Driving new roads and visiting new places makes me happy. Last weekend was a good one, because it took me to a place I had never been before (go figure, after 23 years in a country four times smaller than Holland!).
|The Beqaa Valley (coming down from Mazraat Chouf)|
I ended up in the Beqaa Valley. The Beqaa is not really Lebanon in one way (much too Arabic), and much more Lebanese than the rest of the country in other ways (rural and down to earth). In some ways the valley reminds me of Holland, with its flat fields, and tractors in the road. Now that fall has set in (which is something I must have mention about a million times now), the weather in the valley is much fresher and cooler than the coastal region.
I have driven along Qaroun Lake in the southern Beqaa Valley, but for some reason or other had never set foot on the lake shore. But last Sunday, while driving by, we decided to go and have a look. The lake is an artificial one (one out of a total of 2 in Lebanon), created by a dam built in 1959 in the Litani River, but quite a large one (for Lebanese standards). The Litani is Lebanon’s longest river, flowing for 160 kilometers from the northern part of the Beqaa Valley to the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. I won’t give you all the details on the lake, you can find them here, but the lake provides water and electricity to the neighboring area 24/7, which is quite a wonder in this neck of the woods.
The lake seems to be quite the local attraction. While we stood on its shore, wondering if it had any sailing potential (it does!), first the local speed boat captain passed by (40,000 LBP for a ride out on the lake) and then two guys on horses came and asked if we wanted to have our picture taken on the horse in front of the lake. There are several restaurants on its shores and some old hotels as well.
|You want to ride the horse? No thank you. You want to sit on the horse? No thank you. You want to make a picture with the horse? No thank you. You want to put your wife on the horse? No, says the wife, I like donkeys better. Oh, we have those too.|
We ended up at Siham’s Place, chosen because it was the only restaurant without loud music. It is run by Siham, whose husband prefers Beirut, but she likes the dry weather of the valley. “Better for my arthritis,” she says. She grills a mean trout, bought at the local monastery, and serves it with a curious but very cold Russian beer. She remembers with fondness the times when her restaurant was frequented with people who worked at the vineyards of Kefraya. “When those French people stay in the hotel, they do not want to hear music; they open all the windows and want to hear the birds in the morning.”
These days the crowds have changed. No more Europeans, and the Syrian refugees cannot afford to eat out. Lebanese visitors have slowed down as well. No more money, and people are afraid to venture this far from their homes. People prefer to stay on the other side of the mountains. The foreigners that do come, are Arabs who want to know the ‘taef’ (religion) of Siham before they dare to eat her meat. “I can do without that,” she says.
|Why not lunch together.|
Her husband remembers the river Litani when it was still a river, “only 10 meters wide. We used to walk down to the valley and swim in it.” He’s happy with the dam however. “We lost 17 pieces of land to the dam, all compensated for, of course, and now we always have 24 hours electricity, the only ones in Lebanon, even during the war.” When it is a full moon, the moon light reflects in the lake, and it bounces back into the sky, and the entire land ‘lights up like a candle. That is something you must come and see, it is magical. The lake during a full moon.”
It is not often that you hear people talk with such love about their region. And so we ended up joining tables with the restaurant owner /cook, and we spoke about the things that friends talk about over lunch. And when spring comes again, I’ll get my little sail boat over there, and – with the permission of the Litani River Authority – I will sail the Lake Qaroun.