February 20, 2014

Mapmakers Needed

The trick to hiking with teenagers (watch the headphones)? Bring a few; they only travel in convoys

 We have a new government! (and I am very conveniently ignoring yesterday's double bombing. Just like everyone else; we pretend nothing is happening). So back to that government. It took ten months, and some serious photo-shopping, but here it is. It probably won’t last longer than two months (when the president is up for election), or it will last indefinitely (if they cannot agree on a president): either way, I am hoping for a minister that is into hiking. Because I am into hiking these days, but there is a serious lack of topographical maps and so I have a tendency to get lost.

A cacti plantation . . .

This weekend I wandered through a cactus plantation, saw a porcupine floating in an ancient well, hiked through a date palm plot, got lost in a Mediterranean oak woodland with an enormous amount of prickly bushes with a number of people who I thought knew the way (or was it ‘with a number of people who thought I knew the way?’ Oh well, a mere detail), and had to scale a number of fences to get back to civilization again. Where are the maps?

. . .  slowly changing into a date palm plantation . . .

When you hike in Europe, France for instance, you can buy the Blue 1:25'000 Michelin maps in every supermarket. They are sold by the IGN (Institut Geographique National) and are excellent for hiking. Every little trail and path and every hill and ditch are indicated, and although hiking in Lebanon is of similar quality, there are no maps. The LMT (Lebanon Mountain Trail) has a set of maps, but only of their trail, for the rest you’ll have to figure it out yourself.
An example of Mediterranean Oak Woodland (it's a biome, apparently)

Can’t get lost in this place? Are you kidding? We we’re stuck for a good hour trying to wiggle our way out of this piece of land - without finding a path - straight through some very nasty shrubbery. I want maps like this.

Fantastic cloud formations
But while hiking, I did come upon my very first cacti plantation ever. I always though these plants sort of grow in the wild, and people harvest their fruit while foraging. In Lebanon, there is a season for the prickly pear, which is difficult to clean but quite delicious. But apparently it is cultivated like any other fruit. The prickly pear cactus comes out of South America and was domesticated a long time ago. Other than the fruit, they can be used for jam-making, alcohol, and animal fodder,  and at the University of Florida they found that gooey stuff from the prickly-pear cactus works as a ‘natural, non-toxic dispersant for oil spills.’ What do we do with it? I am not sure. For the fruit, I guess.
Another fence?

The cacti plantation slowly turned into a date palm plantation, another fruit, which although eaten in Lebanon, is usually associated with Saudi Arabia or Syria. We stumbled upon a really old Helical step well (a round water well that has a little staircase on the side that runs down along the wall of the well), but lack of water is obvious here as well; a large porcupine had tumbled into the well and had drowned as he couldn’t reach the stairs.

And yet another one
I know the area has free-roaming pigs as well, because I once ran into them, but we didn’t see any of those.  It might explain the fences we had to scale in order to finally get to a paved road, and back to where we started. Google Earth and Google Maps didn’t help much either, because our phones did not locate us accurately enough. Besides, what looked like a road from the air, was once a path but had since overgrown. 

Muddy clumps at the end of the hike. "Take your shoes off before you get into the house!!!"
To get back to the point, there is so much to see in this place, but you need people to record it, and mapmakers to find it. Maybe one of the ministers is into hiking.

Clean again

The neighbors were hiking too :)


Anonymous said...

Although I left Lebanon when I was a little boy, your photos truly showcase the Lebanon that I know , the splendid beauty of its nature, beyond the troubled images of the rubble , there is a land the nourishes the soul like no other -thank you for sharing

Anonymous said...

When I was in the military service, we used topographic maps for our long march. I think you may buy them somewhere unless they are kept with the army and not commercially distributed. They were very excellent and detailed maps like the one you showed