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


Click on photos for larger images:                 

Eclipse-chasing: why?

What makes tens of thousands of otherwise-normal people (at least we think we are) travel thousands of kilometers, often spending thousands of dollars to go to any and every corner of the world just to watch things get dark for a few (very few) minutes?


There is no quick answer – unless you’ve seen a total eclipse yourself. And when people do see one, the inevitable reaction afterward is: “When is the next one?” It’s addictive (more to some than others). It’s certainly beautiful, exquisite; quite possibly the most awe-inspiring sight in nature.


For those who have seen only a partial solar eclipse, the difference between partial and total is – as it were – like night and day. Annie Dillard, in her striking essay, "Total Eclipse" part of her book Teaching a Stone to Talk wrote:

A partial eclipse is very interesting. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.

One member of our group, filmmaker David Makepeace from Toronto, in Libya for his 9th totality, has made a film entitled Hooked on the Shadow, which is a good attempt to explain the “eclipse chaser” phenomenon.  He has a 65 second Quick Time video excerpt on this page http://www.eclipseguy.com/pages/videolib1.html.


Whatever the reason, in March of 2006, Libya, Turkey, Egypt, and several other countries were flooded with tourists, all focused on the approximately 4 minutes of totality.


(Of course, another reason for eclipse chasing is that it provides a great excuse to see marvellous places, and meet fascinating people, neither of which we might ever do without the eclipse).

David showing some of his eclipse films, while "Col Ghadaffi" watches



Day before the eclipse: the charter airport in Tripoli is full

The eclipse site: our first trip into the Sahara

So, as a result of our obsession, we had the opportunity to spend two days in a pretty surreal site in the Sahara to enjoy the eclipse.


“Tent City”, a few hundred km deep into the Sahara, was home to 4-5000 eclipse tourists from 47 different nations, all there for one the greatest experiences we will ever have.


Our site was one of three government-authorized eclipse viewing sites; we were right on the eclipse centre line, located a little south of Jalu, a small city in north-east Libya. We took a charter flight from Tripoli, which provided us with our first excited view of the great Sahara desert from the plane windows.


During our landing approach, those of us looking out wondered if there was really an airstrip. Until the last seconds, we could see nothing but sand – no paved strip. At the last moment, one appeared. We landed... and we were in the Sahara!


It was then about a 45 minute bus ride to the site through a flat, featureless hard-packed sand plain with fine gravel. This site was picked partly for that reason: unobstructed views of the eclipse (and less prone to blowing sand).  


We couldn’t believe what we found when we arrived at our “Tent City”. In a country with virtually no previous large-scale tourism, the government and a few tourism companies had prepared a site to accommodate -- in a large degree of comfort -– thousands of foreign tourists. Carrying our luggage from the bus across the sand, we were greeted with a view of thousands of tents stretching off into the distance.


Later we discovered huge dining tents, a free, wireless Internet café, and other tents which served as corner stores, souvenir and art stores. There was a large bank of porta-johns, which were serviced and cleaned so regularly, that many said they were the best they had ever seen.


We browsed through a government-sponsored tent offering a large and free selection of beautiful books and posters about Libya. On eclipse day, the Internet café sold Solar Eclipse First Day stamps, to go along with the many beautiful sheets of stamps, including the legendary “American Aggression” series of stamps.


(Right next door however, you could buy cigarette lighters embossed with “God Bless America” and “Support Our Troops”).



Of course, there were glitches at the site; although the dining tent was decorated beautifully, the crowds were more than they had prepared for. It took us 3 hours of waiting the first night to eat.  The organizers learned however, and lineups for subsequent meals were handled more quickly. [photo: some famished people waiting and waiting for some food!]


 The food there was good, but with a limited selection: both dinners and the one lunch were identical. Both breakfasts would have been identical, but the food finally ran out late on the last morning.

Busing to Tent City

Relaxing on the front porch

Internet tent

Cricket game in the desert

Porta-johns early on eclipse day


The concert

On the night before the eclipse, after finally finishing dinner around 10:30 pm, we wandered around the site, eventually finding music coming from a tent, where some Berber musicians and dancers were playing, and encouraging spectators to dance. Oksana joined in with others.




As their music finished, a fireworks display started up further in the distance. We could also see some floodlights in the distance, and so we walked over to see what was happening.


There we came across a “concert-in-waiting”.  A few hundred people were sitting on plastic chairs in front of a large wooden stage, where a large number of Touareg women wearing Libyan green (rather than the traditional Touareg indigo) sat on chairs and waited. And waited…  and then eventually left the stage.


Soon after, a new row of chairs was set up in the front of the audience; each chair was cleaned off, eventually to be filled by a row of dignitaries, among them the Libyan Minister of Tourism and several foreign ambassadors (including the Ukrainian ambassador).


Once they were in place, around midnight, an emcee made a long introductory speech in French, Arabic, and a bit of English, and the music finally began. The Touaregs (from Ghat in the south of Libya) returned to the stage, with the women singing and clapping while men, waved swords sang and danced.


I -- who spend so much time listening to and photographing African music -- was in my element. Not so the dignitaries, who looked generally bored, and left partway through the concert.


Next was a group of Berbers from Ghadames (an ancient town in eastern Libya), and several other groups, including one featuring an accordion. While walking away after her performance, one woman surprised us when she said to us “Dos Vedanya” (“Hello” in Russian), So, Oksana had a bit of a conversation with her, learning the woman had lived in Russia at some point.






By the time the final act came on – now almost 2am -- the crowd had swelled, with more Libyan men apparent than tourists (most of whom had probably gone to bed). This group, from Egypt, was a pretty bizarre sight.  There were 3 belly dancers (in modest dress), and three dwarf males. Two of them came on arm in arm – one in drag. The third accompanied a (real) woman, dressed in a white Western-style bridal dress. Her role on stage was purely visual: she did nothing throughout the show. There was a flute player providing the basic music, and eventually a blind dervish.


Nevertheless, the energy level was high through the show – especially during the belly dancing with the front of the stage packed. Of course, I photographed the whole thing, and our Toronto friend Noelle videotaped while sitting on the stage. (Photo)









Oksana dancing the night away

The dignitaries

Some of the performers:

The show finally shutdown around 2:30am, and we headed back to our tents for some sleep before…
Next: The Eclipse


For some more photos of Tent City scenes, click here
For more concert photos, click here

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 |