Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lebanon: The culmination of Lebanon's mountain scenery

Chapter Five - The culmination of Lebanon's mountain scenery

The following morning I went to Bcharré. At a certain point the road runs about 20 kilometres along the Kadisha Valley, an impressive, beautiful wide gorge of nearly 50 kms long. One passes through several small villages, some of which are worth a look (e.g. Ehden). The viewpoints are often stunning, and at some places it's worthwhile to descend into the gorge to visit some religious (Maronite) retreats, none of which I found particularly fascinating, but the surroundings are great.

St Saba Church, Bcharré overlooking the Kadisha ValleyBcharré is situated on the northern side of the valley and is very picturesque, especially with the massive St Saba Church which has literally been built on the edge of the gorge. It's a pleasant place to spend some time. I went to the Gibran Museum, the number one (and in fact the only one to speak of) attraction in town. Gibran Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, poet, and all-round artist. The museum, housed in the buildings of the former Saint Joseph Monastery of the Carmelite Fathers. It's a delightful place; quiet and flowered climbing-plants all over the entrance. Unfortunately, the museum had a problem with the power generator when I arrived there. I enquired inside where the friendly caretaker informed me the problem would very likely be solved after an hour or two. I decided to take a stroll in town and have lunch. I ended up at the Mississippi Restaurant, which is literally surrounded by gushing water. The thundering of the water is very hard on the hearing though, and after a while it becomes a nuisance.

This restaurant turned out to be the worst place I have eaten during my entire trip. The waiters were mighty unfriendly, call it downright rude (at a certain point I almost angrily left), and forced me to take a seat in a very bad location. The food was not even mediocre, and the selection of dishes available was poor, consisting mainly of raw meat, which as they should know, is not to everyone's taste. On top of that, the bill was extraordinarily high, much higher than the quoted prices had suggested, with all kinds of dubious taxes slapped on. I guess it won't come as a surprise when I tell you I didn't tip in this place ? I was glad to be outta there.

I returned to the museum, where in the meantime the generator had indeed been fixed. When I paid my LL 3000 entrance fee, the curator apologised because some paintings were at an exhibition in Paris, and so the collection at the museum was 'incomplete'. He lent me a guidebook which listed all the pieces. I'm not at all a connoisseur, but I found Gibran's work inspiring and in general highly romantic in outlook. It's clear that he indeed was influenced by the Bible, Friedrich Nietzsche and William Blake. I had expected a quick visit, but I was thoroughly impressed and the visit ended up taking a couple of hours. The museum is well-thought out; amidst the paintings are personal belongings of the artist and parts of his furniture. The tour ends with a descend into the room - carved into the rocks of the monastery - where Gibran sleeps his eternal sleep. There's a lot of symbolic power in this part of the building. Awesome !

A footpath near the museum (it's signposted) leads up to the Phoenician Obelisk, a great rock, in which are three small burial chambers. Not spectacular, but the views are good.

A short walk uphill from Bcharré brought me to a narrow path which diverted from the main road. A walk of twenty minutes along this path, which sometimes goes right through the living rock, lead me to the entrance of the Kadisha Cave. An old chap acted as caretaker; he collected the LL 3000 I had to pay to enter. The cave has the advantage of not being trodden all over, but if you've seen the Jeita Grotto only a week or so before, it seems to be only a poor reflection of the latter. What bothered me in this place, was that it's too artificial. In their efforts to make it more accessible and to create falls to make the whole thing somehow more impressive, the responsible for this cave have overdone the concrete additions. The far end of the cave is the most beautiful part; nicely coloured stalactites and stalagmites abound.

Only if you have some time to kill in or around Bcharré, that one.

It was time to move on to the famous Cedars. They grow high up in the mountains, at an altitude of over 2000 metres. They're so important to everybody that they've even made it into the national flag, so I was expecting a lot ! And I knew that most of the time when you're expecting a lot of a place, you end up disappointed. Not so with the Cedars ! They're great ! It's only a small grove, especially when you see it from a distance, from even higher up. But the organisation here has constructed an 'approach road', winding through some of the surrounding desolate landscape, and nice, even more winding, walkways amidst the mighty trees. That way the illusion of a far more extensive area is created. Really, bank on at least a 60 minutes walk, even if you kinda rush things. A real eye catcher when you enter the grove from the parking lot is a most beautiful, old, but dead, cedar tree. Its bark has been removed and varnished by some artist. If you look carefully you can detect a face in one of the branches.

Some of the trees are enormous. There's one which is way over 1000 years old.
The Cedar grove makes for a pleasant afternoon and I can highly recommend a visit. Try to avoid the tourist stalls at the main entrance, and use the entrance near the parking lot at the back. The stalls will only ruin the illusion... and your budget (if you have one).

I still had my backpack in Tripoli so I had to return, but if I'd been smart I'd continued the same day to Baalbek. Now I could only do that the next morning.

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