Friday, May 29, 2009

Wandering & Wondering

29 May 2009 - Beirut, Lebanon

I've been spending most of my time in Hamra. Lots going on. The days fly by. Alyssa spends most of her time at the beach...but Joseph has been getting us together on a fairly regular basis. Alyssa and I reunited with William, another guy we met our first time here - he hosted our favorite adventure that first time in Beirut (so he's largely to blame for us coming back). I wrote pages about that adventure, maybe one day I'll post it. Meanwhile, Joseph (our third musketeer) has been showing us the country...and Alyssa deemed our day in the Cedars to be the best day of the trip. It was amazing...and outrageously fun. Joseph is completely insane. I'm uploading photos but I took like 300.

I do my usual loner wandering stuff...roaming streets and sitting in coffee shops, talking to strangers about life and the now in search of a jazz club. Have been writing a ton about everything...but way too much to post....and I'm not into the blog given the situation with Nikki. I've resolved to at least post the photo albums, so that's what I've done today.

Meanwhile, I'm making my way through the ordeal with Nikki's brain aneurysm. Her "procedure" is scheduled for Monday...but not sure yet if it will be brain surgery or an alternative procedure. I talk to her, well, "chat" with her on yahoo, as often as humanly possible...which means I'm darting into icafes on a regular basis. I'm astonished by how well she's managing the complicated web of medical many different doctors and prognoses and options and details details details. In addition to the medical madness, Nikki's working full time and just closed on a house so she's moving on Saturday and possibly having brain surgery on Monday. Only Nikki would do this...but I know from history that she has super powers when it comes to moving house. Sounds like everyone under the sun will be helping her on move day, including my entire family (thanks, y'all, for taking care of Nikki while I can't be there).

I got to talk to my sister the other day for the first time since January - 2.5 hours on Skype at a pretty decent icafe with a good connection. I had known I missed her, but was so great to hang on the phone with her! It reminds me how years ago our cousin Rob asked us how often Missy & I talk to each other...and he still mentions it every time we see him.

Okay, so...that's what's going on with me. Alyssa's having a lot of fun on her own too...I'll see if I can get her to post her version of things. She's such a hilarious girl.

Everyone, please do your thing for Nikki on Monday - pray, meditate, think good thoughts, toss coins in wishing wells...whatever you can do.

Beirut Nights

24 May 2009 - Downtown Beirut, Lebanon

This was a Sunday night when Joe's surprise attack came just after midnight. Alyssa and I hadn't seen each other for days. Joe picked her up in Byblos, drove into Beirut to get me and we went in search of clubs still open. I remember reading in the Lonely Planet that Beirut parties until the sun comes up and thinking oh, I will never do that. But it's impossible not to do that...especially with Joseph.

I guess I need to retract that blog post about never partying.. That was then...
Beirut Nights
(click to link to photo album)

Political Rally (14 March)

23 May 2009 - Beirut-Hamra, Lebanon.
From Political Rally for 14 March - Beirut-Hamra (23 May 2009)

I was roaming around on Saturday night and stumbled across a political rally for 14 March. I wrote a lot about the whole thing...but sent it to John instead of posting it here. Really much fun. Here are the pics and possibly a few videos at the end (uploading takes forever):
Political Rally for 14 March - Beirut-Hamra (23 May 2009)

(click to link to photo album)

River & Champagne

21 May 2009 - Somewhere north of Jbeil? Lebanon

I was sitting at Dunkin Donuts, upstairs in the smoke-free section, chatting with Nikki on my laptop one Monday afternoon, when someone ran at me, grabbed my bags and ran away. It was Joseph. He was kidnapping me. Didn't even let me log off properly. He grabbed all my stuff and hauled me to the parking lot where Alyssa was waiting in the car. He drove us into the mountains and we spent the afternoon eating giant green beans and drinking Champagne. It was a great day. Here are the pics:

Champagne at the River (Lebanon)

(click to link to photo album)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Disappearing Act

21 May 2009 - Lebanon. I'm in Beirut-Hamra, photo was taken in Jbeil.

I am going through one of those spells where I want to take down the blog and delete my Facebook account. I want to be invisible. But...I really appreciate everyone who's emailed about the blog and with interest in what I'm doing these days. (Dennis, it was your email that convinced me to get on with it.) So, here's an update:

I'm in Lebanon completely chilling out…and totally loving it.
Alyssa and I have done a few social things, mostly with one of the guys we met in Cyprus whom we’ve deemed our Third Musketeer (“TM” going forward), some great guys Per & Elly introduced us to, and a few people we’ve met along the way. But mostly we’ve been lazy…hanging at the beach flat, exercising a ton, reading, writing, going to icafes, hanging at the beach. Unapologetic chilling. Finally. Three months of sailing on other people’s boats all over the freaking world warrants a little down time. I’ve been studying Lebanon history a bit, trying to understand the 7th June election and the “trouble” that people warn may ensue when they advise us to get the hell out of here. It’s fascinating.

I relocated to the Hamra flat on Tuesday and Alyssa came up yesterday. We finally made it to a yoga class at this super killer yoga studio in Gemmayzeh last night. Alyssa is heading back to the beach today, but I think I’ll stay in Beirut a few more days to take care of some practical matters. Have I mentioned Alyssa booked her ticket home to Australia? She leaves 5th June, just in time to miss the elections. I’m pretty sure I’m staying a bit longer.

On the rare occasion I write something for the blog, I never post it. I’ll see what I can find, maybe peel some drivel from the journals…but really, nothing’s going on. Nothing much anyway. Or, I guess it’s more accurate to say, nothing I’m going to blog about.

Blogging is just too weird sometimes.

Pain and Partygirls

14 May 2009 – Byblos/Jbeil, Lebanon. This is me "partying" on the beach in front of La Bonita.

I’ve been getting some feedback from friends on the blog…seems the perception is that Alyssa and I have turned into western tourist partygirls? Someone also decided I was dating one of the guys in the photos. Well…sorry…neither is true. But it did get me thinking. I mean, there’d be nothing wrong with me turning into (reverting back to) a partygirl, right? So no need for me to be defensive…but it reminded me that in addition to being a fairly responsible, totally neurotic, anxiety-addled adult who hasn’t really partied in, gosh, too many years to admit…I also suffer from chronic pain and migraines. Friends, misled by my occasional ability to tie one on, have often been frustrated with me for being a pretty consistent party pooper – minimal alcohol, early bedtimes, etc. I like to blame it on age and maturity, but it’s probably more about the neck injury and the migraines. So, while I love this idea that I’m out in the world partying the days away, it just ain’t true.

Alyssa and I both fell off the face of the Earth for endless days in Byblos. We put the deposit on the flat in Hamra, got back to Byblos and went blank. It’s been great. We don’t even spend much time together…we keep different laziness schedules. We’re both exercising, reading, writing and getting to bed early…we’ve even given up the donuts and Snickers and cokes (mostly). We’re both enjoying the beauty of Byblos and I’ve been dazing through the days halfheartedly since learning Nikki’s bummer news last week.

Meanwhile, the jogging and worrying triggered the nerve damage in my neck and by this morning I was getting that depressed feeling one gets when chronic pain flares up…like it just totally sucks and makes everything worse. I popped a tiny blue Alleve tablet in hopes of deferring the need for a prescription migraine pill, then headed to Rock for a chicken schawarma lunch. I was by myself, clad in my don’t-talk-to-me baseball cap, sunnies and iPod, but one of the waiters talked to me anyway, “are you from America?” I was surprised, intrigued, because this nice older man had waited on me numerous times and never said a word. He was sorry to bother me, but said he really needed a favour…something from America.....a medication…called Alleve…little blue pills. I laughed and told him I just took one fifteen minutes ago, but I don’t think he understood me. I told him I have a bottle back at the flat that I could share with him…and when I leave Lebanon I’ll give him what’s left of my share. When he walked away I realized my pain was completely gone. I felt great. I love Alleve. I ate my lunch wondering from what what kind of chronic pain he suffers? Pain sucks...and you never know who's suffering. Makes you think. When I finished my lunch and asked for the bill, he told me he would like to pay for my lunch. I had to insist on paying, which is really difficult in this country sometimes, but he ultimately let me.

Walking away from Rock, I thought about the girls at work in London who had me bring them over-the-counter drugs from the States: Excedrin Migraine and Midol. Seems the US has the best OTC drugs. My banker brain started thinking about how these drugs are developed and marketed globally (I covered EMEA healthcare in London), but I quickly caught myself and flipped the business switch in my head back to off. No room for that stuff…it’s all about Lebanon these days.

I came back to the flat tonight and took out my little bottle of Alleve and counted 34 tablets. I’m thinking I’ll give the waiter half?

Bazbina Road Trip - Photo Album

Bazbina, Lebanon (short version)

Click to link to the on-line album.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On the Rock

17 May 2009 - Bazbina, Lebanon

Preparing to Fire (Bazbina, Lebanon)

17 May 2009 - Bazbina, Lebanon.

Nassib pulled over on our road trip and taught us how to fire the rifles he keeps in the trunk...just in case we happened upon Hezbollah or other rogue militias in the mountains. Just kidding. He only had one gun and it was for bird hunting, which he did while we were there. Alyssa and I agreed the quote of the day was when we were having ice cream cones and Nassib casually said, "remind me to get the gun out of the car before we get to the military checkpoint." Of course we forgot to remind him, but he remembered himself and we made it through just fine.

Sunday Drive (Bazbina, Lebanon)

17 May 2009 - Bazbina, Lebanon.

Alyssa met a guy named Nassib who invited us on a road trip to to his home in Bazbina. He picked us up early on Sunday, took us to breakfast in Tripoli, then drove us deep into the mountains to his home village. We got to meet his parents and his mom made us a great Lebanese lunch. He's a hilarious guy, and I suppose this is where I should post the pages I wrote in my journal about all the fun things we did and hilarious things he said. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

Nancy's Donut (from Alyssa's Journal)

2nd May 2009 – Byblos, Lebanon - Excerpt from Alyssa's Journal:

Oh my goodness !! Oh my goodness !!! I have never been more busted or humiliated in my LIFE!!! So… Ali and I left our apartment in search for chicken shawarmas…again. We thought we better try and look for pillows and sheets too. Any normal person would have tried to look for these things first but ooohhh no… not us !!! Then again, any normal person wouldn’t have gotten off a nice and perfect boat that was going through the Greek Islands !!

So we found a place and got a leopard print pillow each for 5000LL (about 5 Aussie dollars) and Ali got a tweety bird blanket. Then we went to a place called Rock Café and feasted on chicken shawarmas and a coke. THEN… we went to Dunkin’ Donuts. I don’t know what it is but it seems that buff boys like to hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts. As soon as we stepped in the door I saw a fine arse jeskie. I felt like SUCH a little fatty when I shamelessly ordered a hot chocolate (they make the best ones) and 2 MORE donuts !! We already had 2 earlier that day !! This time I got an iced mango one and a Boston cream one. We felt so guilty sitting there eating them and both agreed that this HAS to stop ! No one else was eating donuts except for us little oinkers !! We felt so guilty as we don’t like to eat like pigs in the public eye. We like to stuff our selves in private.

So we decided we would only eat one donut with out hot choccie there and said that the other donut is for our “room mate” so we will “take it back for her.” Our room mate is a pregnant woman called Nancy and she does horrible things to us like shrink our clothes when she washes them. She also loves eating snickers bars, donuts and chicken shawarmas and we can’t help but get sympathy cravings with her !! So after making complete pigs of ourselves again, we left. As we walked around the corner I stuffed my other donut (or Nancy’s donut) down my gob ! Than a few minutes later we were walking down the street on the way back to our apartment and this guy stopped us to say hello. He was pretty fine and it turned out, he was the guy at Dunkin’ Donuts. He said, “I saw you at Dunkin’ Donuts.” And Ali and I both started laughing at how we got caught out once AGAIN stuffing our faces with donuts !!! He said he saw us leave and followed us because he waned to say hello. It was then when it dawned on me that he would have seen me eating Nancy’s donut !!!! Busted AGAIN !!! He asked where we were from and Ali said America and I said Australia and then he paused and said, “….were you just in Cyprus?” and we were like, “ahhh…..yehhh…How do you know? …… OK. Which one of the boys do you know?” And he said, “You know Elie? He is my brother.” I couldn’t believe it !!! What are the chances !!! Honestly ! So we got busted by Elie’s brother eating donuts! How small IS this town ??!! Can’t a girl eat a donut in peace !!! We’re now back in our room and I’m on the bed with a belly ache !!! Urgh… Curse you Nancy !!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Comfort, Texas

Photo taken 16 January 2009 - Meyer B&B, Comfort, Texas, USA. Nikki's feet are the ones on the left, mine are on the right.

I don't feel like blogging about Lebanon. Late last week, Nikki was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and she's having an angiogram tomorrow, then plans for brain surgery. Nikki and I have been "besties" since 8th grade, she comments on this blog as "wheelo." We're ridiculously close and I've been in a daze for days, but now reality is sinking in and I'm freaking out.

But I'm not going to freakout, right Nikki? This is all going to be fine. I just request that everyone please think good thoughts, pray, meditate, whatever it is you do...and to include Nikki and her brain when you do. Nikki has a really great brain. It's not only got lots of smarts but is entirely driven by humour.

Here's an album of a little road trip Nikki and I made to Comfort, Texas, just a week or so before I left for Phuket to get on the sailboat. Nikki made me this great little collage book keep me from freaking out about quitting my job and flying across the world to get on a sailboat with strangers and venture across the Indian Ocean. And she planned this great retreat to Comfort, which really did comfort me.

click to link

Comfort, Texas (January 2009)

And now...I want to comfort Nikki, but I don't know how. So instead, I will try to make Nikki laugh:

Nikki is really good at expressing her feelings about our friendship, like in this comment on a previous blog post. But...I'm not so good at it. However, there was once this time when I did effusively and impulsively express myself to Nikki about our friendship...oh, what did I call it then? The best day of my life? You know the day I'm talking about, right Nikki? (Laughing yet?) We were sitting outside at Starbucks on the south side corner of West Grey and Shepard (not to be confused with the Starbucks on the north side of that same corner). It was probably 2005, I was in a massive rut and we had likely been there hours talking and laughing. The sky was blue and Nikki was across from me with the old River Oaks Theater sign hanging just behind her. Suddenly I was overcome with gratitude for the happy day in the midst of a very trying couple of years. And so I blurted, uncontrollably, something about it being the best day of my life or something equivalently effusive. Well, as the words escaped my mouth I wanted to grab them and make them less...cheesy. But it was too late and Nikki instantly burst into laughter, which set us into hysterics for at least thirty minutes. We never even articulated what, exactly, we were laughing at...I think it was my and unadulterated vulnerability...and that it came out of nowhere.

Many hours of hanging out later, we were driving on the South Loop to Walmart and we saw a shooting star.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Movin' on Up...

8 May 2009 - Hamra, Beirut, Lebanon.

We came into town today (from our apartment in Byblos), to put a deposit on a flat in Hamra. Looks like we'll relocate on the 14th. Unfortunately, Hamra is a restricted area and I can't take photographs. Thus, I found the one above on the internet. It reminded me of some graffiti I saw my first visit to Hamra which read "make music not war" on a street lined with military patrol. The music reference reminded me of the cool Metallica garage band of teenage boys that jammed every day in the Maldives. Really wish I could photograph the place but I'm still scarred by the last time they confiscated my camera and deleted all my pics.

The subject line is dedicated to my brother, who informed me last week that he's contemplating a purchase of a high-rise condo in downtown Houston because he's "always wanted a high rise, like [his] hero George Jefferson."

Enjoy that deeeluxe apartment, in the sky, Adam!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Driving in Lebanon

5 May 2009 - Afternoon driving in Lebanon.

Here's a Picasa album of some photos I took yesterday. We didn't do anything all day but then a couple of friends took us for a drive for a few hours late in the afternoon. We drove north from Byblos (which is north of Beirut) first to the little town of Batroun on the coast, then straight up into the mountains and Qadisha Valley.

Click on the photo below to link into the album.

Driving Around Lebanon (5 May 2009)

Tweety Bird & Tiger Stripes

5 May 2009 - Apartment in Byblos, Lebanon

The apartment didn't come with bedding so I had to buy whatever I could find at the souqs late that first night.

Beachfront in Byblos

5 May 2009 - Byblos, Lebanon. Here's the view from the balcony of our cozy apartment in Byblos. We returned to Lebanon on the 1st and moved into this apartment on the 2nd of May.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Missing London (Hey Jude, Trafalgar Square)

Kirstan sent me this video today. Watch it! It's great. Reminds me of how much I love and miss London. Was anyone at this sing-along? Let me know!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Left Larnaca for Lebanon

1 May 2009 - Larnaca Marina, Cyprus

This is us walking out of the marina for the very last time (ever!). Larnaca was a bit weird for us. We were probably crashing from being on sailboats for three months, but everything seemed off in that town. I won't bore you with the details...but we were glad to get going...and happy to return to Lebanon.

No Regrets

01 May 2009 - Larnaca, Cyprus.

Lazy in Larnaca

01 May 2009 - Larnaca, Cyprus. Did they name a boat after us???

Goodbyes in Larnaca

01 May 2009 - Larnaca Marina. Here we are saying goodbye to some of the guys at the marina.


28 April 2009 – Larnaca, Cyprus. Alyssa at Haagen Dazs after our feast.

Ice Cream Sundaes

28 April 2009 – Larnaca, Cyprus

…and sundaes at Haagen Dazs.


28 April 2009 – Larnaca, Cyprus

Without the luxury of Elly’s home cooked meals, Alyssa and I had to fend for ourselves on land…and we indulged in a massive cheeseburger feast at TGI Fridays.

Marina Life

28 April 2009 – Larnaca, Marina.

This is a photo we snapped of some of the guys at work. This is what they do for a living! Jealous? Me too. They do work hard, but after sitting in a cubicle in front of a computer for so many years, I can't help but think this is the life.

Lugging Luggage

28 April 2009 - Larnaca, Cyprus.

One of the many cool things about sailing is that you move from country to country without ever having to pack. The downside is you accumulate SO much stuff. Here's all our luggage being hauled from the marina to the cheapest hotel in Larnaca.

Packing....well, sort of.

27 April 2009 - Larnaca, Cyprus. Last day on Sybaris of London.

Quote from Alyssa’s journal:

Per & Elly left for dinner and we had the boat to ourselves. So we “packed” and by that I mean we sat down and made ourselves really strong orange vodka and lemonade drinks. We chatted and laughed and giggled while we should have been packing.

Here’s our assessment of our decision to leave Sybaris:

Per and Elly are perfect.
This boat is perfect.
We must be totally fucked up.

Our final toast went like this:

Alyssa: Here’s to getting the fuck out of Cyprus...

Ali: Another day in paradise...

…and then we laughed hysterically one last time on Sybaris.

Last Look at Sybaris

27 April 2009 - Sybaris of London at the Larnaca Marina, Cyprus.

Farewell to Per, Elly and Sybaris! We had an amazing month on Sybaris sailing from Egypt to Lebanon and Cyprus. Sybaris is a beautiful boat and Per & Elly are wonderful travel mates. They took great care of us and we are grateful for the amazing travels.

I highly recommend sailing with Sybaris! You can learn all about Per & Elly and follow their travels on their private website and Elly's blog. Go to the charter website at to learn about the three different ways you can join them on Sybaris - as crew, "sail along" or a luxurious charter. It's an amazing way to see the world.

Park Benching

27 April 2009 - Larnaca, Cyprus. This is the day we left Sybaris, because Per & Elly were planning to depart on the 28th and we were slowly but surely making our plans to return to Lebanon. This was a major travel-transition blah day, best captured by this quote from Alyssa’s journal:

We attempted to look for a hotel room because we were leaving the boat that night as Sybaris was going to leave at 6am the next morning. We were so overwhelmed with what to plan, hotels, packing, etc. so we just went 'phuket' and sat on yet another park bench and ate snacks. We hoed into the remaining rice crackers, coconut logs and pistachios and I got yelled at by some old bag for chucking pistachio shells into the garden.

Dictionary definition of "park bench":

park-bench [pahrk-bench]
- verb

1. to become so overwhelmed by the responsibility to complete numerous tasks by a deadline, that you say phuket, sit on a park bench and eat snacks.

Laundry in Larnaca

27 April 2009 - Larnaca Marina, Cyprus. Lebanon and Andamans t-shirts hanging to dry in Larnaca.

Yo, what time is it?
Haha, it's laundry day.
- Jason Mraz, Geek in the Pink

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Gaza Guys

27 April 2009 - Larnaca Marina, Cyprus - This boat moored next to us at the marina and is part of the Free Gaza Movement. It was badly damaged earlier this year when an Israeli warship rammed into it, unprovoked, on one of its missions to deliver medical supplies to Palestinian refugees in Gaza (you can see remains of the damage in this picture). Per talked to the guys on the boat so he may blog more details in the near future. There's a short description of the ramming incident here on the Free Gaza site.
We'd been a bit nervous on our sail past Israel en route to Lebanon...hoping not to have any run-ins with Israeli warships. It was fascinating to hear the Lebanese and United Nations warships on the radio during our sail from Lebanon to Cyprus. Here's what it sounded like (based on my one pathetic attempt to jot down what I heard):
Static radio...
This is a United Nations navy warship calling on one-six, you read? over...this is a United Nations Warship, we do not intend to impede your course. Please provide your coordinates..." Then they go on to ask all kinds of questions about the boat, its name, call sign, its cargo, etc.
I was especially nervous that the warships were going to call to Sybaris when I was alone on my night watch, but luckily Per was up when they called us. Sailing through these military patrolled hotspots gave me new perspective...that was furthered by seeing the damage done to the humanitarian relief boat by the Israeli warship. And, of course, it's completely freaking horrible to consider the plight of the Palestinians. One thing I haven't blogged about yet (and was considering not confessing) was that Alyssa and I visited one of the Palestinian camps in Beirut...and it woke me up to how much I don't comprehend about what's going on in the world.
On that note, if you're feeling like you could part with five bucks or forego an expensive coffee or other indulgence today...go here to donate to the Free Gaza Movement.

The Larnaca Marina, Cyprus

Barbecue Recovery in Cyprus

25 April 2009 – Seaside in Larnaca, Cyprus

Alyssa and I had a little too much fun at the barbecue, drank a little too much, stayed out a little too late. We did absolutely nothing the next day but curl up on sofas at an outdoor café along the seaside…for hours and hours and hours. In fact, I think we napped a little bit right there on those couches.

Barbecue, Take Two

24 April 2009 – Larnaca, Cyprus

Barbecue in Larnaca

24 April 2009 – Larnaca Marina, Cyprus

Here’s Alyssa with the guys at the marina in Larnaca. They work as captains and seamen on some of the yachts in the marina (including two Lebanese boats), so they were around a lot and invited us to their evening barbecues. We would have never survived Larnaca without them...but then again, we barely survived the barbecue;)

Landed In Lebanon

2 May 2009 - Byblos, Lebanon

We made it!

After a much delayed flight from Larnaka, Cyprus, we landed in Beirut, suffered through a long queue at immigration, then to a cozy room in Byblos by 3am. We moved our stuff to semi-permanent accommodation late this morning. We are in good hands here and already feeling spoiled by one of our friends who's handling all our details. It's so nice to be back.