Palaces, rocks and ruins

We’re just back from the beach. Ale had decided to stay home today, look after the house and generally be homies. But then at half five she looked down onto the sea and saw that there are big waves. So we threw the body board in the car and raced down to Tamary beach. It wasn’t exactly surfable, they only starting breaking a few meters before the coast, so there is really no way of riding them. I still get a kick out of playing in the water being tossed around by the waves, tho. But nothing compared to Friday’s surf on Tamtam beach. We found the public entrance to what otherwise is a really posh beach. It’s a shallow and sandy which means there is a bit of a groundswell. Again, nothing much but enough to play around a bit with the board. Ale got really hooked and I’m very glad about that. It’s a really fun thing to do together.

Saturday we went cruising a bit again and visited Beiteddine. It’s a fairy tale castle built by a certain Bashir who called in Italian architects and Syrian stone masons who did a really grand job. The palace has its own hamam, stables for 600 horses that now house one of the biggst mosaic collections ever, amazing gardens and was used as the seat of several Lebanese presidents. In the 1982 invasion it was looted by the Israelis but restored and openend to the public on the initiative of Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader. He is from a prominent family from the Chouf area and was thrown into politics when his father was assassinated. At that time he was apparently a student in Beirut who was only into hashish and beer, not power and strife. The parallels to the young Hairiri are quite striking.

From Beiteddine we went on to the Chouf cedar reserve, one of the few remaining patches of old growth cedar forests. The trees are enormous and some are said to be thousands of years old. Walking among them one can imagine what Leabon must have looked like when the now bare mountains were completely covered in cedar forests. There is very little undergrowth aside from some ferns and a few shrubs and the tall giants gently spread their crowns to shade the below from the sun. In parts it is like walking through a big hall. One of the most powerful places I’ve ever seen, could be right out of the Lord of the Rings.

Our guide recommended a little dirt track from the reserve across the mountains into the Bekaa valley that’s accessible to 4WDs only. Since our car could handle that I was looking forward to a bit of offroading. When we then actually asked where this track might be we were pointed to a perfectly maintained asphalt road winding up the hillside. It was build in ‘96 untill whih time it sure was a rough road. Looks like Lonely Planet isn’t the bible after all.

The valley itself is fantastic, a vast, fertile plateau on almost 1000 meters, flanked by two parellel mountain ranges of naked rock, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Driving through the lush vegetation we came across a red English double-decker bus parked in the middle of a field, decorated with a larger-than-life poster of Hairiri and son in front of which huge dear were grazing. The scene was so surreal that literally every car stopped on the roadside and people got out to take pictures.

After we crossed the mountains again and succesfully navigated home I still felt a bit restless. Maybe the fullmoon was making me itchy. Right next to our compound are the ruins of an age old castle the takes its name form the viallge further down the hill. There is really not much left of it other than some massive blocks of limestone strewn around the site. I had planned for a while to explore the place at the next full moon. So I equipped Ale with a torchlight and of we went climbing the old ruin. From the top of those boulders there is a fantastic view down the mountain and onto the sea. The night was clear and climbing in the moonlight reminded me of that one time I did a similar thing while jobbing in Bavaria.

At that time I got it stuck in my had that I had to challenge my fears. Since being alone in the woods at night was one of them I decided to take a little midnight hike up into the forests, culminating in a fairly easy climb up a sharp rock-needle overlooking the valley below. So I rolled a rather stiff spliffy and set off into the woods. With my mind racing I was running up the trail, nearly soiling my pants. But I made it to the top of that cliff and the climb in the cold light was quite something. Well pleased with myself, bathed in the light of the full moon I thought I must be striking quite a pose. Then I heard the sound of this really big animal that starting running circles around the rock I was sitting on. I couldn’t see nothing but I clearly heard the rhythmic stomping of hooves as something was galopping through the woods. Probably a unicorn. Needless to say it took a long while for me to come down from my rock and I ran home even faster than I came. I didn’t quite succeed to rid myself of the fear of being alone in the woods at night either.

But yesterday night everything was relaxed and I went back for some more climbing today. For the first time I also explored a bit the hills on either side of the house. There are a lot of little trails leading through the thorny shrubs and across the rocks. Above our house, just below our next neighbours I found this very old house situated in an old terraced vinyrd. It is a sweet, liitle, old ruin without a roof and with thick walls made of stone. Some of the vines growing around it must be well over hundred years old. The house has a neat little terrace built on top of what must have been a wine cellar which even has an arched ceiling. All the windows and doorways have arches too, made with really big heavy stones. So Ale and me are already making plans for how it could be restored, adding a second floor and a balcony, reviving the wine cellar and putting in one of those old woodstoves for cooking that at the same time heat the house. Troppo romantico.

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