He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cedars and Bekaa valley

We got up early Saturday morning to make the drive north to the Cedars of Lebanon- a beautiful and much cooler area since it's up in the mountains.  This first picture is a town on the side of the mountain on the way up to the cedars.  Pictures here just never seem to do the scenery justice.  Had you been in the car with us you would be able to see the incredibly blue sky with the mountains in the background just behind this church on the hillside.

We got off to a slightly later start than we anticipated (surprise, surprise) so about an hour into our drive we stopped at one of our favorite Lebanese fast food restaurants and got a plate of what's called "fatayer".  Different types of pastries (mostly savory) that the nationals enjoy for breakfast or for snacks and appetizers.  We got a variety to snack on since we were planning on a late afternoon meal after driving through the Bekaa valley.  Below you see mini hot dogs, cheese and spinach stuffed pastries, meat stuffed pastries and mini pizzas. 
As we continued up into the mountains we stopped along the side of the road to pick some lavender.  We all love the smell and keep it in little bouquets in the car to break off and rub in our hands.

We passed this car also heading up to the cedars to hunt down all the tourists.  Many locals will do things like this- load the back of their car with something, in this case lots of different kinds of nuts, and drive around to the different touristy sites to entice the visitors.  I'm personally not too excited about buying nuts that have been riding around in the back of an open trunk on the dusty mountain roads!

After a fun filled few hours in the car, we arrived at our first stop in this road trip- the Cedars of Lebanon.  In case you wonder why I would call 2 hours stuffed in a mini van with 8 people (3 of them being kids) fun filled, you've obviously never been on a road trip with my dad!  And he was in rare form on this day.  Let me preface the following paragraph by saying it is mostly for the benefit of my brother and his family who have been with us on many a Cameron road trip (remember Williamsburg, guys?) and weren't able to be with us this time.  For those of you who don't know my dad, this may not be very appreciated, feel free to skip ahead...
First of all he was sitting in the front seat with Jason and they were constantly picking at each other, all in good fun of course.  Much of the "picking" centered around driving in Lebanon, Jason's aggression as a driver, the fact that we would never in a bazillion years let my dad behind the wheel of the car in this country etc etc.  At one point, Dad dozed off or something and when he woke up we were going around a somewhat precarious mountain curve and a car was heading right towards us driving the wrong way on our side of the road.  What Dad didn't see in the split second that this all occured was a frontage road of sorts heading up the mountain that this car was on and it was clearly turning away from us.  Not noticing this, he screamed sort of like a girl (sorry dad) and through his hands up in front of his face.  I can't really do it justice.  It was quite funny.  I haven't seen Jason laugh that hard in a long time.  I think he was somewhat flustered after that because he was in sort of un-Charles like form as far as the English language.  My dad is highly intelligent, never forgets a thing he reads and has quite a mastery of the English language. However after the whole, well, squealing incident there was somewhat of a lapse for a bit.  A few minutes later as we rounded yet another precarious mountain curve, dad pointed to the siderails (which are usually non-existant on such roads in this country...) and says, "are those restraining walls?"  Jason responds (not at all sarcastically), "I've always heard them called retaining walls, Charles, but they might restrain you as well..."  A few minutes later as we're driving through a very picturesque mountain town, Dad asks, "What are all these rose-like flowers I see everywhere?"  "ROSES, Charles"  Mom says from the back of the car(again not at all sarcastically)... 

So back to our adventures for the day.  We finally arrived at the Cedars of Lebanon.  There are only Cedars in a very small nature reserve up in the mountains now and they have a marked path to walk through them.  It's so easy to imagine how majestic they must have been covering the entire mountainside years ago.  Cedars grow very little each year (it's either 1 cm or 1 inch/year- I can't remember).  Some like this one are said to be thousands of years old.  This little strip before you enter the nature reserve is sort of like a Middle Eastern Gatlinburg.  You can find everything from knock off designer sunglasses to small key chains made of cedar with your name carved in them.

Walking through the Cedar forest is always a great place for pics...


Dad opted to not walk through the nature reserve with us.  He wanted to find a cafe to sit and "people watch" and drink coffee.  At one point as we were walking, we heard very loud Arabic music playing from the tourist area and lots of clapping and yelling.  Mom commented that she bet Dad was right in the midst of them dancing and that he was probably trying to teach them to clog.  (one of his favorite past times).  Well, sure enough...  When we got back and found Dad, he told us about finding a whole group of tourists who were dancing to the music so he got up and started teaching them to, you guessed it, clog!  Oh. my. word.!!  

Here's a few more pictures of the mountains surrounding the ski slopes.  In the winter they are covered with snow and filled with skiers.  Beautiful place...

After we finished at the Cedars, we headed over the mountains in the picture above and into the Bekaa Valley.  Another beautiful part of the country but with very different landscape that the mountains we came from.  Lebanon has so many yummy fresh fruits and veggies year round, many of which come from this fertile valley.

After the Cedars, we had about a two hour drive until we reached our next destination- the city of Zahle, known as the gateway to the Bekaa Valley.  The days adventures were a little much for little bit.


Gone!  She finally gave in..

Our friend, Paula, has a Lebanese friend from Memphis whose uncle or cousin (don't remember which) owns a famous restaurant in the town of Zahle.  It's situated up on a hillside and is complete with three different restaurants and various terraces, one of which is revolving, as well as a great playgroud for the kids.  We had a wonderful view of the mountains as we enjoyed our meal.  

The girls, of course, loved the playground especially since it was completely with random animals in cages around the play equipment.  There were ducks, turtles, pidgeons, chickens..

and even this little monkey...
(kind of sad, I know- he was a smart guy though- he spent a lot of his time trying to pick the padlock on his cage...)

Along the fenced in ceiling of the playground (it was enclosed as it too was clingy to the side of the mountain) were these beautiful grapes.  There are many vineyards in this particular region of Lebanon but we'll have to save that tour for another day...

The perfect end to the perfect day in the mountains of Lebanon.  Look at this spread of fruit- yummy!


AJ said...

gorgeous! but you're killing me with the food pictures! and your dad is a funny guy. wish i could have heard the scream.

embc said...

AHHHH! Thank you for this post! I love all the details and I remember going to the Cedars like it was yesterday. The food looks amazing and the Charles stories are pricless!

jccvi said...

How about a tally of "Mississippi Restaurant" mentio

I'm printing up "What are all these rose-like flowers I see everywhere" for the next family reunion.

Paul said...

Great pictures and wonderful story telling, Kelli. I picture the clog soon becoming the national dance. Can't wait 'til Charles sees all the orchid-like flowers in Hawaii.