|Some intricate art I found on the road leading to Mount Hermon|
I have been living here for some 25 years, but have never hiked to the top of Mount Hermon, so that seemed like a good thing to do on Saturday morning. Mount Hermon, or Jabel elSheik (the mountain of the chief), as we call it in Arabic, lies in the southern part of Lebanon, on the border with Syria.
But I was slightly misinformed, and a little out of luck as well.
There is not one top, but actually three.
And the absolute top of Jabel elSheik, at 2,814 m, doesn’t lie in Lebanon, but in Syria. Syria, right now, is not exactly a tourist destination (although I do know people that still go shopping in the old souqs of Damascus and they tell me that the prices are ‘a kill’, for lack of better word choice.
The other mountain tops are problematic as well, as one of them is occupied by Israel. ‘The southern slopes of Mount Hermon extend to the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights, where the Mount Hermon ski resort is located,’ according to Wikipedia.
And the third one, although in Lebanon, is no longer accessible since a few months: The road from Rashaya to Mount Hermon ends in a barrier manned by soldiers of the Lebanese Army. That’s where Lebanon ends for us mere mortals.
|The quality isn't great. I lost the cable from my phone to the computer and have to do everything through e-mail. Cumbersome and slow, and I get all these tiny little zip files..|
A soldier, not older than 18, stopped us at the checkpoint.
“We cannot control anymore who gets off this mountain. There’s all kinds of gangsters there. The Syrian army, Daesh, the Israelis, and then there are mines all over the place. Before you could have walked anywhere. But it has been closed since a few months, so we can monitor who enters Lebanon. You need a permit from Army Intelligence to get passed this checkpoint,”
So no hike to the top of Mount Hermon.
I was secretly a little glad, because the idea was to go for a little hike, and I don’t think I’d have made it to the top in two hours.
“But we can hike on its slopes,” we pleaded with the young soldier.
He walked around our car, took a close look at the dogs in the back, shook hubbie’s hand, thought a bit and said, “Just a hike?”
If we promised we wouldn’t try to hike to the top, and not stay away too long, he’d let us through.
The mountain had a rather shady reputation in the past as well, according to a book that never made it into the Bible. In the Book of Enoch, there is a story that some angels ran into trouble and descended onto earth, right at Mount Hermon, because they like the place and the women. Things went rapidly downhill from there.
The mountain features in a number of Bible texts, as well as other ancient texts. Jesus and his disciples travelled to Mount Hermon in the book of Matthew, and the name is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. There are some 30 shrines and Roman temples built on and around the mountain. Mount Hermon was apparently quite revered in the old days.
As promised, we just hiked a bit on the flanks. As a mountain, it’s not really a very impressive mountain, to be honest (hence the lack of pictures). Qornet es-Sawdah, the highest top of the Mount Lebanon Range, the other mountain ridge in Lebanon, is higher (3,083 m), and more impressive. But its fertile soil, and many water sources, make excellent farm land. We walked passed vineyards, fruit trees, almond and walnut trees and olive groves, but there was not a soul in sight, except for one goat herder. The few houses that are built in the area have all been abandoned, presumably because it’s not exactly a peaceful place.
But it was a lovely hike. A short one, as promised. We did not climb to the top.
On our way back, through the same check point, there was a different soldier.
Where are you coming from?”
“No, I mean now.”
“Oh, we went for a hike on the mountain.”
“You’re not allowed in.”
“Well, we are in. So now we’d like to go out.”
He pointed at me.”Is that a foreigner there?”
“No no, she is Lebanese.”
This all sounded very fishy to him. A foreign looking woman speaking English who pretended to be Lebanese coming from an area where she was not supposed to be, and nobody had mentioned anything to him about a foreign-looking woman being on the mountain. For all he knew, I might be a secret Deash weapon, or an Israeli spy entering Lebanon under a false pretext.
“Why did you go walk there? What’s there?”
Yes indeed, what’s there? How to explain to a soldier on guard that you enjoy walking in nature with dogs?
He studied our Lebanese ID’s at length.
I kind of wished that this would result in a long investigation; always great for a blog post.
He, however, figured it was more hassle keeping us then letting us go. Fishy or not, he was not in the mood for this.
“Well, next time you go to army intelligence to ask for permission.”