Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Pilgrimage from Barouk to El Manara 16/08/08

Waking early knowing there are houses nearby I'm on the road by 7am. The temperature is perfect and the clean mountain air works quickly to clear my head. With a gorgeous view over the surrounding hills the morning couldn't be better and it isn't long before I reach the entrance to the national park.

There's not a sole to be seen and it's wonderful to have the whole place to myself. The climb is hard but after a couple of rest I finally make some good sized cedars :) I have to admit, coming from Australia I was expecting cedars as far as the eye could see but it's not the case. Patches of small cedar are common with larger ones scattered around. Yusouf told me last night there are some trees so wide a car would disappear behind them, so I keep my eyes peeled.

The tar road ends next to the biggest patch of trees so far, I take it this is one of the main tourist attractions. There are two paths heading into the tress but still no super sized cedars to be seen. After a quick investigation I decide to continue on until I reach the big ones :)

Two kilometers later I'm horrified when the national park finishes! I don't believe it!!! If there was some traffic I'd hitch back but it isn't to be :( The super size cedars will have to wait...

My other problem is I was expecting some tourist facilities up here and have already run out of water. The hills are completely empty which leaves me slightly concerned, especially as the roads aren't matching up to my map.

Clearing a ridge I'm pleased an army checkpoint comes into sight. I'm incredibly lucky they are here as not only do I get to fill up my water but left to my own devices I would have headed down the wrong side of the mountain :)

The really good news is I've reached the last ridge and am closer to my destination than I thought. From here it's all downhill. I can see Joub Jannine, where I want to stop for lunch but the road winds and winds and winds and after a couple of hours I still haven't reached the bottom.

Absolutely exhausted I stagger into a service station collapsing on their couch. I don't know why I'm so buggered but glancing at the clock I realize I've been walking 5½ hours with only small breaks. And I still have 5kms to go...

Pushing on I can't believe my luck when 500m down the road I come across Chateau Kefraya, a winery :) And not just a winery...a winery with a great looking restaurant attached. Perfect!!!

Getting a few funny looks as I find a table I figure they don't get too many backpackers walking in off the street. The menu looks great and isn't too expensive...

"Beef stroganoff, a salad and a glass of red please"

"Sorry, we don't serve wine by the glass"

"Hmmm, do you have half bottles?"

"Yes, of course. I recommend the rosé"

Okay, he's twisted my arm. Half a bottle it is ;) "Sounds great"

The meal is good but being mass produced for tour groups it's is a bit disappointing, the good news is though the wine is great. Figuring if they have one good wine they must have more it's time for the best part of any winery tour...the tasting :)

And I have to say that I'm impressed with the quality of their entire range, with the price to match. Since leaving Europe good wine has been hard to find but if this winery is anything to go by wine lovers won't be disappointed holidaying in Lebanon...

Feeling very pleased with myself I don't make it far before some kids come running out of a tent village wanting their photo taken. I'm happy to oblige and soon enough I've been invited in by the parents for tea. Having a quick chat I set off only to make 200m before again getting dragged in off the street :)

By the time it gets dark I'm in another little town attempting to locate a restaurant. The only place open is a sandwich shop and after eating such great food over the last week it seems rather fitting to spend what is likely my last meal in Lebanon eating a felafel role by candle light, as once again here is a blackout :)

Leaving the village a group of young kids, probably thirteen or fourteen stop for a chat. They are intrigued by my adventure and every time we say "good bye" they find another excuse to run back up the road to chat.

I can see the lights of a big village and figure this is likely to be where I'll locate the highway to Syria. Finding a small road heading in that direction I veer off...

"Ben! Ben! Where are you going?"

I wait for one of my little mates to catch up "This isn't my road?"

"No...The road to Syria is down there. Trust me, I've lived here my whole life. Go down this road until the big intersection then turn left"

"Okay, thanks"

"Good bye"

Luckily someone was looking out for me :) I head off on my new route but don't make it far before I yelling starts up behind me again...

"Ben! Ben!"

Waiting once more the same guy runs up accompanied by one of his friends...

"Here take this. For energy"

They hand me a pack of chips and a juice...champions!!! Thanks guys :)

The walk is pleasant but gets broken up by road blocks that have started appearing regularly. The soldiers really don't know what to make of me but after hearing my story they all think it's great. The best thing is there are no warnings from anyone as I leave, this does wonders for my confidence :)

Around 10pm I think I've hit the jackpot spotting what appears to be a hotel or public baths, just what I need! My joy is short lived though...it's a hospital :( A couple of the doctors are sitting around on the front stairs happy to chat, suddenly one of the points to the moon...

"Look at that!"

We all glance up and can't believe our luck to be witnessing an eclipse! Awesome!!!

The shadows slow progress is a bit too slow for my liking so I take my leave and continue walking, keeping one eye upwards to ensure I don't miss the climax. With only a thin section left to cover I spot an orchard which looks perfect for camping. A quick glance around ensures the coast is clear and I go to investigate.

Some movement catches my eye from an apartment building next door and I can see a man leaning over watching me. Better go explain...

"Is it okay if I camp in there?"

"Camping? No, but you can camp down there" He points to the orchard on the other side

"Cool, thanks"

I start to set up and the guy comes down to invite me to watch the eclipse at the picnic table round the back. We sit and chat waiting for the last little piece of the moon to disappear, but it never does :( Finally around 1am we call it a night and lying in my tent I can't help thinking what a perfect pilgrim's day I've just experienced...

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