Negotiating the chaotic bumper-to-bumper traffic of Tripoli in a vain search for a hostel shocked me into the feeling that I had been grabbed by the scruff of my neck and pulled through a proverbial Lebanese bush backwards. I must have had the stunned look of a rabbit caught between the headlights because a Swedish chap of Lebanese descent called Nasser – who had recognised the EU ‘halo’ of stars on my mudguard – pulled up in his 4×4 to insist on subsidising my night’s accommodation. This was followed shortly by a pit stop of fresh carrot juice prepared by a kindly roadside vendor who refused payment. Yet again, random acts of human kindness left me reeling with gratitude and amazement.
Traffic lights (when they are observed) seem to be less of an instrument of traffic regulation and more of an opportunity to drag race from 0-100, irrespective of engine size. No sooner do the lights go green, car horns blare as the collective sound of screeching rubber rises from the road.
I’ve never seen so many pimped-up beamers, mercs and veedubs laying sonic claim to the streets (judging by the size of the bass bins, these immensely powerful sound systems are clearly designed to rearrange the driver’s own molecules) as I have in Lebanon. The roads are loud, fast and furious; the ideal arena for unchecked petrol-fueled anarchy. I can of course understand why: If you live in a country that has endured so many decades of strife and conflict; life is for living.
And Lebanese drivers don’t want to waste a single second.
The tragic reality is that incidents on the road are high and I had already witnessed two collisions on my first day of being in the country (I won’t go into details). The intensity of the heat only adds to already frayed tempers and altercations through the window are a common sight. This in turn requires a more bullish mode of cycling as a moment’s hesitation would be an act of committing highway Hara-Kiri. To add to the mix, the mere presence of a touring bike on the road seems to be like waving a red rag to a bull for most moped riders.
I still can’t fathom this one out yet but for some bizarre reason, motorcyclists appear to want to compete with me for dominance on the road. It’s not that I want to dominate any part of it; the only concession that I ask for is a passing distance that doesn’t shave the hair on my legs.
It’s a regrettable fact but I suppose even roads have their own pecking order. Being a cyclist in Lebanon is a continual reminder that – in road usage terms – you are unashamedly at the bottom of the ‘food chain’. Even pedestrians receive better treatment. Maybe this is my first introduction to cycling on the highways and byways of the Middle East or maybe it’s just the Lebanese style of driving, sans highway code. Either way, I feel that I should have some ‘L’ plates fixed to my bike whilst I slowly adapt to the anarchic road etiquette, even if it is an exercise in futility.
If you can’t beat them, join them. So I’ve decided to ‘pimp’ my own ride. Once the bike comes out of the workshop after a long overdue service, the Sherpa will soon have its very own ‘tow bar’ fixed to the rear pannier rack. With some improvisation, this bespoke modification will provide ample room for some reflectors and space to fly the country’s national flag; all in the hope that this will give me added some much-needed visibility/psychological advantage over passing motorists on the fast and furious road ahead.