A Quiet Finish to Our Week in Lebanon

Sunday, January 1, 2006 | Jbeil, Lebanon (map)

The harbor at Byblos was quiet enough that you could hear the water lap against the docks as you ate your lunch.
On our last full day in Lebanon, we made our first destination the sleepy fishing village of Byblos (جبيل), a short drive north of Beirut along the Mediterranean. Byblos's history—like that of most Lebanese towns—stretches back too many centuries to measure. Julian, Emma, and I visited the tiny, picturesque fishing harbor and peered over the assorted ruins strewn nearby. Perhaps there is such a thing as too many ancient ruins; a seafood lunch at Pepe's Fishing Club was the highlight of our visit.

That afternoon, we grabbed a taxi to the Jeita grottoes, where we paid the hefty entrance fee and duly dropped our cameras in the cubbies by the door. ("Absolutely NO photos!" read the sign.) Inside the mountainside, a huge cavern opened before us, the entire thing lit by pink and blue and green and purple floodlights. The gargantuan stalactites and stalagmites gave us the feeling that we were in the belly of a great beast—a great technicolor beast. We wandered the catwalks and then took a small gondola tour of the lake that covered much of the cave's floor.

We finished off the day at the nearby Nahr El Kelb (نهر الكلب), a small canyon where centuries of invading armies have carved inscriptions or mounted plaques upon the ravine's wall, attesting at least to their presence, if not their conquest. Napoleon's name is clearly visible, along with those of various 20th century local militias, French armies of the colonial period, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius (who passed through sometime around 200 AD). The names of the various Assyrian kings and Egyptian pharaohs are harder to discern.

The day brought our week in Lebanon to a pleasant conclusion. We flew out the next day at noon, me back to Amman and Julian and Emma back to Damascus, unsure when we will meet again.

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