Published: September 8th 2012September 5th 2012
The next day it was on to Baalbek. Now the Australian government (and I assume many other governments) currently have a do not travel to the Bekka valley, where Baalbek is. The first stop was Anjar, a small town predominantly Armenian, some 35km from Syria. The Anjar ruins are the main draw to Anjar. From the Umayyad period, Anjar is now a city in ruins and its architecture very similar to those romans ruins we have seen throughout the Middle East and Turkey.
After a stop Shop (yes I couldn’t help myself) we arrived to Baalbek. First stop was the largest rock in Baalbek. This ‘large rock’ is a rectangular piece of rock that a local business man has saved for the town and now thongs of tourists come to visit this rock, and consequently his shop, enroute to seeing the ruins of Baalbek. The ancient roman temple of Baalbek is magnificent. Even more so (and yes I admit) more spectacular than Ephesus in Turkey in my opinion (just slightly) simply for the fact that many of the structures have intricate designs. How did they do that, in that period, without machinery? Just fascinating. After a long walk around, we arrived to our hotel and had a pleasant evening, mainly talking about everything under the sun with our lively character of a driver, Selim.
The next day we set out form Baalbek to the Ksara winery. The winery is a chateau, set atop lush terrain of grape vines and lush greenery. After a fabulous taste testing and were guided into the underground caves that were discovered by accident (by goats if my memory serves correct) in the 19th
century. Today the caves are the perfect climate for fermenting and storing wine and there are many wines that are kept just as a collection in the caves, not for consumption. A waste one might say, a treasure others will say.
From there we set off to Bcharre, a town within the mountains overlooking the gorgeous Qadisha valley. First we stopped at a maronite area with beautiful stone churches. Then we stopped at a village to visit Mansour’s friend Amal where she welcomed us with apples, juice and coffee. We sat under the grape vines and chatted while we snacked on fresh fruit and coffee. A lovely respite and just a snippet of warm Lebanese hospitality. After that we pushed enroute to Bacharre. We then stopped at the Cedar forest for a walk. The Cedar, arguably Lebanon’s national tree (it’s on the flag) is in abundance in this region. Form there we walked into town and had a look at some souvenir shops selling cedar-related items (e.g. Wall hangings, wooden trees etc). We bought a wall hanging and also got our names engraved too. Then from there, we visited the museum of late Lebanese poet/painter, Khalil Gibran. And then it was to our hotel. At lunch we were approached by the owners of the restaurant to go up the mountains that evening to the very highest summit of Lebanon to see the sunset and then go to a Bedouin camp for tea and food. After so umming and arring we decided to go. We were not disappointed. We drove up in a ute – Bill, Michael and I and 10 beers in the back. For part of the way it was bitumen road, the rest of the way was off-road ( Mansour wasn’t kidding when he told us!). So we wound our way up, precariously up the hill, making shortcuts straight up the mountain (i.e. not on the track). That with Mansour and Michael taking turns carrying a rifle; it was an interesting ride up. The sunset was just incredible – you could see the sun setting into the sea! Just magnificent. Luckily the sunset lasted awhile cos it took us a while to get to the top – over 3500m above sea level. So we arrived to the top – freezing as – to see the last of an amazing sunset. From our position we could see (in Lebanon) Tripoli and Baalbek, Homs in Syria and beyond was Cyprus (not that we could really see that far at night). After that we piled back into the car (me in the front this time as I was freezing) and then we went to an ice cave. Now as we were very far up the mountain, ice forms and stays for 365 days of the year in certain areas mainly in little lakes. One was a cave; yes a cave, made out of ice. We actually drove into it and I wish for that moment I was in the back of the ute. Anyway the guys got a photo. After that we made our way to a Bedouin camp. Now I have travelled far and wide and have stayed overnight in Bedouin camps in Wadi Rum, Jordan and in the Sahara in Morocco and of course the regular touristy ‘desert safari’ in Dubai. But this was just an amazing experience. I guess because it is a proper Bedouin family in the mountains in Lebanon and pretty much we didn’t know them, nor did Mansour, only the driver did. It was so great, the extended family was there and friends and we had lovely tea and the food oh my gosh the food! Bread, olives, cheese, labneh…..yum! and some fun with the camera taking photos and we were off. The very careful drive down (with our driver flashing the lights off for fun…..!) we got home safe and sound.
Today, we visited the Qadisha valley for a 3 hour hike and visited monasteries along the way. The Qadisha valley is a gorgeous valley and mountains provide an excellent walking trail. The valley is a sacred Maronite site, with many monasteries and chapels along the way. Very beautiful and we spent some time in the our lady of Qannoubine monastery. After our walk, Selim met us with the car and yalla, off to lunch. After a lunch of mezze, kofte, wine, beer and coffee we are now in the hotel relaxing before another night where we will be playing billiards…..!