Rogers, Arkansas to Cincinnati to Paris to Beirut. It was my first time flying though multiple time zones in years, and so my first experience of jet lag in what seems like forever. It was a necessary evil. After my round-the-world (RTW) trip without leaving the ground, I’ve become quite a proponent of overland travel, for environmental and travel experience reasons, but in this case, flying was made necessary by my time and budget constraints.
I need to be back in the States to go to the TBEX travel bloggers conference (and subsequent family vacation) in British Colombia during the first week of June. Getting to the Middle East by ship would have taken a couple weeks each way, and sadly, have cost four or five times the amount of round trip airfare. So, to the air I took.
Although I have severely limited my plan travel in the past three years, there is something energizing about striding through a plane terminal. It’s amazing to think you can wake up in your bed one day in Arkansas and sleep the next night in Beirut. An airport, especially a large, international one, brings a tingling feeling of anticipation to the fore for me. The possibilities are only limited by the names on the departures screen.
The world is mine.
Considering my long-ago regular flying mishaps, these flights came off without a hitch. As is now pretty much par for me, I’d done almost no research about my destination. One part lazy, mixed with one part guidebook avoidance, mixed with one part travel spontaneity. I did know where I wanted to try to stay in Beirut however, though I’d forgotten to make reservations.
I had done the minimal research to see if there was bus transport from the airport to the neighborhood where I wanted to stay (apparently not) and how much a cab would cost (about $25-30). My plane touched down on time, went through immigration quickly, though they did search my passport fully for an Israel stamp, picked up my backpack and passed though yet another nothing-checked-at-customs counter.
When I emerged, I grabbed some local money out of an ATM machine and went into the tourist office at the airport to ask if they had a local map (no map – how the hell doesn’t a tourist office have a local map?) and about transport into town. The very nice woman behind the counter told me to catch one of the mini-vans with red license plates to town and tell them the district I wanted to get dropped off at. She said it would only cost a few dollars – score one for asking.
I walked outside into a sunny, 80 degree day, flagged down a battered and beaten up mini-van, told him where I needed to go and asked him how much. “One U.S. dollar.” Hopped inside with a couple locals and let the scenery wash over me.
The area from the airport into town was typical for a Middle Eastern city. Lots of concrete. A bit disheveled. Chaotic. Awash in humanity. Other than the high frequency of luxury automobiles (more about that in future posts), it could have been Cairo or Amman.
The driver stopped frequently to drop off and pick up passengers along the way. At one point, he pulled over, got out, walked over to a roadside stand and bought a bag of carrots, jumped back into the van and lit up a cigarette.
At which point, I smiled to myself and thought, “I’m back where I should be. In the odd and crazy world that I love.”