankfurt Germany, then to Beirut. I rented a car to find the ancient Phoenician port town of Byblos, missed the exit somehow and ended up in Tripoli.
If you are a Traveler fan you probably heard the song “Lost in Tripoli” written the last time I was in Tripoli. Well, this time was even more of an adventure. After passing through, I ended up near the Syrian border, and quickly turned around. After 4 hours of driving in circles in a maze of streets that just seemed to lead nowhere, and asking for directions that didn’t seem to lead to any exit of the city, it became dark. No street lights. Cars were going both ways on a street with only one lane. I passed an ancient castle and ended up in a very strange place. At the top of a hill there were tires burning across a street; there was lots of noise. Young men jumping and shouting; security forces with a machine gun; the sound of fire crackers (at the time I thought, it was the sound of gun fire). There was no way to turn around, I stopped before the fire. I didn’t know if I should drive through but there was no other way out. I rolled down the window and a bunch of young local men were yelling and gathering around the car, asking what kind of fuel the car runs on, some of them were saying to go through and some were saying not to. I went through; the car didn’t catch on fire, and finally made it out of Tripoli.
After that I headed straight up to the mountains in the North, and ended up in the beautiful mountain village of Bsharri (the birth place of the great Lebanese poet Gubran Khalil Gubran). Perhaps his spirit will inspire some lyrics while I’m here. Hiked in the great ancient cedar forest in the snow, and then drove down a thin winding road with Deep Purple cranked on the stereo, to find the Grotto. After parking the car and hiking for a while I came to the Grotto which was flooded and a river pouring out the front. The mountains of Lebanon are extremely beautiful, the town of Bsharri is built into a cliff; the view is awesome. Monasteries are built into the cliffs; the people are very kind and welcoming.
8th of May, 2012 – Jbeil (Byblos), Lebanon
Today I went to the ancient port town of Byblos on the coast of Lebanon. This is a thriving Phoenician city, were the Roman ruins still stand. I spend some time playing my violin in the ancient theater and entertaining few locals in the process.
After that I went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.
9th of May, 2012 – Zahleh, Lebanon
Today I drove in a rented car to Zahleh accompanied by my travel companion Hanada who is from Jordan. Zahleh, I am told, is the home of my great-great-grandfather. I was amazed with the food in Zahleh; possibly the best Arabic cuisine I’ve ever had.
10th of May, 2012 – Ba’albak
Today we travel from Zahleh to the ancient ruin city of Ba’albak. You can really see the difference from one region of Lebanon to another. The difference in religions exists in different regions; some with large Cathedrals churches, and here in Ba’albak its more of Muslim influenced with big Mosques. I love to see the diversity of these religions and the co-existence.
Despite the differences among the areas I’ve visited in Lebanon, I found that the kindness and the warmth of welcoming among the Lebanese people is a common quality. This helped me enjoy my trip even more.
Ba’albak is the ruins of a great Roman city: huge columns, stairs, coliseums, roads, huge rocks that were moved on top of each other to build the city itself. This keeps me wondering today about the engineering feet and the human strength that was used to move these Giant stones for Giant Temples representing different Gods and Goddesses, who were worshipped in the past. I recommend seeing Ba’albak to anyone who has an interest in ancient ruins.
15th of May, 2012 – Wadi Qadisha, Lebanon
Today we went hiking in Wadi Qadisha. Wadi Qadisha is a beautiful Canyon with high in the Northern Mountains of Lebanon. Water falls all around coming down from both sides; high jagged cliffs with Grottos and Monasteries build into the sides of the cliffs with a raging river running through the canyon. Hermits lived in the Grottos of this canyon for hundreds of years and there is still a hermit living there today. I stood on a cliff perched high above the river were I found inspiration for a new melody based on the fascination of the lives of the hermit and what it would be like to live your life alone in a cave preserving your religion and searching for spiritual enlightenment.
19th of May, 2012
Progressive Lebanese Rock Band in Zahleh, Lebanon
After over a week of hearing mostly Arabic music, which I love, I find myself drawn to the distant sound of Page and Plant’s version of Kashmir coming from an outdoor night club between two buildings. I saw music equipment on a stage: it was obvious that the band was about to start. I never imagined I would hear a progressive hard rock band in a small town in the Mountains of Lebanon. The band is called Amadeus Awad, The music was heavy and progressive and played with virtuosity. The music was mostly original except for a few Deep Purple covers including the epic Child in Time. What a treat that was!
The Hike in Zahleh
The next day we found a deserted road that we hiked for a few hours through rolling hills and orchards of “LOZ”, an Arabic fruit, this place was too beautiful to describe, so I won’t even try. During this hike through paradise my cell phone beeped with a message that said “Welcome to Syria, you are now Roaming”!!! . . . It makes me realize how short the distance between countries is over here. After that a military helicopter flew by, flying low and circling the over hills. I saw hundreds of empty riffle cartages on the ground. It was kind of an irony.
Meeting Lost Relatives in Zahleh, Lebanon
After spending some time in Zahleh and having people asking me where I’m from, and I would reply Phoenix AZ USA but I’m half Lebanese and my ancestry is from Zahleh; people here seemed to think that it was realistic that I could find my lost relatives even though it had been over a hundred years since they came to Ellis Island, NY. USA. With just few names and minimal information, we managed to find someone who is possibly a relative. So, we met with him and his daughter we spoke a while about the possibility of being relatives. But we could not find any tangible evidence that can prove it, with an exception of few names that seemed to match. Nevertheless they invited us to their village, Kfar Zabad, to meet the rest of their family. A portion of the village had their last name, and they were related. They were all so nice and we spent the evening playing music and talking, they said that even if we are not related, we are like part of the family anyways.
Later that night after talking to the elders trying to match up information, I called my mom in Phoenix to ask for more info on the family history. She was naming of names of her grand-grandparents and she named of names and dates that matched their family names. Just at that moment everyone realized that we were related, and cheers filled the room. It was a happy and exciting moment for everyone. And a very special thanks to my travel partner, Hanada. Without her Arabic translation this moment would not be possible. Bridging the gap between two cultures, and ease the language barrier to better communicate with my new-found relatives is beyond my minimal Arabic skills. Also a big thanks to my new-found relatives for their kindness and welcoming into their home, for the amazing food and for taking their time to give us the tour of Beat Al-Deab castle and cultural places in the Southern Mountains of Lebanon.
Anjar, Sayda and Sour
Walking up to the “ancient Umayyad” ruins of Anjar I had a strange familiar feeling like I’d been here before, when I looked at the great pillar’s that lined the ancient streets, I knew I had been here before, seven years ago . . . . . I’ve been to so many ruins that I can’t keep track of all the names. The thing I remember most of Anjar was the little shop that sells souvenirs right next to it. Seven years ago I tried to haggle down the price of a cool silver necklace that was a circle with a Cedar tree in the middle for $32 but he wouldn’t go down on the price, so I left. And I always regretted not getting it. I’ve been looking on the internet trying to find that design with no luck. So as soon as I realized this was the place, I ran to the shop and asked if they had a design like that. After digging through boxes a while the salesman found it. So of course I attempted to talk to him down again and pretended I didn’t really want it so bad, this time he agreed to $25.
It was a nice day spending time playing violin in the deserted ancient ruins of Anjar. After that we drove through the Southern Mountains through Beit El-Deen. We went through forests and valleys of green, and suddenly ended up on the coast. We stayed the night in Sayda and spend the next day walking through the old Souks made from Phoenicians stones, then, on to the city of Sour (Tyre) not far from Palestine. I finally found a sandy beach without tons of garbage (like many of the other beaches in Lebanon) and swam for a while as the sun went down.
Lebanon is such a beautiful place with kind people but unfortunately there always seems to be garbage swoon over the beauty, I suggest they need to invest in some trash cans.
I enjoyed the day swimming in the Mediterranean beaches that day….
Internet garage in Tyre (Sour), Lebanon
Today in the city of Tyre (Sour), I needed to find an internet cafe to book plane tickets to Turkey. I ended up in a Palestinian refugee populated neighborhood with winding dirt streets and broken buildings. I couldn’t imagine that there would be any kind of business in this place. But when we asked, people said it was here. So a young lady Palestinian teenager rode with us, to show us the way. When we arrived among the broken buildings we found it. It was like a small garage with about seven old computers with dust on them, wires hanging from the ceiling, no ventilation, a bunch of kids playing some kind of computer games. This would be hell for lots of people, but for me it was great. I love to experience this extreme diversity despite the extremely slow network connection. They offered us juice and even offered us lunch. I don’t think they get lots of foreigners. I managed to book the tickets on line for later that evening. So it’s off to Istanbul.
20th of May, 2012
Princes’ Island has no motor vehicles. After getting off the ferry, it took no time at all to find a $40 a night pension to stay in. We rented mountain bikes and headed off for a 4 hour trek to explore the island. Beautiful island with trees, cliffs, seagulls, but I’m feeling like I need something more adventures. So it’s off to the Black Sea coast of Turkey.
Istanbul is a huge city; we stayed in an area called Taksim. The streets are crowded, people selling all kinds of exotic food, fruits, nuts, and there are street musicians.
At night the restaurants and taverns have musicians, usually a soloist singing and playing a saz (Turkish string instrument). Every 10 steps you can hear another musician. There must have been at least 100 taverns with musicians in this one area. This would be a great place to stay employed if you are a Turkish musician. I enjoyed watching the music, but big cities do not appeal to me as much as the wilderness and small villages. It seems like the culture is better preserved in more isolated areas. So it’s off to Juzor al Ameerat (Princes’ Islands). . .
23rd of May – the Black Sea coast
I felt drawn to the Black Sea, because it is where the aggressive, mysterious exotic rhythm called the Laz is from. It is said this is the rhythm of the Black Sea pirates.
We rented a car in Istanbul and headed off to the black sea coast despite what the guy at the tour agency said “it is impossible to drive this road”. The traffic in Istanbul was a nightmare, but after I got out of town it was great: mountains, green hills, deep forests, and finally the Black Sea. Not many tourists go to the Black Sea, because it’s not so warm and bright as the Mediterranean Sea. But for someone like me it’s perfect.
I stood on a jagged cliff over the Sea and worked on a piece based on the Laz rhythm. Driving on the next day we stopped in the wilderness, and hiked a deserted mountain with lush greenery, then ended up in a small coast town of Agva. I took a nap on the deserted beach as the sun went down.
25th of May, 2012 – Bungalow on the cliff
I went swimming in the Black Sea this morning, and went driving off to an unknown destination. After a few hours I randomly picked a dirt Road and followed it, I ended up back at the Black Sea on a cliff with small bungalow cabins. I rented a cabin for the night and slept to the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks.