Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

#ThisIsLebanon: Showing The Beauty Of The Country We Come From & Trying To Keep It

 

Lebanon is a gorgeous country. It takes an effort – at least for me – to try and see that in absolute value sometimes, but I can’t deny that there are instances where I can’t but marvel at the beauty of the country we call home.

To drive this point home and to encourage us to keep this country as such, or even make it better, Rani Nasr and Samah el Kadi, two aspiring Lebanese filmmakers, decided to do what they love best and make weekly videos highlighting beautiful landscapes in the country.

They just released the first video in the series, filmed in the Chouf mountains:

The next videos are filmed in various other locations in the country such as Tannourine, Ehden, Chahtoul, The Cedars, etc. As mentioned previously, they will be released in a weekly manner on this Facebook page (link).

Making the videos, however, was not as easy as just holding a camera and roaming around a beautiful forest or mountain. Due to Lebanese people being as they are, Rani Nasr informed me that he had to personally pick up garbage from entire landscapes just to be able to show how beautiful the place was and take a decent shot of it.

Not only is the nature we have left endangered by rabid urbanization, but also by people who can’t appreciate how beautiful it is and think that throwing their garbage wherever they may be is the way to go. You see, we are not victims of living in garbage. It is our choice. We chose for years to be a populace that litters all around, damaging the environment, helpless animals and ultimately ourselves. We also chose not to go back to what we know, our politicians, instead of what we need, a new system, when Beirut was drowning in garbage. We also chose to turn a blind eye to where the garbage filling Beirut’s streets is now being thrown.

He also told me about hunters roaming those areas just to kill deer and wildcats, either for BBQ purposes or to collect trophies on their walls. I had no idea Lebanon’s forests actually had deer, but it seems they do.

The biggest threat to our nature is us. How about we change that? Two things you can do that would help immensely are the following:

  1. Don’t throw your garbage anywhere and everywhere,
  2. Don’t kill harmless animals just because you’re bored.

I asked Rani if they intend to turn the #ThisIsLebanon movement into a #LiveLoveBeirut or #LiveLoveLebanon-esque entity, and he said no: it was just them doing what they loved, movies, to show what they loved, Lebanon’s nature. As such, they will not be monetizing off of it.

What they hope to accomplish is for their films to inspire people to want to see more of their country, to want to preserve the beauty and take positive steps in that direction: visit Lebanon’s natural reserves and help to preserve the forests by supporting them, not litter everywhere you go, marvel in the beauty of the country you live in and share it with whoever wants to see.

To end this on a more positive note, I figured I’d share a few pictures of the beauty of this country, with or without the hashtag #ThisIsLebanon, to drive the point home. The instagram accounts of the corresponding pictures will be mentioned in their caption, as well as their respective location.

You can follow the accounts here:

There’s a lot of beauty in the country beyond the confines of everyone’s Beiruti comfort zones. Go explore, return with beautiful pictures and change yourself and the country one beautiful landscape at a time. #ThisIsLebanon, and it’s worth discovering.

 

Pictures of Lebanon from the International Space Station

On Christmas Day, the International Space Station (ISS) wanted to show a different side of the region where Christmas came to be. For a place known to be war-torn, with blood-filled conflicts taking place every day, the astronauts at ISS wanted to show the world exactly how peaceful we looked from up there on a day that is all about peace, a time that is about anything but.

The pictures in question have been around for days now but they haven’t made the round yet. One explanation could be the caption with which they shared the pictures was the following:

Israel – completely clear – on Christmas morning from the International Space Station. Astronaut Barry Wilmore woke up early on Christmas to reflect upon the beauty of the Earth and snap some images to share with the world.

Obviously, that’s a big no-no around these parts. But seeing as how small the region is, a picture of space cannot contain one country alone, and I thought the way Lebanon looked on Christmas day from space, peaceful as it it, is always something nice to look at, which is quite is ironic given the situation and the additional rage we got from hellish traffic during that period.

For those who aren’t familiar with Lebanese geography, in order to find Lebanon just spot the snowy mountains. We are the only country in the region to have them. Those are the Cedar mountains in the North of the country. I’ve said over and over again that our best winter resorts are up there, but Beirutis just don’t believe me. Now you have proof.

Our country is the area around those mountains, with the very crooked coastline, from the Akkar in the North to the Naqoura tip in the South. The Eastern part is tougher to delineate.

You can also see Palestine, the Dead Sea, as well as parts of Syria.

The ISS has made it a habit of sharing wonderful pictures of Earth from space. A few weeks ago, upon a request from a Lebanese Twitter user, the ISS shared with him a picture of Beirut from space:

Beirut from ISS

You can check out pictures of other places on Earth on their Facebook page.

Paris – The Most Beautiful City I’ve Been To

I’ve been to quite a few places in the past few years. Some were enjoyable, others were underwhelming. But there’s one place out of them all that stands out, completely and irrevocably drawing me in every time I think of it: Paris.

Paris is the city of the streets that might as well be museums, the frisson that sends shivers up your spine as you get lost around the city marveling at wonder after wonder, the metro that closes at who knows when leaving you stranded and walking back to your hotel at 2 AM, the lovers huddling at Pont Des Arts kissing to a Parisian sunset, the artists singing around Montmartre while you slither your way around winding roads taking you up to Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

Paris is the city of the monuments that you had thought were cliches but can’t really appreciate until you’re standing at Trocadero, looking at the Eiffel tower shining as the sun behind you dies down at 10:30 PM or when you buy an impromptu lunch and sit with your best friend on the grass that is really greener there, under the Eiffel Tower.

Paris is the city that convinces you to splurge on the food that makes your mouth water at the mere mention of it, the ice cream that tastes like the fresh fruits from which it was made. It’s the city of you walking up the Champs-Elysées slightly tipsy from the wine that flows down smoother than water.

Paris is the city which, after two visits, I’ve yet to get enough of. It’s the city that makes me both happy and nostalgic at the thought of it. It’s the city that quickly turns into a main discussion between the people who have been to it. It’s the city that has charm in every step of its sidewalks.

Is there anything more beautiful than Paris? I don’t think so.

Paris - 27 Paris - 34 Paris - 38

Paris - 18

Paris - 45 Paris - 9Paris - 30

Paris - 17

The Cedars & North Lebanon’s Mountains

I finally had enough time on my hand to visit one of my favorite places in Lebanon: the Cedar mountains. They are probably the most underrated locations in the country and are nowhere near as visited as they should be because, quite frankly, very few places in this country can rival them in sheer landscape beauty.

Using my iPhone 5’s panorama feature, I was able to capture what I believe are pretty decent shots of the drive up to the mountains, the town of Becharre with its snowy mountainous backdrop, the Cedar Mountains themselves and part of the Kadisha Valley known as Qozhaya on the way back.

These locations may be far from Beirut – about 130 km – but they’re worth every single minute spent driving and every dollar spent in gas. I think I’m lucky that I live nearby and only need about 30 minutes to get there.

The slopes are superior to those of Mzaar/Sectarian-Kfardebyan and while they are less taken care of, they’re much cheaper and you will be able to get your full money’s worth out of them. The people are a whole lot friendlier as well.

So while many Lebanese are overjoyed that some international publication (click here) has chosen Beirut as the #1 city destination of the region – as if that’s a very hard thing to pull off – I felt like I ought to highlight something in Lebanon that is so ahead any form of “best of” competition in this region that it’s #1 always.

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 4

The Mountains from the village of Qnat

 

 

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars 13

The view from Hadath el Jebbeh

North Lebanon Mountains Becharre Cedars

Becharre (on the right) with its mountains behind it

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 6

The drive up to the Cedar Mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 7

Some of Lebanon’s Cedars – not the main forest, obviously

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 8

Panoramic view of part of the mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 9

Part of the Cedar forest

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars Qozhaya

The drive to Qozhaya

 

North Lebanon Mountains Qozhaya Annoubin Kadisha

The view from St. Anthony of Qozhaya convent (on the left) – part of the Kadisha Valley



 

 

 

Lebanon’s January 2013 Storm In Pictures

Lebanon’s weather was all over the place this past week. The “Bride” storm (Or Georgette or Olga as some have called it – we sure can’t agree on a storm name as well) is ending and it was one of the biggest snowstorms to hit Lebanon in years. Torrential rain and snow, including some accumulations on the Lebanese coast, have all been documented. The joke for the first days of the storm went: Skiing and swimming at the same time are now much easier because the storm has brought the sea to your home. For the next few days, the storm brought the snow to your sea.

Many casualties have fallen to the storm, notably young infants of Syrian refugees who died of the freezing cold. Many Lebanese have had their houses completely ruined in the Beiruti neighborhood of Hay el Sellom due to the nearby river flooding.

I have reverted to the following Facebook page (here) unless otherwise specified in order to collect as many pictures as I can and include them here.

Don’t you just love how Lebanon looks after a decent blizzard? I sure do.

Achkout

Achkout

Achkout

Achkout

View of Beirut

View of Beirut

This is Batroun's beach

This is Batroun’s beach

My hometown Ebrine

My hometown Ebrine

Sawfar

Sawfar

Jounieh Bay

Jounieh Bay

Aito, in the North

Aito, in the North

Hrajel

Hrajel

Hasroun - Picture from the Daily Star

Hasroun – Picture from the Daily Star

Jounieh Highway

Jounieh Highway

Ehden

Ehden

Jounieh highway

Jounieh highway

Klei3at

Klei3at

Ein El Mraysseh - Picture from the Daily Star

Ein El Mraysseh – Picture from the Daily Star

This is a picture in the Jbeil caza

This is a picture in the Jbeil caza

Raachine -

Raachine –

Manara, Bekaa

Manara, Bekaa

Bteghrine, Metn

Bteghrine, Metn

Dhour el Choueir

Dhour el Choueir

Ajaltoun

Ajaltoun

Hay el Sellom - Picture by the Daily Star

Hay el Sellom – Picture by the Daily Star

Baalbak

Baalbak

 

Lille, France

I spent the month of August discovering the gorgeous city of Lille in Northern France. I went there for a clerkship at one of the city’s hospitals and I absolutely fell in love with its culture, its people and everything it had to offer. Lille is one of France’s biggest cities and yet it still has this rustic feel to it – especially in its older streets, aptly called Vieux Lille.

I made a lot of memories in that city. I won’t go down memory lane and enumerate them for you because I’m fairly certain you couldn’t care less. But I am thankful for getting the chance to go there and meet the people that I met and make those memories that I cherish now.

Xavier & Camille, our amazing French hosts and friends that made us feel at home – literally – for the entire month that we spent there, this is for you. Thank you for everything.

Here are some of the many pictures that I took of the beautiful city of Lille. I’m not a professional so these are not meant to be impeccable – but I do hope my love for the city comes across in them.

Palais des Beaux Arts

Palais des Beaux Arts

Another old street in the city

Another old street in the city

A parc bench in the city

A parc bench in the city

Rue de Bethune

Rue de Bethune

The city's opera house

The city’s opera house

Vieux Lille

Vieux Lille

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A war monument

A war monument

One of the city's cathedrals

One of the city’s cathedrals

Lille France Street

Welch - one of the city's specialities

Welch – one of the city’s specialities

Lille France Restaurant Comptoir 44

Inside one of Lille's cathedrals

Inside one of Lille’s cathedrals

A mural found in one of Lille's subway and train stations: Lille Europe

A mural found in one of Lille’s subway and train stations: Lille Europe

One of the specialties of the North

One of the specialties of the North

Beer, another specialty

Beer, another specialty

Another street in the old parts of the city

Another street in the old parts of the city

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

The opera house

The opera house

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

The city's heart - place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

The city’s heart – place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

Lille doesn't like Sarkozy

Lille doesn’t like Sarkozy

Old Street Lille vieux Lille France

Another street in old Lille

These pictures were taken using a Nikon D5100 and edited using my iPhone 5’s Camera+ app.