I slowly opened my eyes and the sweet images faded away. Thus were the days of spring and summer as I remember them, long, so long ago. I was thirsty and I reached for the bottle I keep on the floor by my bed. As I straightened up, I brought it closer to my lips then I hesitated and stopped.
It was more serene still in the villages spread across the mountains and hills of the coast. The focal point of any rural community was the Ein (water spring). In the lazy afternoon when shadows get blunter and longer, the village girls would flock to the Ein in the valley, Jarra (pottery) on shoulder to fill with pure water gushing out in defiance of rock and time.
I steered the car East with Om Fares by my side. "How far?", she warily asked. "Not much honey, don’t you remember? We’ve been there before. Besides, once we get on the road you’d wish if it were a hundred miles away". In fact, it’s much less than that. We drove for 24km, passing the halfway point in Bmalke at 400m altitude then climbed a little further into the wooded hills before we dipped steeply to the left. We entered the magical realm of the Naher Al Ismaelieh (Ismaeli River also known As Naher Al Khawabi).
The Ismaelis, referred to in some history books as the Assassins are believed to be the followers of an old Islamic sect originating in Persia. They live and prosper in different parts of Syria. This, however, is their home and it certainly is one of the most beautiful valleys in the entire world. I know this country like the back of my hand. I have friends here and I have hunted and slept within the bounds of their great hospitality. The Ismaelieh River is my favorite destination when I’m on the saddle of my bike. I often go there when I have no place to go to.
We went past Khorbet Al Faras, the little village with the perpetual scent of olive oil lingering beyond the season. We dropped further down in the gorge. We rolled down our windows each in turn and reached together to mute the car stereo. Nothing could be let in to intrude on the senses as we were back in supreme accord with our surroundings. We followed the serpentine road with its undulating drops and rises. Up ahead in the distance a lonely grave, the tomb of a Sheikh by the name of Youssef Al Ajami, peered at us amongst a thicket of evergreen trees. I pulled up on the shoulder; we left the car and strolled silently in the woods.
There was an old man filling a few plastic containers. He offered us his turn, "I’m in no hurry", he said. I stubbornly declined as he certainly was an integral part of the beautiful picture. He slowly carried the water to his ancient car, waved us goodbye and climbed the hill till they disappeared beyond a curve.
"Now I can drink, I’m dying for it". I cupped my hand underneath the streaming flow and drank my fill. Then I stood up and dampened my face and hair while Om Fares enjoyed the most refreshing drink of her life. "Years ago", I said, "I used to come here and the water spilled uncontrolled from the rocks, right underneath the exposed roots of the Delbeh Tree". They closed it down now and tapped it with a pipe. It’s easier to fill the containers this way, certainly not as natural but more practical perhaps. "Where are the empty bottles you brought", she asked. "I didn’t bring any", I answered. I just needed a drink of water. Besides, we can always come back for more.
In days gone by, on the way to the Ein, boys met girls and fell in love. On the way from the Ein, we held hands and walked slowly to the car. Then we headed home on a journey back from somewhere in time.