Now that Nicole is settling into somewhat of a work routine, I think our habit of working during the week and then having some kind of adventure or excursion on the weekend has been solidified. This week was no exception. We headed to Jazeeret el Araneb, or Palm Island, which is in the Mediterranean, about a twenty-minute boatride off the coast of Tripoli, in the northern part of Lebanon. Once again we and our new AUB friends traveled with the ecotourism club Vamos Todos.
We made a brief stop in Tripoli where we got some knefe for breakfast. I've seen several different versions of knefe (a very sweet dessert or breakfast made with cheese and syrup), many of which are different from how my sister Anna makes it. This small bakery in Tripoli served slices of knefe on fresh sesame seed rolls. Because the dish doesn't have enough carbs and calories already, I guess. We tried to share a couple messy pieces among our group, cutting or tearing up the "sandwiches," and really ended up trashing a table at this bakery.
The shore in Tripoli looks like old movies about the Greek islands (think "Moonspinners" for instance). Old fishing boats where fishermen are sewing nets, getting ready for the day, in front of a backdrop of tiny islands and rock formations. Of course, you also have lots of trash in the water and along the peers; littering seems to be largely socially acceptable throughout much of Lebanon. And you also have the military's presence--here in the form of a boat full of heavily armed guys patrolling the coast--which means you have to take care not even to appear to be photographing them.
Honestly the boat ride was the highlight of the day, in part because I got to drive. Vamos Todos hired what I take to be a commercial (more or less) operation. Three fun-loving, shirtless, very tanned Lebanese guys who clearly live their lives on the sea. They also provided lunch--a couple coolers full of fish ready to bbq on the island and bags of pita bread. The youngest of the three, one of the older guy's sons, appeared to be about seventeen years old and, since I was sitting near the wheel, talked to me in Arabic for most of the thirty-minute ride to the island and about midway through the trip, for reasons that escape me, insisted I drive. So I steered this big fishing boat while he carried on a conversation with me. I'm pretty sure he was calling me "Captain." Yes, Nicole took many pictures.
As we approached the island, the young kid took over "Captain" duties, and I wasn't sure if we were just going to pull up on the sand, but the kid's dad threw an anchor into the water and we tied onto a rock connected to the island by a land bridge. Getting off the boat, for those of us less coordinated than others, involved closing eyes and leaping. Palm Island is a nature reserve although, sadly, you see lots and lots of litter. On one hand, it's this gorgeous, rocky, little Mediterranean island, and on the other, a place where trash from Lebanon washes up on the shore. So we took a stroll around the island and picked up garbage for the first thirty minutes there. Found the remains of an old Crusader church inland; apparently, Crusaders from Europe set up residence here many centuries ago and used Palm Island as an outpost.
The shore has these great benches covered with umbrellas made of palm leaves and Nicole spent part of the day reading in the shade. Mostly, though, we swam. The reserve is already shut down for the year (Vamos got special permission to go, I suspect with the condition that we pick up litter!) so we had the beach to ourselves, which was amazing. The water was slightly cooler than it was in the south of Lebanon a few weeks ago, and slightly less salty too. What's more relaxing than spending most of the day in the sea, letting the water and the sun wear you out and give you a great night's sleep?
On the ride back home, my young friend got into a fairly loud conversation with one of the young-ish Vamos tourists. Not sure what they were talking about exactly, but out of nowhere, with no warning that was understandable to me, they both took off running down the middle of the boat and, while the boat was cruising at full speed not even close to the shore of Lebanon, dove off the back of the boat. The kid's dad laughed, stood up, and assumed driving duties. We went in a circle and picked them both up. "Pretty good, eh?" one of them asked, climbing back onto the boat. Weird. Cool day, and Nicole bought some sweets in Tripoli that came in a baklawi tin that she loves.