Slowly but surely, I’m crossing things off my “Lebanon Bucket List.” Last week I took a day off work to venture down to the Chouf Cedar Reserve. The Chouf is Lebanon’s biggest nature reserve, stretching down the length of the Barouk mountain below the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon used to be covered in cedar trees, now thanks to the destruction brought about by war, human development, pollution, and general carelessness about the state of the environment, what remains of the Cedars is a measly quarter of what they used to be. What’s left though, is still pretty awesome, so I hope the Lebanese really take more care to preserving it.
Times like these are when I really wish Lebanon had a better public transportation system because getting to the Chouf could definitely be easier. It was easy enough taking a bus from Cola to Beitedinne for 3000, but that was about as far as it went. At that point we had to find a cab and negotiate with the driver to take us all the way past the entrance to the trails and then wait for a couple hours while we explore before driving us back to the bus stop. I was with an Arabic speaker so I thought everything would be taken care of when suddenly the cab driver turns to me as says “portugues?” Um…what? I guess that works too. Turns out this guy lived in Brazil for 30+ years, so we hit it off and I ended up doing all the negotiating with him since he spoke Portuguese and Arabic. Turns out, I’m not nearly as bad at Portuguese as I thought. I was able to hold my own throughout the entire conversation pretty well. Well enough that he actually invited us over to his house to meet his wife afterwards, before driving us back to the bus station.
Anyways, we finally got to the Chouf and spent a good couple hours walking around, throughout the trees and on some paths with beautiful views of the valley and mountains. According to our cab driver, some of the trees are over 2,000 years old, and those ones are definitely the most epic. It was really nice getting out of the city and getting some clean, fresh air for the morning. We didn’t stay too late though, as we had stuff to do back in Beirut later in the afternoon so once we headed back down to the cab so our driver could take us to coffee before boarding the bus again for the 1 hour ride back to the city. It was actually quite perfect for a half-day trip, really relaxed and without the huge commitment and extra effort that comes from full-day or weekend trips. Though the contrast between the city and the country was even more striking coming back in the middle of the day, with the heavy, oppressive air weighing down on the streets of Beirut. I’m really glad I finally had the chance to make it out there, it was worth it.