When my intrepid cousin flagged me to join her and a dozen of her friends on a weekend trip to Tyre, I was thrilled.
Tyre is a port-city on the Southern coast of Lebanon. Most famous for its Roman ruins (there is a Roman hippodrome that was designed to seat 20,000 people!); for its Phoenician merchants who would take off from there to colonize many ports in the Mediterranean; for its arduous conquest by Alexander the Great, who laid siege to the city for seven months; and for its numerous mentions in the Bible.
My cousin said ” We are staying at the Orange House, bring your bathing suit and the essentials”.
A Santa Fe-style two-story Bed and Breakfast, bordered by citrus and banana trees and flanked by a semi-private three-mile long beach on its West side, this was the Orange House.
It is on this beach, about ten years ago, that Mona (owner) and Habiba (her right-hand), suddenly saw by a moonless night, a giant sea turtle. This encounter followed many others and soon the two ladies found themselves taking care of dozens of sea turtles who were digging their nests in the beach in front of their house. Protecting these eggs from predators ( foxes who would prowl the beach, or fishermen who would sell turtle meat for a song to some UN soldiers stationed in the area); constantly cleaning the beach, setting up wire nets on the eggs for protection, treating the injured turtles, and making sure no dynamite or poison was ever used by fishermen (unfortunately a hard habit to break), were some of the tasks that these courageous ladies began to undertake, sometimes risking their lives in the process.
In addition to a sea turtle refuge, the Orange House is an organic orchard, and is home to a few goats and hens. The income from the rental of rooms funds the turtle conservation project. There are no NGO grants or governmental funding available to cushion these ladies relentless efforts.
Listening to Mona El-Khalil, I heard her voice her concern in case a peace agreement was signed. When I asked her why, she replied that “Peace will mean only one thing: this entire strip of coast land will become one big commercial development with hotels and resorts, the turtles will never come back, and the miles of banana and citrus plantations will disappear”.
I hate to admit it, but she is absolutely right.
The Orange House is surrounded by an organic orchard, with scores of banana trees, avocado, papaya and mango, cherimoyas and passion fruits; date trees; jujube, grapefruit, citrus and bitter orange orchards, in addition to herbs and common vegetables.
Breakfast was an array of fresh cheeses, all from goats, raised in a nearby farm. Jams made from their trees as well: apricot, mulberries, candied clementines, lemon jam, all with thin, whole-grain markook bread made in the Chouf mountains.
Most notably, a fresh slice of papaya from the orchard, that I topped with some areesh cheese. Areesh is similar to a ricotta and is made at a local farm with goat milk.
To contact the Orange House, click here.
To contact the farm in Tyre making fresh organic Lebanese cheese, such as areesh,labneh, halloumi, nabulsi, call Ali Jaber (961) 07-76 15 45 or (03) 26 18 95
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