Star Date:  February 2016
Lebanon: Byblos, Cedars of Lebanon, Baalbek


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


"Hawwamti mumtil'ah bi'anqalaysun"
(My hovercraft is full of eels - Arabic.  (from a comedy sketch - Monty Python's Flying Circus)




"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens."
(Khalil Gibran)


During our thirteen years of continuous travel we have been patiently waiting for the political situation in the Middle East to improve.  For the world to return to a peaceful, patient, kinder place.  Wanting to go from Pakistan through Iran a few years back, we decided this must be put on the back burner until things improve.  To our dismay we have watched the tensions build and the political situation deteriorate.  We have watched as an increase number of people live in Fear, stirred up by the media covering the actions of only 5% of our world citizens.  Saddened by world events, increased tension and suffering, rising levels of radiation worldwide, we decided to leave the Fear to the TV watchers.  Off we went in search of the 95% of beautiful people and the remaining beautiful places on this planet.  As we have always said, "We look for the good in the world, and we find it!"

After Ethiopia, Jordan, then Egypt we landed in Lebanon.  This small unknown country is as old as the hills that cover it.  Honestly, what do you know about Lebanon; besides CNN coverage of the occasional acts of violence carried out by criminals?  As the Muslims say over and over, "These people are not Muslim, they are criminals.  We don't even know who they are!"

This area has a colorful history, dating back to ancient times, but Lebanon was drawn on a map by the winning powers.  When France took control of Lebanon after World War I, the area differed from the rest of the Arab world because it had a mix of Muslims and Christians, Christians in the majority. The country adopted a constitution that created a parliament with a president and prime minister. To satisfy the political demands of the two main groups, a compromise was reached whereby the president was always to be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim. As in the other nations during this time, the true ruler remained the mandatory power — in this case France.

Neither the Muslims nor the Christians were content under French control, and strong sentiment existed for independence.  Following independence the country, now captains of their own ship, were heading for rough seas.  Today surrounded by Syria, Israel, and Palestine this tiny country seems to be at times fighting for its very survival.  The tension in the Middle East is perplexing to those who live there and is opaque to the outsider looking in.

We arrived looking for a glimpse of what and who the people of Lebanon are.  We were met with open arms, everyone helping us, totally oblivious of the fact we were from the United States.  This confirmed what we have felt in so many corners of the world.  The tension is between global political and military entities, not the people themselves.  Remember the 5% of the population stirring up problems are mercenaries or criminals, paid to carry out acts of violence, thus instilling fear in the hearts of citizens.  Unfortunately their plan is working!

Scrape off this grungy top layer of fear and underneath lies a shiny, friendly, beautiful group of Lebanese, both Christian and Muslims, living side by side.  Within 2 hours of our arrival we were being helped by a small group of smiling locals to find a place to lay our head for the night.  Arriving at the small hotel the manager personally walked us down a path to his Mother's hotel, right on the Mediterranean for the same price.  Taking us under their wing, Grandma and family, became new friends; even though Grandma didn't speak a word of English.  Funny what a slice of fresh bread and some hummus does for communication.

The seaside community extends north from Beruit to Jibel.  Neighboring Byblos is vying for the title of oldest continuously inhabited city in Lebanon award.   According to the Phoenicians it was founded by the god 'El' and scholars date it at over 7,000 years old.  In 1200 BC the Greeks called this coastal area Phoenicia.  Byblos is the Greek word for papyrus, and here was the center of the papyrus trade.  Over the centuries just about every culture has had a try at Byblos and so walking around the old town is a mix of cultures through history.  From Roman roads to pillars, to castles and moats, to stone houses dating hundreds of years this small town is a fascinating place to spend a lazy afternoon.

We took a wild bus ride up into the mountains in search of the famous Cedars of Lebanon.  Throughout antiquity these cedars were prized above all other trees in the area.   The mountains of Lebanon were once shaded by thick cedar forests and the tree still remains as the symbol of the country.  After centuries of persistent deforestation, the extent of these forests has been markedly reduced.  Prized for shipbuilding by the Egyptians and used for railways by the Ottoman Empire, to name a few, the Arz ar-Rabb "Cedars of the Lord" declined.  Still thinking we were going to trek through lush forests we were amazed at how few remain.  Used to this scenario of deforestation in our travels, we focused on the beautiful remaining trees and spent a glorious day hiking amongst magnificent, powerful trees, Cedars de Dieu - the oldest stand of cedars, 3000-6000 years old.  Walking back down to town we soon realized we had an arduous road ahead.  Not really knowing where we were at or where we were going, we hitched a ride with an old truck full of municipal workers filling potholes.  The guys piled out of the cab making room for me and Joseph joined them in the open back.  They soon were talking and singing.  Down, down we went back into the sleepy town of Becharre.

Khalil Gibran, Lebanese author and philosopher has won the hearts of millions of readers over the decades.  Kahlil Gibran's masterpiece, The Prophet, is one of the most beloved classics of our time. Published in 1923, it has been translated into more than 40 languages, and the American editions alone have sold more than nine million copies.  We went off in search of Gibran's birthplace and found his monastic quarters and art studio hidden away in the mountains above Becharre.  Gibran still speaks to the world from this hidden mountainous jewel and final resting place.

We followed the steep rim of the Qadicha Valley where the Carmelian monks fled centuries ago to escape persecution.  They settled and eked out an existence, along with other refugees, and as long as they paid taxes the rulers left them alone.  Stunning scenery surrounded us on this descent from the mountains back towards Beirut.

The main focus of our trip to Lebanon was to soak in the grandeur of the ruins of Baalbek.  Joseph had visited there with his Mother some 50 years earlier and he wanted to take his "new bride on their 13 year honeymoon" to this magnificent, awe inspiring spot.  It is in the foothills east of Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, about 85 km northeast of Beirut.

Before exploring the ruins we were warmly welcomed into the neighboring Shiite Mosque.  Joseph was led through the men's entrance while I was dressed, signed, sealed and delivered into the woman's entrance.  The inside was more ornate than usual, a tranquil place for prayers and quiet conversation.  The blue tiling on the outside of the building was stunning but the warm welcome we received from the Muslims inside far exceeded the beauty of the Mosque.

Baalbek, is the site of one of the most perplexing ruins of the Roman Empire.  A German team of archeologists recently discovered what they are calling the "largest stone block from antiquity", weighing one thousand six hundred and fifty tons and matching those that support the temple.  Its origin is more shadowy than one might expect of a three-million-pound megalith.  Nobody seems to know on whose orders it was cut, or why, or how it came to be abandoned.   An impressive two thousand year old temple dedicated to Jupiter, towering 66 feet high, perches on top of three thousand-ton stone blocks.  The blocks originated in a nearby limestone quarry.  

Baalbek is named for Baal, the Phoenician deity. Construction began around 15 B.C., when the region first became a Roman province.  There are many local legends about the origin of the temple: "Cain built it to hide from the wrath of God; giants built it, at Nimrod’s command, and it came to be called the Tower of Babel; Solomon built it, with djinns’ assistance, as a palace for the Queen of Sheba. (It is said that the reason some blocks were left in the quarry is that the djinns went on strike.)"

Scottish traveler David Urquhart, whose mental capacities were “paralyzed” by “the impossibility of any solution.” in the 1860's, wrote of the temple in his diary.  Urquhart describes the stones: “so enormous, as to shut out every other thought, and yet to fill the mind only with trouble.”  What, for example, was the point of cutting such enormous rocks?  And why do it out there in the middle of nowhere, instead of in a capital or a port?  Why were there no other sites that looked like Baalbek?  And why had the work been abandoned midway?  Urquhart concludes that the temple must have been built by contemporaries of Noah, using the same technological prowess that enabled the construction of the ark.  Work was halted because of the flood, which swept away all the similar sites, leaving the enigma of Baalbek alone on the face of the earth."

How were the three temple blocks transported, and why two others like them were left in the quarry?  Theories are that the blocks were probably cut in much the same way as the masonry used in the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct in southern France, "with each piece split from a larger expanse of limestone along natural fissures between the rock strata. Too heavy to lift, the blocks would then have been dragged from the quarry, probably using a capstan, a kind of human-driven winch—though the possibility of a sledge is also under discussion."

But perhaps the biggest mystery is the question of size. Impracticality doesn't fit into an archeologist's equation. Why is this temple's podium so large?

There is an alternative theory that was proposed by the late author Zechariah Sitchin: that the podium at Baalbek had to be big enough to serve as an intergalactic landing pad, as documented in the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Archaeologists are seldom receptive to the notion of ancient astronauts. With the recent discovery instead of searching out the answers, all they found were more questions, in the form of an even bigger and more perplexing stone block.  Any ideas?

What would life be without mysteries?



And so it goes.........................................Next Turkey, where Asia meets Europe in a fascinating whirlwind of old and new.  Until then let's remember to keep our attitude as positive as possible, it does change our life for the better.  Take care and Keep in Touch!




Love, Light & Laughter, 

xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph



Travel notes:

1 US Dollar equals 1508 Lebanese pounds

Lebanon is Expensive - minimum $50 a night.  Maybe $40 if you bargain hard, but unlike in China they will let you walk out and prefer to sit with an empty room rather than reduce the price.


Amada Hotel

Address: 1568 Halat Highway, Fidar, Byblos, Lebanon

Clean, modern with very helpful manager, the son! (He can direct you to his Mother's hotel below on the sea side. Extremely friendly and a pleasure to get to know.


Tiger House Hotel:
06 672 480 - Your window opens to the common lounge.  Too much smoking. ($40)  I would stay at the Paradise Hotel right near the Town Center and the Big new White Church.  A bit more, but worth the pure air - bargain for a discount.

Hitched hiked up while walking to Grotto de Qadicha (which isn't much) Extremely tough walk up switchbacks to the cedars.  Take the old road if you go.  On top lovely view of the valleys below and you end up at the Cedars de Dieu - the oldest stand of cedars.  3000-6000 years old.


Stayed in nearby Zahleh:
AKL Hotel - Nada helpful manager
03 08 820 701 
Classic century-old hotel, large wooden rooms with balconies in the tree tops.

Zah means the land of poetry and wine.

Concept of Mezze was born on the banks of beautiful
al-Berdawni River around 1885- Falafals, humus, pita, olives,  yum!!

Don't miss the "Sniper Cafe" on the way to Baalbek!







Our journey from Ethiopia through Saudi Arabia, to Jordan,
across the Red Sea to Egypt, ending up in Lebanon.




Lebanon is a blend of old and new, Christian and Muslim.


The church in front of our little hotel in Byblos.

This area of Byblos was founded over 7000 years ago.  Many
old churches still remain.


Sunset over the Mediterranean.


Within 2 hours of our arrival we were being helped by a small group
of smiling locals to find a place to lay our head for the night.


Another church hundreds of years old, in the old town of Byblos.




Board games are a common past time on the streets.


Lavender.  I can smell it now................


One of the many small vegetable stands in Becharre.


Our new car!


The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.


The view from Gibran's mountainside retreat.


Written next to Gibran's tomb.  Death is nothing at all.............


The simple quarters of Kahlil Gibran in the old monastery.


"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. 
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows
 are sent forth."


Hiking in the hills above Becharre.


New friends from Iran.


This lovely family was on vacation in Lebanon.


The magnificent cedars of Lebanon- some from 3,000 to 6,000
 years old.


A carving in a tree in amongst the cedar groves.


Many people hike through the Arz ar-Rabb "Cedars of the Lord".


Baalbek, located 80 miles from Beirut.  Construction here
began about 15 B.C. and
it is the site of one of the most
perplexing ruins of the Roman Empire.


Look at the size of those blocks.  Photos don't even do them justice.
Amazing size but imagine trying to move
3000 ton blocks. (6 million lbs)


An impressive two thousand year old temple dedicated to Jupiter,
towering 66 feet high (over 6 stories), perches on top of three
thousand-ton stone blocks.


There are many local legends about the origin of the temple, but
no one knows for sure why it was built and why it was


Baalbek is named for Baal, the Phoenician deity.


Neighborhood camel.


A fashionable young Muslim couple.


Great colors!


Before exploring the ruins we were warmly welcomed into the
 neighboring Shiite Mosque.


The blue tiling on the outside of the building was stunning but
the warm welcome we received from the Muslims inside far
exceeded the beauty of the Mosque.


 The inside was more ornate than usual, a tranquil place for prayers
 and quiet conversation.

Call to prayer, 5 times a day.


Joseph was led through the men's entrance while I was dressed, signed,
sealed and delivered into the woman's entrance.


We look like ants on top of the Hajjar al-Hibla, or Stone of the
 Pregnant Woman.  It turned out to have a crack that wo
uld have
impeded its transport.  No one knows how they would have
 transported these one thousand six hundred and fifty ton
stones from the quarry one mile away.  (over 3 million lbs.)


Sheik Joseph.


A Syrian refugee camp.  Honest men women and children have
fled from death in Syria, only 10 miles away.


A happy traditional Lebanese wedding.


A beautiful young musician.



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