Beirut: lake Chouwan, rides, hikes, nightcaps, privilege and inequality.

May 29, 2021

We drove in heavy traffic for more than 45 minutes, slaloming between cars, before we could turn East and follow the road up the mountains.  The heat and the fumes of the claustrophobic highway were gradually replaced by fresh, clean, air; the temperature dropped a few degrees and the views of the valley and the sea opened in front of us. Our final destination: Lake Chouwan in the Kesrouan District. 

While riding the bike to places I don’t know how to get to I use Google maps with my AirPods to get voice directions.  For some reason there was no sound and we had to stop several times to look at the map until Marina fixed the problem. After a very enjoyable ride through narrow, winding roads that crossed small villages with stone houses and churches, we arrived to the Chouwan entrance of the Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve (JMBR). We parked the bike next to the church, Marina changed into shorts while I purchased the tickets to enter the reserve, and we started our hike to the lake. 

It was my second time there; I did the same hike in pre-COVID times with Natalia. Those were different days, I was living a very different life. On this occasion, with Marina, we stopped mid-way at a viewpoint where you can see the lake in all its splendor. The shallow, Turkoise waters can make you think you are in the Bahamas or in Turks and Caicos but for the steep mountains and dense vegetation. 

We reached the lake after a 35 min walk. Marina complained it was too short not taking into account the return was going to be uphill.  We sat on the sand for a while debating about the wisdom of going for a swim.  The water in the lake is aways cold, not matter the time of the year, and even after the hike we were not feeling particularly hot. At the end I had the courage; in and out in a few seconds. It was painful but refreshing. Marina went next and she was able to stay a bit longer. To our surprise, a guy holding in his left hand a bottle of white wine that was almost finished was drifting downstream.  “Stay in for five minutes,” he yelled at us, “then you wont’ feel anything.” We didn’t try.  We were not sure if the wine or the fact that he was a bit overweight explained his resilience to freezing water.  

Instead we started the walk up the trail, Marina wondering this time how long it would take. The ride back to Beirut was even more enjoyable because there was little traffic.  Our only worry was being able to fill the fuel tank.  These days there are gasoline shortages in Lebanon and several of the gas stations on our way were closed.  In this bike, with a full tank you can ride 40-50 miles (70-80 Kilometers). The distance between the apartment and the lake is 29 miles. We were lucky to find a gas station that was open and where there were no lines.  

Once in the apartment we took a shower, changed into clean clothes, and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We had a long discussions about how in a country that is sinking, and where there is no government trying to fix things, you really don’t “see” or “feel” the effects of the economic crisis (other than the gasoline shortages these days). The restaurants and bars are full again and you can’t find a hotel to go to the beach or the mountains; everything is booked. The fact is that an elite, many Lebanese living abroad who come back on vacation and enjoy the favorable exchange rate, is still living in the past. That is not the majority of the population and we are, perversely, disconnected from the reality they are living in.

After dinner we joined Natalia (who had a girls-day-out) and her friends at the apartment for a nightcap. As always, that was a very bad idea, particularly when, inspired by the conversation with Marina, I started to talk about whether people working for international organizations, living a life of privilege, are giving back to society more than what they receive in salaries and benefits….

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