Thursday, August 28, 2008

Around Lebanon: the Cedars

This is the last leg of the mini-tour of Lebanon my family and I just completed. It took almost as many days to write than to do it...Check the 2 previous posts for more details.

After leaving Aynata we climbed for more than an another 1000m to reach the pass that will take us to the other side of the mountain, on to the western side of Mount Lebanon. The road is pretty good and half of it has recently been re-asphalted. But it is closed by the snows during winter and early spring. A few turns before crossing over, we stopped for mana'eesh (thyme and oil pies) at a small roadside shack in which 2 young women were operating a saj (inverted wok used for cooking flat bread). They told me they came from Harbata, a village in the Biqa` plain, not far from Labweh, where the`Assi river starts. They move to the mountain summit during summer with their family, their goats and sheep flocks and camp by the roadside in the traditional Bedouin tents, bayt al sha`ar (the house of hair, because it is made from camel or goat hair). The men tend the flocks and the young women sell food to the passers-by. This practice of transhumance during summer is common to many of the people of the Biqa`, and indicates the closeness of their links to the Bedouin culture. See below the tents and the Range Rovers of the modern day semi-nomads. Note also the juniper tree (Juniperus excelsa) near the car.
The view from this part of the mountain is breathtaking: one can see the Yammouneh plain, the hills beyond it, the Biqa` plain and the Anti-Lebanon in one single shot! The village you see in the valley is Aynata.

As we crossed to the western side of Mount Lebanon, the first settlement we encountered is the touristic village known as "The Cedars". This is the site of the famous cedars of Lebanon grove, also known as Arz al Rabb or The Cedars of the Lord. Although there are many other cedar forests in Lebanon (and this grove is probably the smallest in size), it contains some of the oldest trees, and it has become the (much disputed) patriotic emblem of Lebanon. The Cedars is principally a touristic area, with grand and not so grand villas and buildings disguised as Swiss chalets. It is a great winter sports location, but the slopes are not as developed as those of Faraya, in Kesrwan. Unlike Faraya, however, this is a very provincial place, almost a summer resort for the inhabitants of Bsharreh, the home town of writer, poet and artist Jibran Khalil Jibran of "Prophet" fame. Bsharreh is also the home town of Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces (see previous post), who was convicted of multiple murders and jailed for 10 years before receiving presidential pardon. The people of Bsharreh are reputed for being tough and hard-headed, and Geagea is a local icon. To prove it, the owner of a souvenir shop in the Cedar has 3 mega sized poster of Geagea, all saying the same thing: "Welcome to the Lord of your Lord" Ahlan bi Rabb Rabbak. I dedicate this picture to my dear friend MM.

But there is more to see in Bsharreh and the Cedars than Geagea posters: The cedars grove has some very fine tree specimen, but I will not post photos because there are so many of them on the net. But if you ever get to spend the night in the cedars (we stayed with a friend who owns a chalet that was originally a French army barrack), do not miss sunset over the legendary Kadisha valley.

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