lebanon–a beloved catch 22

On my flight home, I sat trying to think of how to summarize one of the strangest and most wonderful places I have ever visited. But my reflections were confusing. When I tried to think of a word to describe Lebanon, it didn’t seem quite right because the exact opposite word also seemed to fit. And suddenly I realized this is the essence of Lebanon. This is the Lebanese way. Things must be done a certain way, but they also must be done the other way. And you are never doing things right unless you are doing it both ways at the same time. Lebanon is where the impossible is possible. Let me try to explain.

Lebanon is tiny. Driving more than 4 hours any direction and you are out of the country. So at times, everything seems smooshed together and piled on top of one another. It feels crowded and dense, even suffocating at times. Though not without its charm.IMG_20170717_113750IMG_20170717_114045IMG_20170716_123136


sprawling forever into the eternal haze of dozens of cities that have merged into basically one (okay just feels like that sometimes)

But Lebanon is also vast. You drive 40 minutes and it is like you enter a portal into another dimension. All of the sudden you are the smallest and most insignificant creature in the universe when standing next to the paramount beauty of the mountains and valleys and sea. DSC_5697


where the sea meets the sky



*all i wanna do, is take panoramas of lebanon* (sung like sheryl crow)

Lebanon is hot. It is at sea level in the Mediterranean, at a latitude comparable to Florida. So yeah, you sweat a lot and get sunburnt if you are as white and non-Mediterranean as me.


me before the mountains, sweating and being hot (temperature hot) in front of a crusader castle

But Lebanon is also cold. The mountains reach over 2000m. The way Lebanon has designed the roads allows you to climb 1000m in ~10 minutes. And before you know it, you can have snowball fight in July while simultaneously staring out at the Mediterranean sea.


me before building a snowman on the same day

Lebanon is fragile. You look around and it is as if it is going to break at any second. It is tangled and trying to find its way. You question how it is possible anyone makes it through the day. It’s “in God’s hands”, so they say. The fragility is also a metaphor for the political climate. In a country where most politicians have been a mass murderer at one point or another (unless they too were assassinated, which is not mutually exclusive from also being a mass murderer), it tends to cultivate a bit of tension that lingers for decades. Now that I’m on the topic, this fragility also seems to resonate with the economic situation in the country. After years of war and terror, perhaps the most beautiful country in the world lays abandoned. Driving through the mountains, you see extravagant hotels, which used be beaming with tourists mostly from the Gulf area, completely deserted with little hope they will ever see again what once was. Walking through bars and cafes in downtown Beirut, not a soul can be found on a Saturday in July, when it used to be you could barely move through the streets without bumping into someone. New, but likely hasty, efforts to build luxurious skyrise apartments line the shores of Beirut. But no one lives there. Where is everyone? It’s as if the groundwork is all there, but it is laying in a million different pieces. Though there is this feeling that at some point, it will all come back together. But when? My point is, just freaking visit there. I have come to realize the world would not be here right now without Lebanon. The world needs Lebanon. Though right now, Lebanon also needs the world.


the end of me



the aquarium in Batroun that was started and never finished



But Lebanon is also bulletproof. I am convinced that when the world ends, Lebanon will still be standing. The country has been dragged through the coals for centuries, and it prevails. It has been earthquaked, tsunami-ed, and bombed to bits, but there it stands. People going about their daily business as they have been since the beginning of modern humans. Let me give you some context of what I am talking about. I walked out from the place I was staying, and the building across the street from me is littered with bullet holes. Buildings remain completely bombed out and abandoned.
IMG_20170716_122825The Holiday Inn, once one of the most iconic hotels in the world with a rotating restaurant at the top, towers over with its ominous presence of what people would never think could be possible.


whatchu doin’?



sniper damaged mosaic (see bottom left)


I sometimes try to classify countries by their color. But with Lebanon, there are too many. Everywhere.
Lebanon is yellow.

Lebanon is green.


Cedars of God



Lebanon is red.

Lebanon is blue.
DSC_6814IMG_20170717_133856DSC_6976Lebanon is also grey.


before i cried



lichen’ life


alpine alien critter


Okay, I’m almost done, I promise. But I had to save the best for last.
Lebanon is food. It is fresh. It is fattening. It is hours on end eating, digesting, and eating more. It is also devouring a falafel in nine seconds flat while standing on the street. 2-3 kgs later, I’m basically rolling home, but every minute was #worthit.


the good stuff


when life give you lemons, batroun will make its special lemonade for you



from the land of freaking delicious cheese thing and honey


a manouche a day keeps the doctor away

Lebanon is not one thing. Lebanon is everything at once. Before you realize it, you are completely swept off your feet, sometimes speechless, by what is happening right before your eyes. The only way to really understand is to see for yourself.


Peru: Faique

Our next stop was up! Heading east toward the Andes, our destination was waaaay up in the clouds, a cozy little town called Faique. Cloud forests harbor unique ecosystems home to a wide diversity of different species. We stayed with a lovely little family that graciously shared a room for us to sleep and cooked us some unbelievably good food. The head of the house was a farmer, who grew everything from coffee to passion fruits in little patches along the mountain.


downtown Faique



view from the icy cold shower! 🙂

At dusk, we begin to set up the nets to catch the bats. Being this close to the equator, it gets dark super early compared to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.



Sturnira ludovici with its stunning shoulder patch

When bats emerge, so do all the other creepy crawly (or awesome) critters!


While showing us his farm (which basically meant and 1000m ascent on steep slippery terrain), our host also wanted to show us some rock crevices where he thought we may be able to find some bats. So as we gear up for a muddy in our fancy North Face boots, cargo pants, bandanas, etc., our host casually strolls up the mountain with a machete in his Sunday best.


My two favorite things about Faique: waterfalls and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).






One thing to remember about cloud forests is that all aspects of your life are exposed to a chronic mist. EVERYTHING is wet ALL the time. This leads to very exciting road conditions.



yes, that is a long way down

Cheers to our driver Jorgé who bravely got us out of this mess! 🙂

Peru: Suyo

The thing that struck me most about Peru is all of its different parts. It is dry, it is wet, it is cold, it is hot (REALLY hot), it is dry, it is humid (REALLY humid), it is high it is low, it is on the coast, it is in the mountains, it is in the suffocating rain forest. I was amazed at the diversity of landscapes, food, and people that are engulfed within one massive country. I was originally planning to post about all of the Peru expedition, but it didn’t seem fair to all of the amazing nooks and crannies we found ourselves in. Our first stop was in the north of Peru, where it is mostly coastal desert until you reach the Andes. We took an overnight bus from Lima (liquid nitrogen and all), and after a groggy 14 hours, the term “mirage” might be appropriate here. When we finally convinced ourselves of what we were seeing after hours of Star Wars-esque terrain, the surprisingly bustling city of Piura emerged out of the desert. We met with our fellow bat biologists and hopped in a (precarious) pick-up, for yet another 4-ish hours north, until we were almost in Ecuador. A family welcomed us in their home and we were able to set up our field equipment for the night.


Our first night was in Roca Rojada in Suyo. The views speak for themselves.


By day, we are full time dog-petters…



…but by night, the life of a bat biologist really begins.



Others prefer the after-hours as well…


With only a wink of sleep, we get ready to set off to our next locality. But not before some last minute freshening up…








thumb_DSC_0442_1024Next stop, four hours up the mountains.