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


Brushes with civilization...and more liquid obsessions

Click on photos for larger images:

Our first other tourists

On day three, we encountered some German tourists. It already seemed odd to see other people, but their travel environment seemed from another world: they drove brand-new Mercedes 4x4’s, and claimed to have refrigerators in their vehicles, stocked with beer and scotch.


Drinking alcohol is not only something I wouldn’t risk in Libya, I found it somewhat offensive to a host country which adamantly and strictly bans alcohol. I’m not a big believer in forcing our own customs while in another country, if they are offensive or illegal there.


Brushes with civilization

The first few days of our Sahara trip were spent pretty much on our own: our group traveled across the sand and rocks of the Acacus, with almost no signs of other people, and certainly no signs of towns, roads etc. About four days into the trek, we began encountering some towns. The experience changed the atmosphere of travel somewhat. We no longer felt isolated, and while we really appreciated the cold drinks, occasional showers -- and chairs for lunch! -- we also missed the sense of our own isolated desert world.


Our first town – Al'Uwaynat – was located at an oasis, so the first sign of the town was a line of bright green bushes that seemed like a gateway to some different kind of place. It was: passing through this "gateway", we came across the first concrete signs of civilization: garbage.


While we had never been completely away from abandoned garbage during our travels, other sights seemed even more exotic: power lines… street lights... pavement!  … and… speed bumps!


It was a quiet, unremarkable town –- except for those wonderful cold drinks -– and we browsed the two small stores, buying drinks and snacks, and sat around on the curb of the street, breathing car exhausts, and were soon ready to leave this setting and head back to the desert.


Shortly after leaving town driving down the highway, we passed through another police checkpoint (we’re on the edge of the Akakus area), and just past that, we turned off the pavement and headed back toward the sand and dunes, leaving our brief encounter with civilization behind. Cheers in many of the cars.

Boy that tasted GOOD!


The next day, we headed toward Ghat, an ancient trading town, centre of Touareg settlement, located almost at the Algerian border. On the way, it’s clear that we are on the verge of leaving the beautiful Akakus mountains. This is the first time since leaving Sabha on day one we had a highway drive, and on one side of the highway we stared at the black, hard wall of the mountains we have been traveling through; on the other, look at the wide expanse of the sand sea.



This was the day the heat really started, accompanied by our only sandstorm. In Ghat, we wandered the ancient medina, trying to find our way through the twisting paths toward the old fort at the top of a hill. When we reached the top, there was a spectacular view of the medina, the whole town, the mountains of Libya and Algeria -- and an impressive vista of blowing sand, obscuring views in all directions.



We left Ghat, and headed back up the road toward Al'Uwaynat. This time, we went into a restaurant -- our first since Tripoli -- and one of a number in the area that cater to 4x4 travelers. They provide kitchen facilities, so Cheikh prepared our "usual lunch” there. However, today, we were able to eat lunch SITTING! on chairs at a table. They also had shower facilities, and many of us luxuriated in our first shower in days (except for the hose a few days ago).


We killed a lot of time there, while waiting out the heat and the sand until around 5 pm, when the sandstorm eased somewhat.


While there, I talked to Cheikh about buying some some Touareg music. He showed me a photo on his cell phone, and I recognized the musician in the picture: he was a member of Tinariwen– a superb Tuareg music group from Mali I had seen play last summer in Toronto. (My photos of their concert are posted here). These musicians had once lived in Libya, when they were fighters in the Malian civil war, and Col. Ghadaffi provided training camps to rebels from everywhere).


We made plans to go shopping for Touareg music when we return to Sabha. As it turned out, we didn't get into the town of Sabha on our way home.



More liquid obsessions

The last few days provided several opportunities to buy cold drinks – one of the priorities of life in those days. The first opportunity, in Al'Uwaynat was wonderful. The next day in the restaurant mentioned above, I had a drink I’ll always remember.


I discovered a tin of orange juice, whose art work depicted the juiciest orange wedge I’ve ever seen, surrounded by an explosion of wet, juicy drops of orange juice. I fell in love with the tin, and bought what turned out to be the last one. It didn’t disappoint – cold, thirst-quenching, with bits of real orange pulp; it was obscenely refreshing. Later, I found a tin of peach juice that was not quite as good, but enough to keep me going for a day….


… Until the next day, when I had my only negative reaction of my two weeks.


Putting it into perspective

It was our last full day in the Sahara, and we stopped at the museum in Germa that we had missed on day one. The museum was dusty (what isn’t here?), but interesting, with much better information in English than the museum in Tripoli –- but most of us were too tired, hot and thirsty to appreciate it.


Some didn't even go in; I made a very quick tour through it, and we then sat outside on the steps, thinking about nothing but getting some some cold water somewhere.


At our lunch restaurant, we headed straight to the cooler, and found that the only choices were Coca-Cola or some sweet fruit drink… not even cold water. Neither drink had any appeal to me. The temperature was so hot outside by now that the water in our cars was way past “refreshing”. I was clearly frustrated by the lack of even cold water, and Bilgasem arranged for one of the drivers to buy up some cold water at a store in town.


Two things however put my frustration in perspective:


I quickly recalled my favourite "obnoxious tourist" image: He was a Canadian I had met in Recife, Brazil who had become angry at a restaurant because they didn't have any Coca Cola. Now I was doing almost the same thing because a restaurant in a small town in the Sahara desert only had Coke! (Although I didn't get angry, just frustrated).



While traveling I had been reading the book Sahara Unveiled by an American writer, William Langewiesche about his travels through the Sahara, primarily Algeria. He recounts many stories about the often fatal harshness of the land; a particularly gruesome story concerned a Belgian couple and their five year old son. Their last days are recounted in the woman’s journal, while the author describes in parallel, the ever-deepening and horrible effects of thirst and dehydration


The family got lost, ran out of gas, then out of water. They drank the car’s radiator fluid until it too ran out. They then drank gasoline. The author writes, “Saharans have recommended it to me as a way of staying off the battery acid”. They also drank their urine. The boy was in such pain that the parents killed him to stop his suffering. The husband cut himself so his wife could drink his blood, and then at his request, she killed him. In the final throes of delusion, her last words recorded her only regret: she had not seen Sylvester Stallone in Rambo III.



So… I had to consider: was my "crisis" –- being forced to drink Coke, fruit drink or warm water -- all that bad…? Our few days in the Sahara had given us some tiny -– and very secure -– glimpses of the power and danger of the desert, but in the end we could always stroll over to the counter, buy a Coke, and avoid all those other choices…

Some town scenes:


The best beer ever

(Hard to leave the topic of liquids!) The next day was another hot one. We stopped at some of the famous Awbari lakes, and it was the only time in the week that it was too hot to walk on the sand in bare feet.


Most of us were still thirst-obsessed. At lunch this day, instead of the juiciest orange juice in the world, I snapped up an ice-cold Beck’s non-alcoholized beer. This was something we had drunk periodically in Libya. It usually tasted pretty good, fairly close to “real” beer. (Unlike some of the unknown and undrinkable brands I tried).


But that day, after all that heat and sand we had been experiencing, that Becks (and the next one) was simply the best beer I ever drank. Glorious. Subsequently, I had little urge for a “real one”. (But I still did get one when I could on our KLM flight to Amsterdam!)


David agrees: "Best beer ever"

Next: the last days in the Sahara

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 |