I caught up with French-Norwegian photographer Sebastian Dahl a couple of days before he left Beirut for good. He ended up in the city after nearly 3 months of hitchhiking through Europe from Oslo, and spent a year living there.
Sebastian told me a lot about his trip, and what it felt like to live in Lebanon, having never been there before. The journey he has been documenting online through his blog has slowly gained recognition. Shortly before arriving in Beirut, he got a message on his inbox saying: “You need a place to crash when you arrive?” He stuck to that proposal, stayed a few days at that person’s place, then moved to a shared apartment space in Furn el Chebbak – now called The Kindergarten Collective. A hardcore, DIY, arts and culture club of expats and locals throwing intense parties, art and photo exhibits, movie and poetry reading nights and impressive concerts by underground bands I couldn’t imagine existed in the city. Sebastian quickly came to be at the core of the Collective’s events. And that’s not very surprising since he has an amazing aura of positiveness surrounding him. Wherever he goes, he just spreads it unintentionally.
Hitchhiking shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s pretty much illegal in a bunch of countries, and most sane people would also describe it as being pretty risky. Nevertheless, one of Sebastian’s main motivations for documenting his travels, was to show that strangers are actually extremely kind – no matter where you are on the planet. “The media tends to sensationalize everything. We think that our neighbors are going to rape and kill us. I want to counterbalance that by showing my pictures. To show that people are actually nice.”
I pretty much agree with him on every level. Hitchhiking, carpooling, ride-sharing, are all very do-able things. Some people expect a bit of money in return – especially in cities – others don’t. Nevertheless, Oslo-Beirut is not a trip you can decide on overnight. Something that big requires practice and experience. Sebastian admits that he wouldn’t recommend anyone traveling such a distance for the first time. Travelers need to get used to Couchsurfing extensively in different cities, hitchhiking a few times, and just basically socializing as much as possible with new faces from all around he globe. The more worldly you become, the easier (and safer) it gets.
He described his very first day on the road as being “epic.” Getting into 4 different cars, driven by a publisher, a Romanian man on his way to a date, three sisters going to an art exhibition and a police car offering him a ride to the nearest gas station. At some point, one of the drivers suggested visiting a friend’s place living on the Norwegian coast. They ended up sharing a long dinner there.
Other days weren’t as eventful, but still beautiful in their own way: A guy picked him up in a camper van and warned him that he didn’t want to have a single conversation during the whole trip. The reason was that he just fell deeply in love and had to drive back to his hometown leaving the girl behind. Both stayed in silence listening to what might have been Neil Young for four hours.
When it comes to finding a place to sleep in cities and towns, Sebastian would walk around and look for people in their mid-twenties, mostly guys, and approach them by first describing where he’s going and why he’s traveling and finally saying: “I don’t want to stay at a hotel because it’s boring, can I stay on your couch or in your garage or something?” It’s incredible to know that it only takes no more than two or three tries to find someone who finally accepts. He’s kept in touch with some of them, and would sometimes leave a backed-up hard drive filled with his photography at their house, in case he loses his camera gear or gets it stolen on the road. He said that choosing the right people comes with practice: “It’s all about judging people. Seeing if the person is sketchy or not.”
Sebastian is now spending a year back in Oslo and preparing for his next trip to a city where he’ll be spending a year – most probably somewhere in Japan. He talked about releasing a photography book about his travels or his work while in Lebanon, and he might even work on a novel.
Sebastian puts it simply: “Traveling is about the people, that’s where the stories are.”