After spending time in Palestine and Syria, my first visit to Lebanon was in 2008, shortly after the Israel-Lebanon War. At that time, it was common to see bullet marks on the buildings and several soldiers stopped me in the street to interrogate me.
I did not feel safe exploring the country, I restricted myself to staying only in the capital Beirut.
In October of 2015, I decided to return to Lebanon and this time to know better its wonders. There are two attractions in the country that you should not miss. First, it is the temple of Bacchus, which is the largest temple in the world reminiscent of the Greco-Roman heritage and is in my book “The Best Cultural Attractions in the World”. The temple is located in the town of Baalbek, which also bears its name. The name is derived from the god Baal, who is widely quoted in the Old Testament of the Bible. The second attraction is the beautiful Jeita Grotto cave, which in my opinion one of the most beautiful caves in the world. Unfortunately taking a picture of your interior is forbidden, but the attraction is part of my book “Best Natural Attractions in the World”. There are other destinations in the country that also deserve to be visited and are well known, such as: Byblos, Sidon and Tyre.
During the time I spent in Lebanon, I was very well hosted in the house of a friend I met in 2013 in Myanmar. Owning one of the largest travel agencies in the country, she took me out to the best restaurants and bars in the capital. I even had the privilege of going to a Lebanese high society wedding, which it was the most elegant wedding I have ever been in my life.
The time I spent in Lebanon was incredible, and of all the things I experienced in the country, what stands out most was my trip to the city of Baalbek. In addition, being very close to the border with Syria, the site is the head office of the Islamic Shiite militant group Hezbollah. But what could I do? I had to visit Baalbek because the temple is in my book. Sometimes my courage goes beyond reason. I ventured again in my life and this time I could be kidnapped.
In Beirut, I got a public transport and headed towards my destination, which is 89km (2 hours by van) to the east of the capital. It was the longest two hours of my life. There were two men in the vehicle with a strange look on their faces. The biggest problem was they kept looking at me and whispering. It is good to remember that Baalbek is located very close to Syria and when I visited it, the country was at the peak of the war, because of this many refugees and people with bad intentions in this region grew.
So I started to plan what I could do that nothing bad could happen to me. What could I do in this case? I began to analyse the facts. I was inside a van, in a mountainous, dangerous area, heading towards the hometown of the extremist Hezbollah group and there were two person who supposedly wanted to do something bad with me. To make worse, near my destination, the men began to talk to the driver and one more who was in the vehicle. Now the situation was. There were four men, including the driver, who stared at me, whispered and talked on mobile.
I began to meditate and pray, how I would get out of this circumstance. Then, I plan that I should make friends here on the bus. I saw a family with a little boy, I sat next to them and offered a cookie to the boy. I always bring in my backpack sweets when I’m traveling in developing countries. I’ve gotten a lot of accommodation for free because of these. But in that case I did not want to sleep in their house, I was going back to the capital in the afternoon. I just needed the family to take me to the temple safely.
At the same time, I began to wonder what would happen if the plan failed and actually I get hijacked. How would my family pay millions of dollars? If they knew I was Brazilian, I would even ask for less money, sometimes US$ 500,000, but I still could not afford it. The problem was that I was traveling with my Italian passport and in that case, for European, the figures would rise to more than US$ 1 million.
Well, when I offered cookie to the boy, we started talking and a friendship happened. We spent the rest of the trip talking and laughing. I could see the disappointment of the others men. Now I was with this family. I don’t think the men would kidnap me now.
When we got to Baalbek, the men got out of the van first and waited me outside. Of course, I asked the family to take me to the temple. So we walked downhill together, and the men gave up and took another direction. On the way to the temple, there were several men selling Hezbollah shirts and accessories and asking me to buy them to help them. What a situation! Of course I did not buy, but I didn’t know what to do. What if I did not buy and they thought it was bad? What if I had bought and arrived in the capital with this shirt? What if the police or a member of any another party sees me with it? This was just one thing that happened to me in Lebanon which I will never forget.