Saturday, 12 January 2008
Jeita Grottto and Sidon
Crusader Sea Castle at Saida (Sidon)in Lebanon
Today we headed up to the Jeita Grotto which is a series of huge underground caverns unlike anything I've ever seen. On the way out we went through an area that suffered serious damage during the Israeli bombings in June last year. There was considerable damage to the buildings and highways and several bridges which had been destroyed included one huge bridge over a valley. A long section of the bridge is still on the side of the valley rather like the pictures of fallen bridges after an earthquake. Until the bridge is rebuilt, all road traffic has to follow the old road that twists and turns down one side of the valley and then up the other side. There are lots of photos here.
There is gondola ride up to the first cavern and we shared with a guy from Qatar and a young couple from Jordan. There is a complete ban on photography we had to leave our cameras in a secure locker. We then walked down a short tunnel and into the main cavern which is huge. The sheer size is mind boggling as are the stalagmites and stalactites inside. THere is a concrete pathway which takes you round the cave with various platforms including one platform where I could see through a hole in the cavern floor and down to the water in the lower cavern which was hundreds of feet below. The lighting was very effective making some of the formations seem translucent. There were formations that looked like lace, others like coral and some resembled cake mix that had been poured in folds down the side of the cave. The walk round the cave took about 40 minutes, then we caught the train down to the second cavern. The train was actually a row of carriages being pulled by Massey Ferguson which was disguised as a train, fooled all the kids anyway. In the second cavern we had to leave our cameras again, then we got into small boats which glide out onto the water which half fills the cave. The motors are electric so there is silence except for the 'shwish' of the water. The trip out and back takes about 10 minutes and is breathtaking.
In the after Wajdee drove us down to Saida which is the ancient city mentioned in the Bible is Sidon. There is a crusader castle called a Sea Castle which was built right on a small island just off the seafront and linked to the mainland by a stone bridge. The tide laps against the castle walls. We took some some good photos - once the soldiers allowed us on the beach front to take them. Then we went off to Wajdee's favourite bakery where we sampled sanioura the local delicacy which is like a sweet shortbread. Another heart stopping drive through Beirut traffic, the police who are supposed to be directing traffic just wave their arms in the air while complete chaos goes on around them. There are no traffic lights so all intersections are a test of wills, cars just seem to drive straight at each other and its a case of who blinks first. No wonder most cars have dents and scrapes all over them. I also know that double yellow lines here mean, well, absolutely nothing.
Tomorrow we head out to the Bekka Valley to see the ruins at Baalbeck and then to Anjar.