The ecotourism group Vamos Todos has been one of the best finds of the entire trip to Lebanon so far. Today I joined the group for another hike in the north of Lebanon. This time, we enjoyed the little village of Bchenneta and some of its surrounding mountain vistas. We climbed steep, stony paths and were rewarded with views of the plains of northern Lebanon, as well as Tripoli and the southernmost tips of Syria. Being a beautiful Sunday morning, numerous villagers were out shooting at birds, an odd soundtrack to an otherwise serene walk. We passed several herds of goats.
At the end of the hike, we ended up at a place Vamos called a restaurant, though it looked more like somebody's house. Long tables were set up in an enclosed porch and our hosts had an impressive spread of kibbe, salads, yogurts and cheeses (thanks, goats), jhadra, fresh fruit, and some very thick coffee. Do I need to tell you how delicious this entire meal was? We had been told that one Marie Bechara might be in town. Marie is a very talented singer originally from the area who at some point moved to Australia with much of her family.
I ended up sitting next to Nick Elias, one of Marie's cousins who was also present (the sound of a Lebanese man with an Australian accent sounds pretty much just like you'd imagine it would), and we chatted. Turns out Nick and Marie and the family are cousins of the Becharas in Youngstown, Ohio (my hometown) and they've visited the fair Mahoning Valley various times over the years. They assured me their cousins were both successful mall developers and good Catholics. Small world. Anyway, a guy broke out the rababa (a traditional, bowed instrument) and played. Marie and Nick both ended up singing and they had amazing voices. They sang traditional Lebanese folk songs and the hikers (including me, but the Lebanese hikers in particular) really enjoyed the show. Singing along, as well as dancing (including a guy with a glass balanced on his head--yet another thing the Lebanese have in common with Italians), ensued. Really fun, and a great experience.
We made some nice stops on the way out of the region too. Stopped at Our Lady of Miziara, the big Maronite church nearby, with huge statues depicting all twelve apostles lining the path to the church. Once you get close to the church itself, equally large statues depict key events from the lives of Mary and Jesus--a neat hodgepodge of Biblical stories including the visitation and the wedding feast of Qana. Last stop: the fortress where Mustapha Barbar Agha (a renowned leader and governor of Tripoli during his era) was buried in the nineteenth century. Inside the citadel is an operating mosque, but the ruins of the fortress itself are what is most amazing. It's a huge stone structure, full of rooms, look-outs, and intricate staircases. Amazing place.
Click on 'Photos' link on right of this page to see photo album of today's hike.