Bcharre (Lebo Switzerland)

After finishing an overnight trip to Baalbek, I headed to Bcharre after getting a tip off from John, an Irish lad I met in Beirut, of how hectic it is. The mountain road between the 2 towns was conveniently closed as Lebanon received an above average serving of snow this winter just past, bugger. This meant a full day of mini buses with a touch of rain (first in 7 weeks) from Baalbek to Beirut (2h, 6000LL), to Tripoli (1.5h, 4000LL), to Bcharre (1.5h, 5000LL). The bus ride to Bcharre was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Lebanon (except for the bird working in the hardware shop in Bcharre, no English unfortunately, sad face).

The whole area is built around Qadisha valley and is complete with snow, cream swiss-like chalets with red roofs, shit loads of churches and really friendly people; especially when you get out of the main town and walk down the road a few k’s to the area’s least touristic. The entire valley is 100% Christian which is different; no calls to pray at 5am, although these are replaced by church bells. I got there 1 week after the snow season ended, unlucky. If you are into hiking, you could easily spent 2 weeks here, so much beauty but so easy to get lost in Qadisha valley.

On my first afternoon in Bcharre (after all the mini-buses) I walked up to the ‘Cedars of Bcharre’ on the new road (approx 2 hours at a solid pace one way) from Bcharre town. I should have taken the old windy road but unfortunately I couldn’t find it (which is much quicker/shorter). The ‘Cedars of Bcharre’ are one of the last remaining cedar woods in Lebanon (it’s the tree on their national flag), the trees used to cover Lebanon’s hills but have since been consumed. I managed to hitch a ride back down the mountain from a crazy dude in an Opel ‘GT something or other’ who had quite the lead foot. Before I got in he just had a minor car accident; clipped a van while doing 130 round a corner.

My hike down into the valley was in thick fog and one local family (particularly grandma) wasn’t too pleased in me going down by myself, asked her if she wanted to join, I don’t think she saw my humour. I got about ¾ of the way down before a small stream (lots of streams and waterfalls here from all the melting snow) diverted onto the path and ended up making it impossible to follow without getting drenched; way too cold for that. On the way up I bumped into a Lebanese lady who grew up in Melbourne (random) but married a Lebanese dude and moved here, smashed some tea and I was off.

Unfortunately I have to leave tomorrow for Tripoli but this town/area goes on my list of places to return to. FYI I stayed in ‘tiger house’, $10/night, clean/warm, but the owner is a bit of cranky bastard and they fuck you for costs of additional items like making your own tea using their tea (usually free, 1000LL they wanted), turning on the heater at night and washing ($10/load, which I didn’t do). They also make up the price for dinner as there is no menu. I’d stay there again, just gotta be more switched on to all the crap. I’m going to try and sneak in a visit to the Qadisha Grotto (cave) tomorrow morning before the bus, I walked up there today at lunch (1.5hrs stopping for photos and some head stands) but the fucker with the key had gone home (apparently he returned later that afternoon; the problem with going before the peak season).

After all this walking I think I’ve discovered some new muscles in my legs, thank god I brought Skins. Hectic.

Addition 21.4.2012

After walking up the mountain road for the 3rd time (this time in a record 35mins, 4km) I found the grotto closed again, determined to enter I waited for 1 hour before the man with the key turned up, finally. As it turns out, today was only the second day this year the cave was open (due to high water levels). I was visitor #4, hectic.

The small path to the actual entrance was littered with fallen rocks and potholes. Apparently a work crew was going to start tomorrow and spend 3-4 days getting everything up to speed. At the caves entrance the ‘man with the key’ went the go start the generator but it wouldn’t work. I spent the next few minutes convincing him to let me into the engine room. I connected an additional battery in parallel with some scrap wire (the second time on my trip the Gerber multi tool has come in handy; the first was opening a cab’s car window in Egypt with no handle) and she eventually coughed and spluttered to life. Job done, and free entry followed by some Turkish coffee. The grotto was nowhere near as spectacular (in comparison to Jetta Grotto, 18km north of Beirut) but still rewarding after so much effort for a cave, at least this one you could take photos. I legged it back down (22mins, boom!), got a few weird looks from the locals and grabbed the bus to Tripoli (5000LL, 1.5hrs).

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