Father Dario Escobar, an 83-year-old Maronite monk from Colombia, has become something of a niche tourist attraction since he set up residence in the mountainside enclave 17 years ago. On this hot mid-September day, three hikers from Beirut arrived late in the afternoon hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Initially, it seemed that they would be disappointed, as Escobar was hidden away in his chambers.
But some 20 minutes later, the hermit emerged to close the heavy wooden gate leading into his compound for the night. He paused to chat with his visitors in a mix of English, Arabic, and French.
“They’re very beautiful, but they’re mamnoua,” or forbidden, Escobar said with a laugh. He was referring to the ornate rose tattoo and woman’s face that were inked across Ronnie Shalhoub’s biceps, a fitness instructor from Beirut. “Is that your mother?” Escobar continued. Shalhoub confirmed that it was. “But how? Your mama is beautiful—you are ugly!”