April 20, 2015

Hiking with the Dutch

On the top of Jabal Moussa
Went hiking last Sunday in Jabal Moussa. Somehow I always thought Jabel Moussa was somewhere in the south, but it is right close to Beirut, in the mountains above Jounieh. It’s the mountain between Yachouch, Chouen, Mchato and Nahr edDahab.
Jabal Moussa is a relative new nature reserve (2009) of some  6,500 ha,  and quite different from our last hike in Moukhtara Valley.
Moukhtara is vast, rough and untamed. Jabal Moussa seems small, it’s got these tiny pockets of different types of landscapes all stuck together, more diverse and much softer. Although lots of rocks and trees, there were quite a few meadows with spring flowers, and you could just imagine Julie Andrews frolic around.
Alpine-like meadows with daisies
We hired a guide to walk us through the reserve.
But there is something about Dutch and organized tours; it brings out the worst in us. Although in general not a barbarian nation, when we are in groups, we’re not really interested in endemic orchids, three different type of acorns, the age of a certain tree or why Kesrouani peonies grow in this specific place only.
Just get us going already.
We don’t want to stop at every bend in the path to group together and listen to the guide explain about the origins of the river’s name or talk about the age of a tree. We’re there to hike and get tired.
Staring into the valley below

Our guide had something else in mind. She had been trained well, and was dead-set on instructing us on the complete fauna and flora of the place. She expected us to behave as a group of meek school children who would nicely gather around her in a semi-circle every 250 meters and listen respectfully to the teacher. Lo and behold, but not on a Sunday.
This is how teenagers hike
It didn’t help much that we were accompanied by a number of teenagers. And teenagers - if you already manage to convince them to join the family on boring family outings such as hiking (which they will only accept if they have absolutely nothing else to do, or if you lure them with the presence of another teenager) - are not interested in staring at panoramic vistas, beautiful nature, or natural water wells. They are there to network.
That social interaction takes place through loud giggles, exaggerated intonation, shrieks, pushing, shoving and otherwise annoying behavior. Parents of teenagers know that it’s best to ignore this, as any type of correction will result in eye-rolling, huffing, puffing, further resentment and arguments, after which previous behavior will continue as before. You can lecture them later, in privacy, separated from other teenagers.
The guide, however, insisted that the teenagers learn about the flowers too. Well, good luck.

There were more teenagers, but it is hard to have them cooperate and be in a picture

The pre-teen boys in the group had – by that time – already disappeared from view, armed with sharp pointed sticks with which they will inevitably hurt each other (“you are going to poke someone’s eye out!”) or themselves. They were well ahead, climbing the highest point of the mountain, ready to discover dead bodies, get devoured by wolves, fall into deep pits and throw rocks at each other, much to the alarm of the guide, who – with the instinct of a border collie – was planning on keeping everyone together.
They will get lost,” argued the guide (“Don’t worry, they will find their way faster than we do,” replied the moms) and “They might fall and hurt themselves,” (“Worry about us breaking a hip on this uneven terrain instead.”)  
Our child-rearing philosophy was clearly not shared by the guide.

Her insistence to wait for the stragglers, and pause at every kilometer, made us think we were hiking a little too slow for her, so we picked up the pace. We misunderstood; the poor guide, who had already done a hike of some 10K+ the previous day, developed a serious cramp.
But when we were ready to sit down, finally, in a beautiful meadow in the middle of the forest on the absolute mountain top, and take a serious break of an hour or two, we were quickly herded back onto the trail. This was not to be a hike of leisure.
Clearing in the forrest

I hope she is not reading this, because she was, by all accounts, an exceptionally friendly, forthcoming and knowledgeable lady, who did her job outstandingly. It was clear she absolutely loved her work and this reserve, and these are the people we need in this country. She just happened to stumble upon a group of anarchistic Dutch, with morose teenagers and energetic little boys.
 At the end of the hike we opted for a local lunch in a guest house in the village of Mchaati (I can definitely recommend that, good experience), where we all compared our step, distance and elevation apps. The distance ranged (depending on the app we consulted) from 5.7 to 8.8 kilometers (I turned mine on a little late), the steps varied between 8,000 and 18,000, and the difference in elevation went from ‘99 flights of stairs’ to a 457m ascend and descend. That just shows you how absolutely worthless the GPS in your phone is. 

The reserve is absolutely worth visiting; the sceneries are stunning and vary greatly. Actually, what’s probably most appealing about this place is its variety; every corner you turn, you find yourself in a totally different place; alpine meadows with wild flowers, oak forests, elflike clearing in between the trees, wild rock formations, fields with just orchids (I think. By that time she had given up on us), little mountain paths, an old roman foot path dating from somewhere around 100 AD, a shepherd passing by with a troop of goats, an old water well; it all has a very miniature-like and sweet quality to it. We greatly enjoyed our hike.
Teenagers engaged
Not so the guide. I am afraid we left a rather dismayed lady with an even more dismayed impression of Dutch. I wonder what she told her parents. 'These are the most horrible clients I have ever had. What an awful people! They did not listen at all. They were rowdy and chaotic. You can see where their kids picked up those habits. When I have children of my own, I will not raise them like this.'
Sorry dear. Do not take it personal. It’s not you. It’s us.


Anonymous said...

Dear reader of this blog, I am Sietske's brother and I know for a fact that Sietske has a tendency to get in a row with tour guides. Many years ago I joined Sietske plus kids on a tour in a French monastery. If I remember correctly we were three adults with six kids, all Dutch-Lebanese. What a bunch of uneducated witless illiterate bums we were! We didn't give a shit about the tour. In the beginning the tour guide tried to ignore us (impossible), later she just rolled her eyes, but we were not even halfway through the tour before she started hissing and even shouting at us. Some of us hissed back. It was bad, really bad. In the end we were lucky to get out of the monastery without gendarmerie involvement.

So this story about a hike in Jabal Moussa does not surprise me at all. Sietske can be a tour guide herself, but she can not be guided. Same for the rest of the Dutch-Lebanese family, don't do a tour with them. I think it's all caused by the countless tours and museum visits we had to endure as kids fourty years ago, and the trauma that ... OK I won't bore you with this. I am amazed at how Sietske keeps organizing such events with tour guides still after so many years. Bravo! Always a nice story!


Anonymous said...

Stunning photos!. Makes me want to visit.

Tanya Dernaika said...

If hiking with you is as fun as reading about your hiking adventures then please count me in next time.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous !

Sietske said...

That woman that hissed at us in the room before the church, and then later made demeaning remarks about us to the rest of the group, thinking we did not understand us? Yes, that tour in the monastery is still fresh in my mind. I can even give you the place (Abbaye de Fontfroide near Narbonne). It was probably one of the most awful tours I have ever taken, but if I remember correctly, I did – for quite some time – try to pay attention and be polite, long after you guys had become a group of rowdy brigands. Yes, that lady was quite upset with us. Maybe we should go back and visit again. This time we will be prepared!
That is a promise!!

Sietske said...

Typed your name wrong!!!!

ehden said...

how did you book the guide. I'm coming with a group of lebanese Australians and brazilians in September . the place looked lovely