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A monk's picnic

Like everywhere we have been so far the summer months are hot and dry but the winter months bring snow and lots of it. Iran gets 10 moetres we were told and everyone in Lebanon and Syria are also proud of their four seasons. Bcharre, in the north west of Lebanon, is a skiing village which serves the nearby Cedars resort during the winter but in summer it is the best place to explore the Qadisha floor which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in Lebanon. After the hot and dusty yellow sandstone landscape of Baalbeck we were ready for some green again.

After making a plan to meet up in the same hostel 4 hours away we left Amy and Daun in Baalbeck to wander round *our* ruins ;) for the morning while we made our way straight to Bcharre

The hotel and taxi drivers assured us that the best way to get there was to get a shared taxi to a nearby town and hitch the rest of the way. So we jumped confidently out of the first taxi only to be laughed at by the locals in the sleepy little village we were dropped in. But we soon had a team of children flagging down cars (to no avail) and eventually a passing australian-lebanese man said he fancied a drive anyway and took us most of the way there and from there we managed to flag a shared cab for the short final hop. And I had a chance to practice my school girl french with a softly spoken and smiley local man in the back. I just can't get to grips with Arabic so it's been lucky for us that everyone here speaks French.

I mention these moments really because catching shared taxis and stopping in smaller towns is the main way that we meet local people and get to swap our countries stories - this is how I get my flavour for the country but it's difficult to share that with you precicely but it'll be a reminder for me when I look back on this when i'm old, so bear with these little bookmarks :)

We climbed into the mountains and wound our way round the side to see a cloud sitting in the valley below - a very pretty sight - and under that cloud was Bcharre. The town itself has a very seasidey feel partly due to the fog/cloud I think and the fact that the houses are built up the steep sides of the valley and so as you look out you cant see anything on the other side for the fog and so it could easily be the sea. It was so cool up here that I had to use my jumper (hooray for packing it!). We pootled about the town, had dinner with the girls, and got an early night ready to start our hike at 8am sharp.

Fortunately the cloud stayed away the next day and revealed the sights that were hidden the previous day. Wow. The valley is steep, and full of green orchards and vegetation. There is a river in the bottom and the odd little houses dotted on the other side...heaven knows how they get bread and milk because there were no roads on the other side that we could see. Dave, James-the-Australian-teacher-eight-months-into-his-year-sabatical and I scrambled down the valley side to join the donkey tracks and then footpaths along the side of the valley. The valley is famous for harbouring persecuted religious minorities throughout the centuries, mostly of the christian maronite order, all that is left now are old monasteries and cave hide-outs you can explore. However some of the monasteries are still working and have been since the 11th century. We spent the day scrambling up hills to check out caves, visiting the old hermitages (these maronites like to be left alone), monastery museums (we saw the first printing press built in the whole Middle East...and lots of wine making paraphenalia...no wonder these monks like to be left alone) and scrumping apples, grapes, walnuts, figs and blackberries from the orchards, monastery gardens and even those provided legally by nature, like, just out in the open. We resisted the urge to climb into the little steel cables transport box to cross to the other side...so *that*s how they get their milk and bread.

We were making our way back on the road, pestering local goats and watching the sun sink behind the rock speckled valley, happy but weary, when our dream finally came true....!! a pick up truck stopped to give us a lift!! so we rode back home along the top edge of the valley with the glowing sunset behind us, waving like idiots at all the groups of old men sitting outside shops. James didnt quite get why were were so excited but we grinned like loons the whole way home :-D

I was still smiling when we finally fell into bed (after the walnut-tasting competition of the monk's spoils, a beer, a shower and a good meal). Good day.

Posted by rachndave 23/09/2010 07:58 Archived in Lebanon Tagged food hiking religion transportation valleys

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