Northern Lebanon

I just had one of the best weeks of my life. It may sound silly but it’s completely true. Let start from the top, shall we?

I had a typical friday morning Arabic class that included a weekly exam and cutting out early. Prior to the exam my professor talked Lebanese (in this case, Druze) politics and the mood was happy. After class I took my typical mid-day Lebanese nap to dodge the heat. Once the sun was down, I had a full meal of delicious Lebanese cuisine and proceeded to a classmates apartment for the evening. After an hour of girl talk our friends picked us up and we ventured to the Gemmayze bar scene. Our guy friends took us to a bar that made us slightly homesick, but in a good way. It was a rooftop dive with a DJ from Seattle blasting Pheonix and Arcade Fire on their speakers. While we felt like we were home, it only made us more weary of the fact that we only have two more weeks in Lebanon. After we got over what felt like an alternative reality, we enjoyed cheep drinks and quality time. The night ended and we returned to our friend’s rooftop apartment. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing beats an evening on a Lebanese rooftop. I’ve also come to the conclusion that I will sleep when I get home. Why waste my time in bed when I can stay up too late chatting with friends in the perfect temperature?

Nightlife on Beirut's rooftops

Saturday, my classmates and I boarded a bus in the early morning. Our first stop was the Port of Tripoli. Due to the tense political environment, we were unable to spend any time in the city, but we boarded a boat and headed out to sea. The occasion marked my first time on a boat in the ocean/sea. The experience was not a disappointment. There were a number of tiny rock islands full of locals swimming. Once the anchor was dropped myself and a few classmates jumped into the Mediterranean. The water was the perfect temperature, refreshing yet warm. We swam to a small island, walked around for a bit and then swam back to the boat. While I’m not the strongest swimmer in the world, the Mediterranean is so salty that floating seems easier than walking.

Tripoli off in the distance

Tiny islands off of Tripoli

The next part of our trip included a hike through the Cedar Forest of Lebanon which is often called the Cedars of God. While the amount of cedar trees has dwindled due to consistent deforestation, the forest has a rich history. Lebanese cedars were used by the Phoenicians to make ships and legend has it that Gilgamesh used the cedars to build his city. Hence the deforestation started early and continued through the 20th century when the British used the forest to build railroads during WWII. While I am used to forests full of trees in Oregon, our hike was beautiful none the less. We saw the oldest tree in Lebanon and the cedar that the Lebanese flag is modeled after.

Cedars of Lebanon

After a short hike through the forest we ventured to our hotel for a long night of bonding and wine drinking. The view from our hotel was incredible. Northern Lebanon is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The slow drive up the mountain was breathtaking. I found myself tearing up a bit at the sheer beauty of it all. At the hotel, were surrounded by mountains and Qadisha valley was resting towards to the west. The peeks that were around us are some of the highest in all of the Middle East and the Qadisha valley is full of small and ancient villages carved into the cliffside. Early in the morning we began a three hour hike up the mountain and along with ridge-line of the range. Again, the view was astounding. While my ears were cold and the wind fierce, the hike was incredible. At the end of the hike we enjoyed a family style lunch in a quant mountain town near a small lake. The food was delicious and nearly everything we ate was produced in the farms surrounding us.

Sunset and a round of Backgammon

View from the mountain-top towards Qadisha Valley in the West

Friends enjoying the view towards Bakaa Valley and Syria

We arrived back on campus late in the evening on Sunday. While I was exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower, it was easily my favorite weekend of the trip so far. From the rooftops of Beirut to the mountaintops of Northern Lebanon, no moment was dull.


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Allison Swaim

About Allison Swaim

Allison is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. On her 22 birthday, she will make her first trip abroad to Lebanon. While the emphasis of the trip is to expand her Arabic skills, she is excited to experience the culture of Beirut. She is interested in post-colonial political movements, nationalism and conflict analysis. Having strayed very little from the Pacific Northwest, Allison is ready for a new adventure. While she has prepared as much as she can for her journey across the world, she accepts that she has no idea what she's getting herself into.

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