The "Tent City" we stayed at for
the Eclipse was simply amazing. Many of us marvelled at
this massive facility that accommodated thousands of foreign
tourists from over 40 countries for two days. How did it come about,
especially in a
country that had never experienced such intensive, large-scale tourism?
There was no
opportunity to practice, or test the ideas and facilities. Thousands of tents had
to be erected, along with provision of sleeping bags, toilet facilities, food,
water, electricity -- all while praying for no clouds or sandstorms!
The organizers did all that and more. (Who expected wireless Internet??). We wondered how this happened.
Fortunately, Naser Edeeb, from Safari Tourism has provided the answer. Naser was part of the whole history of the Libyan Solar Eclipse, and he and his company were instrumental in preparing the Jalu site. This is his account:
This story began in two places in
March 2003. My colleague Ali Saidi was at the ITB (a tourism fair
show in Berlin, Germany). Ali met Mr. John Addison from
Wild Frontiers -- a
South African travel company – who gave Ali information about the
March 2006 Total Solar Eclipse.
At the same time, I was on holiday in Tunisia and met a British guy who wanted to know some information about Libya, because he didn’t know anything about Libya – just that it was located in North Africa. Anyway I met him at the hotel in Djerba, and we sat at the same table for dinner. He starts to ask hundreds of questions when he found out that I was Libyan, and he got all the answers he needed from me. Then he told me that in Libya on March 29th 2006 there will be a Total Solar Eclipse somewhere in Libya. “Did you hear about it” he asked? But he didn’t have more details to give me. He also asked me if I was going to work on this special event. I told him that there was still time for this.
After dinner, I called my secretary and told her to find as much information about the Eclipse as she could until I came back home.
A few days later, I got back to the office but my secretary couldn’t find any information at all.
So I went on the Internet and I started to search for “Eclipse Libya March 29th 2006”. I was very surprised what I got from the Net. But still that wasn’t enough information for me.
I needed more information like “Where is the eclipse going to be?” “Which area?” “What time?” etc….
Jay and Fred were very helpful to me and gave me information that really helped me. Of course one was in Canada and the other in the States, and I am in Libya. But still we managed together.
I got a lot of the eclipse coordinates from a CIA map. I knew that the best place would be near Jalu. But where ???? That wasn’t easy for me because I had never been there at all.
A friend of mine lives in Benghazi, and I asked him if he knew Jalu and the area around it. The answer was yes, that he has been there many times. I asked him a lot of questions on the phone about Jalu, and he answered them all, although some of my questions he wasn’t really sure of his answer.
So we made an appointment together to go to Jalu. I flew to Benghazi a few days later. During our drive to Jalu from Benghazi I kept asking and asking questions and I was writing notes and the drive was very long.
We left late from Benghazi, and by 6:00 pm we arrived in Jalu. I had my GPS with me and the printed-out coordinates from Fred Espenak’s website. But it was all just numbers and numbers.
The sun was almost down and we had done nothing yet. I told my friend to find a good spot to camp for the night and stop the car.
He thought I was joking with him when I said that. But I really meant that -- I was even prepared with everything: two small tents, two sleeping bags, cooking equipment, flashlights, food, water and I even had two satellite phones just in case. My friend was very surprised that I had all these things with me. He was scared in one sense to camp out in the Sahara, as he had never done it before.
After we had made our camp, I took my GPS and the coordinates and started working and writing down my notes, while my friend set up the fire in that VERY COLD night and I mean very cold night. We couldn’t sleep well because of the cold. I could hear my friend talking to himself in his tent saying “What the hell I am doing here in the desert?”
Next day when we woke up I wanted to tell my friend why we are here. I really didn’t tell him the full details, I just told him that in March 2006, a lot of people around the world are going to come here, and that something big will happen. He kept asking what it is. So I told him I am not really sure what’s going to happen, but just give me time to be sure of my information then I’ll tell you. I really didn’t want anyone to know, I wanted to keep it like a secret, so the information wouldn’t get out.
So we kept on moving until I got to the right coordinates. My friend told me that “It looks like you are looking for a treasure, not what you were telling me”, because it was just flat and flat Sahara.
As we got to the spot according to the CIA coordinates, I was looking and imagining what will happen in March 2006. What can I provide to these people who are coming? I kept asking myself a lot of questions on and on.
When I got back home to Tripoli, I sat down with Ali who I trust and told him we need a plan for this event. What can we do? What can we provide? How can we organize tours? What is the number of tourists that will be in Libya?
With all of these questions we made hundreds of notes. But our main goal was how to provide the best services. How can we make our guests go home happy? Overall we want a very good reputation.
So I went back to the Net, but all I can see is tour operators organizing tours to Turkey and Egypt. Nothing mentioned about LIBYA, and no tours... but Libya has got the longest totality time: 4 minutes and 7 seconds. So why is no one sending tours to Libya?
So I started to work by sending e-mails to anyone that I found on the Net that was organizing tours for the Eclipse or even just providing information on their website.
My 1st contact was with Travel Quest in March 2004. They were very surprised when I contacted them. “What… an e-mail from Libya concerning the Eclipse???” They asked if I was sure that we can organize tours for the Eclipse. It seems that I really surprised them, and we exchanged a lot of e-mails together and others started to send me e-mail.
Click on photos for larger images:
The first visit (2004) to what would be the centre line of the Eclipse:
The first dining room...
The first people who visited me were from Wild Frontiers Travel in South Africa in May, 2004. I was very happy with their visit. I learned so many things from these people (Peter Tied and John Addison). We even went to the centerline and we camped together and spoke about the camp, what kind of services we could provide, including toilets.
Then in February of 2005, Travel Quest visited me (Jay Anderson and Mr. Aram). They were also a very big help and we exchanged ideas. About the same time, Fred Espenak and Gary Spear from Spears Travel came. The more people that I received the better it is for me. Because I wanted to be as honest with them as I could. The main idea is that they could get their own information about the country, to know what to answer to their clients, not by someone telling them things or trying just to sell business to them.
John Addision, Naser & Peter Tiedt:
I started to work days and nights. I had contacts from all over the world, like Australia, Japan, Europe, and the States. We worked around the clock in the office. We didn’t want to keep any e-mail one hour waiting for our answer.
Meanwhile we started to contact all the local companies that could provide the best services that we needed. We got a lot of offers and lots of ideas. But still there is something missing we felt.
In May, 2005 we went to South Africa to a tourism show just to get an idea how they work their camps. We also met with John Addison and his wife, and they were very helpful with information. I took a lot of pictures which really pleased me.
In August, 2005, Ali Saidi and I visited the U.S., travelling across the country, meeting with the people we were working with to provide them more information. We met Fred Espenak in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Aram of Travel Quest flew from Arizona with his wife to meet us in Los Angeles, California, where they took us for a tour of Hollywood.
By the end of 2005 some other Libyan tour operators started to hear about the Eclipse. Some of them had no idea where will it be.
They started to work and contacted me to provide them information. I was providing them the information they needed with great honor. But I kept telling them “Please do it right or don’t do it.”
The time was passing by so quickly and things must be done. At the beginning of February, 2006 I traveled to Jalu with all the team who are going to build the camp. We camped there and started to plan our camp. I kept telling them I want to build a camp that no tourist has ever seen, I said it many times to them. Every time we do something, a new idea comes up and then we change on and on.
But there was a problem we didn’t really expect to have and we couldn’t do anything about it. It was more powerful then it should be. Sandstorms. We had sandstorms many times in the day and in the night. And we also had cold freezing nights. When we build or we do something the storm blows it away or tears it down. We didn’t know what to do. Time is really passing by so fast and the every day seems just like one hour. We also had problems with the heat during the day. What a mess I got into! Some of the workers couldn’t handle the work. Every day we hire people to work because every day people quit – it was just not the right job for them. We even increased their salary, still the same thing on and on. I was very worried; tents were broken, chairs flew away, sleeping bags as well. The only thing we had to think of is to hire more people and get more ropes to tie things down.
That helps a lot, so when the wind stops we are like grasshoppers running around the camp to do as much work as possible. Because if the wind started we just sat down and looked at each other
You won’t believe what we have been through. Problems never ended… on and on. I had to go home back to Tripoli to check on things that were happening. There was a mess there also: hotel problems, bus problems, guide problems, restaurant, visas etc.. I felt I was lost and didn’t know what to do!!!
But what really cheered me up is my colleague, he told me, “Naser you started and I know you can finish it”. Then I said to myself I MUST continue and it will end soon.
By the time people started to arrive, I felt a little worried. I had NO SLEEP AT ALL. I was following all the groups in different places at the same time. That wasn’t easy. On March 29th, just before the totality, I was in Tubruk, with a cruise ship -- even there I don’t want to tell you what happened with me. Any way I ran away from the tourists -- I wanted to enjoy these few minutes that I was driving myself crazy for. From far away I could hear people yelling and shouting and smiling and enjoying their time. REALLY I was very happy to hear them happy. That pleased me a lot and took all the pain away from me by just hearing my clients saying that was a wonderful Eclipse. I know there were a lot of things that shouldn’t been done. But it was OK: it was a clear sky and nice eclipse.
By the time the eclipse is over people started to leave Libya very happy. By the time the last people were leaving I went to the airport and I waved good bye. By that time I was just about to fall down. I needed to sleep for days and get away from everything. Believe it or not I called my office and told them that I am going to sleep and don’t call me. I went to a hotel, got myself a room and I slept for two whole days, I closed my cell phone which had never stopped ringing,
And, a final comment from Naser:
Another report about that first
You can email Naser at: email@example.com
Next: A long day's "journey" to the Sahara (Or, try to avoid flying Libyan Arab Airlines!)
Roman sites |
In Tent City |
Tent City story |To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water | Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days