BEIRUT: Drive along the long, winding and isolated road. Pass the banana trees, the electricity companies, the rest stops and the families eating and drinking by the riverbank. Make a stop at “Mountazah al-Wadi,” or Valley Park.
Park the car and start walking downhill, following the almost deafening sound of the river until you find yourself an elysium in the shade. Pitch a tent, and take it all in.
For those who enjoy the pastime of getting lost in the wild, Nahr Ibrahim makes for a happy camper. Unlike a number of other natural settings in Lebanon, Nahr Ibrahim is not a reserve nor is it protected, which gives campers the ability to freely roam about and pitch their tents wherever they find suitable.
Once off the main highway, the road leading to the campsite – though somewhat narrow and isolated – is breathtaking, with the river and the high mountains offering but a glimpse into what awaits nature enthusiasts and adventurers.
Although the fact that the space is entirely public and unmonitored does have its perks, it also means that with strong and unpredictable river currents and a difficult hiking trail lacking ropes or rails, visitors are advised to go with a professional or someone who has outdoor experience.
Nahr Ibrahim – or River of Abraham – is known as the river of Adonis, the god of beauty and desire. The myth goes that Adonis was injured by a wild boar by the river. As his lover Astarte ran to save his life, his blood was mixed with the water, supposedly the reason the river turns red every spring.
Astarte fell on her knees and etched her love story with Adonis on the sand by the river forever, and Nahr Ibrahim is now also known as the River of Immortal Love.
The river is formed by powerful waterfalls in the mountains of Afqa in the north of Lebanon, and pools into small basins where campers, tourists, and just about anyone else can enjoy taking cool and sometimes even freezing dips on hot summer days.
A number of Lebanese adventure groups, such as The Footprints Nature Club, Great Escape and Vamos Todos, organize hiking and caving trips to the area, but camping enthusiasts mostly choose to fend for themselves in the wilderness as Nahr Ibrahim is a relatively small site.
Campers usually prefer to pitch their tents on the rough cement by the water rather than on the grassy stretch, keeping close to the many plastic tables and chairs for those who want to rest under the shade. Public bathrooms are also a few meters away.
It is ideal to get to the campsite before dark to get things in order and, more importantly, to look for firewood, for no camp is complete without a roaring fire in the evening over which to cook hot dogs and marshmallows. Following the meal, it is generally best to lie on sleeping bags, canvases or towels for an unobstructed view of the night sky.
The key is to turn in early in order to get a fresh start the next morning, catch the sunrise, and dip into the cool river waters. The only wild creatures to worry about are the nastiest of all beasts: not wolves or coyotes, but mosquitoes and creepy crawlies, so a can of bug spray can be useful.
For those deciding to rough it, trekking a few kilometers deep into the valley can be awe-inspiring: that’s where the river widens and the trees grow lusher and greener in the midst of the towering mountains, ideal for a leisurely morning hike.
Once you reach the small waterfalls feeding the lagoons, taking a swim will make your labored breathing and your aching limbs worth it. This secluded paradise also offers small cliffs and rocks to dive into the water from, a gentle reminder of a world free of walls.
Although the camping site is for the most part quite safe, there is always the slight danger of thefts, as it is a public land and there is no security in the area. As a result, taking precautions and being with a big group of people is always preferable.