I went for a hike Saturday afternoon. A short one, in the hills above Hamana. The air was crisp and fresh snappy. Just cold enough to hurt the inside of your nostrils. The light was beautiful; a soft pink. There were patches of snow, and the field mice were squeaking across the fields. I forgot about the mud though. But even with my shoes weighing 5 kilos each due to the mud, and sloshing through puddles, the place had something. The vast emptiness was impressive; not a soul in sight.
People do not hike in this country. I could say that this is a pity, because there is so much to see out there, but I rather like it that way. The fields, forests, and valleys, all to myself. The only people I ever run into are the people of the land; shepherds and farmers. Occasionally you might run meet a company of fellow hikers, but only on Sundays; that’s when a few outdoor companies in town plan their hikes.
Hiking in Hermel is my favorite. It may have to do with my flatland roots: I am not used to hills. The barren plains of the Beqaa Valley, where you can see all across from one end of the plain to the other, are quite impressive. But what is most attractive in this place, is the light. You just have to see the light, preferably in the late afternoon. And it doesn’t really matter whether you find yourself on a mountain top, or in the valley; there is something about the light that makes hiking here a different experience. I have hiked in different countries, in the southern and northern hemisphere, as well as the western and the eastern, and true, the landscapes over there are very impressive in their magnitude. But nothing beats the light of Lebanon.
Each country has its color. It is related to the minerals of the land, the angle of the sun light, the composition and temperature of the air, the cloud cover and the landscape on which it all reflects. The South of France is well known for its special light, especially at the end of summer. So special in fact, that painters (Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso, to name a few) moved there for just one reason; to capture it in their paintings. They obviously hadn’t seen the light of Lebanon.
Our light—yes, it is ours—brings out the colors of this land in a way that is quite magical. Because we do not have vast forest here, or high and jagged mountain peaks, nothing ever really blocks the horizon, so when you hike, you are constantly reminded of its vastness. And then, when the sun slowly descends upon the land in the afternoon, it brings out the colors. A warm glow hangs over the place; it begins with an ocher yellow, almost tawny, then slowly turns to a very soft orange, and then diffuses into a even softer lilac. I cannot quite describe it, but the colors are inspiring enough to keep taking pictures.
What makes the light so different is not quite clear, but it makes hiking a different experience. It adds a ‘real feel’ factor to it all. Hiking here is pretty authentic as it is anyway. No sign post, no maps, no GPS coordinates and no colored markers. And you run into people make their living off the land. Getting caught in troops of goats and sheep is a common occurrence. Be prepared to be invited for tea. You don’t want tea? Coffee maybe? What, you don’t like coffee? Wait, we’re having lunch, sit down. You know, you might as well have an arak, so sometimes a hike will end up in a impromptu lunch with total strangers, somewhere in the mountains.
Okay, so you can get horrendously lost. But the country is small; there is always a road nearby, and the people friendly; someone will give you a ride to wherever you need to be. But for those that would like to play it safe, there are quite a number of outfits that organize excellent Sunday hikes all year around. Just take your pick and go experience that phenomenal light.