Words: Sarah Hebert
Pics: Fanatic SUP International
I had the opportunity to visit Lebanon in March, 2016. But all my friends were pretty worried about my trip because of the unstable geopolitical situation. So after a check on the Ministry of Interior’s website I spotted where I needed to avoid before heading off. I eventually touched down next to the snowy peaks of Mount Sannine overlooking a glistening Mediterranean Sea – my Lebanon adventure had officially begun.
For my first walk on the shoreline of Beirut I paid attention to how I’m dressed in order to respect the different religions and not grab people’s attention. I headed out in long pants, a hoodie and moved in the direction of St Georges Marina. On the promenade I came across many girls clothed in a contemporary and fashionable way! Besides my blond hair I felt pretty discreet in my tennis shoes, tied back locks and no makeup on my face. In short Beirut is a modern capital city with western influences but preserving its cultural purity.
My hotel is located in the Muslim quarter. Christians, and Armenians are at the entrance to the city and it is very interesting to see all these communities living next to each other. That night I have an appointment with Astir, a local girl who takes me for dinner in a famous Lebanese restaurant. From here begins the discovery of many fabulous restaurants. I can’t resist the local culinary temptations: green tabbouleh, eggplant puree, fermented cheese and hummus.
Astir and Mohammed, the local distributor for North and Fanatic, have planned a great program. But what I feel pretty excited about is the idea of snowboarding and stand up paddling on the snowy peaks of Faraya Mzaar located 40 minutes away from the city. And if you are addicted to ride, then this is pure bliss. The local ski trails are as beautiful as those of the French Alps under a bright sun. I really had a lot of fun hitting white slopes facing the Mediterranean. At the end of the day I grab my Fly Air SUP for a very special and unique moment. Riding an inflatable board on snow is something I have never experienced before and find it works quite well. You just have to be smooth as you push on the paddle. After this cool freeride session in the mountains it’s back to the sea for more stand up.
There are two good spots for surfing: ‘Jihé’ and ‘Colonel’. One is located in the south area of Beirut, the other to the north. This is an important detail because the landscapes are very different from one spot to another – as well as the culture. I had the opportunity to ride ‘Jihé’ on two occasions. And during the week I scored two surf sessions, three flat water paddles, one kitesurf session and one snowboard day – which is not so bad!
To reach ‘Jihé’ and its wave ‘Moussafa’ you have to follow the track that passes in front of a beautiful mosque, and then go through plantations of tomatoes and cucumbers. The beach is not especially picturesque and it’s pretty dusty. The rocky slab in front of the beach, however, delivers a powerful wave, left or right, perfect for shortboards and SUPers when not too big. If you prefer to ride a longer but slower wave then move to ‘Colonel’ in the north. Locals say it’s worth the trip when the sun goes down as you can finish your session drinking beers and smoking hookah (similar to Egyptian sheesha and quite legal).
When you speak about culture in Lebanon it is impossible to avoid the topic of religion. Even though it is not taboo it is a very sensitive matter. Astir describes a country that has had to endure several wars and social movements since the Phoenicians. She shows me a skit on the internet to explain things further. Surrounded by Syria and Palestine the country had to deal with some invasive neighbours.
We visited the Ruins of Tyre in the south – a magical place to discover with its Roman columns submerged two meters deep. We were just 10km away from the border and under close surveillance. The place has lasted through the Israeli invasion and today the region still welcomes many Palestinian refugees. The camps are big and surrounded by barbed wire. These neighborhoods decorate their entrance with portraits of Yasser Arafat wearing Ray-Ban shades and a black plaid scarf tied around his head. To the north, in Tripoli, Lebanon welcomes millions of Syrian refugees looking for work in the Bekaa Valley. In a simple way you could say there are more Muslims in the south and more Christians in the north. And with the Lebanese Druze and Jews there are a total of nearly two dozen religious groups recognised by the state. This mix of culture makes Lebanon what it is.
In Saida, one of the great cities of the south, I ask Astir about the meaning of green flags flying over the city, accompanied by large portraits of young men. She explains that the flags represent Esbola and its martyrs missing in action.
Back to the water and I scored a kite session at Guava. A beautiful spot with a long and really super nice white sand beach. The water was warm, the wind light but enough for me to ride with my Neo 10m. I even saw a turtle diving as I skimmed across the water. After kitiesurfing we enjoyed a great sunset, sharing the experience with the Lebanese kitesurf community.
I wanted to do some SUP Yoga before I left. In Byblos, an ancient harbour founded by the Greeks 5000 years ago, I almost get arrested by the police. It’s my own fault as I forgot to introduce myself. I am reassured by Astir who says the worst case would have been deleting the pictures on our camera. I go back on the water and enjoy the atmosphere before taking a walk through the streets of this city, once known for its textile trade with Mesopotamia.
Back in Beirut I hit the water again from a beach where stressed townsfolk come
to relax in the sun and enjoy the swimming. If you find yourself here then it’s worth checking out Al Raouche. Two huge boulders facing the city are a real spectacle. These guardians of the city are worth seeing and I enjoyed scoping out the inner cave.
As my trip comes to an end I go for a walk in the mountains, in search of the cedar tree which is also symbolic of Lebanon. Unfortunately there are not much cedars left because of heavy logging. As we climb the hills, my feet treading the rocky ground, the scrubland is beautiful and we discover olive groves, peach trees and plum trees extending to the snowy hills of Tannourine’s region. There, we immediately feel a deep sense of peace. It seems that this place has always been calm and quiet, even in times of war.
We arrive at a forest where the trees are majestic. I enjoy the moment and meditate. I feel lucky. The day ends with a barbecue in a local village, to the sound of drums and songs of the villagers. The music makes me want to roll my hips and move my shoulders. The Lebanese are really happy and friendly people. It is with great pleasure that I share these simple and profound moments with them.
Before I catch my plane home I have a free morning and want to go visit the Caves of Jeita. Droplets of rain, falling over millions of years, have carved out two tunnels. One of them is flooded, but you can visit it by boat. Facing a stalactite eight meters high, hanging from the ceiling of the cave 100 meters above, causes a very unique emotion – contentment.
My stay in Lebanon is now over. I definitely recommend this destination to everyone who is addicted to ride. For its variety of sporting activities, its beautiful spots and especially the cultural richness of the country Lebanon is worth a visit for sure.
Check this before you go!
Sun and Surf shop and school: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sun-Surf-Kitesurf-Center/260647160700166
Destination Liban: http://www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb