Day one of the road trip we were headed to the nearby city of Byblos. We drove and drove and couldn’t see any signs for it…which isn’t so surprising as we would learn that Lebanon is poorly signed. Bernie, the co-pilot, consulted the map and figured we should’ve passed it by this point.
All of a sudden we ended up in Tripoli, a town about 45 minutes north (1/3 of the country) of where we were supposed to be! Oh well, Tripoli for the day sounded good too. We parked the car downtown (after being showed where to go by a friendly Lebanese/Canadian man) and headed to the market. First stop was to have some fresh OJ being squeezed by a Lebanese guy using an old hand press, delicious.
We wandered the market lanes for quite awhile browsing at all the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, sweets and breads. We were offered to try different fruits and breads for free too, the people were so friendly. However, we did feel a bit hurried along by the locals who were actually there to purchase goods! It was a great market with no other foreigners around.
Next stop was the soap section of the market. Tripoli is known for its natural soaps. They came in all shapes and sizes, even a massive bar of soap carved into the shape of the Quran. We were invited for tea in a cool cave like sitting area at the back of the shop. The tea was so delicious, spiced with cardamon and cinnamon! After our tea break we carried on around the market and into the streets for a bit of a walk before heading back to the car.
From Tripoli we headed South to the Jeita Grotto, a contender for the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World contest. It’s a series of caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites looking like mounds of melting ice cream, cauliflower, icicles and the ribbed underside of a mushroom. The cave stretches 6kms back into the mountains and is unbelievably spacious and damp inside.
We took a gondola to the entrance of the cave and then to see the lower part of the cavern, we took a boat through it! The experience was surreal. Another one of those moments that’s hard to put into words. We’ve been inside many caves on our travels but this one was the best so far. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside.
It was a great day and by the end of it Nick was driving like a true Lebanese. Nick had to be constantly on the defensive while being aggressive at the same time. There were imaginary 3rd or 4th lanes, driving on the shoulder, cars and trucks slowly creeping into our lane for no reason, no signs anywhere and basically no rules.
He was a pro and did an awesome job. It was a miracle the car got back to Beirut without a scratch on it. We headed home after the Grotto and Bernie and Toni came over (walked down the hall, haha) to our place and we played cards, drank wine and had appies until late that night.
The next day Nick and I took the car by ourselves for a day trip. We were heading southeast to the Chouf Cedar Reserve. The drive up there was beautiful. The road winded up and up through small villages until reaching the top with a great view of the valley. The Chouf Cedar Reserve contains a quarter of the remaining cedar forests in the country and the ancient trees are thought to date back 2000 years! These cedar trees were mentioned in the Old Testament. The Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and many sarcophagi in Egypt were built from this wood.
There were a few different hiking trails open to the public and we chose one and walked for a little bit before stopping for a lunch – tuna, crackers, cream cheese and veggies were on the menu today. We walked for about 2.5 hours reaching a point where there was actually a small patch of snow.
We headed back down to the car and just as we were about to leave, we decided to try another trail. So glad we did…it was where the actual cedar trees were! We were hiking mainly amongst pine trees but had no idea. We did another hike for about half an hour and saw many beautiful, old cedar trees.
It was a great day and we headed down the mountain back to Beirut. On the way home we noticed that when we were going about 100kms/hour and touched the brakes, the car would start shaking. Seemed pretty sketchy so we took it back to the dealer that night and Nick went into ask for a different car, while I waited in the passenger seat.
All of a sudden the door opened, a fat Lebanese man jumped in and took of at lightening speed…with me in the passenger seat! I looked back to see Nick staring at us with a confused, if not concerned, look on his face as we took off, guess I’m going for a joy ride!
He was speeding down the highway to see if the brakes would shudder and yep, they did. We had some awkward forced conversation and then he looped back to the rental agency, all good and totally harmless, just a little unexpected was all. Headed home after that with our new car, relaxed and got a good sleep…road trip day #3 in the morning.