A photo-journal of our Libyan Solar Eclipse & Sahara trip, Mar.-Apr. 2006
PAGES:   Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent City | Eclipse |Tent City story | To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water | Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days
 Libya links | | Eclipse links | Photo gallery |

Photos & journal by John Leeson (Toronto, Canada)
 email:  jooktoronto@gmail.com

Libya: our last days

Click on photos for larger images:

The last week had been beautiful and overwhelming; like nothing most of us had seen. We had somewhat mixed feelings about our time ending. We did not want the experience and magic to end -- the Sahara is enveloping in its magnificence –- but we could feel the wear and tear. I’d begun counting how many more nights we had left to sleep on the sand and had begun thinking of the variety of food we could have in some city -- to say nothing of the constant urge for cold drinks. The heat was getting more intense.


A few images and memories from our last couple of days in the Sahara:

On the second last day: we stopped in the small town of Awbari for some drinks (there was very little selection). It  was a dreary and dirty small town with garbage sitting in fetid water.


Later, while waiting out the heat in the restaurant after lunch, Andreas plugged in his PC, and we watched his amazing eclipse and star photos…. After which we used the PC to watch videos of Tinariwen that Cheikh gave me. In one clip, Cheikh's brother was playing guitar with the group (photo below by Bonnie Bird)


Scenes from Awbari


That night, our last in the desert, we had one last night of music around the campfire, and one more halo around the moon (but not quite as spectacular as the first) .
(Photo at right by Brendan Seaton)

Friday, our last day here, we visited the famous Awbari salt-water lakes. In a country so dry, with not a single river, they are an astounding sight and experience. Since I had first seen photos of the Fezzan region a year earlier, I had dreamed of swimming in a Saharan oasis. But when we finally did get to some of them, we both passed on the opportunity. We just seemed a bit too tired for the energy required… and as well, it looked like too much work to wash off the salt using buckets from the nearby well. Some, like Mostafa did go in. (right)




The giant dune beside one of the lakes was available for dune skiing 



After lunch, we took our last, long Saharan drive, back to Sabha where we started. The magic was over. It was comparatively dull scenery on the way, eventually “progressing” into the unattractive scenes of urban life, especially the ever-present garbage.


Around 5:30 in the afternoon, we pulled off at a restaurant/rest stop for dinner. Food, showers and flies. We speculated about the upcoming flight to Tripoli (scheduled for 10pm). Would it be as late leaving Sabha as it was last week when we had arrived at 3am? One of Bilgasem’s comments came back: “Time is mysterious here. You must learn to understand.”


We left the restaurant around 7:30pm for the airport, where we said goodbye to the drivers. We checked in, sat on seats or on the terminal floor, and... waited once again.


We had drinks and coffees, while watching various pictures of Ghadaffi displayed over and over on an electronic screen. We hadn't seen him for a week.


Fortunately there was no departure board to tell us our plane was late. We traded rumours unenthusiastically: “The plane will be arriving here at 10”; “The plane will be leaving Tripoli at 11”. “Whatever…”


The plane arrived at 12:30. I don’t think we looked as bad as those we had seen waiting for the same flight last week. We finally arrived at our Tripoli hotel at 4am, to fill in the inevitable bureaucratic forms. Sleep.


Another long airport night.
(Photo by Erica Smythe)

The next morning, our Libyan trip ended, with everyone collecting luggage and packing in a bleary-eyed state, and said our goodbyes.


When the first large group prepared to leave by bus for the airport, Bilgasem gave a very emotional farewell. People applauded...


When it was our turn to leave, there was some mix–up about time, and we didn’t get to see our friend Mostafa before we had to leave, so we had to so phone him from the airport. We've continued to stay in touch with him by phone and email (as best we can with the language barrier), and recently mailed him some English-language books and tapes for Arabic speakers. We've also stayed in touch by phone and email with Bilgasem.


Our Saharan group: tourists, guides, drivers & cooks. Photo by Andreas Gada


After a trip like that (and a journal like this!), it feels like there should be some conclusion tying it all up. However, even though I'm writing this over 3 months after we left Libya, it's not clear to either of us -- or to many of those we travelled with -- what it signified or meant.

Many of us felt changed by the experience, and found the return to our homes disconcerting -- unsettling in some ways. So much of the two weeks had been incredibly intense; we experienced sights and emotions that will stay with us forever. So many of the Libyan people touched our hearts.  The final week in the Sahara was the most powerful experience of all. Just looking at any of the photos from our travel is enough to transport us emotionally back into the desert.

Several of us have commented that we never felt better physically than we did while in Libya, especially the Sahara. Much of that no doubt is due to the beautiful clean dry hot air (especially for middle-aged bones and joints). But it certainly felt more than that -- a magic spirit was there in the air and the dunes.

If you've read though many of these pages, it's obvious that there are lots of problems travelling through Libya. However, I hope it's also clear what I think of the country. If you think you can handle some of the challenges, and can go with an open mind, and an open heart, both of us -- and many others we travelled with -- completely recommend it. GO TO LIBYA. You'll love it. (And see my Links page for a recommended tour guide).

Inshallah... we will return.

Update (fall, 2006): we WILL be returning... for another two weeks in March, 2007!)


Key chain bought in Toronto.


At home, we still send out our Libyan message.
 "I've got a Libyan Attitude". Yup.

... For a huge selection of Libyan wearables, check this out.


The future?

Shortly after returning, while having a haircut, I mentioned to my barber that I had just returned from Libya. "Oh, were you there on a timeshare?" he asked. After the experience we had had, the concept of a "Libyan timeshare" was just too bizarre to picture.

It won't be long though. See this article from the July 23, 2006 Observer. Coming soon to a "former-pariah" state near you: a luxury resort with an 18-hole golf course, fitness centres, marina, restaurants... and perhaps alcohol!

Don't wait... see Libya now!

Other pages: Links about Libya; Eclipse links

More Sahara photos: desert scenes;  peopletown scenes; more rock art
Main Libya photo gallery page

PAGES: Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent CityEclipse | Tent City story |To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water |  Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days