Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why I Hike and Why You Should Come With Me!

It's green, breezy,
sometimes tough but always amazing
- Kfar Qatra
It's been a year and two months since I started hiking. Last April 2012, I joined a group that hiked every single Sunday, all year round, in the Chouf of Lebanon (sometimes Maten), and I have been hooked since then. Many of my friends and family get frustrated given that Sundays are mine especially that I try not to skip hiking days (maybe for a marathon or if I'm getting married). Of course, I first went to increase my physical activity, but actually hiking is more than 'more exercise' to me. It's a day off, a day of fresh clean air, all nature, no stress, no computers, no phones, no etiquette, no cars, no pollution, no noise. Just stress-free people in to enjoy a free, fun day.

Why hiking outdoors is now essential in my life
  • First and foremost, I detach from my everyday life. As fun as it is, being stuck in traffic for at least 2 hours a day can become a bit tiresome. Not to mention the extensive computer/phone usage and work pressure. So going outdoors, where you can actually breathe fresh air and see the sun, clouds, sky, trees and flowers - where you can actually run, jump, more like play, is very different than exercising indoors, in a gym or at home.
  • I increases an automatic 4 fun hours of my physical activity, with an average burning rate of 320 calories per one hour of cross-country hiking. Of course, the trail changes every time, which makes things 'interesting'. You'll never get bored, lots of people to socialize with and lots of plants and tees to learn about (and taste) - 4 hours feel like entertainment and pass like a charmer!
  • It improves my cardio-pulmonary health from my blood circulation to my breathing and sweating capacity. More oxygen and nutrients are reaching my cells and more toxins are being cleared out, one of the many perks of physical activity!
  • I have lost 17 kilograms of weight (around 38 pounds) so now I'm no longer overweight, my percentage body fat is within healthy ranges and I increased my muscle mass! Of course, my diet was as important as my exercise for these 2 work hand in hand. You can't hike or exercise in general and lose weight, unless you fix the quality as well as the quantity of your food intake! Healthy habits go with a healthy overall lifestyle.
  • It improved my mental health, relieves my stress and I have excellent sleep quality, like a baby! I don't make these things up, I feel them and yea of course, science has my back!
  • I get lots of my vitamin D needed! However, during scortching summer days, we try to avoid the sun as much as possible, walking by rivers, in the shades of trees.
  • Hiking, or exercise in general, has lots of health benefits. It decreases your risk of blood pressure and diabetes type 2. It also puts lots of [good] pressure on your bones, increasing your bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Of course, I did not measure that, but it's a well known fact for weight-bearing exercises.
  • And to be honest, I became a lighter, happier and more positive person since I started hiking. Hiking gave me a chance to experience getting lost in the woods, getting my shoes jammed between rocks, having to swim through a river to get to the other side of the valley and having to trust people I meet for the first time. All which improved my well being and outlook to life! These may seem simple and easy, but they actually reflect how I now deal with obstacles in my every day life - it's all just huge hike! 

It is quite important to walk, hike, jog, run, swim, bicycle, row, jump ropes [you name the cardio exercise you love, so find one] at least 3 hours per week, so I actually hike for 4 to 5 hours on Sundays, but I also go for strength exercises weekdays such as lunges, squats, sit-ups, push-ups... These help me gain control over the range of my motion as well as increase my muscle mass - all which are great to become a better hiker!

So come on a journey with me and discover my last year of hiking - Mrusti reserve
How it all began. My 2nd hiking trip
back in April 2012, Barouk el Chouf still had lots of snow
And this is the Chouf Reserve during Spring, I'm the one in pink!
Batloun during May - Mona letting her heart out!
We are always colorful!
After hiking, we sit, eat and talk - Deir El Qamar
Jahliye River, one of the most amazing places I have been introduced to in Chouf!
And it's just near my hometown, Deir Dourit, who knew!
Freeing your mind always helps!
Moi near Mazraat El Chouf
Najwa crossing the river.
She made it the whole way without giving up those flowers she picked!
I learned to cross the river too! I gotta mention that the water is always icy, so we never cross rivers during fall/winter seasons
And you know, whether it's rainy or sunny, we never skip a hike!
Chouf during fall is breath taking!
We even start our hiking as early as 6.30 am during sunny summer days - Bmohray!
This way we can finish early, before the scorching summer sun,
to chillax with Rodrigue in the greenery
Green green (and clean) wherever we go! Omar and some Roman ruins in Marj Besri
And just this past Sunday, we went to Mrusti where we had berries, we had cherries and walked them off too! And by the way, we always eat whatever is in season so I've had fresh loquats, grapes, cherries, peaches, strawberries, apricots, fava beans, fresh almonds, fresh walnuts, plums, cucumbers, tomatoes, artichoke, just to name a few!
Oh we all hike for free, you can get the food you want to have afterwards during our picnic/talk, we all get some and share a huge and yes, healthy mostly vegetarian, buffet!
Meet the adorable Daad, Ghandi, me, Adrianna and Maan nom-noming good food after a Marj Besri seriously long hike!
So if I ever hear someone saying they don't have the money or time to exercise, or that Lebanon's nature is mediocre, you're on my hiking list!! (I'm sure you'll love it!)

PS: I never take my camera with me, so I have Ghandi Tarabay, Carlos Bou Nafeh, Mona Merhi, Nisrine Dairy, Bassam Zeineddine, Omar Malaeb, Hani Hamdan, Fayrousa Nasr, Nidal Rachid, Iyad Zydan and Mira Breish (not sure if I missed any!) to thank for those amazing, breath-taking, heart-wrenching photos! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Next Sunday: Shall I Go Cherry-Picking or Biking from Nakoura to Tyr?

I usually go hiking on Sundays! Not only is it considered a good workout for at least 4 hours on a weekend while connecting with the green, sun, birds, flies and butterflies around, but it's also a breath of fresh air from all the work, noise, cars, cities and pollution. It is quite rare that I skip a Sunday hike, unless it's heavily raining during winter, but when summer is here, some events just tingle my interest!

So this coming weekend, the 16th of June, I'm lost. It's basically a day with friends and/or family. Last Saturday was kinda easy: Morning run followed by Souk El Tayeb's market & lunch and then an afternoon swim.

I have visited Souk El Tayeb's Saturday's market few times now as well as their authentic Lebanese restaurant, Tawlet, and I must admit that is full of fresh deliciousness from home-made jams, labne balls immersed in olive oil, Lebanese pantry, pickled olives with almonds, home-made cakes to rose water and organic fresh fruit and vegetables... you name it! And what I admire the most is that all the food has this 'teta-has-been-here' feel in them!

You'll find the freshest organic fruit and vegetables
Some seriously appealing radishes
All kinds of greens from Swiss chard, spinach, scallions, mint, parsley, coriander... I love those!
Of course, delicious red cherries
Home-made cakes - This lady, Nada Saber, has some good brownies!
And my favorite, Coara's whole-wheat wild green pies!

So the point is, Souk El Tayeb is known for its seasonal events that support Lebanese produce from olive oil tasting, tabboule day, apple picking, to figs from Kfour...

And this coming Sunday, it's cherry picking time!

Cherries are one my favorite tarty fruits and they are in season around this time of year in Lebanon! So this upcoming Sunday, 16th of June, I can be hiking, rappelling and cherry picking all while enjoying some Lebanese dabke and having traditional Lebanese food. Best part is that this event includes both eating good food and physical activity in nature. This way I'll have my cake and eat it too!


On the other hand, though it's the first time I hear about SPACE Outdoor, their biking and swimming trip seems to interest me a lot! My friend forwarded me this poster and I was hooked. Cycling along Naqoura's sky-blue beaches, touring Tyr with its phenomenal culture and then relaxing on warm [clean] sand beaches while enjoying some entertainment games! Looks like a winner trip to me, if only I wasn't lost on which to choose!

So what would you go for??

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

FERN - Decreasing Food Waste in Lebanon

June 5 is the World Environment Day and the smartest way we can preserve the environment is by action. We can 'think' all we want that something must be done to protect mother nature, or we can do something about it >> Exactly what FERN advocates are doing! FERN, Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients, is a Lebanese NGO founded during November 2012, tackling the issue of food waste in Lebanon.

F.E.R.N. increasing awareness on food waste
in Souk El Tayeb
In Lebanon, 63 to 95 % of waste is organic, meaning actual food that can be composted, while the remainder of the waste is basically recyclable glass, plastic, metal and paper. In addition, at least half of the food grown in the market is thrown away, especially when fruits and vegetables are aesthetically considered lower than the market's selling standards because of skin blemishes. Consequently, this has increased food waste, cost, methane gas emission and overall pollutionTherefore, FERN is determined that food establishments in Lebanon can have an overall of ZERO waste, recycling food to generate more foodSo if you're skeptical, walk with me.

  • F.E.R.N. contacts food establishments, analyzes their food preparation process and
    Cedar Environmental recycles
    organic and non-organic waste!
    trains employees on how to reduce their foodprint and on how to sort out organic material (food) from the rest of the waste generated on site.
  • Food is then collected daily
    >> Food waste is sent to treatment facilities such as Cedar Environmental ( in order to generate 100% environment friendly and organically certified compost for farmers' use. I remember meeting Ziad, the brains behind Cedar Environmental, in TedX few years back. His talk was absolutely inspiring as he was in love with recycling our Lebanese garbage! What I love most is that when such compost is applied to the soil, it can improve its quality as it is rich in essential nutrients originally found in food while reducing the use of chemical fertilizers!
    >> As for leftover safe food, it is donated to those in need through organizations such as FoodBlessed and the Lebanese Food Bank (which deserves a post of its own!).
  • FERN is also committed to increase awareness about decreasing food waste and nutrient recycling to children as well as food establishments and farmers.
Currently, 83% of waste is being dumped in landfills or directly into nature whereas only 17% is being composted and recycled. This is why FERN has started this easily implemented initiative where any food establishment can take part! FERN is currently working with 10 restaurants to recycle, reduce and prevent food wastes all over Lebanon!

So my question was, given that I don't own a food establishment, what can we do to decrease our foodprints and food waste??
>> Naji Boustany, FERN co-founder, was helpful enough to give me few tricks on what I can personally do for the environment!
Fruits and vegetables with blemishes
can be turned into jams, pickles or soups!
  • Start by adjusting your food shopping behavior: Buy the exact amount of food you need. If it's hard for you to assume that, start by keeping a list of the leftover food you throw away. This will definitely give you an idea on what you are buying in excess!
  • Apply FIFO: First In, First Out! Store them back and move the older food items to the front, this way you can use these foods before their expiration date.
  • Fruits and veggies with blemishes should not be thrown away, as they are as safe and nutritious as perfectly-shaped produce. They can be eaten as such or made into soups, jams, cakes, smoothies, pickles or juice! And I actually applied this few weeks back when we had extra bananas on the verge of dying - Turning them into banana ice cream was a success!
  • Of course in Lebanon, we cook as if everyday is a fiesta (at least that's what mom does). But the trick lies in never throwing left overs away
    - When we cook huge amounts, we make sure to invite lots of people over or send my teta, aunt, family and even colleagues some of the yumminess.
    - We also freeze those extra meals and have them in coming weeks.
    - Or we have leftover days! Boy is this common in our house! This is usually done on Thursdays or Fridays, where all foods left from the week are gobbled!
  • And one tip I loved is separating all food waste from non-organic ones, turning them into a bland and using them as fertilizers for my plants, smart and nutritious!
FERN also provided us with this printable poster for more ways to decrease food waste!
So FERN is currently expanding its awareness campaign to decrease food waste, increase food recycling and include more food establishments that FERN-alize their organic waste! You can check their website, twitter or facebook page to know more about their activities as they are having an environmental quiz night tomorrow June 5th and a fundraiser on Thursday!