October 13, 2010

On Fall (and not on Ahmadinejad)

Since everyone is all nervous about Ahmadinejad’s visit to town, and all roads are closed (which resulted in a wonderfully quiet Ras Beirut this afternoon!), I figured I’d entertain you with some more relaxing stuff.
I went on a wonderful hike last Sunday, all the way from Baaklin  (also spelled Baakline or Bakleen) to the village of Gharife. They’re both in the Chouf. I always thought I had been to Baaklin numerous times, but quite obviously I must have had some other town in mind, because I hadn’t. I decided to go with a guide for a change (And I just realized that I started 75% of my sentences with ‘I’. Now I know this blog is about me in Beirut, but maybe this is a little too much), because I can’t find anyone to hike with me &  who knows the area. There are several outfits in Lebanon that organize outdoor activities (see side bar).
What struck most of us was that of the some 20 people that had heeded the call for a mountain hike, only 3 were home-grown Lebanese. The rest were either foreigners, or Lebanese visiting Lebanon on a holiday. It could be that as a Lebanese you know your country so well, that you really don’t need a guide to go on hikes like this. But I seriously doubt it if you had seen the jungle we had to slash our way through; it was almost ‘machete work’. It could be that as a Lebanese your Sundays are filled with family obligations and that you cannot go on hikes like these. It could also be that as a Lebanese you probably do not visit these areas, just as I haven’t see half of the things in Holland that any old tourist probably has 27 snapshots of. Or it could be that as a Lebanese you really have better things to do that hang out with a bunch of foreigners like us that like to hike through the mountains.

But I can tell you; it was fantastic! They always say that Lebanon is the country of 4 seasons. I used to disagree with that, because it is either hot-hot-hot, or it rains-rains-rains. But now that I spend more time outside Beirut, I notice that there really are four distinct seasons. Just not in Beirut.
Fall has started, and the woods were changing color. When I was young, we’d go to the forest in the fall and gather colored leaves and acorns and buck eyes. I didn’t see any buck eyes, but plenty of acorns and colored leaves.
I love fall, probably my favorite season. It reminds me of back home. Fall is when it gets dark earlier, and I’d walk home from my elementary school, and the street lights would be on, and all the living rooms were lit, and you could look inside the houses and see families sit together. Fall meant that Sinterklaas was on its way, and Christmas too.
We had this guide with us who was a real tracker, a regular Sherlock Holmes of the woods. Constantly with his nose on the ground, rubbing leaves between his fingers, sniffing everything and gazing absent-mindedly in the distance, spotting foot prints on our path and what not. It was kind of funny; he reminded me of those old cowboy & Indian movies where a posse of cowboys are chasing an outlaw, and every now and then the Indian in their midst would get to the ground on all four, sniff the air, and say cryptically: ‘Four men, going east, 50 minutes ago, one horse is lame on the left front. They have no more water.’

I shouldn’t make fun of the guy, because he showed us spots where porcupines had passed (didn’t even know we had them in Lebanon), where wild boars had scratched their butts, and partridges were hiding among the bushes. And I’ve expanded my array of medicinal plant tricks, so if ever you go into the wild with me, I can now cure your tummy ache, or stop the bleeding and heal a cut without scar tissue. How’s that a city slicker from Beirut, eh?
We hiked through valleys where cars cannot come. We passed by an enormous sink hole that’s not even on the map or in the tourist guide. Only locals and speleologists know of its existence. And I can vouch for that because I walked right past it and didn’t see it; he had to point it out to me, some 50 meters deep (150 feet) if not more.
And for lunch? Well, make sure you get some genuine French on your team. They do not 'do' crummy sandwiches in cellophane and luke-warm water. They come with a Medoc ’85, smoked pork sausages and 3-year old blue cheese, and they 'pass the bottle'.
What’s the moral of this story? If you don’t have anything to do, call one of these outfits. (I went with Lebanese Adventures on this one); they plan cool stuff every weekend. And they really show you the nooks and crannies of this country.


Anonymous said...

love love love that post

Anonymous said...

The part about the French reminds me of a Columbian colleague I
had in my last job. His wife was an excellent cook, and when he
went on a trip abroad, she would fill his suitcase will all kinds
of "lekkere dingen", snacks with cheese and salmon and nuts,
really very nice. His always had a full suitcase of lekkere
dingen, way too much, and being overweight already he would start
handing out. So whenever we had to go on a trip somewhere, we
would ure ind some lame excuse just to make him go with us so we
would have lekkere dingen during the trip.

Anonymous said...

Ok seriously, you got a new camera... didn't you? Your pictures have changed in quality so much!
LOVE them!

Anonymous said...

No, not a new camera, got my old one (DSC-F828)out of the closet again.

Danielle said...

I've been meaning to do something like this for months now. But I can never get up early enough on a Sunday morning! I even paid for one once, and never ended up going! I HAVE to make the effort. As usual, your photos are beautiful.