|Moukhtara Valley, looking south|
I went hiking this weekend. Spring is the high season for hiking here; both weather and nature are at their best. A Dutch friend organized a guide and a bus (otherwise you’ve got to walk a loop), and we went to explore the Barouk River Valley, which is actually called the Moukhtara Valley, although Barouk River Valley would have made more sense to me, if it weren’t for the fact that my MapMyHike app actually calls it the Awali Rivier. What’s in a name?
The Barouk River Trail, which is at the beginning of the valley, is a relatively new trail, and runs past a few old water mills that used to grind flour and olives (for oil), and some Ottoman (Turkish) and Mamluk (Egyptian) bridges. It is actually an existing road, but with the replacement of cars for donkeys, it became obsolete, until 2011, when they fixed the old bridges and promoted it as a hiking trail. The Barouk river runs right through the Chouf Ceder Reserve, one of the largest reserves in Lebanon. There’s lots of interesting stuff to read about that region (here and here for instance)
But the funnest part is when you leave that trail and join an old Roman path that runs under a cliff alongside the river. There are some remains of a Roman temple there at the end of the trail apparently. Not sure how they know its Roman, because even before there were Romans, people must have used some type of trail to move through the valley.
In Europe, there is an entire network of ancient footpaths like these. The French have maintained, marked and mapped some 180,000 kilometers of them in their country alone. They’re called Grand Routes (GR) and these are the old roads that people used when moving across country or continent. The paths are narrow and go from village to village, because in the old days you either walked, or walked with a donkey (or horse, if you had money), so no need for wide roads, and you needed villages for safety, food and shelter.
It would be great if one day all these ancient footpaths in Lebanon (and the region) would be mapped and marked. I know there is a long distance path that runs from Turkey all the way through Syria and Jordan to the Sinai desert, the Abraham Path. The region is teeming with old trade routes and pilgrimage trails that are no longer in use.
I have noticed that lately people have started to mark trails; a good sign. The Barouk River Trail is marked by a single white band, painted upon tree trunks or rocks. The LMT (Lebanon Mountain trail) is marked with a purple and white band. They do the same in France where you can walk from north to south, simply following a path marked by red and white stripe.
The Barouk River Trail, especially the part that runs along the cliff, is a pretty popular hike. If you’re a slow hiker, you’ll notice pretty soon you’re not the only one on the trail; some pretty larger groups tend to pass you buy, or you’re bypassing some large groups yourself. Now that isn’t much of an issue, if it weren’t for the fact that most of the trail is not really a trail but rather a rock clambering exercise. I remember doing this hike some years back, and that path almost did me in. It was a lot easier this time, but it’s hard on the knees and the ankles.
This ‘Roman’ path runs all along a steep cliff on both sides; one is a cliff wall going up, the other side is a cliff wall going down, in some parts rather gradually, in other parts rather steep. A fellow Dutchie, and avid hiker, broke her leg a couple of months ago while hiking along another trail. I am not sure how they got her off the trail, but in this particular place, the Red Cross guys are not going to be very happy with you of they need to haul you out. In some parts you have to skip a little stream, or hike under a waterfall; it’s all quite pretty.
That was part of my weekend. The next holiday is around the corner, so will do some more hiking.