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

Note: most of the links here were updated through Nov. 2006, but I've updated (Oct. 2007) the information regarding my recommended travel company.


On this page:

   Travel to Libya: recommended companies Libyan news  (updated Nov. /06)
   Travel information & news  (Updated Aug/ 06) Life in Libya  (updated Nov. /06)
   Links about Libya  (updated Nov. /06) Miscellaneous
   Official Libyan views Movies
   Government & democracy: the latest issues  (updated Nov. /06) Books  (updated Aug. /06)


CONSIDERING 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.

If you 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 there.

I am quite certain that almost anyone who traveled with us in the Sahara would also recommend Bilgasem.


  • 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 Libya pages, 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 Libya"
  • 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 Libya).
  • 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: "It's very rare to see a waitress come to clean the table and the toilets. Always others - Egyptians - must do it."


Wikipedia's Libyan section is a wide-ranging source of information about the country.

Libya: Our home: A HUGE compendium of links in numerous categories

National Geographic article from Nov. 2000, "Libya: An end to Isolation", includes videos, photos and links

(NEW: Nov/06) The U.S. Library of Congress country profile of Libya (PDF format)



Where is Libya heading? Struggles about the direction of government / democracy / freedom:

Aug. 28/06:  A recent (Aug. 20, 2006) speech 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 similar statements, 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 speech.

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 recent stories 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.

However, The Economist speculates more cynically on what may be behind Saif's apparent outspokenness.

Nov. 22/06: A very recent and disturbing story about the plight of a democracy advocate:



In other news on the democratic front:

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 The Economist.

Here are three videos taken on that day, posted on YouTube:



(NEW: Nov/06): 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 terrorism-sponsoring nations.

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 daily jams."
  • "State wages, the main income for two-thirds of the workforce, have been frozen since 1981". (averaging $3000 US/year)
  • 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 Watch and Amnesty International

Press freedom is non-existent by most countries' standards. In fact, Reporters Without Borders ranks Libya 6th worst in the world. (North Korea is 167th and last).

"How Gadhafi Lost His Groove, OpinionJournal.com (May, 2006)

Libya Post, Tripoli Post: English language Libyan newspapers

An opera about Gadhaffi in London, England by Asian Dub Foundation. "Gadafy is like Ziggy Stardust in reverse".

New planes for Libya: no more holes in 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 1978".

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 countries).


A Libyan discussion forum

A 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): A fascinating 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 over.

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, shop here

Online Libyan music

Libya Yellow Pages

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 Canada's 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 Atrocities".

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
Rock Art


The Fezzan Project concentrates on "understanding environmental change and past human occupation of the Fezzan region". Its website has a number of pages about the area, including a good page of links.


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 (1942)
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 Kisham Matar

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 review and excerpt

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 Dirk Vandewalle.

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 the Sahara.

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 list of books about Libya

(NEW: Nov/06) The U.S. Library of Congress bibliography on Libya (not up to date)

Looking for something a bit different? Here are some short stories written by Col. Ghadaffi himself.

See also links about the eclipse

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
Libya links
| Eclipse links | Photo gallery |