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Hanging out

Al-Jourd, a weekend in paradise - October 17, 2012, 14h49
 AL Jourd Hermel

I went camping a lot in my life; as a child, my parents took me to the most fortified campings, in Canada, in Slovakia or also in the south of Morocco. So when friends of mine suggested that I spend a weekend in the mountains of Hermel, my curiosity couldn’t resist! As a French who settled in Lebanon a few months ago, I had to try the adventure… Well I wasn’t disappointed. This weekend was certainly one of the best I spent in Lebanon.

7:30, Saturday morning. I left Beirut with my loyal vehicle, my leased Hyundai i10. I headed towards Brummana to meet my friends. Waking up so early wasn’t that easy but they warned me that the road to Al-Jourd, our camp, was quite long and that we had to make the most of our first day on the spot. No problem, I took a cold shower and I set off.

We finally left Brummana in a two-car convoy: my car in which I have already managed to visit almost all Lebanon, despite its apparent family connection with a yoghurt pot; and a last-generation 4x4, highly air-conditioned and with wheels that could shelter a great part of my motor. A friend said to me : « you are quite brave with your little car ! » Message transcription : « Oh, we didn’t warn you: to get to the camp, there are three kilometers off-piste, with slopes covered with sand and submerged rocks ! » No need to panic, no need to panic, the weekend has just started. I have no idea of the place where i will spend my next 48 hours.

The road between Brummana and Chtaura is the first gift: magnificent villages which sometimes remind me of Provence, in the south of France. They slowly wake up while crossing them silently (except for the shouts and roars emitted by my motor when the slope goes beyond 10%).

We stopped for a moment before crossing Zahlé in order to taste a labné sandwich, free-range product of the region if you please! We must gain our strengths before attacking Beqaa crossing: flawless roads suddenly cut, potholes more than 30 centimeters deep and the unmentioned diversions… the road was a rally, not the monotonous trip I had expected! At least, it was pretty lively in the car: Capitol A, a bar in Gemmayzeh, was regularly offering few weeks ago compilation CDs of its 90s evening… Britney Spears, Pet Shop Boys and Aqua (yes the Dano-Norwegian group of “I’m a Barbie girl”), the volume turned up full blast in the open Beqaa does really create an interesting shift!

The road in itself is worth the detour: between the superb villages which mark the road from Brummana to Chtaura, the infernal slope of the freeway by weaving in and out of the trucks going to Syria, and the crossing of the valley of Beqaa in permanent turbulence, I have already felt that Beirut is far away behind me!

In the middle of nowhere, a peaceful oasis

Al Jourd, HermelIn the extreme north of Beqaa, we turned right in one of the typical villages of the region (in other words, the villages where I discovered an alignment of unbelievable garages, small grocery shops and houses under construction, or at least occupied but not fully done).
Our atypical convoy went through the slopes of Hermel mountains over twenty kilometers before stopping in front of a rock installed by the roadside on which is writen in red paint : “Al-jourd”, accompanied with an arrow indicating the entry of the land road… This is where the true adventure begins…
The next year, I will get going on the roads of Paris-Dakkar in a Hyundai i10! I managed to proudly reach the camp… it has to be said that in comparison to the road which crosses the Beqaa plain, the road which leads to Al-jourd was not that bad. And the landscape is grandiose. In fact, we crossed a crest where mountains of Akkar, Hermel and Donniyeh meet. Al-jourd site stretches over 900 000 m2 of nature reserves, in the middle of nowhere, without any trace of civilization, in a total respect of the local fauna and flora.

We finally reached the camping place after a trip of more than three hours… a trip already far away in my mind… Here, the air is pure, dry and fresh (in other words, the exact opposite of the air I breathed for years in Paris and for months in Beirut!), my ears were buzzing with silence… but I am still confused a little… the rudimentary aspect of installations (which I didn’t expect) and the paths among the tents marked out with cords made me shiver, I, the Parisian, adventurer in outline, but and absolute fan of comfort and cleanness!

Simplicity and ecology, slogan for a weekend at the end of the world

My friends rapidly discovered my faintness and one of them warned me, in a fully Lebanese Arabic Franglais: “Yallah, Charlotte, you have to be in the mood of camping!” He’s right, I need less than an hour, a succulent lunch under the common tent around the big table of good mood in order to let go and start savouring the authenticity of the place. It’s Hussein, our host who led his small familial troop, game for anything in order to let you take advantage of every lost moment. Nothing was calculated, everything was spontaneous and that is precisely what happened because when I arrived, I wondered what I’m going to do during my day which I could fill with little moments, hung in the time, doing nothing…

After this first hearty lunch where I tasted a delicious traditional food consisting of fresh products of the region, we drank coffee under one of the numerous junipers. A thousand-year-old tree occasionally, it offers a shady space where, set up on small wooden stools, leaning against its trunk, lying on a carpet, I discovered a breathtakingly view which breathes serenity. I definitely think that Lebanon is a wonderful country, which secret is sometimes hidden, unexpected but always stunning.

The afternoon ran also quite simply. Hussein’s family, especially his children, were present without really being here: they waited on us hand and foot, they embarked us in their playing field without noticing. Pétanque, archery, a short walk on the back of a donkey… it’s the magic of this place: we mustn’t neither think nor plan… everything is decided at the last minute and everything is given a rhythm according to our sudden desires.

Fresh evening and warm ambiance

In lebanon, no matter what place, the evening is drawn around the same elements, adapted and adaptable in all the situations: great dinner, music, dancing, laughter, a little drunkenness also… In Al-jourd without anything, we did eveything! One more time, the meal suggested was gargantuan and divine. This time, were added Arak jugs that the master of the place were bringing to the table every five minutes. Under a tent, in the wild, in the freshness of Hermel mountains, we were twenty persons laughing to tears around the table, drinking to the common souvenirs and the most trivial things, singing the most stupid songs… the joy of being together, quite simply.

The night went on around the campfire, set up a little lower. Flames warmed us a little… We were gently making fun of others, of those who didn’t want to follow us to the adventure “camping at the end of the world”: below, the weather is muggy, clubs are always full, horns never stop… Here, we are just fine.

I finally got back to my tent: a studied installation which is entirely “durable green development” because all the used materials for its construction came from the region and developed the local microeconomics. It is “semi-hard” (a new term to integrate in my vocabulary of the so-called fearless adventurer), in other words, the wool woven part, under which are installed ten mattresses, is supported on the left by stones. Quilts and blankets were provided in great amounts because nights are very fresh… At worst, there is even a chimney for the most sensitive to cold!

A sporty Sunday, always at the end of the world!

Let’s get this straight from now on: when I say “sporty”, it’s every kept proportion in comparison to the supplies I brought with me. In my great ingenuity limited by an ultra-city life experience, I didn’t think that with a one pair of flip-flop, my movements in the mountain could also be quite limited! (Paris-Beirut doesn’t necessarily demand equipement adaptation; dancing shoes and heels being highly demanded in both cases; Beirut-Al-jourd demands the integral adaptation of the equipment, from shoes to trousers and socks!) I let then a group of highly motivated and equipped girls go on a trip hike with Hussein. How lucky I am with friends around me! As for me, I enjoyed a horse ride, before exploring the ATV field ( which could be practiced in a candy Havaïanas without any difficulty). Holding on to a friend from behind, riding pro high in the mountains, I discovered many landscapes, uninterrupted views of surrounding mountains and valleys and smelled the local flora perfume…

When we returned to our camp, we savoured a lunch (yes, we are still at table but you know better, “ it’s Lebanon, we must eat!”) and prepared our stuff for the setting off.

Finally, I left Al-jourd with a lump in my throat. At the end of the world during 48 hours, in a simple but very comfortable place, rudimentary but extremely clean, peaceful but also intoxicating, I discovered one of the most beautiful places in the world… when we arrived to the road, the landscape were plunged into a golden and orange-coloured light. Five minutes later, our cellphones were connected again… I almost forgot that they existed…

I shed one tear, I was happy… Of course I would return, a little more equipped in order to be a less incompetent Parisian tourist, but with the same feeling: We don’t need much in order to be in paradise… friends, an incredible Hermel family, a wool quilt, two donkeys and a miraculous view! 

#EcoTourism, #NaturalSite
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