Lebanon and Harley-Davidson

July 16, 2017

I was stationed in Beirut, Lebanon from January through December, 2010, working as an instructor at the Internal Security Forces police academy. It was a good gig and I met some interesting people. I also have to admit that it was the only time in my life that I was unfaithful; while my 2004 Heritage Softail Classic (FLSTC) sat in my garage in Albuquerque, I bought a used 2006 FLSTC in Beirut and rode the hell out of it. I'm pretty sure the '04 forgave me for that one-year fling; she never broke down or caused me any problems after I got home and confessed my indiscretion. You have to love a V-Twin with a sense of understanding (come to think of it, she was being ridden in my absence by a retired state trooper, supposedly just to keep her battery charged up...hmmm...I guess we both had our fun!).


If you did not know that there is a Harley-Davidson dealership in Beirut, and a Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapter in Lebanon, allow me to enlighten you: Harley-Davidson is alive and well in the Levant.


It all started with a guy named Marwan Tarraf. Marwan is Lebanese, born and raised in Beirut, with a passion for motorcycles. He had his own motorcycle dealership for years, mostly Harleys, and was selling so many of them that word got around to HD Milwaukee. You know that expression, 'It's a small world?' Marwan had built up a base of thousands of loyal customers in Lebanon by traveling to the USA where he would buy used Harleys, crate them, and ship them by sea to the port of Beirut. In fact, when I bought my '06 FLSTC from him in February 2010 he was still an independent dealer, but in the process of becoming an HD franchise. That became official in September 2010 (if you want to see what Marwan looks like, you can see him on Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown", the second episode done on Beirut, not the first. The first episode was interrupted by war. As the second episode starts, Bourdain is riding bitch on the back of Marwan's bike. You can also see more about Lebanon HOG on their website).


When I bought my bike, Marwan asked me if I wanted to join Lebanon HOG so that I could participate in their rides. I did, and I'm glad. What a great bunch of men and women (yes, the women there ride, too). And the beauty of it was this: despite the civil war that raged for twenty years; despite the political differences that have torn at the heart of that nation; despite the religious diversity between Muslim, Christians, and Druze, none of it came into play when it was time to ride. Nobody cared about nationality, religion, politics, or viewpoints: it was all about the ride and only about the ride.


And it truly is a beautiful country. Several years before my tour in Beirut, while working in West Africa, I met a Lebanese man named Ishmael Ali, who had a furniture business in Monrovia, Liberia. He was a great guy, born and raised in Beirut, had lived in Dearborn, Michigan, and settled in Liberia where he had spent some time in his youth (in case you were not aware, the Lebanese are business people and ubiquitous throughout Africa and the rest of the world). Ishmael and I became good friends, and he told me that if I ever got the chance, I needed to visit Lebanon. He said it was a beautiful country, it was one of the few places in the world where you can snow ski in the morning and lie on the beach in the afternoon, and the people are fantastic.


He was right on all counts. My rides through the country, often alone on a Saturday or Sunday morning, took me up winding, twisting mountain roads that suddenly turned into dirt or ended at someone's residence and I'd have to ask for directions. The first question out of my mouth, "Excuse me, do you speak English?" was always answered with "Of course." If you come to realize anything at all about the Lebanese, it is that they are well-educated, and many speak English and French along with their native tongue of Arabic.


They were always surprised that an American was in the middle of their country on a Harley, and smiles abounded when they asked me questions. As we chatted, they would invariably tell me about some relative of theirs living in the USA and the trips they had made to the states.


I made solo trips to the village of Bsharri, where the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran was born, rode to several monasteries which were centuries old and nothing less than spectacular, and saw the Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley. All of this was in violation of the security measures supposedly in place to protect us from terrorists, but the reality was that if Hezbollah or any other organization wanted us dead, they knew where we lived and worked. I wasn't going to spend my year in Beirut twiddling my thumbs and worrying about the what ifs. 


The one trip I regret missing was the ride to Damascus with the Lebanese HOG chapter. This was before ISIS and the terrible war that is still destroying Syria. It was an overnighter, and I didn't know about it until after it happened. C'est la vie.


I look forward to a return trip to Beirut someday. Harley rentals are available, and even if you don't ride there is no shortage of Lebanese people willing to make your visit to their country a wonderful and memorable experience.   




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