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On the trail of the lost cedars – Bcharre to Hasroun

May 24, 2010
Phoenician tomb

The Phoenician tomb and burial chamber from 750 BC

I woke before 6am once again, this time to church bells, and tried to switch off the internal monologue that was still berating me from not doing the extra walk.  I resolved to learn from it and not to be as cautious about my physical abilities in the future.  I read a bit of Khalil Gibran to prepare for the museum visit today and then got up and dressed and began the ritual  ‘putting on of the boots’ one last time.

A collage of shrines

Shrines are everywhere in the Qaddisha Valley (known as Valley of Saints or Holy Valley)

This involved putting a small Compeed plaster (the best type – trust me) on my little toe to protect my single, tiny blister, slathering a large layer of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) all over my foot and in between my toes, smoothing Bodyglide on my ankles and then (a clever tip from Jo) plunging my sticky hand into my sock, wiping all the Vaseline off inside it and then smoothing the sock over my foot.  Foot inserted in boot, laces tied, I was ready to go once more, refreshed and full of energy with not a trace of the lassitude that infected me yesterday (apart from a residual heaviness in my heart for opportunities lost and that it was our last day of trekking).  Iman and Ehab had risen early, followed the church bells and sat in at the back of mass, soaking in the atmosphere and watching children go into pray before school.

View wearing Rexona shirts

Thanks to all my supporters including Rexona

We arrived at the Khalil Gibran Museum, a pretty former monastery and waited for its 9am opening – it was soon apparent that this was not going to happen.  A quick call revealed that it was still on off-season opening and we could choose to stay or walk on.  No prizes for guessing what I did this time!  I joined the walking group for a fairly steep climb up the hill.  It wasn’t the most interesting of surroundings except for a Phoenician tomb shaped like a Chimnea but the views straight down the valley were ‘awesome’.  I mentioned to Chamoun that I regretted not joining the group yesterday.  He explained that there was a very dangerous bit where you had to cling to the rock and he didn’t want to take anyone whose muscles were tired for safety reasons.  I felt happier now I understood why he didn’t encourage me one way or the other.

Carving of Christ

Carved dead cedars by artist Roudy Rahmeh

We reached the Cedars, Lebanon’s oldest ski resort, dotted with wooden chalet-style buildings and headed towards the central souvenir stalls – our first retail-therapy all trip.  The group that had stayed to visit the museum arrived on the bus and we compared purchases.  I bought some little cedar boxes with brass fittings which I felt a twinge of guilt about when we entered the cedar reserve where only a clutch of old trees remain (some with lopped branches) due to the almost complete deforestation of the Cedar of Lebanon.  Sarcophagi in ancient Egypt were often made of cedar wood that came from Lebanon shipped via Byblos.  Some of the cedars in the reserve are over 1000 years old.  There is a long-term programme to replant the cedar forests and eco-warrior Chamoun showed us an area the next day where he had planted over 4000 trees.  One dead tree had been carved into striking depictions of Christ – a group of  Christians from Asia were reading out loud from the Bible in Chinese and praying below it.  We soon struck out into open countryside on our route on the opposite side of the valley of Bcharre towards Hasroun.  You could spot the Gulf for Good governors a mile off as they were wearing sequined cowboys hats they’d just bought.  The mountains flanking us on the left, bare and grey with patches of residual snow, seemed tantalisingly close especially as it was another warm day.  Our group had all got on very well including the Red Cross volunteers, Rani and Michel.  Rani told me about his pentathlons which involved swimming, cycling from Byblos to The Cedars, archery and a run up one of the mountains we could see (can’t remember the fifth sport!).  They were like supermen.

Horse-drawn plough

A horse-drawn plough in action

We found a shady tree near a stream for lunch and then did our final stretches with Karen, a really invaluable part of the trek; it was so peaceful and zen-like.  Our path took us by fields and orchards and we waved to men at work.  We saw a horse-drawn plough in action, the animal in sleek relief against the mountains and blue sky.  Chamoun flagged down a stripped-bare VW Beetle (we saw quite a few in the town) that appeared on a track and we clambered on for a photo.  There was a holiday spirit and lots of chatting and laughter.  We passed goats crowded in a stable, a lone, black and white cow with a pretty face and neat crops in rich, red soil.  Wild flowers were everywhere.  Farmers diverted the many gushing streams (from the molten snow and springs in the mountains) by making a  temporary mud dam so it poured onto the land.


The snow seemed so close and so tempting to us on the hot lower slopes

I walked on my own for a bit, relishing my surroundings, conscious that these were the last few hours of this amazing trek.

The descent was long and slow taking us into the pretty, old town of Hasroun – shrines at every junction. The views over to Bcharre were fabulous in the late afternoon light; villagers were sitting outside working, a group of men took time out from sorting seed potatoes to greet us. We had walked about 20 km.  We posed for photos with the Gulf for Good sign to the amusement of passersby including a young couple in a Mini with a Union Jack on the roof.  The bus took us round snaking roads looking down on valley after valley of mesmerizing beauty with magnificent rock formations and soon we were parallel to the coast and passing Tripoli and Byblos as the sun set over the sea.   Mustapha and Joseph urged us to stop at a special bakery for kaak (or handbag bread as my friend Sally calls it due to its shape) – it was slightly sweet, salty and absolutely delicious.

Posing with banner

The end of our trek – marking our achievements

We sadly bade farewell to Michel and Rani and drove into central Beirut, passing the Hariri mosque lit up at night with its enormous blue dome.  It was a subdued party that assembled for supper in a lack-lustre restaurant.  Several of the group had already rushed off to meet up with friends and the younger crew were planning to make the most of their last night.  It was great to see some Lebanese friends who dropped by to see me.  It is seemingly impossible to order small quantities of food in Lebanon and as the waiters brought dish after dish once more, no one had the appetite to appreciate it.  The exhilaration of completing our physical challenge successfully had abated – we were sad our journey was almost at an end.  If someone had offered me the chance to do it all again right then, I would have jumped at the chance.

Click on an image to view the images in the gallery larger.

  1. May 29, 2010 8:45 pm

    Hey Sally, we’re all eagerly anticipating the last day’s diary! What happened at SOS?! Px

  2. May 29, 2010 9:42 pm

    Posted! Finally….

  3. April 1, 2011 8:16 pm

    hi Sally, I enjoyed the pictures and reading about your adventure. It’s such a beautiful place! 🙂

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