Cruising the strip

Ale and me had our very first trip this weekend, something we were planning to do every other week. There are so many fanstastic places to go in the region that we really have to push on if we want to cover a bit and get to know the country. So we went up to Tripolis and then further into the Quadisha Valley.

On the way to Tripolis we stopped just outside town at a little beach club. They actually had a sandy beach, different from the ususal rough rock cliffs and even waves. To my total delight there was a guy with a body board who lent it to me. So I got my fisrt try at body boarding and it went real well. Not that I can do any manouvers but I can catch waves and ride them home. It is a real kick every time and makes you want to run straight back out to catch the next big one. Unfortunately with the waves some jellfish came in and a few got me. They’re not really mean, a bee is a lot worse, nevertheless it’s unpleasant and you wouldn’t want one to lash you in the face. They say putting piss on the burns helps. Well, have you ever tried to pee on the back of your own shoulder? And that’s just the technical concerns. In any case, I will get a body board at the next possible occasion, that’s the future.

Tripolis is beautiful, at least what’s left of the old town and we went straight to the soap souq. Soap-making has a long tradition there and they produce really nicely scented soaps based on olive oil. You can watch them cook it up and pour it into forms right there in front of you.

On Sunday morning, after an insufferably hot night, we made for the famous Quadisha Valley. There’s a cave from which springs the river that runs in the valley bottom below. There are also the last remnants of the cedar forests that once covered all of Lebanon – one tree is said to be 6000 years old (yes, three zeros!). Walking among the age old trees there is a scent, not unlike in a pine forests but much more subtle and at the same time much more charged with heat and more engulfing, that gives the place a very special atmosphere. Nothing airy but simply peaceful. The valley is also full of monasteries and little hermitages that are cut right into the face of the cliffs on either side. We climbed into one of those retreats, balancing delicately on a slim ledge while sqeezing through little doorways chiseled out of the rock. Hard to imagin that anyone could have lived there, completely exposed to the elements – beautiful nevertheless and with a view to kill for.

The valley was also the scene of some of the more nasty infighting between the Maronite Christian militias during the civil war. There is an age old family feud between the Franjies of Ehden, who once gave the country a president and Geagea’s family who are from the neighbouring town, Becharré. Long ago, in retaliation for the killing of an old woman the inhabitants from Becharré burned Ehden to the ground and killed many of its inhabitants. During the civil war Samir Geagea was the leader of the Christian Phalange militia who masacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, an area then controlled by the Israeli army who at the time took its orders from Ariel Sharon. He is said to have killed Toni Franjieh and his family in their own house while they were asleep. Geagea was the only warlord who was imprisoned and he spent 11 years in an underground cell untill his release two weeks ago. He is back as a Christian politician like the other warlords who are busy sharing out the power among each other now that the Syrians have left the country. The whole of Becharré is plastered with religious-looking, larger-than-life posterwalls showing Geagea in heroic poses.

What this country needs is a reconciliation programme. Not a truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa, that never gave any justice to anyone. No, but some bridging the divides. The Chrsitians now are not really together but they cooperate. The real rift is between Christians and Muslims and that gulf is wide. I haven’t met many Muslims yet but a lot of Christians I’ve come across are fascists, full-on. If it was for them, they’d cleanse the country of everyone who is not carrying a rosary in their pocket. Often the young guys, who were too young to really experience the war are the most hardline. And everybody says they are ready in case something should happen again. It is in nobody’s interest other than the Israeli’s and to some extent the Syrians if the country slides back into civil war. The political leaders of the respective factions have actively discouraged their followers from taking any retaliatory action for the attacks in July but a few more bombs could probably be enough. At least that’s everyone’s concern. But since this is Lebanon a little political tension is not going to stop anyone from going out and having a good time. Rock on!

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