Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Cedars, Lebanon

I am blogging like a madman, but running out of steam. This one might be sloppy.

The beautiful Mt. Lebanon mountain range.

My finest two days of biking came in the mountains of Lebanon along the Qadisha Valley to the Cedars, Lebanon's oldest ski resort. The resort took its name from the small grove of cedars in the area. Some of these cedars are 1500 years old and are the same type that were cut down all over Lebanon hundreds of years ago, some to build Jerusalem's Temple of Solomon.

A stereotypical cedar tree.

Leaving Tripoli, the directions were confusing and traffic was bad. I was glad to go, even if it was uphill. I might not have been so happy to go if I had known that I would be doing 2100m of climbing by the end of the day. Despite a lack of signs, I managed to make it without getting lost at all. The people I talked to were great at keeping me on track.

To answer someone's question about how black olives are made, they are grown. The green ones are not fully ripe. The black ones are.

On the way, I saw small towns that were not struggling with pollution or poverty. I saw the first signs of the olive harvest. Some people smack the branches with a stick to knock the olives down onto a blanket. When they are done, they just shake the contents of the blanket into a bucket. I can't believe that it is such a labor intensive process. I never saw it automated. No wonder olive oil is expensive. In the mountains, I also saw just-off-the-tree green olives for sale. You can't eat them until they are processed, but I guess people do that on their own at home. Count me out for that. I don't like the way they taste. By the way, I can't remember who asked but the black olives grow on the same trees as green olives, but are left on longer to fully ripen.

The Qadisha Valley.

Farther up the mountain, there were apple orchards. A couple guys tossed me some of their fresh pickings. Delicious. Picking apples was not quite as neat as seeing the olive harvest, but it did make me miss home quite a bit more. I hope there is still some apple cider around when I get back. Jen, I still don't understand Massachusetts cider doughnuts thing.

Another view of the Qadisha Valley.

Biking up into the mountains returned me to being at peace. I had been having a hard time centering myself in Syria because of the noise, heat, and traffic. The one exception might have been the night I camped in Serjilla. The mountains were just quieter and their beauty was inspiring. The Qadisha valley kept getting better the higher I got.

A little taste of home.

In the town of Bcharre, I stopped for a quick break. I was low on money and trying not to spend too much. I wasn't sure whether to buy a small thing of chocolate milk to get liquid protein to help my legs recover, to buy some internet time, or both. It was just interesting to see that an hour of internet is worth the same as a sweet cold drink. That is quite a bit different from Santorini where I bought a sweet cold drink for more than my lodging.

The town of Bcharre nestled up against the mountains.

When I finally arrived at the Cedars, I was tired. It had been a 2100m climb over 65km. Part of me hoped the resort was at the top of the mountain so the next would be all down hill. It wasn't. Oh well. Since the Cedars is a winter ski resort, I wanted to get a nice place for cheap instead of camping. It took a little doing, but I was finally able to find a great place and negotiate from $70 to $40 for a suite instead of a single room. I had a great balcony view. It was a rare treat for myself. I have trouble justifying indulging myself for some reason. If a good friend was there, I would happily nudge us into the better place. I don't know what the difference is. Maybe I don't think I deserve it. Maybe I like to be cheap by nature and won't inflict my cheapness on others. I don't know.

The view from my hotel in the Cedars.

At the hotels, and at so many businesses in the Middle East, it is really tough to tell who is working and who isn't. Of course, the touts make it clear. However, a lot of times people are just sitting around talking. They might interrupt their conversation to help you. They might ignore you. They might look up just to be curious about what you are doing even if they don't work there. The trick, just like with European dining, is to speak up to find out who is who. I am just not as courageous about doing that when I don't speak enough of the language. When I did do it and it was the wrong person, they usually pointed me towards the right person.

I believe both of the carvings in this tree in the cedar grove are of Jesus.

Town was a quiet tourist affair. The cedar grove was great to walk in. Dining to the smooth tunes of Michael Jackson, Eminem, Britney Spears, and Scorpions was also fun, or at least funny. I didn't expect to hear that collection coming out because I had not heard American music in a while. It had been slowly fading away since Turkey.

Do not attempt to climb this tree.

What else . . . the Tibetan girl who cleaned the hotel was watching a Bollywood movie. I watched a good bit of it as well. I have no idea what is going on in those movies, but they always entertain me. Of course, I never watch full ones. I don't think I have the stamina for it. I believe they are usually three hours.

The view from the 2700m mountain pass I had spent 1.25 days climbing.

After my best attempt to stay in bed and sleep late, I gave up. I think I made it until 6am. My mind just kept spinning up more and more. It was time to ride! Of course, my legs were tuckered and I had 600 more meters to climb up the mountain pass. It was a long, slow ride. I had hoped to summit Lebanon's highest peak, but the directions I had were to turn at a giant advertisement. The giant ad turned out to be a 2 foot by 3 foot government sign. When I realized my mistake, I wasn't willing to bike down the hill to have to come back up what I had already done. My legs were tired and I had far to go. When I reached the top, there was an old military look out and there were still bullet casings on the ground. I don't know if these are from recreational shooting (I don't think this happens), the Civil War, civil unrest, or Israeli incursions.

A view of the paves road I climbed and the dirt road leading to Qornet as-Sawda (3090m), the highest point in Lebanon.

Signs of the an all to recent past.

If you ever visit Lebanon, visit the mountains. Simple as that. They are gorgeous. Next up, the Bekaa Valley.

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