Lebanon Visa on Arrival for Americans, Damascus to Beirut by Bus
Beit Meri, Lebanon
Although my family of Turkish/Syrian hosts in Damascus were exceptionally skilled at force-feeding me (like a determined Frenchman would a goose destined for the foie gras factory), they couldn't offer up much advice on how to get to Lebanon by any means but taxi.
I haven't really used a guidebook since I started CouchSurfing back last August, and have spent the past few months without a page of the weighty reference. However, I was quite happy to recently accept the LP eBook guides for Syria and Jordan from a fellow traveler of mine, until I discovered how painfully out of date some of the critical information was (at least five years, by the looks of it).
Damascus' Baramke terminal has all but been abandoned—replaced instead by the Al-Samariyeh terminal (Mezzeh West), on the western outskirts of the city. 2000 Transportation and Tourism (formerly Dreams 2000) still runs the occasional bus (perhaps two or three daily) to Beirut, for 400 Syrian pounds (US$8.50).
Syrian border formalities and Beirut traffic caused the trip to take a solid four hours (departing at 12:30, and arriving at 16:30), and forced me out of the vehicle at an anonymous corner in the city center, about a hundred meters from Arab University (as opposed to the Charles Helou bus terminal, still a good 15-minute drive away).
Unless you're Lebanese, you'll have to pay the whopping 500 pound Syrian exit tax (even Syrians must pay this tax, which explains why you'll have to wait for the bus of them to purchase and fill out all of their own exit cards with a single, shared pen). You can wait to buy yours from a cigarette and snacks stand next to the immigration departure hall if you don't feel like buying yours from the bus driver's buddy working at a mini-market five minutes from the border.
Coupled with the $16 entry visa, each arrival/departure into Syria will set you back a total of about US$27 in fees.
Vehicles parked haphazardly, some trying to exit into Lebanon, most unoccupied:
Lebanese Visa on Arrival
Out of years of travel and seemingly countless dealings with border officials, the immigration trooper that I interacted on the Lebanese side of border probably takes first place for the most friendly, well-spoken official that I've ever dealt with.
"Hey, I'm sorry Craig. I'm afraid you can only pay for the visa in Lebanese pounds. But you change money with the guys right outside."
Expect the money changers idling outside the building to take the equivalent of about US$1 in commission, regardless the amount you need to exchange. 25,000 Lebanese pounds for a two-week visa will set you back about US$17, but at least there isn't a departure tax if you're leaving overland.
I'd later be told that no university in Lebanon teaches in Arabic—English and French are the only two options available. Many Lebanese speak their own dialect of Arabic, in addition to at least one of the two afore mentioned languages.
Looking westward from the pair of government checkpoints you can see the range of mountains that runs the length of the small country. The sparsely populated Bekaa Valley plains that run to the foothills of their snow-capped peaks set a most dramatic backdrop for the border formalities.
Although Lebanon is ideally suited for agricultural activities in terms of water availability and soil fertility, as it possesses the highest proportion of cultivable land in the Arabic speaking world, it does not have a large agricultural sector. Attracting a mere 12% of the total workforce, agriculture is the least popular economic sector in Lebanon. It contributes approximately 11.7% of the country's GDP, also placing it in the lowest rank compared to other economic sectors.