Mar 21, 2015

Feets, Don't Fail Me Now

On Thursday I arrived in Tripoli much later than I'd expected. Our departure from Turkey was delayed  several hours beyond the advertised time, and don't even mention my mistaken 5:00 AM jaunt to the port. When we eventually moored in Lebanon, there was another lengthy wait was the vessel was boarded and the passengers and crew were accounted for. Once we had permission to go ashore, the interview at Customs went relatively quickly. As a Canadian, I received a one month visa, with the possibility to renew it for another month. Unexpectedly, I wasn't charged for this -- on my last trip to Lebanon I had to purchase a tourist visa at the airport. The Lebanese gov't website I consulted before visiting this time indicated that policy is still in effect, although it didn't mention anything about arrivals by sea.

The journey was pleasant enough. There were about a dozen passengers in total, including a few truckers who were bypassing Syria, and two cars with German-Lebanese tourists who had driven 3200 kms in five days in order to spend two weeks on vacation in the home they had left in the 1970s. One of the men had worked as an automotive engineer in Germany, and he was a bit put out at the condition of the ship. It's not that it was obviously unsafe, but it just wasn't up to German standards. When he mentioned possibly writing an email to the shipping company to complain about the delays and the shape of the ship, I laughed and told him he'd been away from Lebanon too long.

Since it was midafternoon when I got out of customs and found WiFi, I decided against walking to the Balamand and instead accepted the offer of a ride from my new German friends. (Two of the three adults were travelling on German passports.) That's when I learned that one of the cars had been purchased and registered in Germany two months ago. Not normally a problem, except that Lebanese import regulations require proof of ownership for at least three months before entering the country with a vehicle. Perhaps my friends could have sprung their vehicle had they been willing to grease a few palms, but as a matter of principle, they wanted to do everything correctly and above-board. (They've been in Germany a looong time!) After waiting several hours, they were informed that only the head of customs for the port had the authority to release the vehicle, and he had gone home for the day. Undaunted, the Germans decided to rent a car for the night, drive down to Beirut, and return in the morning. (This is a much cheaper option than a taxi each way.)

I had been considering taking a few days to walk down to Beirut from Tripoli, but instead I squeezed into the rental car‎ with the others and headed south along the main highway. I'd been amazed at how much Tripoli had grown in the nine years since I'd last seen the city, and the highway has seen corresponding growth. The long stretches of highway with nothing but cliff face to one side and the sea on the other have been replaced with new construction, gas stations, and shops. I was pleasantly surprised that nobody was driving against traffic on the divided highway -- clearly Lebanon has become more orderly in my absence. That's not to imply that the cheerful chaos is absent, just that driving is no longer as life-threatening as it used to be.

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