Daily Archives: October 21, 2019

Fleeing the revolution

I am sitting in one of the few open restaurants for lunch sipping on a magnificent Lebanese red. This is my last day in Lebanon and I fly out at lunch time tomorrow. The What’s App flashes me a message from my driver for the 3 days sightseeing. “There are some rumours about closing the airport road from all sides with huge sand and rock hills”. Today the protests have turned ugly and I trust Mohammed implicitly. He has nothing to gain by warning me. A flurry of interchanges ensues and I scoff the rest of the wine and go back to pack up. I am packed and ready in 20 minutes. Mohammed drives the backways trying to avoid both the protesters and the army roadblocks. We pass by the outskirts of town and look down at heaving mass of humanity, 1000s of protesters filling city streets. The friendly protesters at road blocks from yesterday have turned nasty and I see them threaten and intimidate drivers along the way. We are spared. Mohammed has organised the closest hotel to the airport some 3 km away and should be just beyond any attempted blockade. I could easily walk that with my pack in the morning if need be. May Allah bless Mohammed!

The morning started uneventfully enough. There were more cars on streets and more shops open. The billows of smoke from the fires on the roads yesterday were also gone so I assumed that things had settled. I planned to revisit our Lady of Lebanon about half an hour away to light a candle for Nana, Suzanne’s mum. She was always one for lighting candles in churches as a prayer for anyone who was sick. The Uber driver spoke almost no English but as we are detoured off the motorway by an army blockade he drops a bombshell that all roads into and out of Beirut would be closed by the army in half an hour leaving me stranded out of town. I am out on the streets in a shot and hightail it into town. Today absolutely everything is closed there are more soldiers with riot gear and a large protest group marches past me. I take a couple of pictures downtown and Uber back to my accommodation.

This is all new to me. In 40 years of travel, I have come close to being bombed in Peru, I have been interrogated by twitchy Zambian police but never watched a possible revolution unfold in front of me. While it makes for a ripping yarn I will be glad to be leaving tomorrow for the safety of neighbouring Jordan!

My only 2 images taken in downtown Beirut on the last day.

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The tour of the world’s hotspots takes an unexpected turn

I hit the road at 9:30 at the normally chaotic street is eerily deserted. Almost all the shops of this busy shopping and night club strip are shuttered up. I am off to try and get a recharge on my SIM but the shop up the road is also closed. It’s Friday and this is a predominantly Muslim country so that must be it. I figure the city mall 3km away will be open for business and catch an Uber. We are a few minutes along on a main road and cars up ahead are all stopped. My driver curses and I suspect a traffic accident has blocked things but no the road is barricaded by protesters have lit fires in the road to prevent traffic from passing. The driver who had little English says protests and we weave madly through little alleys dodging repeated closures. Our 5 minute trip took 15 minutes.

The mall is also like a ghost town and there is almost nothing open. No recharge for my SIM. I opt for the city centre store where I bought the card from and had another crazy Uber ride but that driver was very reassuring that the protesters are antigovernment, protesting corruption and mean no ordinary civilians any harm. Once again shop closed so I decide to go for a wander. A block up and a protest march with hundreds of people waving flags and chanting curves in front of me.

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Just then I see a smashed in phone box and another one.

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I follow at a distance for a few blocks but decide to part company with these guys when riot police in jeeps and small APCs (tanks) turn up.

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Neither side cares about a casual bystander like me but I don’t want to be around if the army and police get twitchy and start shooting.

At this stage I am well into the southern suburbs of Beirut and I locate the famous green line are which demarcated Beirut into Christian and Muslim warring neighbourhoods in the 1970s. If you look for it lots of buildings are still scarred and pockmarked from machine gun fire.

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The most enduring remnant of that futile conflict is the shell of the Holiday Inn.

The large white building is the concrete shell of the Holiday Inn

The large white building is the concrete shell of the Holiday Inn

Sitting partway up a hill and stretching many stories up this became a strategic point from which, on the top floors militiamen could shoot down at their enemies. This was also in a prime position with other luxury hotels all around. For almost 2 years this Battle of the Hotels raged in the neighbourhood. All that is left now is the concrete shell of this high rise, a ghostly repository of a bloody past.

I turn onto the Corniche and walk along the upmarket seaside promenade for an hour.

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I am heading for the Raouche Rocks which is a miniature of our Twelve Apostles.

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On the way is another road block with tyres burning and a barrier of tied together Lebanese flags. As I approach police sirens come up behind me and 4 massive vans come to the barrier. Police jump out and disperse as much as they can, I cautiously hold back. When they have passed through the fires and barriers are replaced. As I approach one of the protesters smiles and pulls the barrier up to let me pass.

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I get to the rocks and have lunch there just metres from the flaming barrier. My Uber driver back to my apartment was a lot more anxious than the rest. I jumped in, he insisted on the front seat for security reasons. What followed was an insanely dangerous high speed hike through the streets of Beirut ignoring red lights, weaving and cutting in front of what little traffic there was around. He found the tiniest gaps between bins of fire and weaved around all obstacles. I was relieved to get out in one piece. All for the princely Uber fee of $7 sure beats going to theme parks to get an adrenaline rush!

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