Libya Explorer: Photos & Notes

Still working my way through Middle East office tour jetlag, but I’ve finally finished adding my Libya photos to Flickr.

As you’ll see from each day’s photos, Libya’s well worth a visit (“if you liked Syria, you’ll like this too”) – although I would not recommend Peregrine as a tour operator (read my earlier Libya Explored post), and note that not everything I/we did was included in their Libyan Explorer itinerary:

Saturday 25 April 2009 (day 1): Morning flight BA 898 from London Heathrow to Tripoli, where I was met by our local guide, and, together with room mate-to-be Pippi, transferred to our hotel. Our Tripoli base was the Funduq al Mukhtar (rather than the Al Deyafa, which is where Peregrine told us we were staying), which I would highly recommend. Afternoon spent exploring the Old City with Pippi, vaguely following the Lonely Planet walking tour and catching our first sight of the souks and the marvellous arch of Marcus Aurelius. We dined at the Athar restaurant which offers a ring side seat of the floodlit arch. If you’re a meat/fish eater, go for the algarra – it’s the stew baked in an amphora that the waiter cracks opens at your table.

Sunday 26 April 2009 (day 2): Daytime photo opp at the Marcus Aurelius arch and the old church, plus a visit to the Jami Gurgi, followed by a tour of the excellent Jamahiriya Museum (marvellous mosaics). We left Tripoli mid-morning for the long, hot and rather boring drive to Ghadames. En route we had leg stretch/loo breaks at historical Nalut (in the Jebel Nafusa) and the not-nearly-as-picturesque-as-it-sounds oasis town of Sinoun, arriving at the Kafila hotel in Ghadames after dark. Eye spying for camels and the giant pipes of the Great Manmade River enlivened the monotonous desert drive.

Monday 27 April 2009 (day 3): Guided walking tour of Ghadames in the morning, free time in the afternoon which Pippi and I spent exploring the old town and its surrounding paths and field systems on our own. Blessedly free of fellow tourists, but sadly (to my mind) the old city is being done up in aspic. Afternoon tea in the sand dunes turned out to be a rather commercialised experience, taken together with lots and lots of Italian tourists.

Tuesday 28 April 2009 (day 4): Long drive back to Tripoli via the Qsars of Kabaw and Al Haj. With a few hours of daylight left, Sybal, Lois, Pippi and I explored the Old City on foot, again with the aid of the Lonely Planet, and enjoyed coffee and pastries in the delightful Dar Yakhzen, a collection of souvenir shops in a restored courtyard house. Leaving Lois and Sybal to the delights dining à deux at the Athar restaurant, Pippi and I ate in solitary splendour at the Old City restaurant.

Wednesday 29 April 2009 (day 5): 90 minute drive in rush hour traffic to Al-Khoms for a two hour guided tour of Leptis Magna, 30 minutes at the Circus and a speedy 40 mins at the museum. It really is as stunning as They Say. Back in Tripoli we had another late afternoon/evening at leisure. After strolling down Sharia Omar al Mukhtar to Green Square and watching families enjoying the sun in the Corniche gardens, Pippi and I returned to our hotel area to dine cheaply/locally, at the Sultan restaurant on the Sharia Omar al Mukhtar.

Thursday 30 April 2009 (day 6): Another morning drive, this time west to Sabratha. More beautiful ruins in a stunning location, and another information-packed guided tour. Evening flight on Buraq Air, crossing the Gulf of Sidra, to Benghazi. Overnight in the palatial Hotel Al Noran, with a three course evening meal by candlelight in their top notch restaurant.

Friday 01 May 2009 (day 7): A day of stunning Greek sites, sights and ruins set amidst rolling green countryside. We spent the morning on a guided tour of Cyrene and the afternoon its gentle seaside port of Apollonia. Lots of Libyan (and Egyptian) tourists visiting both sites on the muslim ‘weekend’. Overnight at the lovely Al Manara. It may be the only tourist hotel in town (Susah), but it doesn’t exploit that fact.

Saturday 02 May 2009 (day 8): A leisurely morning drive back to Benghazi, taking in the primitive religious carvings at Slonta and the marvellous mosaics at Qasr Libya en route. Buraq Air back to Tripoli, a tour of a suburban spice and food market, a forty five minute last opportunity shopping spree in the souk followed by a tasty early dinner in town and then back to the airport for, eventually, the Libyan Airlines flight down to Sebha and the start of our desert adventures. Overnight in a concrete thatched holiday hut (nicer than it sounds!) at Fezzan Park.

Sunday 03 May 2009 (day 9): A long day on the road, following the old trade route via Ubari and Germa, through the wadis and then the desert, heading towards Aweinat/Serdeles and then Ghat. Lovely picnic lunch en route, the first of many provided by the not-so-local crew (all Tripoli boys). An American Wild West landscape with amazing mountain escarpments and spooky Kaf Ajnoun dramatised the drive south from Aweinat to Ghat. Sadly we only had 40 minutes in Ghat’s lovely atmospheric Tuareg old town before driving back in beautiful evening light to overnight at Aweinat. More thatched concrete huts, but the park wasn’t very pleasant. And don’t mention the jeeps…..

Monday 04 May 2009 (day 10): Leaving the tarmac at Aweinat we drove into the Tadrat Acacus and across the barren black rock plains of Wadi Wan Millal before reaching the more photogenic locations of Awiss and Wadi Tashwinat. Adadh – the finger – signaled our arrival in Awiss and the start of many visits to rock paintings and engravings, and giant rock arches. Surprisingly few photos! I was still too angry to admire the depth of history on show …. Camping out under the stars, in our own private cul de sac in Wadi Tin Khilqa was a highlight.

Tuesday 05 May 2009 (day 11): Another (full) day exploring the wadis, rock paintings and engravings in the Tadrat Acacus: a short stroll through Wadi Tin Khilqa before driving on to Wadi Tashwinat to see the amazing painting and rock carvings in Wan Traghit – the elephant was my personal favourite. Hanging around at the foot of the Wan Casa for our tour leader and mate was annoying enough to block out any memory of the beauty of the dunes. In the late afternoon, having set up camp in Wadi Tiliboo, Pippi and I climbed up into the surrounding rocks to take in the amazing view before dinner al fresco. (Pre-agreed) 4am wake up call from Lois to drink in the jaw dropping Milky Way in perfect silence.

Wednesday 06 May 2009 (day 12): Morning drive back to Aweinat, petrol and tarmac, then retracing the road back towards Sebha, stopping and stropping at Germa Old City and museum, and overnight in the now familiar thatched concrete huts at the lovely Tekerkiba Tourist Camping, Tikarkiba, where they serve non alcoholic beer. A highlight!

Thursday 07 May 2009 (day 13): Our exploration of the Ubari Sand Sea with its desert lakes and accompanying adventurous sand dune bashing by jeep was somewhat marred by a sandstorm and jammed jeep window. Back to Sebha for super slow internet, dinner (with irritatingly chirpy Italian tour group with their Tuareg guide on the adjacent table) then an evening flight back to Tripoli.

Friday 08 May 2009 (day 14): DIY morning exploration of Tripoli with Pippi for final photos, taxi to airport and BA 899 back to London. In absence of Pippi and her much appreciated Bach flower remedies and hand holding support, I was relieved to discover BA serve alcohol on the return flight.

Libya Explored

Slowly digesting my 14 days in Libya courtesy of Peregrine Adventures.

The Greek and Roman ruins of the coast were almost too impressive in their extent and had benefitted from rebuilding/restoration by the Italians. Similarly, the rock art in the Tadrart Acacus is in an amazing condition considering that some of it is 14,000 years old. Ghadames felt like a dying town – a very melancholy place. At least Ghat had been put out of its misery.

Panoramic view of the theatre, Sabratha
Panoramic view of the theatre, Sabratha

The highs were:

  • drinking in the Milky Way in the desert silence of the Tadrart Acacus
  • walking around the empty streets of Ghat’s old medina (although the absence of our local guide contributed to the experience)
  • Pippi, Lois and Sybl

The lows were:

  • the unprofessional behaviour of Peregrine’s local guide
  • ending the trip feeling that it has been overpriced and that I’d got extremely poor value for money

Lessons for me:

  • avoid local leader-only tours
  • trust my gut instincts on value for money

I’m certainly not travelling with Peregrine/Gecko’s again. Libya’s worth visiting though, especially if you liked Syria – it has a very similar feel.

Here’s an Excel spreadsheet showing what I actually spent in Libya, on top of the cost of the tour, flights and getting a certified Arabic translation of my passport details for the Libyan visa.

And, our reading list.

(And finally – July – the Photos & Notes.)

Bind your own Wikipedia book

Phil pointed out that Wikipedia is letting you make your own book out of Wikipedia pages, and it is super, super simple to do.

I created my own first book in about 15 minutes, built out of the pages I’d added to my Where Next page, (plus a few more – so easy! Too easy?) and called Libya, April/May 2009.

Comprising 25 Wikipedia pages, the PDF version of my proto guide book weighs in at at hefty 14.3 MB and prints out on over 100 pages. Setting my PDF print options to two pages to a side, double sided that makes more than 25 sheets of paper…. hmmm next time I’ll be more judicious in my Wikipedia page selection. But for this edition the plan is to jot down additional information on to the less bountiful pages so that I can give something back to the wonderful Wikipedia.