October 20, 2009

A Sinkhole on a Sunday

A climber coming down the rim of the Balaa sinkhole.
In the background, the waterfall comes falling through the hole.

It was so hot when I got up this morning that my initial plan was just to stay in bed the whole day with the AC on. But then you end up with nothing to blog about. I had to do something. The beach was too hot, downtown was too hot, and everything was too hot. The mountains, I figured, are cool enough, and at least I'd have something to write about. I am telling you, this blogging business has some positive side-effects. So how about a sinkhole on a Sunday? That one even caught the interest of the otherwise so sullen teenager of the house.
The second natural bridge is visible from the top.

I hadn’t done the Balaa sinkhole (N 34° 10.406 E 035° 52.222), near the village of Tanourine, in over 10 years. I don't even remember how I heard about this sinkhole in the first place. According to +961, the sinkhole is 250 meters deep and 160 million years old. It surprised me that the place is still pretty much empty. I tried to Google the place, but just one scientific report pops up about the possible origins of the hole, and that’s it.

There’s absolutely nothing on this sinkhole. It does appear in some tourist guides on Lebanon, but not all, and even my own hubbie has never been there. And he’s not the stay-at-home type.

This is how it appears from the distance; a massive opening.

The Joze river is now a trickling stream.

But the thing is absolutely beautiful. First of all, it’s massive. Really massive. On the upper part there is a little river, the Joze river (Nahr el-Joze, which in winter and spring is a pretty strong stream), which suddenly drops off into an abyss. They say the waterfall is 90 meters high. I’m not quite sure how that fits with the sinkhole being 250 meters deep, since the water drops all the way to the bottom.

You don’t really see anything of the sinkhole until you’re right at the end of the stream. And then it is advisable not to look any further. So from above, you cannot really form a good impression of the enormous dimensions of this thing. You have to walk around it, enter a small valley, and then the sinkhole appears in its entity. The hole has 3 natural bridges.

The three natural bridges (top one is a bit dififult to see here).

I am telling you, I’ve seen natural phenomena in other places in the world, like in France and the US, far less impressive than this one, and there I’ve had to shuffle my way to the entrance surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of tourists. And then you get stuck behind a fence, and you’re not really allowed to get any further.

A couple of people were preparing to rope themselves down the cliff. Listening to the instructions from one of them, I had the impressions that this was their very first ‘abseil’ experience ever. With a hole some 250 meters deep under you, this could not be but interesting, and so we hung around for a while. Three Syrians laborers thought the same, and from the opposite cliff they watched the entire process in absolute silence.

Did he fall yet?

I had the place virtually to myself. There were maybe some 10 other people, including the group of climbers. And here you can walk all the way to the edge, without having to stand in line and without having to pay $10 (like in Jeita). And the tweeting birds in Balaa are for real (unlike the taped versions in Jeita) .

All the way to the edge. The thing is really deep.

Apparently the hole was ‘colored’ in 1985 by the Lebanese Speleo Club. I assume they mean they dyed the water in order to find out where the water flow went. The Speleo club explains the reason as follows; ‘in order to detect any water loss from the underground river’.

I must have mentioned this before, but the geology in this place is absolutely mind-boggling. It’s mainly karst, a landscape by the dissolution of limestone. So holes and caves are a natural occurrence here, but the size of the Balaa sinkhole is quite unusual..

Next project: I'd like to get to the bottom of this hole. Literally. Anyone any ideas?


Marillionlb said...

My son insisted that I take him to Jeita on saturday was pleasently surprised; now that he has seen your pictures guess what he has planned for me this comming week-end???

angie nader said...

beautiful photos!

Rami said...

Beautiful photos! Thanks for mentioning my blog post.
I'm definitely going there again when the waterfall gets thicker.

Lauren said...

Maybe parachute? Perhaps you should first ask how you will get back up once your down there!!


Liliane said...

once again I feel like you're the Lebanese and I'm a foreigner just visiting Leb. looks like an amazing place.

xqwzts said...

I went up there early in the spring when the snows were still thawing and the waterfall was nice and full.

We roped down but only to the level below [with the natural bridge] and not all the way down the gorge, which I assumed was undoable... at least in that weather

Although if anyone knows more it would probably be ALES [Association Libanaise D'etudes Speleologiques: http://www.alesliban.org/] Why not send them a mail and see what they have to say about it?

Anonymous said...

Dear Sietske,
First I want to thank you for this fantastic diary about your life in Lebanon (first impression), I am Lebanese living in Amsterdam, my husband is Dutch and my daughters don't speak or understand enough Arabic (my fault of course lies in the selfishness to learn and speak good Dutch came first) anyway, I haven’t read much yet about all the interesting places you’ve experienced in Lebanon, but I will definitely use your site as a guide for my visit in summer.
You have given me the appetite to touch the ground there and let my children explore my beautiful country.
And those pictures you posted, I really got the chill.
thank you again.