This one’s for @StatusInBeirut who’s as crazy and eternally disgusted as I.
As we near, I get the scare of my life. Five or six men-in-black (no, not Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith) rush towards the car and surround us. One of them asks me to open the window by making the typical rolling gesture with his finger, while his other hand is already grasping my door knob trying to open. Aha! My central lock is activated.
I slit-open the window and the guy barks “welcome sir”!
Welcome?! You call this a freakin’ welcome? Jesus! This a reenactment of a 1982 militia barrage in downtown Beirut!
What a strange way to start a day at the beach…
Valet parking… The democratization of bullying and intimidation. The legalization of stealing your car for few hours, doing “things” to it and get away with it, simply because on the parking ticket’s, the fine print says these illiterate jerks can.
I politely (just kidding) tell the “barrage-master” that I will park the car myself. He doesn’t like the idea and I don’t give a flip. Annoyed, he points to the far far away uphill parking lot where second class citizens like me shamefully park. He also firmly reminds me not to park anywhere lower. They use the walking distance as punishment for humans and the un-asphalted rocky parking space as punishment for cars.
I drop off the family to avoid them the torture (As head of the pack, I’ll take the punishment in the name of my protégés), and go park. On my way there, I drive by the “luxury” parking lot; perfectly even and asphalted, reserved for the upper casts who love to indulge in the ritual of the Valet Parking showoff.
I take my 5 minutes Golgotha walk back to the resort entrance. The wife has already bought the entrance tickets and is waiting for me with the kids. I reach the main entrance, and before I can reach them, I am again harassed by two of the men-in-black. One of them threatens me with his weapon, a parking tickets booklet, while the same barrage-master asks for L£ 3,000.
I wanted to add an exclamation mark after the “L£ 3,000″ but I changed my mind after remembering that, over here, even hospitals charge you for parking.
They should call the valet parking bullies stuff like 3rd brigade, 1st battalion, 26th company, etc. And the jerks in black should have ranks like Lieutenant and Private…
I try to argue. I understand that you pay for valet, but you also have to pay for parking your own car? After all I’m here to use the facility… I pay and go meet the family. I keep the positive thinking. Few steps and I’ll be in sea and sun heaven…
Or so I thought…
My wife and kids were waiting by another man-in-black standing near a small table right next to the stairs leading to the beach. The stairs went down not up… I should’ve guessed… Stairs to heaven don’t go down.
The guy asks us to put our beach bags on the table for frisking! Now it really felt like stepping inside military barracks! They search your bags, for food! Any type of food… If they find anything edible, they confiscate it! You are not allowed to bring in any food. You are only allowed to eat the junk they sell there. What happened to privacy? What happened to tourism? What happened to my day at the beach? Some moron is given the permission to fiddle with my underwear and towels looking for food… Once more, I comply.
Finally, we’re given “above-secret” clearance to access the nuclear facility. I was already looking for the bomb-bays dug in the ground.
Strangely enough the beach resort had the word “Bay” in its name (Dr. Evil look with pinky on the lips!)
The daily entrance fee is $16.50 per head, a total of $67 per family of four to use the country’s God given natural resource… And that’s one “cheap” place by Lebanese standards… Wait, that’s a total of $69 with the parking… I used to love that number… Now it looks more like a 68 and they owe me one
So close to $70 for the right to use a beach chair, an infested pool and everything else that’s supposed to be free.
We take the stairs down on go looking for a peaceful space to lie down and bask in the sun. On the way, the real Men-in-Black scenario unfolds. Exotic races of aliens from far away galaxies are roaming around.
Lying down, are what looks at first sight like females, with dangling bellies, thighs, underarms, you name it. The only thing that kept pointing upward were appendices that resemble our female earthlings’ breasts, only scarier. They do look like the tip of ballistic missiles popping out of their ground hideouts (hence the above secret clearance). They have abundant makeup on, probably in an attempt to camouflage their origins… They’re smoking shisha. It seems someone told them that by doing so, they will blend perfectly with the local population…
Hairy males with strange tattoos-like markings, also smoking shisha, paint a surreal tableau that reminds you of the Star Wars underground bars on the Naboo planet. Most are wearing strangely eccentric swimsuits, some so loose they must generate a whirlwind beneath, and others so tight and tiny that from afar, these creatures look like the famous Harrison Ford tag-along Wookiee. There was even one outrageously obese with a red mohawk hairdo who swung between a cross breed between a Tibetan bull and a Warhol essay. You couldn’t even put a planet on the face!
I thought it was going to be a serene day at the beach… My family and I found ourselves unconsciously huddling together with fear, overwhelmed by an eerie feeling of being transported in a parallel universe.
We manage to find a corner on the grass, facing the beach. We settle and establish a perimeter.
The ritual starts. Sunscreen for the family, tanning cream for me. They’re trying to mimic aliens from a planet with no sun, while I’m striving to resemble the ones from a three-suns system. Hey! I love my tan lines.
It’s almost noon and I was still looking for the sun behind thick grey clouds that get intercepted by the mountains on their trip east. I did not pay to see some cumulonimbus flirting with a hill! Did you notice how it always gets suddenly cloudy the minute you reach the beach?
Humidity and heat make you thirsty. Ok, that was a cheap excuse to justify the cold beer I was craving for. Earlier, I noticed young waiters roaming around, clueless university students on a summer job, dressed in an alarming red to be easily recognized among the numerous alien species. I hail one (on all frequencies) but it was a long shot. Waiters become suddenly invisible when you need them or uncomfortably close when you don’t?
I had to stand up and walk towards the young woman boringly making circles around the pool on the other versant of the resort. Once I got to her, I had the instinct of asking if “I” could get her anything! I nicely request that she follows me to my quarters to take the family’s order. Two lemonades with no ice, one Coke and a Mexican Almaza. She carefully takes the order, repeats it, smiles and leaves. Then she remembers, turns back and says: “My name is Hoda if you need anything.” Yeah! I need your phone number… For my next order, while you’re exercising around the pool.
A dehydrating half hour later, she arrives with the order. Two lemonades full of ice, a coke and a plain beer… I start looking around for the candid camera. Having found none, I nicely and patiently repeat the order, using my university teacher’s patience and set of nerves. Hoda apologizes, and rushes back to the kitchen, leaving my wife, daughter and I watching with lust my son sipping his chilled coke. When she finally comes back with the right order, I suddenly get this eerie vision: Who removed the ice cubes from the lemonades… And how…
We try swimming in the sea but it is infested with jellyfish and aliens making strange sounds… Probably some sort of ritual where they offer psalms to their divinities. We go try the pool.
Let me put it this way, it reminded me of SeaWorld in Miami, Florida. The difference? Bacteria replaced dolphins, the water was yellow (you know which hue I’m talking about), hairy aliens replaced orcas, and the female aliens replaced the dancing seals.
As for smell… Ummm… Yep! Same as SeaWorld!
We reluctantly decide to leave it at sunbathing for today, or more accurately sun quest. We walk heads down back to our seats. It was already around 2 in the afternoon. Hungry. Lunch. Since the sun was shy, we opt to go eat at the restaurant.
That was a big mistake.
We step into the out of context restaurant. It has got nothing to do with the rest of the resort’s decor or mood. We find a table, sit and wait. Another young woman comes with the menus. So far so good. We order. This is where you could feel as if the crew had conspired against us. Again, three out of four orders were wrong. Not to mention that at first they got us the order of another table and I had to swear on the constitution that it was not ours! (We do have a constitution, right?)
My daughter’s order took exactly 45 minutes to be served after the original 20 minutes of waiting to get the wrong one. We tried to wait and eat with her but our food got already cold. I check with four waiters and the four had to ask again about what we ordered, check with some manager and burp the same answer, it’s on the way. I should have asked “on the way” from where?!
Almost two hours later, we finished what seemed like a death-row meal and headed back to our beach chairs. Now comes the music.
House, trance, you name it, playing from huge speakers, so loud we could not have a conversation, literarily. I remember my ears buzzing when we left, the same feeling you get when leaving a night club after a long night out.
It was so bizarre. House, trance and shisha! Kids building sand castles and teens dancing pornographically on the bar facing us. To top it all, a group of foreign Arab workers decided it was the perfect time to clean the lawn in front of us. Six or seven of them were grasping anything that fell under their hands while their heads were tilted 90 degrees towards my wife and daughter. One of them even stared at me for a while… Eeeewww!
That was it. We’ve seen enough of the freak-show ride. We packed and left. At the main entrance, I got again harassed by the valet parking battalion and had to tell them I parked my own car. They always give you the “Oh, you’re one of those” look.
This was the story of a day at one of the well known beach resorts in Jbeil.
The minister of tourism must have got it wrong. Working at the ministry does not mean you’re the tourist!
The owners of the place got it wrong as well. Neither Frisking me for food at the entrance will make me love the place more, nor charging me an arm and a leg for a plastic beach chair. They should ponder the word-of-mouth effect for a while…
The valet parking people got it all wrong. You are not an army! You are people who park cars for Heaven’s sake!
But the one who really got it wrong is me! The fact of assuming that a beach resort in Lebanon could be professional for a change was a silly thought. I repeatedly keep falling in the same pit. The only positive outcome Is that it feeds my blog.
So stop telling me about how beautiful the country is and all the tourism crap. We suck. The country sucks. Politicians and ministries suck! Greed and complacency are our only motto.
Bottom line? I wonder what the visiting aliens will think of us, the sons of beaches, and the embarrassing stories they will tell their hatch-lings when they beam back home…
I’m a Son of a Beach. Let Me Enjoy by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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© 2011 Ibrahim Lahoud