Beirut, Lebanon – January 2015
After quitting a job on the first day, I immediately book flights to Lebanon and Kuwait, then realize that this month I’m less of an explorer and more of a tourist… The type of tourist that I despise.
There are several types of travelers. Instead of boring you with a silly clickbait list, I’ll just say that I don’t care for “postcard tourists” who skip meeting locals and exploring and focus instead on taking selfies in front of famous monuments and staged pictures with the dirtiest local child they can find (OMG! It’s so exotic here!) during their guided tour. I’ve done my best to find the weird and unique everywhere I go, but I fell into the postcard tourist trap last week.
Let me explain.
I arrived in Turkey with two job offers. One was at an organic farm in the north, and another doing maintenance at a hostel in the south. For both, I was told just to swing by and email the manager before I arrived. It was cold and rainy when I arrived in Istanbul. I hate the cold and rain with a passion. Living in a burlap tent centered in a mud pit through three months of constant winter rain will do that to you. But that is another story and shall be told another time. Pucón, Chile certainly didn’t help either.
I first took two days to explore Istanbul, discovering the most beautiful architecture, graffiti, and women I have ever seen in one place. Also, oddly, not a single dog.
Next, I headed off to Antalya. Antalya was a three hour bus ride from the city I was to work in so I decided to stay there until starting at the next job. I hadn’t talked with the manager there since the “come by anytime in January” email so I emailed him again. I explored Antalya for the day and found a beautiful seaside city, with ancient forts and armaments still standing.
The manager didn’t email me back so I crossed my fingers and just went there. I took an afternoon bus to Kaş and arrived in the evening. It was shockingly cold and drizzly, but I figured that the rain would stop and I would keep myself warm doing physical labor. The manager showed me around the property. Gorgeous. All of it. It was a collection of bungalows built on a hillside, across the street from a yacht bay. You could look out and witness the blue sea extending endlessly until melting into the spotless sky from anywhere on the property. I retired early to be ready for the next day.
This would be a great place for a picture of the sea if my phone worked.
I then realized how cold it was. I hoarded the blankets from an unused bed and wore a long sleeve shirt, fleece jacket, pants, socks, and a beanie to bed. I was finally able to fall asleep at around 4:00 AM and was up at 8:30 for work. I had decided at this point that working here in exchange for zero money and a room too cold to sleep in was actually a pretty bad deal, and that I would be leaving.
Without beating around the bush, I told the manager that I was leaving. He understood. Before heading back to the bus station, I booked a flight to Beirut for that same afternoon. That night, after some unnecessary silliness with the immigrations/Intel officer at Rafik Hariri Airport (that is another story and shall be told another time), I slept in Beirut.
Exhausted from the previous two nights, I accidentally slept through my entire first day in Beirut. The next day I roamed the city with two gnarly French dames who were studying in Istanbul. Instead of exploring, we just followed a map with the city’s monuments labeled. It was a great time and I’m very appreciative of it, but it felt so odd to follow a set path and barely interact with locals who weren’t trying to sell us stuff. It was a postcard tour, traveling around the city with our noses in a map to see the famous sites. We could have seen the same things in a postcard rack at the airport cafe. Memorable, but… meh.
I spent two more days in Beirut. These were much better and I wandered the Armenian neighborhoods alone for hours, admiring the politically charged graffiti & rich architecture and talking to those who spoke English.
The area had a strong vibe. Not good, not bad, just strong.
Since Turkey didn’t work out and the immigration officer told me very emphatically that I couldn’t stay in Lebanon past my original hostel reservation, I next went to see an old friend in Kuwait. He rented an apartment in an oceanside resort after finding work at a gym attached to it, but then was transferred to another gym. The result was him living in an apartment closer to his new job but still being stuck on the old lease.
I stayed in his empty apartment for four days. Everything was insanely expensive in the area so I ended up having nothing but Pinkberry frozen yogurt for over two days, figuring it was the cheapest thing in the area and that if it’s just yogurt, how unhealthy could it be? Pretty unhealthy, actually. And expensive. I hung out with my friend a couple times and explored the area, but in my time in Kuwait I had real conversations with no more than 10 Kuwaitis (the workers were all Filipinas or Bahrainis).
I then flew to Jordan. This was my fourth country in roughly 10 days, and I can count my local friends in Lebanon and Kuwait who aren’t connected to the tourism industry on one finger. Staying in resorts and focusing on tourist sites does that to you sometimes.
I’m working in Jordan and very happy now, as I get to explore Amman every day and meet tons of incredible new people. Despite this, I still feel slimy and gross for the last two weeks. Instead of experiencing the local cultures and meeting amazing people, I saw things that belong on postcards and took selfies. I felt like I was just collecting passport stamps.