By Mehrnoush Shafiei
The seven days I spent on the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) were all-consuming and by the end of each day I would be completely exhausted, in the best possible way imaginable. Looking back, if I had to sum up the experience in one word I would say: restorative.
As a Canadian-Iranian, I had been living in Beirut for three months taking language classes before I came across a group of medical students at the American University of Beirut who were planning to make the trek. When they invited me in May 2014 to join their group I jumped at the chance. Beirut is famous for its hustle and bustle, so it was a welcome change to trade the city’s kinetic energy for a dose of tranquility.
Congested roads made leaving Beirut a bit tiresome, but once we were untangled from traffic and in the mountains I was overcome by a sudden peacefulness that is hard to explain but intensely felt. Taking in the natural beauty of the surroundings, it’s almost as if you feel your heartbeat slow down a notch. There is something very Zen about the Lebanese landscape. After weeks of political insecurity in the country, and a constant feeling of being in a state of alert, I really appreciated the refuge offered by the mountains. The natural beauty was enhanced by the amazing weather during the week—dazzling sunshine and a crisp spring breeze. But be warned, the mountain air can get quite cold in the evenings—so make sure to pack warm clothes.
The days on the trail seemed long but the week passed quickly. The best thing about the LMT is that it is one of those rare places in Lebanon where people of all religious and political stripes come together to walk common ground. I made so many people and everyone spoke a certain degree of English so I was able to communicate quite easily.
When you hike all day, you certainly work up an appetite. Lebanese cuisine is really delicious by any measure, but it is something else in the mountains. There are many places where you can sample farm-to-table meals that are wholesome, mostly organic and fresh. The thick yoghurt (laban) and world-famous hummus were my go-to snacks whenever we took a break on the trail.
The guides and villagers all made us feel so secure and welcome. In terms of accommodation, my group and I stayed at bed-and-breakfast type places for most of the week. I highly recommend staying with a family, it makes the experience that much more memorable and you will be able to witness Lebanese hospitality at its finest.
Another memorable highlight of the LMT was my amazingly knowledgeable tour guide, NAME??. A lot of the attraction sites on the trail have layers of significance and you can get a lot more from the LMT if you have someone from the land accompany you.
If there is one place where a guide comes in very useful it’s the Cedars Forest (Al Arz in Arabic) in the mountains above the Qadisha Valley. It is such a huge source of pride for the Lebanese and it’s very humbling to hear how these trees have remained for thousands of years. I remember my guide told me that pieces of the discarded tree would be used in the past as an application tool for kohl eyeliner. According to him, the pieces of Cedar were so sought after that some Lebanese would export them to other parts of the country. These sorts of tidbits of information made the hike all the more enjoyable—these are things you will not find on Google!
Another must-see of the LMT is the small but quaint Kahlil Gibran Museum located in the northern village of Bcharre —the most beautiful part of Lebanon, in my opinion. As the birth place of one of Lebanon’s most iconic writers, it makes you appreciate his work even more. Making my way along the trail, I was impressed by the beautiful monasteries on the way to the museum. I had a copy of Gibran’s The Prophet with me, and the entire experience was unexpectedly spiritual.
I returned to Beirut rejuvenated and relaxed, with great memories and an even greater appreciation for Lebanon. As I bid farewell to my group at the end of the week, one of my friends said to me: “You know, now you have seen more of Lebanon than most Lebanese.” This stayed with me and drove home the fact that the LMT is such an important rite of passage for everyone who loves this country. You can’t know a country until you walk it!