The biggest storm in 10 years

Today was a long, tiring, slog of a day – although we did make the best of it and get a portion of things done as planned.

As it turned out, the storm which started yesterday is the biggest storm the region has seen in 10 years, and it raged all night with a vengeance.  The windows rattled as the wind howled, rain and hail lashed down, lightening lit up the room every few minutes and the longest, loudest thunder claps I’ve heard kept us up most of the night.  I’ve honestly never witnessed a storm like it.

In the morning, the storm just continued in the same vein, threatening all our plans to visit the ancient ruins at Byblos.  We eventually decided to put on our battle gear (all the clothing we have), and we ran out in the torrential rain.  We got soaked to the skin by the time we made it to the Byblos castle, at which point the rain stopped for long enough for us to visit the old castle.

The castle at Byblos has been around since the first few millenia BC, and has been restored, added to, and rebuilt by all the successive rulers of the area since.  The current main castle dates back to the 1100s, when the crusaders built up the citadel which still stands.  The whole area is very interesting and beautiful, set between the mountains and the sea.

The heavens opened again just as we were wandering around the ruins, prompting us to run through the old souks back to our hotel.

We packed up and left for the Jeita Grotto – a huge cave, full of some of the biggest stalagtites and stalagmites in the world – one particularly stunning specimen was over 8 metres in height.  Unfortunately, because of the rain only the upper cave was open, the lower cave – through which a river runs, and can only be visited by boat – was closed. We visited the upper cave, and then went for a spot of lunch in the restaurant overlooking the valley.

Then it was back in the car for a slog of a drive to Tyr – one of the oldest cities in the world.  We made it 3/4 of the way there, before the motorway disappeared, and we found ourselves at a military checkpoint, in the dark.  We got in a pickle, and stopped a couple of meters past the soldier (now shouting at us in Arabic).  Pointing a torch in our faces and shouting, we grinned madly saying “Tyr Tyr, sorry sorry” – to which he immediately lightened up, and  told us “Me this is my road, I say yes you go or no you don’t go – OK?”, OK, we assured him, can we go? “OK so me I say you can go to Tyr, you’re welcome”.  Saying our thank yous, smiling and waving, we pulled onto a dark, barely-tarmacked road, and hoped to heaven we were headed in the right direction.

At this point my trusty iPhone came in handy, and actually managed to navigate us through the backstreets and rural paths to Tyr, all the while the rain lashing down and the lightening flashing away.

We eventually pulled up to our hotel, to find our balcony door doesn’t  close, and our curtains are flying away in the wind.

However, they claim to have a sauna and steam room, so I’m off to find that now… and warm up.

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The amazing day of snow, thunder, lightening and rain

Today we were up bright and early with the plan of going hiking in the cedar reserves.  After a breakfast of Lebanese cheese, foul and salad, we set off for the cedar park – the rain starting to pour down just as we left the hotel.

The higher we drove, the colder it got, and by the time we arrived at the park entrance it was punishingly cold – but the rain had stopped.

A very friendly park ranger explained that we could only be allowed in with a guide, as it was likely to snow, and they didn’t want tourists (as if there were any others apart from us) getting lost in the mountains. He also said we weren’t allowed hiking, again because of the snow, but he would get in our car and show us all the best spots.

So off we drove, the very bubbly Hassan overjoyed to be able to show off “his” park to the mad English tourists who had turned up in the middle of winter.

The cedar reserves are absolutely breathtaking.  At 1700 metres, the panorama of the surrounding hills littered with little villages is stunning, and the actual cedar trees in the reserve – white with snow – are so beautiful, it’s difficult to do them justice in an online blog.

At one point in the drive, Hassan braved up, and ordered us out of the car – just as the snow started tumbling down. He wanted to show us the oldest cedar tree in the reserve.

So we pulled on all the clothes we had, styled turban-esque head-wraps out of scarves, and set off hiking through the trees, as the snow absolutely whipped down.  It was worth it, we made it down to the 2,000 year old tree.

After much photo taking, we hiked back to the car, drove down to the guide’s headquarters, and said goodbye to Hassan – yet another incredibly friendly Lebanese person, who we will remember as an integral part of our trip, someone so very intent on showing us the best time, and showcasing his little part of Lebanon as best he could.

Driving back down the hills, we stopped off at the Beit Eddine palace, a beautiful ornately decorated old palace at the top of the valley, with a maze of rooms fitting for an oriental royal, and with a sweeping view over the valley.

Stopping off to collect our things from the hotel, we were back on the road, this time destination Byblos – to the north of Beirut.

As we started driving, it soon became clear that we were driving into a storm – of a scale I have rarely experienced.  The rain poured down, thunder and lightening clapped away, and the traffic went mental.  Driving very slowly through the river that had become of the motorway, we eventually made it to Byblos – storm in full swing.

We have been given a room directly on the seafront on a very high floor, with a glass window overlooking the sea. The size of the waves rolling in is astonishing, and the sheer noise from the whistling of the wind is deafening.  The power has been out 3 times while I’ve written this post, and the windows are leaking rainwater all over the hotel lobby.

While the snow made the cedars all the more beautiful, and a place I will never forget – PLEASE cross your fingers that this storm ends by the morning, so I can actually see some of Byblos!!!