Byblos, et al...
May 10, 2006
I was going to hire a taxi to take me around today but, after finding out it was going to cost $120, I decided to figure it out on
my own. There were three places where I wanted to go and it was just a matter of figuring out on my own how to get there.
The first place was Jeita Grotto. This was going to involve two buses and a taxi to get there. Success was had! Now to fill you
in a bit on the Jeita Grotto…
This consists of caves made of pure limestone. The combination of water and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron
made the stalactites and stalagmites that form all sorts of shapes. Photos aren’t allowed inside the caves; the best way to
describe the upper gallery is that the shapes look mostly like tons of huge icicles dangling down from above (stalactites) and
also dangling up from below (stalagmites). Different colors can be seen: the iron creates the red, the magnesium creates the
green and the calcium creates the white.
The lower gallery has a river that runs through it (the Dog River) and a boat ride is taken to view the formations. Imagination
can be used to determine what different shapes down here look like. Upon what we saw, there was a ‘Romeo & Juliet’, a
Leaning Tower of Pisa and some different animals. This gallery is closed during the winter because the rains cause flooding of
My next excursion was going to be Harissa. This would consist of a taxi and a minibus that would take me to the teleferique
station in Jounieh. On a side note, the driver of the minibus was a little crushed when I told him that I couldn’t speak Arabic
or French as he wanted to communicate with me. He definitely had a vision of a little minibus romance. Sadly, I told him I
had a boyfriend since he couldn’t understand the word ‘husband’. When he stopped to let me out, he made a kissing motion
with his mouth. All I could do was laugh inside…but really, it was pretty darn nauseating. Anyway, I made it and that was all
that mattered. I bought my ticket and took my ride up into the mountains via the teleferique (basically a little sky tram that
goes way up to the top of a mountain). After one more ride on a funicular, I was in Harissa with sweeping views of the Bay of
Jounieh and the towns below. Atop this mountain is a towering statue of the Virgin Mary. It was a truly beautiful sight.
My next and last place that I was heading to was Byblos. I was excited about this for many reasons: a) I failed to get myself
there the first time I tried; b) I knew that it was going to be a place where I could relax and just hang out; and c) I simply just
like saying the name of this city.
I hailed my minibus and I was on my way. Byblos…here I come! I am proud to announce that I had a perfect record when it
came to finding the places I wanted to go to today without getting lost or taking detours (I didn’t hesitate to give myself the
necessary pat on the back for this). As always, I was completely disoriented when the minibus dropped us off. I went to the
first bank I saw and they ever-so-kindly pointed me in the right direction.
I was so happy to see that every assumption I had of this place proved to be true.
Byblos is one of the oldest inhabited cities (approximately 7000 years). The name was given by the Greeks around 1200 B.C.
Before that, it was called ‘Gebal’ (the reason why the Arabic name is ‘Jbeil’). Byblos means ‘papyrus’ in Greek and this is how
the city got its name (papyrus trade was very important in this area). Byblos is also a very important archaeological site:
medieval Arab and Crusader remains are nestled in between the sea and the souk.
Before I went to see the ruins, I went to a restaurant next to the sea and had a nice Lebanese lunch while looking out onto the
water. I was then on my way to go see the ruins. Until a slight interruption. A guy came up to me (this time it was one who
spoke perfect English and reminded me of Fez from ‘That 70’s Show’) and wanted to chat it up with me. He asked a few
questions to which I responded that my husband was back at the hotel because he was sick. He then volunteered to show me
some of the stuff in the old city since he was from there. Harmless. Or so I thought. We walked down to the harbor and then
went down what I will describe as a pier. He kept trying to give me a massage claiming that his mom was a masseuse and
that he could tell I was stressed in my neck. I told him I wasn’t. He told me I was. This went on for a couple more rounds and
then I told him to stop. I had him take a picture of me with the harbor in the background. Then he suggested we take a
picture of ourselves by holding the camera out so that I could have a picture with the person who was showing me around
town. It was at this point…as I was about to take the picture…that he went in to kiss me. I backed away and said “That’s it.”
He kept saying “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” I walked away and left him on the pier.
Now it was time for me and the ruins. I got a lot of information once I was there and was shocked to see how old this area is. I
mean we’re talking about thousands of years before Christ! The ruins set against the sea make it a beautiful sight.
I walked through the souk upon exiting the ruins. This is one of the most charming souks that I have seen.
It was time for me to now go to the highway to hail my bus. A guy pulled over and offered to give me a ride back to Beirut. I
wasn’t born yesterday…I won’t take a ride from a strange guy in America and I surely won’t take a ride from a strange guy
in Lebanon. While he was trying to persuade me, the bus came up and I was saved.
I got back home (well, to my hotel which feels like my home) and did the math. I spent $37 today. In addition, I’ve become
quite savvy at navigating the Lebanese transportation system.
And in the words of Mastercard…
Transportation costs for the day? Ten dollars.
Food costs for the day? Eight dollars.
Admission costs for the day? Nineteen dollars.
Figuring it all out by myself? Priceless.
The Byblos harbor.
The stalactites at Jeita Grotto..