Mar 22, 2015

Hmm... what's the frequency, Kenneth?

‎The last half of my previous update was dropped, but the first half was repeated several times with some odd formatting.  My roaming plan has no data provision for Lebanon, so I didn't discover the fail until I arrived at church this morning and connected to the WiFi here.

Anyway, from Tripoli, my German friends dropped me off in Antelias, just north of Beirut. That's when I realised that while I still remembered‎ how to get to the old church, all I knew of the new location is that it's in the hills across a valley from the heavily fortified American embassy. It's not just the North which has seen massive growth. I barely recognised the area, although once I spotted the army checkpoint I knew exactly where I was.  After walking around for a bit and getting a sandweesh batates ma'a toom, I decided my best bet was to flag a taxi and let the cabbie figure it out. I guess he was only in the area to drop off a fare, since his knowledge of the neighbourhood was even worse than my own. I had been stopping every five minutes or so to ask for directions, and he was doing likewise. The difference, of course, is that travelling at 4 km/h meant I remained in the right area, but stopping for directions every five minutes in the cab meant we wound up taking a very VERY scenic route. When we finally arrived at the church 45 minutes later, I discovered it was 500 m from where I had first hopped in the cab.

I've spent the last few days as a guest with my friend's family, and it has been wonderful. I've been to services every day (except for Thursday, due to that frustrating ride), I've been feasting on fresh and tasty Lebanese food, and have made a good start at catching up on the past nine years -- including meeting the seven year old child. I am quite happy to be here, although I do plan to head north again to pay a visit to the Balamand and see some folks there.

I'm also playing with the idea of going back to Tripoli and then walking down to Beirut. While I've been trying to walk as much as I reasonably can, the trains, buses, and car rides have trimmed about a thousand kilometres from my journey. Any notion of "authenticity" or "purity of pilgrimage" was shot long ago. (Thankfully, my sense of humour is still intact.)‎ What I may do is head up to Tripoli this evening, spend the night there, and then walk south along the sea road for a few dozen kilometres before heading back to the highway and catching a bus south in time for Great Compline Monday evening.

This is not (simply) a case of pig-headedness.‎ With the land route from Turkey to Jerusalem closed for the present, most pilgrims are going through Cyprus. This presents a different set of challenges. The physical minefields are all well marked, but the Turkish military occupation of the northern section of the island has created numerous political ones. Crossing the Green Line in Λευκωσία (as Nicosia is known in Greek) has been possible for several years now. The problem is that the shipping companies operating ferries between Cyprus and Israel have been instructed by the Cypriot gov't not to sell tickets to non-EU pilgrims who have entered Cyprus "illegally," i.e. through the port of Girne/Κερυνεια. In 2006, an American pilgrim was allowed to take a ferry after being scolded, but this past autumn a different pilgrim wound up having to travel from the port of Limassol to the city of Larnaca and leave Cyprus by plane. By travelling to the Republic of Cyprus from Turkey via Lebanon, future pilgrims can avoid one set of potential problems. (Lebanon is beautiful, and worth visiting in its own right, even if it's just for a few days along the coast.) If I do a bit of walking while I'm here, I can provide information for future pilgrims who choose this route. I won't be walking the 90 kms or so continuously, but by using Beirut as a base I should be able to spend time with my friends, get to church, and do some significant amounts of walking. (Yeah, I want it all.)

Whatever I wind up doing over the next few days, my flight from Beirut to Larnaca is bought and paid for. I'll be leaving Lebanon on March 28 and arriving in Cyprus after the 45 minute flight. I'm not sure whether I'll take a plane or a ferry to Haifa, but I should be on my way to Jerusalem again shortly.

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