This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 2 Aug 1996|
EXPLORING AND HIKING THE QARTABA AREA
by Fareed Abou-haidar
It's the middle of summer! Time to take a break and go on a hike in the mountains of Lebanon where one can appreciate the beauty of our country's nature. The following is Part 1 of an overnight trip I did in 1983.
From the village of Nahr Ibrahim, my cousin and I drove up the road into the mountains. As we went deeper into the mountains, the environmental atrocities (subdivisions, factories etc.) decreased. The road offered spectacular views of the Nahr Ibrahim gorge east of where we had hiked (as described in an earlier LebEnv). Across the gorge was the huge mass of the very steep Jabal Moussa and its tiny villages. We leisurely made our way up, stopping numerous times to take pictures. The views were as pristine as they could be in Lebanon. I was impressed by the depth of the Lebanon mountain range here and by how long the trip seemed to be taking.
Qartaba presented itself suddenly around a curve as a compact village still rather unaffected by the new sprawl that had despoiled former villages closer to the coast. We asked about hotels, and were led to one outside and above the town, along the road that connected the area with Laklouk.
The road took twisted and curved as it took us high up above Qartaba, where forests quit in favor of open meadows. The surrounding limestone mountains were layered and stepped. There were spectacular views west into the depths of the Nahr Ibrahim gorge. In the small locality of Sharbineh, we found the hotel on a curve of the road, at the base of Laklouk Mountain. It was a simple three-story structure next to a huge cottonwood tree set among cherry orchards and a small canal with running water; a peaceful setting for Beirutis with frayed nerves. As cotton rained down from the tree, we arranged with the owner for a room. The owner warned us about the Afqua area, where some trouble had taken place recently. Nevertheless, we planned to go there.
We then drove back down the road to go to Afqua, the source of Nahr Ibrahim. East of Qartaba was a string of small villages surrounded by orchards and forests, forming a semi-circle above the inner gorge. The view was pristine except for one small sand quarry. East of Yanouh, we stopped at a ruined Roman temple where a friendly villager took a picture of us with our cameras. At Majdel, the road crossed the north fork of Nahr Ibrahim where sycamore trees shaded the lush banks. Beyond, there were no more towns. Instead, there was a forest of scattered juniper trees, which I had never seen in the wild in Lebanon before.
At Afqua, we parked near the bridge and walked towards the cave. To our surprise, there were some Polish tourists, and a boy selling souvenirs. A recent landslide had occurred below the cave, but going up to it was fairly easy. We walked into the huge cavern where water gushed out of the mountain. A few pipes diverted some of the water, but most of it flowed out and down under two bridges where it plunged into an emerald pool. As we made our way to the pool, we were horrified to see someone actually swimming in the ice-cold water! We sat under a tree by the stream a short distance from the pool where we ate our picnic lunch and listened to the gurgling water.
We were back at the hotel by 2:00. After a nap, we got ready for a hike. Looking at Laklouk Mountain to the north, we asked the owner about it and if there were any military restrictions. He gave us the go-ahead. We walked up a dirt road among the cherry trees, dangling with big red fruits, then headed straight for the face of the mountain. Gradually, the grassy slope increased in steepness. I found an exotic-looking caterpillar. As the steepness increased, we encountered tier after tier of small vertical cliffs that we had to climb. The view of the large grassy plain was dizzying. I was really scared, wondering if we would make it without getting trapped partway up the mountain. We finally topped out. The summit was a jumble of huge boulders that common sense said should not be there. We spent some time admiring the surprisingly distant vistas to the east where the main ridge of the Lebanon mountains was, and south into the the Nahr Ibrahim gorge, now many hundreds of meters below us. We were relieved to find a route down on the west side, where the mountain formed a ridge. It was not easy near the top, but as we descended, we felt safer. We rested at a rock overhang. We were back at the hotel by 5:30.
We had dinner in Qartaba at a small restaurant on the main road. We spent the rest of the evening on the patio under the cottonwood with the owner, some other people, and another hotel guest with whom we made hiking plans for the next day. On the way back to the room, we were horrified by the sight of a huge, nasty-looking insect with large pincers in front. The monster beetle was hauled away and released far from the building.
ENVIRONMENTAL ATROCITY #6-AFQUA FALLS DEFACED?
When I visited the Afqua cave, there were no buildings in the area. I have been told that since then, someone had built a restaurant overlooking the emerald pool mentioned above, and that a cascade of garbage flowed down towards the pool. It seems that we have to stick a silly restaurant anywhere a road crosses a river. I appreciate outdoor restaurants with nice views, (something that's very rare here in the U.S. where restaurants tend to be dark and with a few windows that overlook an ugly parking lot), but they should not be at the expense of the environment. Riparian (river-side) habitats are especially rare and important for wildlife. It is just fortunate that many Lebanese rivers are far from roads and towns, as they usually are at the bottom of deep valleys.
Any information on the present situation at Afqua falls is appreciated.