Summer in Lebanon

I had planned to go to for a hiking trip in Ethiopia, but alas, August is apparently not the best time to travel in Ethiopia!

… and that’s when I started looking for another destination which fit a few core criteria: possibility to issue visa on arrival and relatively cheap flights from Kenya. Beyond that, good food and an active AirBNB footprint were bonus points! ;)

A surprise

I’m embarrassed to say that I was surprised to find that Lebanon has a rich history; the Phoenicians were there, the Greeks were there, the Romans… and, more recently, the French (hah!). There’s much, much more to Lebanon than Hezbollah and civil war!

Food! Drink!

Delectable Mediterranean cuisine such as this assortment of appetizers at Le Pêcheur (The Fisherman), on Beirut’s Corniche promenade.

Appetizers at Le Pêcheur in Beirut
Appetizers at Le Pêcheur in Beirut

History! Culture! Churches!

Lebanon has a rich history. Evidence of early human civilization in the Levant dates back nearly ten thousand years, with ancient Roman, Greek, and Phoenician remains still more or less standing (mostly less) in places like Byblos. Furthermore (and tens of thousands of years earlier), this incredibly fertile region was critically important to human populations as they moved out of Africa and into Eastern Europe and Asia. Mind blowing!

I found the harbor in Byblos to be especially enchanting.

Harbor in Byblos
Harbor in Byblos

Beaches! Mountains! Trees!

Lebanon’s terrain is very mountainous. Views like this, from our AirBNB flat just a twenty minute drive from Beirut, are not at all unusual.

View from Baabdat, Mount Lebanon
View from Baabdat, Mount Lebanon

The slivers of coastline below the mountains are densely-populated and busy, but the Mediterranean is never very far away.

Rock of Raouché (Pigeons' Rock), Beirut
Rock of Raouché (Pigeons’ Rock), Beirut

A list!

Some random things I jotted down during my stay:

  • Immigration won’t let you in if you have any Israeli immigration stamps in your passport.
  • Driving in Lebanon is interesting; Lebanese aren’t bad drivers per se, but I did notice a bizarre phenomenon where people kinda linger between two lanes, driving right on the white lane separators.
  • “Happy shooting” is apparently a thing; at weddings and other joyous occasions people shoot guns into the air… you hear it in the distance every so often, usually on weekends.
  • It seems nearly Everyone in Beirut smokes; a shame because it’s nice to sit outside at restaurants and coffee shops, but then everyone around you is smoking.

More pictures

Koremash Gorge in Ethiopia

I was in Addis Ababa for work last week, and in addition to drinking coffee, eating shiro, and hacking on DSpace, I managed to get out and see a pretty amazing sight outside of Addis: the Koremash Gorge.

Other than being a bit hazy, it was a beautiful day for a panorama…

I don’t know why this thing isn’t more popular… maybe it’s because of all the old things in north of Ethiopia? There’s more to Ethiopia than obelisks and crazy monks living in caves*!

Getting there

To get there you need to drive ~70km East of Addis on the Asmara road (Megenanga -> CMC road). You’ll reach a small town called Hamusgebeya, then you’ll turn right onto a small dirt road and drive ~5-10km until you reach Frontera (an old Italian fort from 1890). Pay the lady 30 birr for admission (or whatever), and then walk to the far end of the compound where you reach the viewpoint. Wow!

More pictures

Just to convince you that I’m dead handsome, and the gorge is really beautiful. :P

*p.s. I have nothing against obelisks or crazy monks living in caves.

If you hate someone in Kenya, send them a package

A Kenyan friend told me that if you hate someone in Kenya, you should send them a package. That is, the Postal Corporation of Kenya (Posta) is so inefficient, bureaucratic, slow, and expensive, that you will force someone to suffer should they try to collect their package.

I ordered some shoes from Asos — a website which, surprisingly, delivers to Kenya — and last week I got the package slip on my desk at work (this was admittedly another surprise). Because I work during the weekdays, I decided to go to Posta on Saturday to pick up my package. If only it was that easy.

Posta’s office on Haile Selassie Avenue is open on Saturdays, but the parcel window isn’t; they told me to come back on Monday at 8am. This is a Kenyan Government office, after all.

Picking up a package at Posta

Here’s the process I went through to pick up the package on the following Monday:

  • I take matatu to town (sitting in traffic for ~30 minutes from Westlands, which is ~3km from Nairobi).
  • I walk from Odeon stage to Posta office on Haile Selassie Avenue (~1km).
  • Security guard scans me and looks inside my backpack.
  • I give my package slip to Dude #1 at parcel counter, who checks my passport and subsequently fetches my package.
  • Dude #1 gives me razor, tells me to open it for customs inspection, and to wait for Dude #2 (customs officer).
  • Dude #2 comes and looks at the contents of my package (two pairs of shoes), finds the receipt for £29.99 inside, and starts punching numbers in his calculator for 2 minutes (seriously).
  • Dude #2 arrives at a customs fee of 2096 KES (~£14), and tells me to go pay at the other counter.
  • Lady #1 enters all my package data into the computer, then prints a receipt and tells me I have to go to the Coop Bank and deposit the funds.
  • I walk to Coop Bank and take everything out of my pockets for security screening. The guard looks inside my backpack and then tells me that the entrance for paying stuff is at the other side of the building.
  • Security guard scans me and looks inside my backpack, then tells me the computers are down. I go in anyways.
  • Lady #2 apologized and tells me that I can also pay at National Bank.
  • I walk to National Bank (~250m) and the security guard scans me and looks inside my backpack.
  • I wait in line for 5 minutes until some lady sees my yellow package slip and tells me the tellers for customs deposits are upstairs.
  • I go upstairs and wait in line behind ~40 people, for 1 hour.
  • I walk back to Posta (~500m), security guard scans me and looks inside my backpack.
  • I go upstairs and give my payment receipt to Lady #1 at the payment counter, who stamps it and gives me another package slip.
  • I walk back to package counter and Lady #3 checks the receipt, stamps the package slip, fetches my package, and tells me to go to another counter to pay post office charges.
  • I walk to another counter and pay Lady #4 175 KES, she gives me a receipt.
  • I walk back to the package counter and give Lady #3 my receipt, she stamps my package slip and gives me my package.

It’s like they want you to run in there with a gun and shoot the place up. At least they didn’t threaten to blow me up, like when I went to Central Police Station to report my phone being stolen.

Happy customer?

New shoes from Asos.com
New shoes from Asos.com

But alas, four hours later, I am now the proud owner of two new pairs of $15 shoes. I can wholeheartedly recommend Asos.com, just as long as you’re not shipping them to Kenya.

Uganda on the not so cheap

Ok, so this trip wasn’t as cheap as when we went to Tanzania a few months ago, but, to be fair, we really outdid ourselves this time. We did the usual street food taste tests and shady boda boda rides, but we also added a few new things…

Rafting the Nile

The highlight of this trip was whitewater rafting down the Nile in Jinja; I’m not entirely sure how we came up with this hairbrain scheme, but Raymond and I decided that it would be the perfect adventure for the four-day-weekend we were given for Kenya’s Jamhuri (Independence) day on December 12-15.

After looking around at a few Nile rafting websites we settled on River Explorers due to their one free night of hostel accomodation. We went for a full day of rafting, which included several class 3, 4, and 5 rapids. In one word, it was epic!

It’s amazing how the rapids can humble you; we went in very confident and with lots of (fake) bravado and laughs, but that all stopped after falling out of the raft and getting tossed in the waves again and again… and again. By the end we were glad to be done. ;)

Now that it’s been a few weeks since we survived, I can say I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
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