You know, the world’s media doesn’t exactly make you feel safe about travelling to Tripoli.
Type ‘Tripoli, Lebanon’ into Google, and you’ll get news of a suicide bombing from January 2015. Go to Wikitravel and you’ll see an encouraging block of text detailing a Travel Advisory against travelling to the city.
Paranoia is a State of Mind
So, upon receiving the invitation to attend the Tripoli Film Festival, the fear began to set in. This only grew stronger the more we researched and the more we spoke to people. Even friends and family of ours who live in Beirut (let’s be honest, not exactly the paragon of a ‘safe city’) warned against visiting the Northern town: “It’s still hot, watch out!”
But we swallowed our fears and trusted in the Gods. Carl’s rationale was that he was from Johannesburg, goddamnit, so how could Tripoli be worse? (There was a travel advisory against Johannesburg at the time too, due to xenophobic violence).
On the Front Line
We stayed in a suburb called El Mina, just outside of Tripoli proper. We never felt unsafe in that particular area, however we weren’t immune to the paranoid poison that had leaked into our thick skulls before departure.
On one occasion, whilst searching for an antiques market, we ended up on the ‘front-line’ which had seen plenty of sectarian violence over the years. The bullet-pocked buildings and makeshift army bunkers inside ruined buildings got us nervous. As did the reaction of our Head of Logistics who, upon finding out where we were, came racing along in his van and scooped us up, delivering us safely back at our hotel.
Apparently he was worried about pickpockets…
Anyway, I guess fear can’t be ignored, especially when you’re promoting an event (the Film Festival) which is specifically designed to show the world that Tripoli is a great place to visit.
Tripoli is a Great Place to Visit
Yes, it bears repeating. It’s quiet, especially compared to Beirut. It’s on the coast. The food is great. There are amazing historical buildings that you can visit without having to endure a queue. Shopping is cheap and, best of all, there’s no bargaining. People there are so unused to tourists that the concept of setting a high price and bargaining down is foreign – basically, everyone pays a local price.
The people are especially friendly. Everyone in the team of volunteers was lovely. We made genuine friendships, knowing that if we’re ever to return, we’ll be looked after like kings.
Tripoli sounds great. When can I go?
Look, it does have it’s problems, like everywhere. There is still fear in the air. The sectarian tension will probably never go away. ISIS is apparently (according to Western media) snaking its tendrils into every corner of the Middle East and surrounds – so there’s always that.
It’s not the cleanest of towns (one rat in particular took a fondness to Carl’s schwarma one evening), and there isn’t a huge amount to do, especially if you’re used to so-called ‘big city’ living.
But hell, why not see for yourself? We can put you in contact with some great people who’ll be only too pleased to show you around.
After all, that’s the only way to know for sure.