مغارة جعيتا وجبيل وحريصا

Yesterday my class and I had a lovely adventure in Lebanon. We visited a couple of sites just North of Beirut, such as Jeita Grotto (مغارة جعيتا) and Harissa (حريصا). Afterwords we visited Byblos (جبيل), a 45 minute trip from LAU and debatably the oldest inhabited city in the world (some argue that Damascus holds this title).

We arrived at Jeita around 10:00am to beat the heat and the crowds. The site is one of Lebanon’s most popular tourist attractions and lines fill quickly. It was about a thirty minute drive from central Beirut and is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. Jeita was amazing, possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. There are two parts of the trip: a walk through the caves and a boat ride through the grotto. Jeita is dated back to the middle-lower jurassic period, which means you’re looking at rock formations that are around 200 million years old. I took me about 45 minutes to walk through the cave and I was taking my sweet time. If you look at certain rock formations long enough you begin to see things in them. One of the park workers pointed out snoopy, santa clause and Jesus Christ. Formation take millions of years to form and continue to grow ever so slowly today. I had never been inside a cave before so I feel very lucky that my first trip inside one was so special. The boat ride was also amazing, the water was a spectacular blue and cold to the touch. The ride itself lasted about 15 minutes and was awe inspiring.

Walk through Jeita Caves

Boat ride through the grotto

After Jeita, we trekked to Harissa, a beautiful Maronite monument on the hills overlooking Beirut. We were greeted with spectacular views and a monument to Mother Mary, which was a gift from the French. It reminded me of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro except on a smaller scale. After a short visit (our tour guide pressured us along quickly), we took the telepherique down the hill side back into the city.

Mother Mary atop Harissa

View of Beirut and its surroundings from the top of Harissa

Telepherique ride down the hill

After the steep ride down the hill, we hopped back on our bus and ventured to Byblos. The city is beautiful and carries such amazing history. We were able to visit a Phoenician castle on the coast line and walk through the old city souk. The only aspect that was disappointing was that I saw our tour guide paying off all of the shop keepers, which slightly cheapened the experience, making it feel less authentic. The history of the Phoenicians in Byblos is impressive. Not only did the castle we visited witness years of history and invasion, but it was also home to the invention of the Arabic alphabet.

View towards the sea from Byblos Castle

On a final note, I finally touched the Mediterranean.  It was terribly painful looking at the sea everyday in Beirut but not be able to touch it, but yesterday my dream was realized. A small group of student and I visited a public beach in Byblos. The water was the perfect temperature for a hot day but the waves were much more violent than I expected. I was told this was uncommon for the area and it made it difficult to get past the breaks and really swim. Luckily I adapt quickly and I found the amount that I fell on my face and got salt in my eyes due to clumsiness amusing more than anything else.

Gazing out at the Mediterranean

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. Enjoy your Sundays wherever you are in the world.

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Allison Swaim

About Allison Swaim

Allison is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. On her 22 birthday, she will make her first trip abroad to Lebanon. While the emphasis of the trip is to expand her Arabic skills, she is excited to experience the culture of Beirut. She is interested in post-colonial political movements, nationalism and conflict analysis. Having strayed very little from the Pacific Northwest, Allison is ready for a new adventure. While she has prepared as much as she can for her journey across the world, she accepts that she has no idea what she's getting herself into.

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