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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Chouf

This weekend's hiking took place among Lebanon's famous, ancient Cedars, the national symbol of the country, and an immense source of pride for Lebanese people. A group of faculty members at AUB organized the trip and we filled an entire bus with faculty from across campus, most of whom didn't know one another, and who unanimously felt we need to do more such activities.

The first leg of the hike was at the Niha Fortress, a spectacular old along the side of a cliff that overlooks the 'Aray Valley. Down in the valley is the road between the "south of Lebanon" (home of important old Phoenician cities like Sidon and Tyre) and the Beqaa Valley (the eastern part of the country that borders southern Syria). So the fortress is a strategic lookout spot and was used for just that purpose dating back to at least 975. Through the centuries, various groups used the fortress, mostly the Druze, who still are the major group living in this area of Lebanon. Crusaders from the west occupied the fortress for several years as well.

You hike around the side of the precarious clip and are rewarded with close-up views of various rooms, chambers, and water collecting devices carved into the rock. We continued past the Fortress through a very green (moreso than the north, I thought) and mountainous area of the Chouf. We passed a huge goatherd, tended by one shepherd and two very smart border collies, one in the rear and one near the front of the herd. Each time a goat would stray one of the collies would bear its teeth and maybe utter a quick growl and the goat would get back in line. Those dogs are amazing. We ended up at the Prophet Job site, where the Druze in particular believe Job (the same one recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims) was healed. There's a temple of sorts, also carved into the side of a cliff, including a prayer room and a nice lookout deck. Druze come from all over (at least all over where Druze live, which is mostly in Lebanon) to visit the site.

We ate lunch in a shady spot near the Prophet Job site and then hopped onto the bus for the heart of the Cedar Forest. The trees are pretty spectacular, especially one that is believed to be the oldest in the whole Chouf (over 3,000 years young!), and one whose branches spread out and provide shade for dozens of pilgrims who really do consider the area sacred. We got to enjoy the sunset in the Forest and take a shorter and shadier hike. Being in the forest reminded me of being in Flagstaff or even Mt. Lemmon in Arizona. Anna, you'll be interested in knowing that the road up to the forest in the Chouf is every bit as precarious as the road to Mt. Lemmon, only we were in a huge bus, not my little pick-up truck. Fun! Pictures coming tonight or tomorrow--as always click on the "Photos" link on the right.

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