If it weren’t for that horrendous and ugly Damascus Highway, I’d be spending more time in the Beqaa Valley . As it is, I rarely get to go there. I’ve tried to get over the mountain ridge another way, but once you’ve done the Barouq way or the Bois de Boulogne way (or the Cedars way, if you really want to go out of your way), you’ve just about had it with those two as well. I know there’s one road going from Feraya, which I haven’t tried yet, and one all the way down south, but with accurate road maps nonexistent and car computers that use Lebanese army maps (equally inaccurate), it’s difficult to find your way over those mountains.
My brother keeps telling me to download the entire Google map system onto a simple Nokia, and then use my phone and Google maps (or something along those lines) to get on the right track, but with that much technology, and a foreign face, I just might be apprehended as the next Israeli spy in the Lebanese firmament of some 131 one caught so far. They're a little trigger-happy, so to speak.
And so I don’t get there often enough. Which is a pity, because it is quite beautiful. You can imagine yourself being in the Roussillon in France, between the vineyards. For those who do not know about Lebanese wine ; Kefraya makes some excellent white ones. And Chateau Muzar has some really deep red ones. Wine making in the Beqaa goes some 6,000 years back.
And do you see those clouds? Looks like they’re heading my way, but they never get over the mountains. They straddle the ridge constantly, and then disappear. You can see them come over the mountain, and then they’re gone. That’s called a ‘rain shadow’. ‘The mountains block the passage of rain-producing weather systems, casting a "shadow" of dryness behind them.’ Bet you didn’t know that. Me neither, I just found out while googling it.
They’ve got pine trees there. Not a lot, but still enough to be called a forest. Tiny patches of forest. They show signs of past military presence; foxholes that were dug, and places where tanks were half hidden from view from the road. The Syrians were here until recently (2006). The trees, however, did not provide much cover, as I understand.
In June 1982, the IAF (Israeli Air Force) destroyed 17 of the 19 Syrian SAM batteries and their radar sites, as well as 29 Syrian Air Force (SAF) fighters, without loss. The following day, the IAF destroyed the remaining two missile batteries. The SAF once more challenged the Israelis and lost approximately 35 more aircraft, again without downing an Israeli aircraft. By the end of July, Syria had lost at least 87 aircraft. (source)
The Israelis must have spent some time there as well, apparent from this thing the kids dug up. They thought it was an ammo box. Yes, that’s what my kids do, digging up empty ammo boxes. They were greatly disappointed when it turned out to be something else. An oil canister?
But there are enough trees to pretend you’re in a real forest. Real enough to be building a tree hut. Or a tepee. No, they’re not all my kids. I borrow them from family members. With many kids in tow, you’re less likely to be evicted from a private property, like this forest. I mean, who’s going to send some happy-go-lucky kids off their land?
The Beqaa Valley – but I think I have mentioned this before – is the tip of the Great Rift Valley that stretches all the way into Africa. So geologically speaking the valley is spreading. That should make cannabis producers happy, because it will increase the land. I didn’t see any, they grow it higher up on the eastern side, where there’s more moisture (and fewer pesky tourists with children running through your fields) . They say the production is in decline. That is, by the way, another product that was around during Roman times (like the wine).
One year, I did a story on the Lebanese police destroying cannabis crops. They took me to the police headquarters of Zahle, where they showed the visiting press corps the catch of that week in the basement. Man! It was stacked up everywhere. Packed bales of leaves, blocks of paste, all kinds of home-made tools. We were wading up to our ankles through the yellowish/greenish powder. All that was – so it was said – going up in smoke. Now whether that would happen in Zahle, or I Amsterdam, I failed to ask.
So if you own a vineyard, and saw a van packed with kids and a dog driving around your land last Sunday, it was I. We enjoyed your forest. We did not leave any trash (unlike the Syrians and the Israelis).