Lebanon VII Back at home

November 21. 2015

Our last day in Lebanon I want to spend shanty. After we have breakfast I shoot firearms for the first time in my life. Unfortunately I am not even able to hurt a tin on the field. Either I can’t hear nothing for nearly half an hour after – a terrible experience all together – but still funny enough! Later we visit friends and I go to the barber. I need a new passport so I want to look harmless on the picture I will have to take on Monday. I figured out many people here cant read our letters so all they can verify in my passport are visa from Pakistan, Iran and so on….

We do the rather dangerous road to Beirut (along the Syrian border) in the middle of the night as I want to spend as much time as possible with Ali. Our farewell comes out pretty emotional for me then so at the end I just jump in the car and we go. Not without promising to come back soon! I really started to love Lebanon! It’s a country for experienced travelers – you should know what to expect and at least speak a few words in French. If you are though enough you will experience incredible hospitality in the Muslim parts and loads of great people too in the Christian ones. Even though many people told me there is no difference I felt like Lebanon is divided in the Muslim and the Christian part – at least in rural areas.

Even though Lebanon is incredibly tiny I have the feeling I have only seen a small part of the country. Even though I was there only a little more than a week I made friends for a life time.

The way to Beirut was no Problem at night. Again we were searched pretty though at a military checkpoint which made us a little nervous after yesterdays experience. But at the end all went fine. Toms plane was earlier than mine so after dropping him at the airport I got a coffee on the road towards Beirut. By chance I met a friend of Ali there and again I was invited – what a great farewell from Lebanon!

I am back in Austria now – but not for long! I will start my next journey well before christmas Inshallah!

Ali and I in the living room drinking tea

Lebanon VI – Arrested by the military for Paragliding!

November 20. 2015

Beautiful weather again today. Its less windy so we can start from the top – there are no clouds coming from the sea! We quickly make two flights each in the warm sun and get a coffee then. When we have coffee we notice a truck parked in the direction up the mountain. You can take us up? Achlanuasachlan – you (we) are welcome. Half way up to the intermediate we see another pilot walking up the road. The truck driver stops and takes him too. We all go up to the Top and Tomas and I enjoy our first flight together. No ascending still so its not lasting forever but still amazingly beautiful under the blue sky. There is a Video of this flight if you CLICK HERE.

In the meantime a friend of the other pilot has arrived who would take us all up again – so finally we have our amazing day and the possibility to fly together. We wait for them to pick us up for maybe 20 minutes. As they don’t arrive we decide to proceed like before so it was on me to take Tomas up. When we approach the military checkpoint between start and landing we see the car of the Pilots friend and stop right behind him. I didn’t even see the guard pointing me the way to stop. We have been passing this checkpoint maybe 20 times by now and today have been joking all morning. We expect the other Pilot to be chatting with the guards when suddenly one of them asks me for my passport. At the first moment I believe he is joking and smile at until he repeats a little less kind.

I still think it is kind of a joke or like one time they want to check who we are but after waiting for nearly an hour they tell us that they will take us to an army base – one of them driving our car. Two guys with hand cuffs have arrived which makes me a little nervous. The only guy who speak English only keeps telling us “no problem in 5 minutes you go”. We can’t think of anything we have done wrong. I have called the Lebanon embassy two weeks before I left Austria asking them if it is safe to fly at Bcharre and they told me it was no problem. At the immigration the officer asked me what I want to do in Lebanon and I told him “Parapente – Paragliding in Bcharre” – “You are welcome”. We asked people in Bcharre, same answer, passed the military checkpoint many times while one of us flew above them – always smiling faces! So what the fuck?

They take our phones from us (which usually is a very bad sign for me) and then we go. There is an Army Base just around the corner where I believe they will take us but they don’t stop there. We are placed in the back of a Pick up, the two of us, the other pilot and his friend and four guys with Kalaschnikows. We finally stop at an army head quarter half the way down to Tripolis. There is a safety warning out for Tripolis which scares a little – big cities always seem to be more scary for me. In a Muslim country at the moment somebody invites you, you will most of the times be perfectly safe – but to guarantee that is easier in a village where everybody knows each other and has the same religion than in a city like Tripolis. However the Officers here are very rude with us. They completely search our car and ask not only for the driving license and the passport but also for the Paragliding license. Austrian driving license is valid without the international one. Paragliding license isn’t. In the car I already said I want to call the embassy.

I get my cell phone back and call them. A very nice and helpful lady picks up the phone. She sounds extremely concerned but still it feels good to talk to her and calms me down a lot. She asks me where I am but she does not get a clue when I try to repeat what the army guys around me are saying. They tell me not to be allowed to talk to her which she says is bullshit. I believe her. Somebody said we have been arrested by order of ministry of defense because of Paragliding (?). Still we have no clue what really is the problem. While I talk to Mrs. D. at the embassy they suddenly say they will bring us to Tripolis to a huge army head quarter. Mrs. D promises to do everything she can do and ask me not to turn of my phone. After talking to her I try to just put the phone in my pocket and I am lucky – nobody notices it.
So the journey goes on to Tripolis. I slowly start to worry if we will be able to catch our planes in maybe 36 hours. At the moment, and because of the rudeness of the people here I am afraid this might take a few days.

After maybe an hour drive we arrive at a huge army camp somewhere in Tripolis. After arrivel we are led into a room where on one side there is a kind of a fish tank with a guy who is writing down our names and our time of arrival. On the other side there is a huge cage which is locked with a padlock and many people inside. We are put in the cage too. By now both of us are really impressed not to say a little scared as you probably can imagine. Some time later they open the cage for us and ask us to wait in a tiny garden. (I believe this is probably because Mrs. D cleared the situation for us a little bit. Much more comfortable than in the cage but here we see how they treat the people who will stay. Not nice – everybody has his shoe laces and belt removed and they put it into an envelope with all their other stuff. The guys have to stand in a row facing the wall and wait for their names to be called.

We have been told that some intelligence officers will ask us a lot of questions but we are only asked for our names and our parents names again and again. Everytime it seems to take one hour before they are able to write them properly down. They take fingerprints and shit but I feel lucky they don’t check the millions of pictures on my computer for any pictures of military whatever. I don’t take pictures like this as a matter of principle but searching for them would probably take days. One of the guys who took us here gives me a sign that we will be free to go today. It still takes an hour before we get back our passports and as soon as I got mine I become a little more honest. I keep asking myself if people who put us in a cage are joking when they ask how we like Lebanon… What kind of answer do they expect? After we got back our passport it takes more ages because they need them again to make more copies blabla.

When we are finally free to go we still don’t have a clue what we did wrong and nobody can tell us. Even the local Pilot who was arrested with us seems not to know. Its just crazy but this is the middle east. On the way out we get lost inside the army village again before we finally find the exit. Nothing than away from here we think. I have promised Ali to come back today to spend another day with him before we leave so I put his address into the GPS.

Once we are away from the military place I take the first opportunity to stop and call Mrs. D to tell her we are out. I either tell her that we still don’t know what was the problem and she explains there is a sensitive area and an army offence somewhere. She ask where we are and where we are planning to go. We are planning to go back to Ali in Balbek and when I tell her this she is laughing like I just made a good joke. I ask where the offense had happened as I don’t want to run into it on the way to Balbek but she tells me it is happening in Tripolis.

We are in Tripolis it is night time already and we never had the feeling this is a good place to go. Mrs. D asks me why the hell we are coming to Lebanon for paragliding. I tell her because its beautiful, she replies “Indeed, very beautiful”, and both of us laugh. She wants us to go to Beirut but I had promised Ali that I would be back by Friday and its late and we are far away. Either Alis place is the only place in Lebanon where I feel 100% secure and after this day we want a cosy place to sleep. She tells me that if they go to Balbek it will only be possible with a tank escort but some people say its no problem. Guess I am one of those who think its no problem. I never had real problems with locals – if I have real problems in foreign countries its usually with the authorities like today.

Anyway Alis place is not directly in Balbek but a few kilometers before so we don’t need to pass a real critical area between Bcharre and Balbek. We finally arrive at Alis place around 11pm and there were no problems on the way. At the army checkpoint where we have been detained the guys are smiling again and apologize for what happened. It feels like they are really sorry for everything but they had got a phone call with an order to detain us. Never mind it is your job guys.

When Ali opens the door I see the worries in his face because of us not coming yet. But just for a small part of a seconds as his face relaxes and starts to smile immediately. He is as happy as I am to see me again. I really love him!

Lebanon V – flight with an eagle

November 19. 2015

Again the sky is perfectly blue when we wake up (a little later than yesterday). We go directly to Cedar Top at above 2700m – well at least we try too. There is snow on the road this morning and the bug gets stuck. Sun has just began to shine on the street so it might be a matter of minutes. The summer tires are running out of profile but a little later we enjoy an amazing view! Everthing is frozen up here and a strong wind is blowing into our faces. We stand between two summits so it is supposed to be strong here.

I walk down a little to find the actual launching pad but still the wind is too strong. Tom is chatting with birdhunters at the top who would interrupt the sound of the wind with a noisy BOOM every now and then. I walk further down where the slope is becoming steeper, the rocks bigger and the wind less. I try to put out my wing but either the lines get stuck between the rocks or the wind would just tangle everything. Its freezing cold – the humid wind comes from the sea and is forced to go up along the mountains. The humidity condenses all around me and clouds arise around me. I am at around 2700m, got a cold and a strong and cold wind in my face – the wing is tangled and every move is a pain in the arse. Half an hour later I manage to get my wing together and move further down. Same shit happens there but another half an hour later I am surprisingly ready to start.

I pull up the wing and take off immediately. The wind is strong, I go up AND back. There are not many things that are more dangerous than being drifted into the Lee of such a mountain like this one – well maybe the Syrian border which is just on the other side of the valley below… But don’t worry, big ears and accelerator get me out of the situation quickly. Unfortunately the accelerator gets a little tangled in the hectic actions and little later at the soaring hill I wonder why the wing is so unstable and the ascending is so bad. Approaching the landing I find out about the problem but can’t solve it quickly enough. Fortunately the wind is strong enough even down here so accelerated landing causes no problems.

Tom tries to start from the Top too but within minutes after I leave him the whole summit is covered in clouds. I pick him up again sounding the horn all the way up to let him know I come and where I am. All the other flights today we start at the intermediate again – clouds being sometimes less than 100m above us. Toms flight is either fine, strong ascending sometimes (the clouds suck) but again, like yesterday the clouds are too low to really benefit from it. Surprisingly, even though there is strong as- and descending all day and the clouds look really scary some of the time the air appears to be pretty calm compared to where we usually fly.

After a coffee we go up again. My turn. The wind became stronger making it a challenge to start (again). Without the help of Tomas it would be impossible: After a little accident when the wind caught my wing unsuspected, he takes my wing, holding it together (and down) so only the 3 chambers in the center can get air. I look at him skeptical but behind him there are some locals taking pictures. Looks fine I think and give him the signal while pulling the A – lines. In a part of a second the wing unfolds and I brake a little to prevent him from shooting in front of me.

Same second I make a jump back but don’t touch the ground anymore. I go straight up! Again, ears & accelerator – no problem and with all in its place I can play a little at the soaring hill before I start to freeze. Going down very slowly I suddenly see an eagle close in front of me – ascending. I fly there and suddenly am sucked up by a dark cloud! Enough now – again e&a (even though ascending more than 1m/s for a short time) and just a little later I come down at the landing site. What an amazing flight – I love it when eagles fly together with me!

Tom has another go but goes down as soon as he is up. No soaring so I just make it to the landing site before he is there. Spirals, up, down, ears, accelerator…. Finally he reaches the ground and we decide to take a brake to maybe have calm gliding conditions for a nice descender towards evening. During this brake the clouds look really bad. It seem to be crazy to even think of flying. But maybe one and a half hours before sunset the clouds suddenly look a little less scary. The wind has calmed down noticeable so I give the sign to quickly pay and go.

When we arrive at the intermediate take off the wind has nearly stopped and as this has stopped humid air from approaching the clouds have nearly totally vanished. Surprisingly I have to make a few steps before I take off and then I enjoy an amazingly calm flight in perfect evening sun. Definitely the best flight of today! After landing I hurry up to get Tom up one more time too. He enjoys his flight as much as I did. The sunset here is just unbelievable incredibly stunning!

Lebanon IV – Take off at cedar mountain

November 18. 2015

When we see the blue sky this morning nothing can stop us. We have coffee, take our stuff and leave well before eight o clock. At the landing site at the Bcharre side (north of the mountains) all is frozen and there is not a bit of wind. We decide to get another coffee here and then have a look at the south side where we expect thermals early in the morning already.

Up on the mountain pass we find out there is a nice wind blowing from the north. South side looks challenging but is too dangerous obviously. Even though it would be nice because in the south the clouds seem to be about 1000m lower which would give us the chance to fly above them – from the north there are more clouds coming and the base is between intermediate and top launching site. We decide to do our first flight at the intermediate facing north.

There is hardly any traffic on this (main!) road connecting Muslims and Christians so hitchhiking is out of question. So there will always be only one able to fly while the other one has to drive the car down the hill. Never mind – the air is cold and our first two flights are just calm descenders. Tom takes his second flight from the top launching site as the bas is lifting for a moment. Again a calm descender. Next turn is mine again and the clouds have sunk again.

I start and in the second I am in the air start ascending. Within second I take the ears in not to be sucked into the cloud above me. I go a little down and then up again – its perfect! I just play around under the clouds – sometimes up sometimes down – everything under control. The only disadvantage is the freezing cold. After 20 minutes I cannot feel my fingers anymore and land – what an amazing flight in this incredible scenery!

Unfortunately the bug (that’s how we call our rental “car”) finally runs out of petrol for the first time since I picked it up at the airport. We quickly go down to the village to get some and then up again. After one more awesome flight each we are freezing and besides pretty tired already. We could do one more each but decide to let it be for today. On the way home we stop at the pharmacy. We get the oil heater turned on and relax in the soon to be warm living room. Life is amazing!

Lebanon III Arrival at the flying area!

Nov. 16. – 17. 2015

We leave Ali just after coffee and hit the road towards the highest mountain of Lebanon. 60km by road and less than 20 if you would fly there straight. In fact I was able to see the launching place from Alis rooftop. At the military checkpoint they just check our papers and wish us a pleasant journey. Soon the appearance of the villages totally changes as we arrive in a Christian area now. Houses are a little more like in Europe and there are churches everywhere!

Soon we climb up more than 1000m in altitude via just a few serpentines. You will be easily able to spot them if you check out the map. If you are a Paraglider you will certainly become nervous when taking a closer look at that map. At the mountain pass at about 2700m above the sea we could easily either see the sea and the border to Syria if there were no clouds. The mountains surrounding us are up to more than 3000m high. After coming down the other side we soon arrive in Bcharre. It is some kind of a middle eastern St. Moritz and now its absolutely off season.

We spot a big sign post which has seen better days offering room, food, wifi for just 28$ per room. That sounds worth it so we decide to have a look. The room is as huge as the empty hotel and looks luxurious. The hotel is called Hotel Alpine and tries a lot to copy Austrian style – for us it feels more like in “the Shining”, empty, huge and endless hallways. Even though the price is so scary we ask for the price. 125$ per night plus $28 per person if we want food.

While searching for a room a thunderstorm happens. Two hours before we were thinking about to maybe fly today. Well done we didn’t.

The second place we look at was recommended by the guy at the first place: Bauhaus Hotel. Once in Bcharre it is hard to miss the Bauhaus and we can get a little room with three beds for 31$ per night. But wait, its off season. Our room, and four others enter into a big living room, kitchen and bath attached – 24h wifi, electricity and hot water and an oil heater on demand (we are at 1500 above sea level and its below 0 at night). We rent the room and use the whole floor – what an amazing deal!

It takes us some time to find a place where we can eat. There are restaurants all over but…. Off season. We find a place where we get a kind of Pizza, get some more food at the supermarket (got a kitchen) and soon go to bed. Both of us have a bad cold!

Next day in the morning its rainy as predicted. We discuss a second if we try to fly at the sea or take the day just to explore this perfect looking place here. Minutes later we are on the way to the launching place. Clouds are low and there is fresh snow at the tops of the mountains around us. We stop at possible launching places and explore landing sites we could use. Watching the clouds rising up the mountain sides looks scary – its raining every now and then. We don’t even think of flying in these conditions but we get quite a good idea of the area. In fact the bad weather was good luck for us and tomorrow its predicted to be a perfect day to finally take off!

Lebanon II – Bekan Valley

November 14. – 16. 2015

Sunrise today is nearly impossible to describe. The blue sky and the red soil, sun rising over the hills of the border to Syria where smoke is rising. Gunshots woke me up and little later I sit in the gently warming sun on the roof top listening to the birds and about 2 or 3 shots every 10 seconds.

“They hunting”, Ali, my host and by now good friend tells me. I look in disbelieve as he had told me yesterday the Syrian border being 120km away. If you looked at the Map link in the last post and as I see on my GPS its not more than 20….
However nobody seems to mind the noise so I don’t mind either. Its just too far from what I call reality to do more than go with the flow. Most of the time I spend with Ali Abu Hussein, my 62 year old friend. He knows maybe 200 words in English and I knew maybe 20 in Arabic when I came. Still there is some kind of understanding between us which doesn’t demand words. Sometimes I look in his eyes and his face just becomes 20 again. We spend hours having fun together and we can even though our limited vocabulary philosophy together!

Whatever we do I always carry a note book and a pen with me to learn Arabic. Every new word I use in the right moment makes us laugh together a lot. We both feel like little children and the time passes very quickly.

Well, where was I? The noisy morning…. Well later that morning friends of Ali came to hunt too. His house is a little out of town and surrounded by fields so it’s a good meeting point I guess. The crowd arrives just in a moment when Ali is shopping and nobody else is here so the guys are quite surprised to find me. Ali did not tell me they are coming now so I am surprised too. 5 minutes later we are all sitting in the garden sharing breakfast and tea (like in turkey – more sugar than water). They have quite beautiful shotguns and whenever they see a bird at the horizon one of them would stand up and scare it away with a shot long before they would come in range. After breakfast we sit in the shadow smoking shishas following the same ritual. It seems pretty senseless in a way…
But in between the BOOM BOOM sounds of the shotguns you would here a sudden RADADADAD every now and then – one time Ali looks at me very seriously when this happens and says “Daesh!”

So they are up in the hills. I already noticed friends of Ali last evening and I will again tonight. They point out to the hills in the east obviously describing what happens in the fights there. In the evening he shows me “Daesh TV”. We agree that these people can never be Muslims and what they do is haram (a sin) because “Kulul Arab – Allah uached!” (All people – one god!)

Sounds a little exciting now but most of the time we just sit together in the living room, he teaching me arab, joking and philosophizing together drinking tea and smoking apple flavoured shishas.

When I came to Lebanon two days ago the most important thing I had to do was to change some money. Now, 48 hours later I still don’t even know the name of their currency, neither have I touched it since I got it. Today when Ali buys cigarettes for me I want to give him money and it is the first time I see a tiny flash of anger for a small part of a second on his face. “NO PAY! GUEST!“, he says and gives me enough cigarettes for all week.

Sunday evening my friend Tomas arrives and is just as welcome (Achlanuasachlan in Arabic) as I am. We leave direction Bcharre next morning not without promising to come back on Friday before we leave.

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Ani Bhhbak Lebanon

November 13. 2015

MAP – click here!

Anybody ever noticed our letters are just not ment to write arabic? However this should mean I love Lebanon! But lets start in the morning. I sleep only a little because of my cold and finally wake up for the first morning prayer at 4? No problem usually but today my neighbour starts to shower and I swear he didn’t stop until the second prayer at 6 for sunrise. And he showers noisy!

However I have to stand up at 6 anyway, taxi to the airport will be here at 7. I pack, and then go down to check out. The Taxi driver is ten minutes early(!) so I drink my tea on the way. Today is Friday 13. and after 10 minutes I believe this taxi ride with the 70 years old driver in his unlicensed taxi will 100% be the by far scariest thing today. (I am wrong of course). He drives between the lanes as a matter of principle and talks all the time while looking at me. I become a true Muslim before we arrive at the airport and mashallah survive the ride.

On the airport all is smooth, quickly and very kind – very friendly, always smiling security checks everybody very well. Even though there has been a suicide attack in Beirut yesterday with more than 40 people killed and over 200 injured everything seems to be business as usual. I am surprised! (and everybody who travels will probably share this surprise.)

After the take of I leave my gps turned on as I want to know how we will pass the war zone of Syria. But we don’t pass it – we cross it, which is kind of a strange feeling after Daesh had obviously bomb or shot down a civil airplane above Sinai maybe 10 days ago. Welcome to the middle east! At least we fly along the border until we fully ascent to 10000m above and start descending not before we cross the border of Lebanon while passing about 100km north of Damaskus.

I already mentioned I got a cold and while ascending was no problem descending is a pain in the earse! And my ears remain blocked for several hours. I hear the guy at the border police like far away, point out to my ears and he smiles kindly. He asks me very roundly why I am here what I plan to do, where I plan to stay, examines my hotel reservation. Looks at all the visas in my passport very closely – “Why you travel all these countries?”, he asks. “I like Muslim countries”, I reply, “the hospitality, kindness and honesty is best” (and I mean what I say). “But we are the bad.”, he grins back and puts the stamp in my passport. Two more jokes and I leave the border formalities smilingly again. I could get used to this approach!

After getting the luggage and doing the formalities at the car rental I leave the airport to go to the parking lot. Before I arrive there I hear gun shots and they continue for several minutes. Nobody gives a shit. The scariest moment today? (not yet!)

After leaving the parking lot I stop in between to other cars at the side of the road for a second to check my GPS for the way to a money changer. Seconds later I hear a Sirene and police is standing right behind me talking on a speaker to me in Arabic. I turn off the car and get out, they smile at me and tell me I cant Park here. Checking map? No Problem! And they disappear again.

I drive into Beirut to find a Bank and damnholyshit – that’s scary! I have been driving in quite a few countries by now like you can read in the Tags but MADDERDSCHOD! Everybody drivers anywhere all the time! There are nor even lanes on 3 lane highways here and downtown Beirut is the scariest city I have ever driven! Even though it looks sometimes more than Switzerland than middle east as I see several fancy cars one KTM SuperDuke, Harley Davidson and so on. Its just crazy!

The first bank send me to the office on the other side of the street where a lady explains me she cant change money unless I have an account. After the traffic I am a little desperate and tell her I need money to eat and drink. She offers water and takes me with her. While I empty the cup in one sip she asks if I want more and answers herself yes you want. She offers me another one but I am totally satisfied by her explaining me the way to an area where I could change money. After 15 more minutes of driving I am a wreck and stop seconds before having a nervous breakdown in front of another bank. The lady at the entrance again tells me no changing here but takes me 200 meter down the street to a changing office. I get a fair rate without any negotiation and am happy to be able to leave the city.

I don’t know exactly where to go yet but I want to see the Bekan Valley and maybe the roman sites in Balbeek so I take the way there. On the roadside I notice a lot of mililitary and at the hilltop between the coast and and Bekan valley my ears unblock a little before the first military checkpoint. Many of them are to come. It is a beautiful wide valley with a red soil, the border to Syria being somewhere on the top of the hills between 15 and 50km to my right. I don’t really see an inviting place so I turn direction Bcharre in Balbeek. Bcharre is supposed to be a beautiful mountain place, great for paragliding and I expect a friend to come Sunday evening to fly here together. I could be there before sunset and it would be good to find a place to meet to email him. Actually I promised to pick him up from the airport but I will by no chance drive this hell one more time. People out here still drive crazy but at least there are way less of them which makes it a lot easier.

Short after turning to Bcharre I see a little shop at the right side of the street. I have been driving several hours by now even though it was less than 70km and I really need a coffee. I stop, get out of the car and ask a guy who has a nice jacket which reminds me of mine from india and looks very likeable for coffee.

What can I tell you… it is half past ten at night and while writing this I sit in the living room of his brothers farmhouse writing this. Less than 20km to the east of us we face the Syrian border at the hill tops. We eat, drink and have fun together – even though we hardly speak a word of the same language we understand everything, it just takes twice as long and is way more funny. It seems like Ali and me are kind of connected souls. I seriously start learning Arabic (as you have seen in the title) and started a notebook with vocabulary and phrases again. I am kind of adopted by Alis family and where can it be easier and joyfuller to learn a language. Finish now – written enough, I want to enjoy the time with Ali before going to bed!

Good night

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There are too many stories of the bad things that happen here, lets tell one about the good people who live here!

Jordan V – Amman

November 12. 2015

I have a bad cold when I wake up so I just have a can of tea and then search a pharmacy to get flu pills. I rest until noon and then find out that the Amman citadel is just, well not around the corner but up at the hill. My muscles are still sore from the steps in Petra but I don’t care and go up there. The sight is really worth the climbing, some parts of it are older than 8500 years. After a little less than 2 hours I go back to the hotel to take a little nap again and more flu pills.

In the evening I get food again at Hasheems restaurant. On the table next to me are some people from Lebanon who invite me for tea and more food. I am full of Humus and falafel already but don’t want to insult them so I eat some more and have another tea with them. They tell me that Lebanon is even more expensive than Jordan but really beautiful.
In the evening a friend tells me about a terrorist attack in Beirut – two suicide bombers have killed more than 40 and injured over 200 people. So it will be very secure in the week to come I think but probably a lot of annoying checkpoints everywhere. I don’t want to stay in Beirut anyway as it really seems to be incredibly expensive (though very beautiful as many people tell me).

Jordan IV Dead Sea and Amman

November 11. 2015

When I wake up around 7 o clock Allahn is already busy building up his tea stall. We spend about one hour chatting without understanding each other – no problem, we have fun. He shows me how to fix a scarf on my head like Arabs do and suddenly I really look like one of them!

A little later I climb down to the bank of the dead sea which nowadays is a little below 500m below sea level – the lowest point on earth. Even though I feel a cold coming up I have to take a swim of course. The “water” is surprisingly warm and I bounce on it like cork in the water – its real fun! Filling up a bottle I want to take as a souvenir I am surprised by the weight. It feels like twice as heavy as usual freshwater but still is crystal clear!

Before I leave I take Allahn to the village which is about two kilometers away to refill his freshwater. He has no car and I have seen nobody but him at his place – no family, no costumers – I wonder what his story is when finally leaving. I pass the expensive hotels at the edge of the dead sea and then take the first possibility to go left to take a look at the border to Palestine/west bank. I really want to see river Jordan which is probably one of the shortest but still most important rivers in the world – for sure the lowest.

I wonder what expects me there as it is a very sensitive area and I am a little nervous when I stop at the military checkpoint. I try to explain my desire to see the river but they don’t really understand as they speak nearly no English at all. “Wake Major” the guard says smilingly – all seems good even though heavy guarded. After the guard is banging on a metal door for minutes the Major finally wakes up and I get the weakest handshake ever.

He wants to see my passport so I go back to get it with the guards who search my car while I get the passport. They don’t search very motivated then take my passport and bring it to the Major who has already called somebody to ask how to handle me. I try to explain again I want to see the river but I don’t think they understand. He examines my passport very close and asks me several times where I am from and where it is written in the passport. I find out that there is not even one Arabic letter in my passport so he can not read the name of my country. We translate Name, date of issue, date of expire and so on with his cellphone before he takes pictures of every single page in my passport with all the visas.

He again calls his boss and slowly tries to explain – “You are very welcome in Jordan but cannot enter here.” I am a little concerned now, thinking he might not let me go back inside the country – maybe send me to Israel or something with all my stuff in the rental car in Jordan.. He asks me for my religion and then suddenly tells me to go back and take the first to the left. I have seen a sign before showing the way to a Baptist church there so maybe he thinks I just wanted to pray.

However I am happy not to be arrested by now and go back to the car. I hit the road, take the first left and pass the church – a police car appears blocking the way to the border and when I turn around they follow me for half a kilometer. When I accelerate they disappear and I turn to the main road to Amman. That was quite scary all together.

Amman is a huge town with crazy traffic – I am glad to have all the maps downloaded to my GPS. First hotel I stop is way too expensive and far away from the city center, surrounded by shopping malls and living areas. I continue towards city center and the second hotel (New Park Hotel at N31.95607˚ E035.93151˚) I find has a nice price a beautiful receptionist and a clean room with wifi and hot water.

Now there is one thing I have to tell as most people always ask me about girls in muslim countries. I have to admit the girls here could in no way be more sexy and beautiful without hijab. Their smiles and the beauty in their eyes are just incredible – I fall in love several times a day!

The only disadvantage about the hotel is that is in a valley in the city and my muscles are still sore from all the steps I had to take yesterday. I am glad the cute receptionist tells me a way to a great restaurant which is on the same level as the hotel – no steps and amazing cheap food are waiting for me there. After getting amazing Arab food (humus and falafel which I always thought was Israeli) its already dark and I go back to the hotel to fall asleep soon.

Jordan III – Petra

November 10. 2015

Mohamads friend doesn’t appear at the meeting point in the morning so I go to the restaurant where Mohamad is working and wait there for him to open. He doesn’t have a phone number of the guy so there is no other way than buying the full price ticket which costs nearly a weeks salary of a local (well not for local people as Arabs pay only 1 Dinar which is 50 times less than I have to pay). Many people told me I have to see Petra because its so amazing so what to do.

After the entrance there are guys with horses waiting for me “Horseride is included in the ticket, its 2 km to the canyon” they say first. When I stop it changes a little to “little Bakshish pay, we have to pay tax for the horse inside” – wtf? I negotiate 2 Dinar for the 2km horse ride and after less than 500m we are at the beginning of the canyon. What a fucking scam… I offer to pay one Dinar but the guy refuses to take it twice so I put it back in my pocket and walk off. Suddenly he changes his mind and says “Ok, ok 1 Dinar” but I ignore him. Until I reach the other side of the canyon the scammers have pissed me of enough to spoil my whole morning. I hardly ever experienced this in a Muslim country so I start asking the scammers “What you pray? Dinar hu akbar?” which seems to be insulting enough to make them turn away immediately.

At the treasury I drink a surprisingly “cheap” tea for “only” one Dinar (two days later I get salad, falafel, humus, bread and two tea for 3 Dinar in Amman). I calm down a little and remember my scammer tactics – I switch the language talking hindi from now and everybody who calls me friend gets a long and “intimidating” hug. Most people are scared off by this and many tourists who seem to be as pissed off as I am have a good laughter about it.

I continue my way and after a few hundred meters I turn left and climb the mountain to the high place of sacrifice where it seems to be quieter. As soon as I reach the top I get invited for tea and people become very friendly again. It seems very strange until I ask a girl who offers me tea what this is about. She tells me that she is Beduin and the people down are Locals from Wadi Musa. Now it makes sense that the hotel manager told me yesterday that the people in the Bedu village are “bad people”. Quite the opposite seems to be the case. I continue my way in between friendly Beduines, greedy locals and laughing (about my tactics) tourists. Some people have told me that I should take a 2 day ticket which costs only 10% more as Petra is impossible to see in one day. This reminded me of Angkor Wat where somebody could easily spend a week so I do the walk of around 10 – 15 kilometers including at least 2000 steps well before sunset. Less than 7 hours to see everything easily and after I got the feeling that unlike Angkor, Hampi, Taj Mahal or Northern lights Petra is totally overrated and overpriced. You’d better look at my pictures and enjoy a day somewhere else in Jordan with honest Muslim people than coming here to be scammed. After climbing up to the monastery I am totally exhausted. On the way back I hire a camel from a Beduin to take me most of the way for 6 Dinar which seems to be kind of ok compared to the 25 he asked at the beginning.

In the evening I get food at Mohamads place. He seems to be pretty sorry about my experience and tells me that he is experiencing pretty much the same as he is refugee from Syria. Wadi Musa people are lazy and greedy he tells me laughing and serves me the best lemon mint juice I ever had. When I leave later he refuses to take any money for what I consumed – only one Euro he takes as a good luck charm for his way to Europe. I get in the car and hit the road towards dead sea. The cloud base is around 1200m above sea level so I drive through really bad fog slowing me down to 40 km/h as the first half of the way is up to 1500m and freezing cold outside. Three hours later I arrive 400m below sea level and it is warm again. Its late already and I planned to sleep somewhere at the dead sea in the car. At the last village before dead sea (south of it) I pick up a hitchhiker – good chance to maybe get a private place to sleep for tonight I think. But there comes no village! We pass all dead sea until at the other side we approach the hotel area at the northern edge. He gets out at a 5* hotel and I turn around to go to a little tea stall by the road I had noticed a few kilometers earlier. Allahn, the owner is happy to welcome me and tries hard to teach me some more Arabic before both of us go to sleep around midnight. He sleeps inside the tea stall and I sleep like planned in the car.