After a full week of wind and rain, Friday morning broke out clear and warm at last. The thermometer on the balcony by the kitchen showed 19ºC. The sky was pristine, with plumes of rare clouds splashed sparingly around its turquoise canvas. I didn’t want to miss this singular February opportunity and I hurriedly showered but did not shave. I put on a fresh pair of jeans, a comfortable sweatshirt and an old familiar baseball cap. Within minutes I was looking at the cityscape through my rearview mirror.
Tartous was still asleep on this brilliant day. I was heading due east on the quaint road to Dreikish. I swiftly eyeballed the rudimentary map and estimated the distance to my final destination at 45, 46 km perhaps, significantly less than the 65 km indicated on one of the websites I’ve earlier browsed.
On the road to Dreikish - A mosque in the woods
When I finally got a chance to watch Kingdom of Heaven by Ridley Scott on DVD and in addition to enjoying this historically accurate movie tremendously, I became fascinated with the actor who played Salah El-Din, our own Tartoussi, Ghassan Massoud. I only knew by chance that he was born and that he grew up in a small village by the name of Fijleet. Among my springtime motorcycle jaunts I must’ve ridden through Fijleet at least once in the past but I couldn’t quite remember when. Reading the affectionate words Ghassan used to describe his village made me itch to go there.
The southern horizon - The Lebanese Cedar Mountains
Upon reaching Dreikish (elev. 500 m) and near the first intersection in town I stopped and asked a bystander for instructions. “You should go to the left there”, he pointed, “I’m going to Jnaynet Reslan and it’s on the way to Fijleet. I can ride along with you and show you the way if you don’t mind.” Of course I didn’t. The man was young, in his mid twenties perhaps. He taught at the local elementary school and thought that he would most certainly die if he ever left this country and moved anywhere else. “On Fridays, I trek these hills between the olive trees. I walked to Dreikish early this morning, bought a few things and was waiting for a microbus to get back to the Jnaynet until you showed up”, he confessed. “But tell me. Whom do you want to see in Fijleet?”, he asked.
The road climbed and winded
I told him that I was driving by and taking pictures and didn’t know anyone from around this area. He volunteered to take my picture with some beautiful scenery in the background and I gladly accepted. Once we reached his village he offered his natural hospitality and begged me to have lunch with him and his mother. I apologized reluctantly although I would’ve loved to take him up on his offer. When I left home earlier everyone was still in bed. I wanted to return on time to have a light lunch then go to the football game at the municipal stadium with Fares. Our local team Al-Sahel (The Coast) was playing at home against Ariha. They are doing very well in the 2nd division and might, just might, make it to the top level next season. Samir finally accepted my excuse as I promised to visit him on my next trip to his village.
Road Sign - Fijleet
The road ahead climbed and winded, knifing the endless hills with love and care. Off in the distance to the south the Lebanese Cedar Mountains shaped the jagged horizon. Up in front evergreen summits loomed closer and closer until I finally reached Fijleet (estimated elev 750 m). I parked my car by the side of the road and descended to see, smell, hear, touch, feel and breathe her timeless and regnant beauty.
Fijleet- Looking from the West
I cruised slowly through the narrow roads of the village, shot a few photos and basked in the sunshine. I contemplated the connection between Fijleet and Hollywood. Ghassan Massoud rose to stardom and international fame through his roles in Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007). He gained my respect and admiration for the heartfelt words of reverence and affection he bestowed on his native land.
A house in Fijleet
There’s no adobe like home wherever that might be. It is indeed a state of mind to call a place home and some of us might be fortunate enough to have more than one. As long as there’s a locus for us where we can walk in the pitch black of darkness and not stumble, we’re going to be fine. We can do that in our own backyard or somewhere, in the company of someone, whom we can fully trust to take our hand and show us the way.
Fijleet as seen from the East
Driving Instructions: From Tartous take the road to Dreikish, 30 km. Once in Dreikish and at the first roundabout, go left (North) then continue to Jnaynet Reslan 10 km ahead. Maintain the main road for 6 km to Fijleet. There are signs in Arabic along the way and you can always ask.