Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Northern Jaunt, Part I: Ehden

(This has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to post, but here's my account of my journey to and time in Ehden)

Ehden.  My first stop on my first trip in Lebanon.  I went north, but not as far north as I originally planned.  Upon hearing my original destination, the director of my program at the Lebanese American University gasped and announced I would not be going there.  According to her, a single woman in some of the villages up north would not be treated well (read: attacked, whatever that means).  I am always highly skeptical of such hearsay, as I find the people who warn me the most strongly are the ones who have absolutely no firsthand experience, but nevertheless I accepted her advice and moved my destination a little farther south, to the city of Ehden.  My plan was to hike for about six days south from Ehden, and see where I ended up.

It was a couple of hours out of Beirut, just north of Bcharré.

If you'd like to read more on ancient monasteries, hospitable villagers, and my hiking skills, just click past the jump.

My trip out to Ehden was uneventful, but a tad disconcerting at the beginning when my taxi driver, Hasan, began our trip by asking me my feelings on Hezbollah.  I'd been told not to bring up politics with Lebanese people, to state the obvious there's an extremely turbulent history in the country, and after 2006 most people just want to live and let live.  My feelings about Hezbollah are both complicated and not fully formed.  To be perfectly honest, I understand there are two sides to the picture, but that's not the point of this blog.  I told Hasan that I didn't know what to think, and we left it at that.

Or at least I thought we had.  He chose to inform me that he did like Hezbollah, as did most people he knows.  And then we discussed how he's Muslim (as are his 24 (!!!) brothers), and it's very difficult to be Muslim in Lebanon, and much more difficult to get a visa to the US as a Muslim.

But despite that, my ride was extremely uneventful.  Once we got to Ehden, Hasan dropped me off at my hotel and that was that.

Now the Grand Hotel Abchi was so-so, I'll leave it at saying one of the words in its name no longer applies.  It was a great place to pass out for a night.

Ehden was absolutely gorgeous, I think this is a panorama I took from my hotel balcony:

One highlight from my hotel: I met a nice gentleman from Kuwait who told me that he loves America, and so does everyone in Kuwait, because we saved them from Saddam Hussein.  I expect to hear the opposite from everyone, so that was a nice moment.

I packed up my backpack the next morning and set off hiking.  I was looking for an old monastery, a landmark from which to look for the trail to take me down into the valley, and after a few missteps (and about fifteen helpful and not so helpful people that I asked for directions) I finally found it:

It was actually very well maintained, and someone had recently lit a candle inside

From that monastery, I was directed to walk down the road to another church, which I found easily:

Another beautiful building:

From here, my hiking did not go as smoothly.  I was supposed to continue walking about 500 yards down the road and find a staircase leading to a path down the hill.  I never found the staircase, and eventually headed down into the valley on the closest thing I could find to a path.

Well, this path quickly disappeared and I was left to forge my own way down into the village of Aintourine.  I could see the village, but it was long way down the valley.  From where I lost my makeshift path, I made my way through waist high grasses, agricultural steppe, and one thicket.  At one point, I got stuck in a thicket and had to take out the knife I had in my pocket (thank your god it was serrated, otherwise I might still be there) and cut myself out.  By the end of the afternoon, my legs were a mess:

And that picture is from two days later.  And, yes, the next day I wore pants.

That's all for now, I'm off to sleep, but more tomorrow on my time in Aintourine, my night in Oozhaya, and my hike to Wadi Qannoubine.  The pictures will get better, I promise.

Also, everything is going well in Beirut.  My roommate E. arrived today, she's American too, goes to UT Austin and should be in the same Arabic class as me.  We took a great walk around Beirut, had a wonderful sandwich, and got her settled in nicely.

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