We took advantage of a four day weekend (the Prophet's Birthday), rented a car and headed to the far northeast corner of Lebanon, near Hermel. We had hope to go north to Tripoli and over the mountains from there, but as that pass was still snow covered we took the much less scenic, "E ticket ride" Damascus highway to the Bekaa and then turned north through Zahle and Baalbek into Hermel.
On the way we had an important errand: reconnecting with the lovely family that had been so kind to us on a previous visit to the area when we stopped at their store. We had gifts for their children--books for the two girls and a Boeing T-shirt (thanks to friend Greg) for their son, an aspiring engineer. As welcoming as before, they lit the wood stove in the sitting room and made us tea. We had an animated discussion, mostly in Arabic and English but with the occasional German word thrown in, Samir having lived in Germany for six years. He says they would return there in a minute, or go anywhere--France, the US, if they could. For the children. Business is not good here and the political situation stinks. People are for Nasrallah or Hariri or Aoun, he said, they are Shia or Sunni--I am just a HUMAN, he said. "We can go to the moon, but we still look at each other and say, 'you're Sunni, you're Christian'". They are fed up, he says, this sweet and smart Shia man from Nasrallah country. They are tender with each other, he and Ghada. She speaks almost no English. It is Saturday and the kids are in school. Samir wants to go get them out of school to see us. We plead for him not to, promise to come back again before we leave for Azerbaijan.
A representative from their distribution company comes into the store and Ghada gets up to go speak with him. After he leaves she and Samir discuss his visit and laugh. Samir explains that the guy kept saying, "I swear by Hussein this... I swear by Allah that..." Samir says, "I swear by this tea!", with rolled eyes.
They wouldn't let us leave empty-handed, giving us a huge jar of homemade makdous, a spicy walnut-stuffed eggplant pickle that we love. It is the best we've ever had.
On to the lodge. In the foothills of the Lebanon mountains on the Bekaa side, with the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the distance, separating Lebanon and Syria to the east, nestled quite near the Syrian border to the north. Great scenery, good company with some ACS colleagues, great stars at night, C O L D, quiet, fresh trout from the Assi River, grilled for us each night. Mmmmm
We are told we can hike in any direction except that one there: there is a Hezbollah training camp over the ridge there. While hiking, we pass by a couple of traditional houses, fascinating structures with stone walls and living plant roofs. The plants are spiky and look to me like hedgehogs.
The area features ancient juniper trees, up to 1000 years old. Here is Tom with a fine specimen.