The weekend (phew!) and another group outing – this time to Byblos, directly north up the coast from Beirut. True to form, once again an amazing place – said to have been continuously inhabited for 8000 years. Most importantly, it is said to be the birthplace the 22 letter phonetic alphabet (created by the Phoenicians of course). In comparison with Baalbek, this time our guide was magnificent, bringing the place alive for us – a city ‘invaded’ no less than 17 times, from Greeks to Ottomans & finally the French.
We then moved on to enjoy a picnic at a site up in the mountains. When we arrived, there were feelings of apprehension as we pulled in to a scrubby, stony car-park. Laden down with provisions – bags and bags of food, huge bottles of water, a couple of cool-boxes, two enormous water-melons – we crocodiled our way through some trees… and discovered a small paradise. Tables and chairs were laid out beneath some statuesque trees, barbecues were ready and waiting, there was a hammock, a hammock chair, and a swing with a wooden seat for three slung from a high branch. All this was overseen by the one building, raised on stilts, containing all one needed: a toilet and wash-room, a small bar serving beer and wine, a sound system… Understandably, everyone was very excited.
Soon, teams of people were busy at two work stations on either side of the clearing: the carnivores and the vegetarians, each group chopping their chosen foodstuff into rough cubes and spearing them on skewers. And then the party began…
Or rather, several parties, at different times and in different places: the dancers, bouncing to some rock songs that they all knew and I (mostly) didn’t; the chorus of singers, accompanied by a couple of guitars; the footballers – nothing too competitive, more knocking the ball back and forth in a fairly desultory way; the group debating issues connected with Islam; the tree-climbers… And others too, of course – I didn’t attend them all – with most people wandering from one to another as the mood took them. And eating, of course – the food was delicious (and, as usual, there was far too much.) My own favourite activity? Sitting in the hammock chair, winding it up in one direction, and then spinning at breakneck speed as it unwound. Exhilarating.
It made for a long and pretty exhausting day. A bit too long for Val and me, if the truth be told. But it was a privilege to have experienced it, all the same.