Monday, September 28, 2009

Exciting adventures with boy

Ben has gone now :-( but whilst here, we rented a car and wended our way up to the mountains to show him the cedars of Lebanon at Bcharre--a lovely but far too small forest of the majestic trees, clear cuts all around the outside of the reserve. We followed the path through the reserve, and Tom pointed out where the snow level had been when he snowshowed here last winter—6 feet up or more.

At left, Ben and cedars.

Then the real fun began. We headed over the mountain pass on a decent road, meaning paved, but not without occasional dramatic potholes or chipped off bits, and definitely sans guardrails. Up and up, lovely views all the way to the sea, and then over and suddenly views of the Bekaa Valley on the other side, with the sparse vegetation more scrubby and brown. We descend and then make a bold left turn into the unknown.

On the map it looks like a main road, a big red line. But on the ground what little pavement there may once have been quickly disappears. For close to two hours we tread over the rocks and ruts in our rented car, passing only 2 houses the whole way and, oddly a restaurant where they rent ATVs, which is REALLY WHAT YOU NEED for this road. Honestly, the road has the feel that it was possibly destroyed on purpose, perhaps something to do with the marijuana fields we start to see?? We had heard about this but never seen it before. We spot a sign lauding USAID and the European Union’s projects on watershed development and miss the opportunity for a truly memorable photo as there is some pot growing right next to the sign! But the road is so cruddy and our navigation so tense that we are reluctant to stop. Thankfully we reach the crossroads of an actual highway and enjoy a few minutes of smooth sailing before the turn off to Al Jord Ecolodge, our destination.

Unfortunately, another rough road of several kilometers lay between us and the lodge. But our rental is up to it, with Tom's able navigation. The scenery is really lovely and the accommodations nice enough—traditional (Bedouin) style tents—but not worth the $65/person/night we pay. Apparently that was supposed to include all meals for two days, but we had only one dinner and breakfast. They even wanted to charge us for the coffee we had on arrival but we protested.
Well, OK, maybe the stars at night were worth it. Incredible array, full Milky Way. Just breathtaking.
In the morning we have a nice hike around the area, led by a boy of about 10.

Above, men making fire inside the tent. At right, on the hike, no idea what Ben is doing.

And below, right, wonderful stone steps to the lodge's owner's home.

On the way back to Beirut, somewhere after the mountain pass, we stop to buy some apples from a family along the road. The lady was selling whole crates of apples, but we wanted just a kilo or two. So she wanted to just give them to us, and we had to force the money on her. She invited us for coffee, several times.

Photo at right is a gorgeou gorge, on the Bieurt side of the mountains, near the apple lady.

Coming back into Beirut we see “Xtreme Paintball/For once, war is just a game”

Other local interest items:

-Another paintball sign: “Veit [sic] Nam Paintball” with drawings of jungle scenes and people in fatigues, at a facility that is part of a large KFC, near Bourj Barajneh Refugee Camp in southern Beiriut

Other signs:
Torty Glass
MAN the lion truck

Other wonders:
-ACS is experiencing hits highest enrolment since before the Civil War—that’s 1975.

-I skype Bank of America to let them know I will be using my new credit card in Lebanon. “Can you spell ‘Lebanon’ for me?,” the customer service person asks.


And plenty of good for for Ben while he was here (um, except apparently he left with food poisoning). Photos are from a couple of mezzes, and walking home after along the corniche.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ramadan curiosities

For the first time in a decade Ramadan falls in the peak of summer. The timing follows the lunar calendar and is 10 days earlier every year. The Daily Star reported that “Lebanon’s highest Muslim Sunni authority Dar al-Fatwa said the holy month of Ramadan will start on Saturday August 22. Dar al-Fatwa said that religious authorities on Thursday were ‘not able to discern the new moon of the holy month of Ramadan.’ ’’ But Lebanon’s senior Shiite cleric used astronomical calculations and said that Ramadan was to begin on Friday August 21. So presumably we will have two Eids at the end.

Those who observe the holy month’s traditions abstain from eating AND drinking, smoking, sex, and impure thoughts from dawn to dusk for the entire month. It is an amazing feat, really. One Sunni friend said that fasting was good for cleansing the body, and that he mainly eats fruit and fruit juices during the month. However most people attend iftar dinners, enormous, lavish evening feasts that include a deep fried cheese-filed dessert slathered with flavored sugar syrup.

In any case it seems overly strict and downright unhealthy to me to cut out water for 15 hours of these summer days. It has been 95 degrees with 95% humidity here, though somewhat cooler the last few days. Work schedules are adjusted slightly, but we see construction workers out every day at 7 am, until at least early afternoon, six to seven days a week.

Sleep patterns are seriously disrupted, as people rise before sunrise 5 am I think) to eat their only meal of the day.

I wonder about all the women who rise earlier still to serve the morning meal, and who labor through the day to prepare the huge evening meals, weak and tired themselves from fasting and sleep deprivation, unable to sample a bite of a dish to see if it needs more salt or whatever.

And the servers at the restaurants! People fill the otherwise empty restaurant some minutes before sundown, and sit patiently waiting for the “Allah Akbar” chant broadcast from the nearest mosque. At that moment, they reach for a dried date to break their fast and, I should think, that blessed glass of H2O. The servers, if they are fasting too, presumably must wait until after they have brought plate after plate of the feast to all the customers. Perhaps Christian and non-practicing Muslims are in hot demand for Ramadan month.

We heard that US Muslims face a critical shortage of dates this year, since Ramadan started before the California date harvest.

The streets get unusually empty at quarter past seven in the evening, sunset.
At least the days are getting shorter now, but next year??

Oh my, I just read that now Israel is forbidding Moslems to enter Jerusalem to pray at their holiest mosque !