Friday, February 21, 1997

LebEnv #22


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

In Summer 1995, I visited Lebanon for several weeks. I had the chance to go on several hikes with the Club de Vieux Sentiers in the higher mountains of Lebanon. Here is a description of one of my four hikes, a hike between Baskinta and Faqra on Sunday, August 27, 1995. It includes both the nice scenery and ugly man-made surprises that we encountered.

We parked in a grove of Stone pine trees along a narrow road extending east from Baskinta towards Naba'a Sannine (Wadi el-Dilb) at the base of Mount Sannine. We began hiking at 9:20 a.m., taking a dirt road up the mountain past a modest house, then leaving it to continue through a Stone pine forest. We were slowed down by dense vegetation and cliffs. The steep mountainside was interrupted by a level area where we walked past a large irrigation pond. We continued up the mountain and broke through a layer of sculpted limestone rocks, reaching a high, barren plateau. We were now on the south edge of a peninsula that extended like a large tongue west of Mount Sannine.

Here, we took a long break. Below us was an expansive view of Wadi el-Jamajim; it was mostly still unspoiled. In one place however, some "genius" had subdivided an extremely steep mountainside near the bottom of the valley, scarring it with roads and exposed soil. Whoever wanted to live there would have to have the agility of a goat or chop off part of the mountain with a bulldozer to build his house in an ugly hole. Fortunately, no one had built anything yet; maybe the project would flop and Nature would reclaim the unpaved roads. Almost directly below us was the large village of Baskinta, birthplace of Mikhael N'aimeh, one of Lebanon's most famous poets. Numerous old stone houses with red roofs were laid out among terraces. For the most part, the ugly concrete invasion disfiguring other towns closer to Beirut had not yet arrived here. To the east, Mount Sannine, now devoid of snow and barren, dominated the horizon, its distinctive shape somewhat altered by a large antenna on its north summit. To the south, the view extended all the way to Kaifoun and Baisour.

We walked west along the edge past more limestone formations and through a simple restaurant at the edge of the cliff where its owners were readying the food for another busy Sunday; it belonged to Tony Abou-Haidar, likely a distant relative of mine from Baskinta. We left the edge and hiked on dirt roads across the plateau, crossing the paved road that connects Baskinta and Qanat Bakishe. North of the road was a large, sweeping, gently sloping area of low karst limestone formations that we hopped across. All over this large plateau were thousands of fossils, simply lying on the ground. In certain areas, especially some drainages, they were almost on top of each other. There were snails, flat clams, fat clams, all of various sizes. There were undoubtedly millions more underground, waiting for erosion to expose them. We walked towards a well-drilling rig and up a dirt road towards a green patch that we had been seeing for a while; even at this elevation, the heat and humidity made us sweat. The green oasis was an area of springs and fruit trees growing on terraces. We took a short break in the shade of a walnut tree next to an old house where a farmer had a crate of freshly-picked, dark-purple plums (no, we did not eat them, tempting as they looked). We continued north, crossing a gurgling creek, to a little oasis where a large willow tree shaded a small pond fed by a cool spring; from it we replenished our water. This being my fourth (and last) hike in Lebanon, I was amazed at the fact that one could hike for a whole day with only a bottle of water that could be constantly replenished from springs along the way. In arid Arizona, a summer hike in the mountains usually demanded at least three, even four, liters of water, a heavy burden indeed! To the west, on a high ridge at the edge of the peninsula, was a small abandoned hamlet of stone houses that seemed to grow out of the rocks.

We made our way to a new, extremely wide, dirt road that came in from Faqra. I was dismayed; in little Lebanon, there was no need for such an excessively wide road in an area that, even if fully developed with ski chalets, would never experience traffic jams. It seemed to simply scream, "We are rich, we are imitating the wide roads of America." Total waste. The area that the road went through included some spectacular karst limestone formations, some of which had been buried by soil dumped from the road. Near the end of the road was a construction site where a large chalet was being built; trash littered the vicinity. We left the road and made a challenging traverse down and across through the rough karst formationsto the tip of the peninsula, here called Qornet el-Hamra, from which we had a great view of the valley between Mazra'at Kfardebian and Baskinta. It was a spectacular view except for a blinding-white sand quarry that had chopped off the top of a hill near the Sannine water bottling plant. We continued hiking, making a clockwise semi-loop around the edge of the peninsula, giving us a view of Mazra'at Kfardebian and its extensive orchards, the Roman ruins of Faqra, and distant mountains above Faraya and beyond. We hiked up a small drainage; above us, there was a huge pile of exposed soil and rocks, almost like a dam, blocking the drainage. On top of it was a small building. When we topped out, we realized that it was a horse stable next to a horse-riding rink belonging to Faqra Club. Nice, but I saw no need to bury a valley to build it in that particular location. Some of us bought Wall's ice cream from a small store.

We hiked up another dirt road to a spring in the shade of a huge willow tree around which the area had been landscaped with stones, flowers, and new weeping willow trees. The spring poured into an old stone reservoir accessible by steps that descended into it. Here at 1:30, we took an hour-long break for lunch and napping.

At 2:30, we left the spring and hiked east on another extremely wide dirt road through the Faqra development where cliffs had been chopped off; the road turned south and continued along the base of Mount Sannine to Qanat Bakishe, another skiing center. Here, war scars from 1989 still showed on the buildings. We took a break in the shade of cedar of Lebanon trees planted along the entryway to Hotel Terminus, now closed.

After 3:30, we hiked on a paved road past a busy outdoor restaurant, then left it to go south to the edge of the peninsula. We broke through the escarpment in a drainage clogged by soil recently dumped from above; yet another case of some people's irresponsibility towards Lebanon's ecology and unique landscape. We scrambled down a treeless, grassy slope where crocus flowers, the forerunner of the next season of wildflowers, had already emerged even though the first rains were yet to come. We went past a herd of goats to a dirt road near several water-storage ponds. Below the road, there was an abrupt change in the geology from bright limestone to dark sandstone sculpted by erosion into various jagged shapes. There was a corresponding change in vegetation; here grew small, cedar-like conifers. We made our way down an ugly, new dirt road belonging to (yet another) sand quarry. Finally, we took an old footpath along some terraced orchards towards the cars. Here, I saw several large ferns the likes of which I had seen in Arizona, but not in Lebanon before.

We were back at the cars at 4:45, exhausted but satisfied at discovering more of the little-known areas of Lebanon.

For more information on Club de Vieux Sentiers, call Joyce Tombi at (01) 443753 (you do not need to dial the area code from within Beirut); she is a frequent hike leader and can probably tell you the latest.

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)



Created 970419