Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

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Lebanese Women Are 10th Sexiest Worldwide

Lebanese women

I stumbled on an article published in The Independent today talking about an American survey to pinpoint the world’s sexiest nationalities among both men and women. To that effect, 60,000 women were polled and it turns out Irish men are their favorite. It could be the accent.

Lebanese men, however, are not in the top 10. I suppose “ya ashta” doesn’t translate well to the average American woman? Our life has been a lie.

On the other hand of the gender spectrum, however, Lebanese women represent.

In another poll of nearly 45,000 men, Lebanese women ranked at #10 on the list of the world’s sexiest nationalities. The #1 sexiest women of the world according to that poll were Armenians, fueled by American adoration to Kim Kardashian and her family.

The full list of nationalities is as follows:

  • Armenian

  • Barbadian/Bajan

  • American

  • Colombian

  • English

  • Australian

  • Brazilian

  • Filipina

  • Bulgarian

  • Lebanese

The Lebanese woman that was found to be in the forefront of the survey was none other than Amal Alamuddin, a person that I find is an extremely good example to represent Lebanese women, not only looks-wise. She is extremely accomplished and successful, is a champion at defending human rights worldwide and has been all over the place the past few months with representing Armenia in European hearings to defending captured journalists in Egypt.

I say we dodged a bullet by not having Mia Khalife represent us, right?

The value behind this survey isn’t as simple as naming a representative celebrity. Being done by an American dating website, it’s also about real-life encounters with people of said nationalities. As a country that gets anxious whenever we’re mentioned in the same sentence as the word “sex,” especially when our women’s hymens are at stake – honor and all, I think it’s wonderful that our women are becoming so comfortable with themselves abroad, comfortable in their own skin, away from the confines of a society that is all about sex, but not really sex, sex.

Ultimately, surveys like this are not entirely worthwhile. But a little fun every now and then never hurt anyone.

 

Can We Get Over Beirut Being Among The World’s Best Cities?

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I’ve debated whether to write this or not. Then whether to publish it or not. Then I figured, screw it.

I am a proud Lebanese. And it’s because I like my country that I can’t sit aside and pretend that fake accolades mean more than they are, that void accomplishments are fuller than they actually are.

Beirut isn’t a bad city, sure. It’s perhaps the best city that we have given that our centralization policies have put everything only in and around it. But, forgive the bluntness, there’s no freaking way in hell Beirut can find itself on a world’s best cities list. Unless the person doing that list was high on some Bekaai hashish.

Beirut recently found itself to be on a list of the world’s top 25 cities, courtesy of CN Traveler. Those same people, for those who remember, voted Byblos as the #1 city in the region, with Beirut coming in second. Take that Dubai! We celebrated back then. That little triumph our cities had, although meaningless in itself, meant a lot to us.

Beirut is given the following description as per the CN Traveler website:

The capital of Lebanon has “much to offer the adventurous traveler.” Find “exotic cuisine and cocktails” at the “most exclusive clubs in the world” in what one reader calls “the Paris of the Middle East.” This city offers a “tapestry of sects, religions, and lifestyles that provide a feast for the mind of the intellectual.”

Visiting Lebanon is for the “adventurous,” it seems. I didn’t know my country was such a wild ride. Point me to the next safari why don’t you?

Perhaps Beirut is a great city for a visitor who came here to experience our unparalleled joie de vivre with someone who decided to show them Gemayzeh, Skybar and White, then spend a weekend in Faghaya, pretending that’s still Beirut, before spending the day at some beach that has more plastic than in the bodies of the women strutting their heels in its sands.

Yes, that sounds great indeed.

I don’t know what criteria were employed to rank the cities of that list. But the mark of the greatness of a city isn’t by how well and how great it treats a tourist coming to it for a week. It’s by how great it is for someone who lives there and calls that city home.

When I think of Beirut today, I think of unparalleled urbanization. I think of concrete masses upon concrete masses. I think of cultural demise that manifests in monument demolitions and old houses getting ripped off their foundations. I think of so little monuments that need to be seen in the city. I think of no public transportation. I think of no electricity, no water, of traffic, no public spaces and parks.

When I think of Beirut today, I’m being told I should think of Skybar and Dubai-esque malls because that’s what my city has to offer lately. I’m not sure how that qualifies as greatness honestly. Or I could just be the rare Lebanese who doesn’t like pubs and night clubs and all their derivatives.

Don’t let some silly list fool you into believing the city we call home doesn’t need massive plans, massive reforms, massive work, massive restructuring. Because what Beirut is today, a city living off the ghost of its luxurious past, is only great in the eyes of its beholders. And that’s not really great.

Your Healthy Dose of Lebanese Reality

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I submitted my papers to get the Schengen visa for a couple of weeks in June this morning. My appointment was at 8:30 so I went there early.
We stood in the cold, clinging tightly to a folder of documents that contained more papers than anyone would like to read.
We waited and waited until they were kind enough to let us in to wait some more before they called our names to have our pile of documents checked.

Check, check, check, check. All is in order. Or not – they need a couple more papers from my working friend to prove the company he’s working in truly “exists.”

Why would anyone not invent an entire company just to apply for a visa?

You pay $115 and leave. You are asked to go to the embassy the following day to have your fingerprints taken. Because the ones they took less than a year prior are no longer valid. Fingerprints change yearly in case you didn’t know.

This is your healthy dose of reality: walking the walk that makes you feel worthless just to have embassies consider letting you in so you can spend your money in their territories for a couple of weeks of tourism.

Feeling like third rate citizens of the world is a nice way to start your day. But it’s okay because we have “el Jabal el arib men l ba7r w trab l arz yalli aghla men l dahab.”

Meanwhile, my dual citizenship friend has booked her ticket for the summer. She doesn’t have to bother with all of this.

MEA Responds to Racism Incidence

Following the news about racism with MEA employees (click here) at Beirut’s International Airport (I refuse to call it by that other name), MEA has issued a statement. Of course, they were sort of forced to seeing as the story went viral.

This is their response:

To our loyal customers and fans,

We are aware of the purported incident that took place on the 6th October 2012 at Beirut International Airport, and appreciate your patience while a full investigation by MEA is underway. Please rest assured that MEAs policy is not to tolerate discriminatory or racist behavior in any form from our employees, and that appropriate measures will be taken once the facts of the incident are brought to light.

Yours sincerely,
The MEA Team

Is it lackluster? Yes. Does it feel forced? You bet. Is it color by number? Definitely. Will it calm people down? Perhaps it will.

A couple of days from now, few will remember that there was an employee with MEA who insulted people just because of their citizenship, fully knowing that the passport those people have can get them access to much more countries than the miserable piece of identification she has stashed in her pocket. You know, that blue booklet with the cedar on it – our pride and joy. You can start crying out of pride now.

I really hope that people keep talking about this until MEA lets everyone know what those “appropriate measures” will be. Racism in Lebanon needs to be tackled sure. But raising awareness gets you nowhere. And if there’s anything that works with people like the Lebanese, it’s a tap on the wrist. Or a slap across the face. Once they see that being racist outloud will get them fired, they will think twice about publicizing their stupidity.

Let’s face it, bottled in racism exists everywhere – even in countries that proclaim they don’t have it.

And there’s nothing I’d rather see than that woman and the man who supported her fired. Am I harsh? Absolutely not. They deserve much more than that.

The Visa Situation for the Lebanese Passport

It’s bad people. Really bad. Remember when I was complaining about Lebanon being one of 39 countries that has to wait 10 days on average for the Schengen visa? If you don’t, then here it is.

It turns out the situation is much worse than having to wait 10 days for a Schengen visa. We, as Lebanese, can access 33 countries without needing visas. 33 sounds appealing? Well, the #1 countries in the world, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, can access 173 countries.

In a 2011 study, conducted by Henley & Partners, Lebanon ranked 97 out of 110 countries and behind countries such as Iran, Egypt.

In fact, in a 2010 study conducted by the same company (check it out here), we are also behind North Korea. And it doesn’t stop there. We are also on brochures that tell travelers about Lebanon being one of the countries with the most visa restrictions.

 

I have to ask though: why is the situation this bad? Other neighboring countries, who share our geographical location and the whole baggage of the Middle East, have a better situation that we do.

It could be that our Ministry of Foreign affairs is doing a horrible job, which I think is true. I mean, have you heard that “minister” asking the president to halt in filing a protest against Syrian violation of our land pending investigations? When you have people like that in charge of these types of relations, where do you expect to get?

Or could it be that all those other countries simply refuse to permit headache-free entry for Lebanese travelers?

I would tend to think it’s the former – that governments throughout the years have been and are doing such a bad job with foreign relations that with each passing day our passport loses whatever negligible value it had. And it’s actually very sad.

What’s the best passport to seek out in case you want to go anywhere you want and still retain your Lebanese citizenship? It seems like Sweden is a good fit. Denmark doesn’t allow dual citizenships.

A word for our minister of foreign affairs though, the citizens of the country that he has no problem getting up in a fit for whenever they violate our country can access 142 countries. Just saying.

 

 

Lebanese Memes: You Know It’s True

This meme was submitted by my friend Maguy after recently traveling to Abu Dhabi.

For reference, this is what she downloaded in 30 minutes:

On an unrelated note, if you don’t watch The Vampire Diaries, start putting it in your downloads queue.