[a note at this point – the first post was far too detailed to maintain, but I thought that the first night was notable enough to write it out.]
On my first morning in Beirut i woke to a hazy overcast day that was already equally as hot as the night before despite still being early. I found Joe and Carmen at breakfast reading the English Lebanese papers and sharing a meze breakfast – Labneah (a thickened yogurt with garlic and oil), hummus, fool (a bean stew not dissimilar to French cassoulet), olives and a stack of soft flatbread all washed down with coffee and juice – could defiantly get used to this. This was the first of many long breakfasts we shared on the terrace of the Saiffi Village where we stayed and even after we had moved hostels we still came back.
Looking back on my first week or two here all it seemed we did was wait for the heat of the day to walk across the city. Whenever we arrived anywhere it was soaked through with sweat and gasping for a drink, but I think that it’s what you need to do when you first arrive somewhere so that you can get the feel of the city. Also we just had no idea how the shared taxies worked.
So the first few days we wondered around the central areas – around Martyrs’ square, the main mosque, downtown (where the main shopping centre is and many of the parliament buildings), Hamra and the Corniche (the large walkway that runs along the side of the sea).
We also left the city to travel over to Byblos, which is about an hour up the coast. It is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world having been there for something like 7500 years (not bad). It’s a little fishing village with a huge crusader castle, a music festival, an old souk and a string of great fish restaurants (by reputation not that we tried them all, the price tag stopped any thoughts of that).
A few days after Bybloss we travelled up into the mountains in the central area of the country to go to Kadisha Valley (sometimes spelt Qadisha valley) which means Holey Valley in Lebanese. It’s one of the main heartlands of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and the valley is full of monasteries and crosses. It’s also one of the most spectacular mountain regions I’ve ever driven through. From Becharre at the head of the valley, the sides of the ravine fall away almost vertically into the deep cut that runs like a tare through the mountains for 10 miles or so down towards some more valleys and eventually to the coast. We spent a day wondering through the valley bottom in the shade of the woods along a gushing river (that must be pretty big in the spring when the snow melts, but that in August is not much bigger than a large stream). By about 6pm we were trying to make out way out of the gorge, light was diminishing fast and although it made the whole valley shine orange and look amazing we didn’t fancy getting stuck and having to sleep in a hermit cave. We had clearly missed the path we had been aiming for and we were beginning to think about turning back when we saw a small path winding up the side with a sign pointing to a cave. We took it and started climbing up the hill; the path was small and winding up the steepest of hills. Steps were cut into some of the vertical sections, and then suddenly we had reached the top of an outcrop on which a large cross stood. However the path seemed to disappear and we couldn’t see where (if anywhere) it went next. So we decided to climb up a little above the outcrop where we spotted the path again winding up one of the steepest sections we had yet taken. With no idea if it actually leads out we carried on (water all gone by this point and covered in sweat). Suddenly with little warning we scrambled over the lip of the valley side and the path was suddenly a tarmac road. Stumbling into a small roadside shop on the edge of a village we were greeted by an Australian-Lebanese ex-pat who was visiting and he offered us a ride back to Becharie, which was about the most welcome thing that could have been offered at that point.
So as the sun set, sweaty, tired and hungry we piled into a total stranger’s car and headed back to our hotel.