On this day we were heading south to check out Sidon and Tyre, as well as various sites around them. The day started off poorly and continued on that downward trend. As we were turning to get back on the highway south we were pulled over by two police officers. They indicated through limited English and Arabic that I had gone the wrong way through a one-way intersection. Now this was the most convoluted intersection ever almost like a figure eight with crisscrossing directions. The police indicated that I could give them $40 and they would get rid of the picture. I assume they meant that there was a camera filming the intersection, but I saw no camera anywhere. I told them to write me a ticket and they took my license and registration. They continued to try to get me to pay $40, which I thought was a bit ridiculous. It was clear they wanted a bribe and that probably 100’s of cars went through that intersection any way they wanted throughout the day. The police officers brought me out of the car and tried to get me to give them money. I told them I only had Lebanese pounds and so they wanted to see my wallet. I showed it to them and I had more than enough to bribe them, so they insisted on some pounds. However I insisted that money was for the remainder of our trip and I would not be giving them any of it. So, they gave me back my license and registration and let me go.
We then got lost in Beirut (typical), but made it out okay and were close to Sidon when we got in an accident. There was a large Phoenician temple (Temple of Eshamoun) that we wanted to see on the other side of the road. I was trying to read a broken sign and saw at the last minute that we were supposed to turn, so I put on my blinker, looked in my rearview and went for it. As we were turning into the median to go back the other way a SUV nailed us on the drivers side door. We slid further into the median area and came to a stop. The car was undrivable, so between filling out insurance information (twice, for a police inspector and some kind of insurance inspector) and waiting for a new car we lost a good 2.5-3 hours. Oh, and did I mention it was my birthday?
We decided to skip the temple and just drive into Sidon. We parked next to the beautiful Sea Castle, built by the Crusaders and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant on the water overlooking the castle. While a little bit more expensive, it was serene and delicious, just what we needed to recover from our hectic morning. We checked out the castle, which had a lovely view of the ancient harbor (and lighthouse area) as well as back towards the modern city. We then drove into the city and tried to find the ancient site, which included a large Crusader castle, Roman city remains, and Phoenician remains. Unfortunately all of the different areas were completely closed. All doors and gates were locked behind high fences. I asked a couple locals about access, and they all seemed to indicate that these areas had been inaccessible for a long time. As we drove out of town we thought we saw a large tell next to the sea, but upon closer examination it was an enormous garbage dump.
We were going to stop at two Bronze and Iron Age sites, called Tall Brak and Sarepta (or Sarafand). We were having a hard time finding the first one and it was getting later in the day so we decided to continue on to Tyre. We were driving down the main highway when, all of a sudden, the road stopped. Now, this wasn’t like in Israel where there are large concrete barriers, this was just an enormous mound of dirt with trees growing on top. It was quite surreal, like nature was taking back what originally belonged to it. We eventually made it down to el-Bass, the Roman and Byzantine area of ancient Tyre. We took the coastal road and drove through a number of towns where something like the Hezbollah youth were doing fundraisers next to the road. Tyre was very impressive, with one of the largest hippodromes in the world as well as triumphal arch leading to the decumanus. There was also the Roman/ Byzantine necropolis and a Byzantine church. One of the funnier things we saw on the trip was taking place in the hippodrome. Locals were using it as a track. Men and women were walking around it, and conservative women in their conservative workout clothes were jogging around it. The guard had let us drive in and told us to pay on our way out. When we drove back I got out of the car to pay him and he said not to worry about it. We saw many examples of Lebanese hospitality and friendliness and this was a great example of it. I doubt they get very many paying customers each day (all of the locals had seemingly walked through a different gate leading to an apartment complex that wasn’t guarded). We then checked out the harbor and headed back to our guesthouse, and despite the accident it was a pretty good day.