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!