Monday, February 16, 2009

Snowshoeing at Qanat Bakish

It has been a much warmer than usual winter, with not nearly as much snow in the mountains as last year. Qanat Bakish is just under 1 1/2 hours from Beirut, and is one of the six ski areas in the country. The altitude is around 2000 metres (6500 feet).
The mountain marks the extended "Green Line" of the Civil War. We recalled from a previous hike in the area that one needs to go with a guide off trail as there are still land mines...

It was a hazy day as you can see. We still could see Beirut and the Mediterranean off in the distance. There were great, fast moving clouds and the sun came out for awhile.
One of the new ACS teachers was on the trip--she is from Texas and it was her first time in snow! Way fun to enjoy her experience. Had to give her instructions on the proper method of making a snow angel... Another ACS teacher from Massachusetts found it incredible that this was the coldest the Texan had ever been. It was considerably above freezing--maybe 50 F.
Photo above is a semi-frozen pond.
As we left the area and stopped for a baked snack (of course!) it began to hail.
p.s. No broken fingers this time!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Bekaa Valley hike

On our last hike with Cam here, we head to the Bekaa Valley. The main road passes by the long, high bridge bombed by the Israelis in 2006. We note the reconstruction progress since last we passed by: all the support towers are now in place and only the roadbed on one side is still missing.

We are heading for the wetlands at Aamiq. But the wetlands, home away from home for migrating birds on their way to/from Africa/Europe, that should be good and wet in February, are almost completely dry.

No birds to see, we hike on, stopping to view the only herd of buffalo in Lebanon, imported from Syria. Apparently there used to be lots of them in Lebanon, but no more. The milk is prized for buffalo mozzarella. They are much smaller than buffalo I've seen in either E. Africa, and somewhat smaller than those in Thailand.

Next stop is a Druze shrine where a woman is buried who pretended to be a man so that she could worship with the men. Somehow she became a saint-like figure. The Druze are both a religious and ethnic group. They split from Shia Islam in 1000 AD, and have been heavily persecuted pretty much ever since.

Here are photos of the Druze leader of the area and our local guide, the interior and exterior of the shrine.
It was a hazy day.

Above is a view of the dry wetland from above. The Litani River is at the far side.

At left are Cam and Tom and group descending a hillside.

We passed through farmland on our way to a village where we had lunch.

After the hike we stopped at one of Lebanon's most famous wineries, Kefraya, for a bit of wine tasting. Here are Cam and ACS teacher Sharon R.
And the vineyard.

Back at home, on Cam's last night Tom has a nargileh delivered. We sit on the balcony on a surprisingy warm February evening, before heading the the airport and his flight to Gabon (via Addis Ababa) at 2 a.m. We will miss the boy terribly, and wish him Godspeed on the challenging road ahead.

General update

On the hour long bus ride to Meeting, Cam and I pass near an area where there had been a car bomb, or maybe it was two?, last year. I reflect that we have been car bomb free for a good long while--since last April, I think. And there had been one in January 2008 as well. And then, of course, there was all that “trouble” last May, when Hezbollah and allies took over Beirut, and our neighborhood was under siege. The calm since then is certainly worth noting.

It was Cam’s last week in Lebanon, before heading to Gabon and points west: Gabon, to reconnect with people there and take harp lessons; Mexico, conference of ibogaine providers; Washington, basic EMT training; Nebraska (advanced EMT training); and Vermont, Goddard College in the Fall. Wow.

We filled him full of as much good mezze (yummy Lebanese food, e.g. humous, babaganouj, tabbbouli, grilled meat) as possible and tried our luck at finding him another pair of pants that were PLAIN and CLASSIC, a major challenge in Beirut’s shops, where fashion and fancy are the by-words.

I have started a new Arabic class, at the French Cultural Center. It is a particular challenge as I have the opportunity to use my inadequate French as well as stumble along trying to understand the Arabic. I am not the very most lost person in the “False Beginner” class, which helps, but I am close! My classmates are more fluent in putting sentences together, but don’t necessarily have formal training. All that work conjugating verbs is serving me well. It’s an interesting group--all women: several French ladies, one Spanish, a Brit, one Turkish, one Ukrainian, one from Belarus who speaks perfect French, and one Iranian who owns a house in DC and who runs a salmon farm! Most have Lebanese husbnads. The class is entirely focused on speaking, 99% of the time in Arabic, leaving us to try to follow as best we can. It is way scary but seems just what I need now. My teacher has some tiny shred of the warmth of my former colleagues Thong and Mary Beth, which helps enormously. Previously I had been in a one on one tutorial with a talented Palestinian teacher whom I liked a great deal, but it was expensive ($25/hour) and I think being in a class adds a useful dimension.