Sunday, November 28, 2010

The bus to Byblos and back again

Getting around Lebanon proved to be easier than we thought. We decided we were going to do a day trip to Byblos (an historic town with ruins dating back to Phoenician times), and on the map it looked like a decent half day's journey. So it was delightful to work out that in fact Lebanon is much tinier than we originally imagined, and in fact it would only take us about an hour by microbus.

Microbuses are great. They're minibuses which travel all over the country on pretty defined routes, and you can pick them up at any point. Literally - if you just stick out an arm, one will stop for you. The White Witch and I did a little more planning than that, not quite trusting our bus-hailing skills on our first day, so we got down to the "terminal" at Dawra (in truth, a large roundabout with dozens of minibuses hanging around it) - and lo and behold, there was a bus ready to take off for Byblos. How much for the 45 kilometre trip? Two US dollars. Two! We were on it in seconds.

An hour, a coffee and a bathroom break later, we were out in the glary sunshine of Byblos and making our way to the runis which stand on a coastal hill.

Ruins are ruins pretty much anywhere, and we enjoyed the wander around the site mainly for the benefit of learning a bit about the 17 different civilisations which have inhabited that particular area.

The excavation is ongoing, so you can see bits of Roman ruins interspersed with the Crusader castle, Phoenician tombs and sarcophagi, and an ancient well that still bubbles with water.

Following a divine lunch at the port, in the sunshine, accompanied by local beer, we wandered back to the highway and caught ourselves a bus and then a taxi to Jeita.

Never mind the traffic, which was completely at a standstill and required us to get out and walk the last two kilometres, we finally made it and it was worth the bother.

What's at Jeita? Caves, dear reader, caves. Magnificent caves. Huge, open caves with a ceiling over 106 metres high, and impressive walls of stalactites and stalagmites, and a winding concrete staircase inside that freaked me out enough for me to clutch onto the White Witch's arm as we made our way up and up and up inside them.

I have borrowed these photos to show you - I couldn't take any myself, because cameras are forbidden inside (it didn't seem to stop many of the tourists though, who were all snapping away happily, though I did bark at one child not to TOUCH the stalagmites, and a German couple nearby applauded me, while the guard looked on, totally unconcerned despite the signs everywhere saying Do Not Touch The Stalagmites .... sigh .....)

However, here is a link to them. They are magnificent, and currently in the running to be voted one of the modern 7 Wonders Of The World. They deserve the title - the caves extend between 6-7 kilometres inside the hills of Lebanon, though you can only travel about a kilometre inside before the oxygen becomes too thin.

In the lower grotto, you can take a boat trip across a subterranean lake with waters that are perfectly still, turquoise and crystal clear. The grotto walls, which shear up around you, are covered with mica, so they sparkle in the dim light. It's quite magical.

Then we caught ourselves a bus back to Beirut, and spent an hour trying to find a particular restaurant, wandering up and down the laneways, looking for Rue Monot, looking, looking, looking .....

Lovely arabic girl trying this on in the Byblos souq


Isabella Golightly said...

Please, please tell me you bought a yellow marvel of your own?

Jennie said...

That last photo is one of the cheekiest expressions I've ever seen. Please submit it to some photography comps! The Guardian (UK paper) has photography comps which seem reasonably pretigious.