A TRIP TO LIBYA? (updated Oct. 2007)
I hope this journal encourages some people to go to Libya. If you're
prepared for the type of travel, and the occasional "surprise"
I've described in the journal
you will be repaid many times over.
are considering a trip there, I can recommend a travel company and tour guide
(independent travel is difficult in Libya):
I highly recommend
BILGASEM SHLEBK to arrange
your trip. He was one of our guides during our eclipse week (At that time,
he worked for Safari Tourism ).
Before heading out to the Sahara for a week, there was a bit of uncertainty
about what it would entail, but when we all heard that Bilgasem was to be
our guide, we relaxed -- we had full confidence in him.
He did not let us down; despite any problems we may have encountered, Bilgasem was solid, calm and reliable. At our recent "Sahara reunion" in
Toronto, we all agreed that he was a big part of the success of our travel, someone we all
trusted -- and came to care about.
He has now started his own travel company,
Ain Mizrag Travel Agency.
Of course, when Oksana and I returned to Libya in March, 2007, with friends
we'd met the previous year, Bilgasem made all the arrangements, planned the
itinerary in consultation with us, and looked after us for the time we were
am quite certain that almost anyone who traveled with us in the Sahara
would also recommend Bilgasem.
TRAVEL INFORMATION & NEWS
- The Aug. 27, 2006 New York Times
Travel section carried a
large article about Tripoli, written by Kevin Gray, the writer mentioned
on my eclipse page. (He's in
this photo, on the right interviewing David Makepeace). The hotel lobby
photo in the article is from our first Tripoli hotel, the Bab Al Bahar
- Xavier Jubier's
contain information and great photographs of the eclipse and travel
through many of the same Sahara areas we visited.
- "World 66" -- an online travel site has
some good aerial maps that give an idea of the land we travelled through.
Their country map provides a good sense of the landscape of Libya. In the
south-west corner, the two huge sand seas, with the Acacus mountains in the
centre are very obvious.
You can click on any of the "66's" on the
map to go a map centred on a city or town. Going to Sebha, Germa or Ghat in
the south west will provide an even better picture of our Saharan territory.
You can click in, out, or drag any of the maps.
- A 2006 National Geographic Adventure
magazine article (& photos) "Rediscovering
Lonely Planet: the standard English language guide book on Libya.
- We were amazed at how open some of Libya's
great archaeological sites were. The drawbacks of this openness -- and why they may not stay
that way (and why we always had security with us) -- is detailed in "Libya
fears for its stolen heritage" from BBC News.
- All this opening up, and influx of eclipse
tourists might mean: "Libya
is... the new New Zealand" (What??!!). "According to a new Berlitz
guide to the country, Colonel Gaddafi's home turf is a paradise for lovers
of all things outdoors.". From The Observer.
- BBC News: "Packing
your bags for Libya" (March, 2004).
- Yes, Libya is the new hot spot. The
tourism ministry announced this year that it expects tourism to increase
from fewer than 1 million tourists per year to 15 million by 2015! (This is
is likely as reliable as some other government announcements. However, while
many of use would be skeptical, it should be clear from this journal that I
highly recommend travel to
- More about Libya's hopes to be a major
tourist destination in this
South African article.
"The fundamental problem that Libya has
today is getting things to work," Singh-Molares said. "That's where the
focus has to be in terms of modernising the economy."
"It has to be on administrative reform,
it has to be on education reform, monetary policy reform, banking system
reform - the kind of nuts-and-bolts fundamentals."
"It's so difficult to get visas to go
into the country: there's no point talking about reform if it takes 45
days to approve a tourist visa. That's got to change."
The article also points out something
peculiar to Libya's employment situation:
very rare to see a waitress come to clean the table and the toilets. Always
others - Egyptians - must do it."
LINKS ABOUT LIBYA
Libyan section is a
wide-ranging source of information about the country.
Libya: Our home: A HUGE compendium of links
in numerous categories
article from Nov. 2000, "Libya: An end to
includes videos, photos and links
(NEW: Nov/06) The U.S. Library of
profile of Libya (PDF format)
OFFICIAL (OR SEMI-) OFFICIAL LIBYAN VIEWS
LIBYAN GOVERNMENT / DEMOCRACY
Where is Libya heading? Struggles about
the direction of government / democracy / freedom:
A recent (Aug. 20, 2006)
by Col. Ghadaffi's son (and possible
successor), Saif al-Islam was considered shocking by some Libyans. He
admitted the problem that "we have no free press", criticized "fat cats" in
many state institutions, decried the lack of democracy: "The democratic
system we dream of does not exist."
Col. Ghadaffi himself has since made
and criticized the country for its over-reliance on oil
and increased speculation about what may be coming in his annual Sep. 1
speech (the anniversary of the 1969 coup that brought him to power)
Sep. 4/06: It appears that the above optimism
seems to have been misplaced. Below is an excerpt from a
Reuters article about his Sep. 1 speech:
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader
Muammar Gaddafi, marked the 37th anniversary of the coup d'etat that
brought him to power on Thursday by urging his supporters to "kill
enemies" if they asked for political change.
The hardline comment, made in a
speech on state television, runs counter to recent hopes of political
reform in the North African country of 5 million.
Opponents abroad had said they
hoped that Gaddafi might hint at political change in Thursday's
Sep. 5/06: A very interesting
article, entitled "Reformists
vs 'old mafia': Power struggle in Libya" in
Afrol News suggests that Saif al-Islam
al Gadaffi is championing the emergence of Libya out of its isolation, and
its efforts to modernize. A new Prime Minister, in line with Saif's views
was -- according to the article -- sacked along with other liberal ministers
in March, 2006. The article cites Saif's late August speech, and a
"correcting" one by his father.
Nov. 11/06: There have been a few
reporting that Saif was leaving Libya to work overseas (no location
specified). Suggestions were made that his (possibly) pro-democratic
arguments were the issue, and that quite possibly the (contrasting) hardline
of his father had won out.
The Economist speculates more cynically on what may be behind Saif's
Nov. 22/06: A very recent and
disturbing story about the plight of a democracy advocate:
In other news on the democratic
Col. Ghadaffi brands Libya the only
democracy "on the whole planet" in a March 2006 lecture (via satellite) at
Columbia University, New York. See
BBC news story.
(NEW: Nov/06) "Benghazi Riots": In February 2006
there was a large demonstration in front of the Italian Consulate in
Benghazi, Libya. Things got very ugly, and many (at least 14) people were
killed, and more wounded. News stories at the time reported it as another
reaction to the Danish cartoons about The Prophet. (An Italian cabinet
minister had been seen wearing a T-shirt depicting one of the cartoons).
It appears to be more complex than that.
Many report that the demonstration had been promoted by the Libyan
government to put pressure on Italy, with whom Libya is still negotiating
compensation for the brutal Italian occupation of Italy before and during
World War II. Benghazi however has been a stronghold (such as they exist) in
the anti-Ghadaffi movement, and the reaction at the demonstration soon backfired on the
government. I spoke to one Libyan who was there (and standing very close to
the first person who was killed).
Here is one story after the fact from
Here are three videos taken on that day,
posted on YouTube:
Libya News: An extensive archive of news items concerning Libya, with
many stories (from abroad) about the lack of freedoms in Libya.
The U.S. has opened up to Libya. In the past
year, there has been extensive coverage of the fact that the U.S. has
recognized Libya, and more recently removed Libya from its list of
A change with great benefits for both
countries -- especially as it concerns OIL. Libya has some of the greatest
untapped reserves of oil in the world. It desperately needs foreign
expertise and capital to exploit its oil; and of course the U.S.A. is in its
own desperate need for oil.
An excellent article in The
Economist (Mar. 9, 2006) paints a picture of a country looking for --
and needing -- a big boost. Some examples:
- "Yet despite having accumulated a
foreign-exchange hoard worth $45 billion on annual oil sales now running
at $20 billion, Libya has much the same drab, shambolic air as when
diplomatic isolation, trade sanctions and centrally planned
socialism prevailed. With 5.7m people, it has just one world-class
hotel and only 20 cashpoint machines. No road signs, even in Arabic,
show the way to Leptis Magna, a ruined Roman seaport that is but one of
many ancient sites whose scale and magnificence point to a past more
glorious than the present. “I met a guy who spent 15 years abroad, and
he said he recognised the same potholes as when he left,” chuckles a
Tripoli taxi driver, snarled in one of the rubbish-strewn capital's
- "State wages, the main income for
two-thirds of the workforce, have been frozen since 1981". (averaging
- Oil production -- the basis of Libya's
wealth -- is just half the peak it hit a year after Gadhaffi came to
power in 1969. It desperately needs foreign capital and expertise.
- This is a country with 20%
unemployment rate, and a larger number of under-employed, but it brings
in 2m foreign workers.
The dark side of the U.S. change of heart
for many people, is that it removes great pressure on Gadhaffi to address the
serious human rights problems in Libya. Here are reports on the situation in
Libya by the Human Rights
Press freedom is non-existent by most
countries' standards. In fact,
Borders ranks Libya 6th worst in the world. (North Korea is 167th and
Gadhafi Lost His Groove, OpinionJournal.com (May, 2006)
Tripoli Post: English language
opera about Gadhaffi in London, England by Asian Dub Foundation. "Gadafy
is like Ziggy Stardust in reverse".
New planes for Libya: no more
the floor? The U.S. announced in July that it was lifting a ban on airplane
sales to Libya. Soon after,
Afriqiya Airways announced it was buying a large number of planes --
"the first significant order for new commercial aircraft from Libya since
The May 8, 2006 New Yorker magazine
carried a lengthy article entitled "Is Libya for Real?" by Andrew Solomon.
It discussed Libya's current world position, balanced between its former
"pariah" status and...? The article painted a rather bleak picture of a
country ruled closely by a sometimes arbitrary government, which seems to
survive by keeping opposition factions in a state of uncertainty --
encouraging, then cracking down. It's worth noting that Col. Ghadaffi is
the third-longest serving world leader (1969) after Castro (1959) and
President Bongo of Gabon (1967). Ghadaffi was only 25 when he seized power,
so he is still relatively young.
(The article highlights what to western
eyes is a society without a lot of "fun". It's officially alcohol-free, but
it also appears remarkably entertainment-free, with little live music,
theatres, movies or clubs. When public spaces and places are filled with
only men, social interaction is something entirely different than in other
LIFE IN LIBYA
Libyan discussion forum
discussion forum; with some controversial topics.
Most of the letters are in Arabic, but there is also English content
The blog of an American woman in Libya, with
links to many others'.
(NEW: Nov/06): "Keep Libya
Beautiful". So many of us who marvelled at the beauty of the country were
dismayed by the amount of garbage dumped in public, helping to mar places
like the Roman sites and the Sahara. A campaign called "Keep Libya
Beautiful" has posted a
video on You Tube.
(NEW: Nov. 22/06):
collection of historical photos, capturing images of Libya during the
Italian occupation and colonization. The majority cover the period from the
1930's, until the expulsion of the Italians shortly after Ghadaffi took
Text is in Italian, but even if you don't
read Italian, you should be able to find your way. Explore the links at the
bottom of the page.
For that perfect memory of Libya,
Online Libyan music
Libya and the World Cup:
Gadhafi calls it "modern-day slavery", and denounces the football trade
in human beings from Africa to Europe, etc. His third son, Saadi used to be
the captain of the Libyan national team. He once became a member of a Serie A
Italian team in 2003, but was banned for three months after testing positive
for steroids. (One of the coaches of Libya's team was
Ben Johnson -- a world pioneer in being banned for steroid usage).
The Colonel and his family: A website that clearly doesn't like any of
them. It's named "Beautiful
A Libyan Rock Art website has a
great deal of information.
"The Libyan Desert": a website focused more
on eastern Libya, has several pages including ones on:
Flora & fauna
The Fezzan Project concentrates on
"understanding environmental change and past human occupation of the Fezzan
has a number of pages about the area, including a good page of
The Lion in the Desert is the only
movie I've come across set in and filmed in Libya. It stars Anthony Quinn as
Omar Mukhtar, the leader of the Libyan resistance against the Italian
occupation from 1911 to 1931.
(A side note: the director was Syrian
Moustapha Akkad, whose only previous movie, The Messenger about the Prophet
Mohammed also starred Anthony Quinn. However, subsequently, he changed
themes, and was the Executive Producer for all the Halloween 'slasher" movies.
He and his daughter were killed in the hotel bombing of the Hyatt hotel in Amman, Jordan in November, 2005)
A Yank in Libya
The artwork has to convince you to see this! (click for larger image).
The All Movie Guide says it is "distinguished by some of the oldest,
grainiest stock footage ever seen in a mid-1940's film. Otherwise, it "isn't
too bad". Set in a "papier-mache facsimile of Libya".
(NEW: Nov/06) I ordered the DVD, and
have watched it. It is "unique". The reason for the poor, grainy stock is
it's a movie that occasionally re-uses old footage from other unrelated
movies to save money. It just adds to the (perverse) enjoyment!
BOOKS ... a highly incomplete
list. (New, Aug. 29/06).
In the Country of Men, by
A novel set in Libya in 1979, focusing on
the nine year old son of a dissident. The quality of the book apparently
resulted in a
fierce bidding war in England for publishing rights. It's available in
the U.K., and will be published in North America in Feb. 2007.
The U.K. Observer printed a
Sahara, A Natural History, by Marq
de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle
A highly readable and fascinating account
of the greatest desert in the world: its history, geography, art, people --
and power. One reviewer called it "a glittering geographic tour conveying
the majesty, mystery, and abundance of life in what the outside world thinks
of as the Great Emptiness."
The same authors also wrote Sahara: The
Extraordinary History of he World's Largest Desert which I haven't read.
Both available in paperback.
A History of Modern Libya, by
A short, but excellent history of Libya since 1900.
Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the
Desert, by William Langewiesche.
I cited a section from this book
elsewhere in the journal.
Largely set in Algeria and West Africa, it follows the writer on his
travels, revealing much of the life of people of the desert and desert
towns, as well as communicating much of the beauty, harshness and power of
Children of Allah, between the Sea and
Sahara by Agnes Newton Keith
I haven't read this yet (but will). It
was recommended to me by an American woman who was inspired by it to
visit Libya in November, 2005. (See her
travel report here), and her
comments about the book below:
The reason I went to Libya is, I
read a book by Agnes Newton Keith, called "Children of Allah,
between the Sea and Sahara". She lived there in the 1950's with her
British husband, who was an agricultural consultant for the U.N. helping
the Libyan government plant trees. It's a charming read, and she has
some of her own Saharan adventures. Anyway it inspired me to go!! She
jeeped all over the country, got to know the people, and describes the
Roman and Greek sites before they were excavated. It's a bit hard to
find, but worth it.
Other Libyan books:
Longtitude, a travel
book service has a
books about Libya
(NEW: Nov/06) The U.S.
Congress bibliography on Libya (not up to date)
Looking for something a bit different?
Here are some
short stories written by Col. Ghadaffi himself.