Camping in Shouf is the best thing ever

So, last weekend my favorite person in the entire world, Michella, celebrated her 26th birthday by inviting all of us to go camping in Lebanon’s Shouf region.

Shouf is a mountainous area featuring some of the best views Lebanon affords as well as the expansive Shouf Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is actually Lebanon’s largest but though it’s a cedar forest, it’s not to be confused with The Cedars of God reserve located in the north of Lebanon. While the Shouf reserve is an amazing place to hike and features beautiful cedars, the “Cedars of God” are much older and are the cedars everyone associates with the country.

However, all that aside, this weekend escape was possibly one of the best weekends of the year for me. It was just so relaxing to escape the city and immerse ourselves in nature for a bit. Although I used to camp often in the United States and although we go on road trips to different nature destinations throughout Lebanon on a very regular basis, I haven’t actually camped overnight since moving here nearly four years ago.

And we stayed at an amazing campsite, right outside of the Shouf reserve. The Cedars Ground Campsite describes itself as “a majestic eco-friendly campsite, adjacent to the Shouf reserve, offering a meditative and relaxing outdoor experience for happy campers.” I can assure you that it definitely lives up to that description. From the incredible location to the absolutely delicious breakfast the staff prepared for us in the morning, we were definitely impressed and will plan on going again soon.

We arrived just before sunset on Saturday evening and enjoyed lounging around the fire eating and drinking until the early morning.

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After a few hours of sleep, we woke up and ate a delicious breakfast at the campsite.

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We even made a few animal friends.

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Following the filling breakfast, we hiked up the mountain through the cedar and pine forests.

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It was a hot day, but some of us even made it to the top.

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And we were rewarded with this incredible view of the Bekaa Valley.

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Thanks for having a birthday Michella and thanks for giving us all this incredible experience!

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Joanna and Ehab had a baby and it’s a girl!

Some of the very first friends I made in Lebanon were Joanna and Ehab. I remember my very first weekend in the country, back in September of 2012, they invited me to the beach. A few months later, we traveled to India together.

I took photos at their wedding and it was honestly one of the most beautiful ceremonies I ever attended. I admit it, there were tears in my eyes throughout the service.

Now, Ehab and Joanna just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl! A few weeks ago, Joanna asked me if I could shoot some photos of them before the birth. I neglected to edit or upload the images before, but since they just gave birth this week, I thought I would do so today, welcoming little Jenna Mae to the world.

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And now… here is the beautiful little Jenna Mae! Welcome to the world habibti.

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Lazy afternoon in Horsh Beirut

Also known as Horsh Al Snoubar (or Pine Forest), Horsh Beirut recently re-opened to the public after years of closure. Now, it’s become one of the chillest spots to just be lazy and relax in the city.

Beirut doesn’t have a lot of green spaces, so let’s hope that this one continues to be maintained as has been promised.

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48 hours in Greece

Lebanon may be the greatest  country in the world, but you still need a break every once in a while… even if it’s a short one.

Last weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to take a quick leap across the Mediterranean pond to enjoy almost exactly 48 hours in Greece. When you need a quick escape – forgetting the shitty reality of stupid visa requirements – Beirut to Athens is one of the quickest (2 hour flight) and normally one of the most affordable last minute options.

It wasn’t my first visit to the ancient country. I spent three days in Greece back in 2011 on a tour with my undergraduate university as part of a “Spanish Tour” that took us to Spain, Italy, Morocco and Greece for Spanish credit (don’t ask me what Greece has to do with Spanish… Greek is definitely not even a Latin language).

However, I was looking more for a relaxing vacation than any kind of touristic discovery anyway. I initially planned to spend my time just chilling at the beach but when I sent a shout-out to my friends, inviting anyone who wanted to tag along, my friend Salim also jumped at the opportunity. He’d never visited Greece before, so we did a bit of the tourist stuff. I mean, you can’t really visit Athens without going to the Acropolis (although I like to point out that it’s not really the original structure anymore and Lebanon has much cooler ruins… just less famous).

We had a nice chill time, enjoying the sights at a leisurely pace. We even managed to take a ferry to the Island of Aegina and spend a relaxing day there.

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Photo credit: Salim Ayache

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When it rains, go to Batroun

It was a rainy Saturday but we ended up wandering around Batroun anyway.

Located north of Beirut along the Mediterranean, Batroun is an ancient port city that in recent years has made a reputation for brewing the best beer in Lebanon. Although, I guess it probably depends who you ask …

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Driving south to escape the winter

A couple weekends ago, my friends and I drove south to spend the afternoon in Sour (Tyre). It was a sunny and warm day after nearly two weeks of constant rain in Beirut.

Sour is maybe the best place in Lebanon? But I think I just wrote that about Baalbek a few posts back …

The problem is that everywhere I go in this country, I think it’s the best place.

I have of course been to Sour many times in the past but this time was special. We were a large group, the camaraderie was high and the weather was exactly what we needed after experiencing the worst of Beirut’s winter rains.

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I say we definitely need to head back to Sour soon for a day at the beach. Who’s in?

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Sometimes love is brief

JASDON IS OK

Occasionally love is too short, fleeting and caught up in the northern winds. Sometimes it flies away to the space caught between east and west, a space and time of inconvenience.

Not always is love meant to last or meant to be. It’s meant to appear, to enter your life rapidly and then disappear on a Saturday morning after brunch, fading slowly over the coming months until it becomes a distant and fond memory.

This is what we call eternal love. The beauty and passion that was and never lasted, cut short by life and the reality of what keeps us apart.

Life. Choices.

Yet still, love persists. It remains a waning shadow of what passed too quickly and never shall be again.

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Winter road trip to Baalbek

Baalbek is one of my favorite places in Lebanon, and my favorite historic site in the world. Since I moved to Lebanon in 2012, I have visited the incredible ruins multiple times but I have always ridden in friends’ cars or taken taxis.

This past weekend, I wanted to show some of my friends this amazing place, so I rented a car and decided to drive. Baalbek is located in the Bekaa, which is one of those places that most governments and a lot of Lebanese will caution you against visiting. I’m not going to say that it’s completely safe, obviously there is a reason for the concern. However, personally, I have never had an experience even remotely sketchy when going to Baalbek or anywhere in the Bekaa region.

Visiting Baalbek in winter was a new experience, as I’ve always gone only in spring or summer before. The snow covering some of the ruins added a picturesque touch to the setting. Fortunately, the sun was quite bright and we actually stayed very warm as we explored the ruins.

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An afternoon lunch in the mountains

Over the past few months I have taken to hosting couch surfers on a regular basis. If you aren’t familiar with the platform, it’s a social networking site that connects travelers with hosts that are willing to let them stay for free. You build a profile, add photos and get references from friends, hosts, and fellow travelers.

Doing this has been an amazing way to meet some incredibly awesome people from around the world. While I have a great group of friends that I hang out with all the time in Beirut, it’s become a thing now for me to introduce these regular visitors to the group. In the end, while they sleep at my house, they often end up taking trips all over Lebanon with my friends, often without me while I’m stuck at work.

A little over a week ago, a new surfer from France – but studying in Istanbul – arrived in Beirut. My friend’s Rand and Michella wanted to head off on an afternoon excursion somewhere, so I suggested we wait for Quentin to arrive and then he could join us. They agreed and within an hour of him arriving at my house we were driving up into the mountains to our favorite little side-of-the-highway restaurant. Near Faraya, this very local joint offers excellent baladi cuisine with a breathtaking view.

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We even managed to glimpse the sunset as we drove back down. I just hope Quentin enjoyed the welcome to Lebanon!

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Sometimes we take photos in Gemayzeh

On those random weekend days, sometimes we go to Gemayzeh and pretend we are models.

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IMG_0411Michella al helwe everyone!😉

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