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On the goat trail to Ehden

May 21, 2010
labneh and zaatar

Labneh and dry zaatar

The days of hard trekking were beginning to take their toll, from causing sore feet and blisters to exacerbating more serious injuries.  The worst affected was Gemma whose weak knee was made even worse when she fell in the stream and knocked it hard on a stone.  She had to stay with Charbel while we embarked on our long day three trail and was missing from the lively conversations conducted at the back of the bus by the large contingent of Arabic speakers (including Michel and Rani our local Red Cross volunteers who gave up a week’s holiday to look after us).  This foreign chatter and generous translation added a great extra dimension to our experience as well as the spontaneous singing of traditional songs that Mustapha, Joseph and the other guys often burst into especially on the really difficult bits of the trail.

It was going to be a long-haul walking from Bqaa Sefrine to the Ehden Nature Reserve and we were warned that the remoteness meant that once we were committed we had to keep going to the end.  Breakfast was a serious matter (fuel for the journey) and we tucked in labneh, bread, scrambled eggs and dry zaatar (dried thyme, oregano and sesame) which we mixed with olive oil.  Picking our way through farmland and orchards made a very different start and we found two tortoises along the way (the first one carried off by Chamoun to safety, “people round here will kill anything.”) We all linked hands around a big tree to measure its girth (5 people) but soon left its welcome shade to clamber up and down the rocky sides of deep chasms.

Under a tree

Seeking shade

The scenes became more bleak and dramatic and after trudging up a really hot, slow, steep gravel path round a valley we reached the top of a round peak, relaxing under a couple of lonely trees to enjoy our lunch and the view.  We found shells – mine the perfect fossil of a sea-shell in a rock and Michel’s a spent Kalashnikov bullet.

Gulf for Good stress that everyone finds their own personal challenge and I quickly discovered that my best approach was to push myself to the limit on the really hard bits and then recover.  I found that staying nearer the back and doing it slower demoralised me and made it harder.  This meant I was the shadow of Karen and Susie whose aerobic fitness was unbelievable – they seemed to levitate up the slopes managing to keep up a conversation.  I did a good impression of Thomas the Tank Engine and they knew I was behind them from the extreme huffing and puffing.  Mustapha and Ehab were often in the front gang – both appeared to manage effortlessly (although I’m sure they’d say that appearances can be deceptive).

Goats

A herd of over 400 goats

Jo was more my level of fitness and tackled the trail with obvious determination which I admired hugely as she claimed she was not a fan of walking and scenery.  I delighted in every twist and turn of the view and we left the barren hillside going into soft, sweet-smelling, green pasture (Susie’s least favourite as she was convinced it was riddled with snakes) followed by a landscape that, to me, was reminiscent of Dartmoor – stony outcrops with bright yellow bushes and stunted trees.

I had entered hiking heaven and  loved picking my way down the next steep valley following the trails made by the enormous herd of silky, black and white goats we could see in the distance, although my enthusiasm for this sort of clambering wasn’t shared by everyone.  Chamoun and Michel gathered the wild thyme that grew on the hillside and filled a large bag with tiny leaves.

Dry river bed

The dry river bed

A sublime panorama of dark green, forested mountains and valleys, fading mistily into the distance greeted us next; Susie and I were in raptures.  Crosses adorned every summit and we could see across to our destination – the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve; it seemed so close.  The path we had to follow looked ominous – a bare, yellow gravel trawl upwards.  I gritted my teeth and followed Chamoun and the others and tried not to look up too often as the trail seemed to go on and on.  The heat seemed to radiate from the bare stone – this was the hardest point for me yet and I kept walking and gasping.  Towards the end of the climb, unbelievably, Chamoun and Michel  ran on ahead around the top of the gorge to check the way was clear for us.  It was bad news, the path was still iced over and too treacherous to pass – it was very hard to imagine this in our overheated condition!  We had to go all the way back down the hard-won slope but at least we got to enjoy the view and I noticed pretty terraces and a tiny house which I’d missed completely on the gruelling way up.

view

Glimpsing the view on the tree-lined path up to Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve

Chamoun disappeared over the edge of a chasm but as we followed I realised that scrambling around Dartmoor had prepared me well for the steep rocky traverse which led us down to a beautiful, dry river bed.  There was little evidence of the torrents that had shaped and smoothed the rocks apart from a few pools – it was blissfully pretty.  We climbed up the bank and waited in a shady knoll for our group to all come together giving a deserved round of applause as everyone appeared.  The very personal nature of a challenge was highlighted as the descent I had enjoyed so much was deeply scary to others who had to fight their fear.  It was apparent when Iman reached us that she was in severe pain – her knee had swollen up.  The frustration at seeing her body sabotage her efforts became overwhelming and she was brave but upset.  Chamoun called up to the reserve and she was soon overtaking us up the wide dirt track as a passenger on a large quad bike.

Drinking cold beer

A cold beer never tasted so good

The sun was lowering through the trees where you could glimpse snatches of the dramatic view of plunging wooded valleys.  The speedy crew took off and finding a comfortable stride I was soon walking on my own, loving the tranquility and solitude.  We’d covered at least 25km of breath-taking terrain and the little wooden cabins of Ehden were so welcoming as well as Gemma’s infectious laugh – but not as much as the cold bottles of beer that were being handed out from the bar outside.

Our fleeces were needed for the first time that night and a hot, bean soup was a comforting addition to the supper table (as well as the usual hummous etc).  The guys had prepared the wild thyme leaves – mixing them with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and some onion as a salad for each table – delicious.  I fell asleep quickly, under heaped covers, listening to the distant chatter of a small group huddled round a roaring brazier.

4 Comments
  1. May 21, 2010 4:41 pm

    Once again you’ve rolled out a fascinating account, really bring it to life. Looking forward to tomorrow’s installment! Px

  2. May 21, 2010 5:34 pm

    Thanks P – need to generate some more superlatives for “stunning views” and “steep inclines”!

  3. May 22, 2010 10:13 am

    Hi Sal,

    Gosh, I just keep drinking in your fabulously descriptive writing the views must be breathtaking (as your photos dictate). The wonderful comradery from your fellow hikers and the welcome Arabic morsels and cold bevvies must really be a refreshing conclusion to your days. In one of your other days did I see Brian Wilkie walking with you? If he is say hi from us. I must say I do feel for the lady that had her knee blow up, this is my major worry about trekking as my mind is willing but I don’t think my knee is able;-( I am sooo looking for your next instalment and hope to have you and Keith over to supper on your return to learn more of your wonderful adventure.
    P & B
    xxxx

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