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Lebanon: where modern day hermits live

LEBANON — The 80-year-old Dario Escobar, came all the way from Colombia to spend the rest of his life as a hermit in Lebanon’s holy valley.

As if straight out of a fairytale, Dario Escobar cut out for himself an oasis of peace in a region which has been conflict-torn for years. The hermit lives in a tiny 13th-century monastery located inside a cave in Lebanon’s Qadisha valley, known as Valley of the Saints because of its many convents and hermitages. This UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world, and home to the famous Lebanese poet and artist Khalil Gibran.

IMG_2204My daily routine involves 14 hours of prayer, three of work, two of studying and five of sleep,” the hermit told the Baltic Review. “Il dolce far niente (Delicious idleness),” he joked, while recalling his days in Italy as a member of the Second Council of the Vatican in the 1960s.

Dario Escobar is alone but not lonely; every day about a dozen visitors spend some time at his cliffside hermitage surrounded by rich vegetation and ancient monasteries. In the non-stop world of the 21st century, few reject the vortex of modern life and head off into the wilderness – living their lives in self-imposed isolation.

Photo by Bibbi Abruzzini
Photo by Bibbi Abruzzini

Dario Escobar whose only possession now is a black cassock, arrived in Lebanon in the early 1990s. His family comes from Medellín in north-west Colombia, though he denies any link with the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was from the same region.

“When Pablo Escobar died I was stopped at the airport in Detroit. The investigation took hours; I missed my flight because of my name, because I was Colombian and because I was travelling to Beirut. Enough to make them suspicious!” said the hermit.

Father Dario has not returned to Colombia in 24 years but fondly remembers his home country.  He grows and accepts food from the nearby convent and gets news of the outside world from the several monks and hikers wandering near his remote hermitage.

“I don’t have access to newspapers, television, radio or internet,” the greybeard explained.

He said that the most difficult thing for him is to wash his hair as he is not allowed to cut it in accordance with Vatican rules. Despite living a reclusive life, he has not lost his sense of humour. Talking about his moustache he said that he is obliged to cut it to “drink the blood of Christ which I particularly enjoy,”

 According to Jean de la Roque, a French traveller and journalist, up to the 15th century, there were approximately 800 caves in the mystical Qadisha valley. Most were inhabited by hermits but now only two are left because of the harsh living conditions.

The remote valley is not human-friendly; Dario Escobar said he often found himself face-to-face with wild boars and lynxes. The recluse got his appendicitis removed last week but he spent only a couple of days in a convent to recover. He is now back to his daily routine – “there is another hermit living in the valley but he does not talk as much as I do,” Dario Escobar said, before taking a group photo with some lucky visitors.

Bibbi Abruzzini
Bibbi Abruzzini is a foreign correspondent for the BALTIC REVIEW and international news agencies in South Asia. She is Italian, grew up in Brussels and has reported from several countries, including Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, France, India, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Tunisia,Turkey and the US - writing largely about social and development issues.