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"We're going to take a trip to the desert tomorrow if y'all want to join us" was the invitation we received from one of the Texans in our group last night at dinner.

"The desert?! Of course we would!" We had no idea which part of the desert, or what we would find there, but we had newly arrived in Libya and this would be our first trip out of the city.  As newcomers we saw Tripoli as a dirty city, and were keen to see some beauty.  We felt certain that beauty would greet us in the desert.   We pictured sand dunes, caravans of camels and perhaps an oasis.

The following morning at 8 a.m. we headed out with two vans full of people and our two company drivers, Hassan and Tarek.

We were told the drive would be three hours and that we should pack plenty of food and water as we wouldn't be able to buy lunch anywhere. The drive turned out to be much longer than three hours with our drivers stopping at frequent intervals to ask for directions and to make the most of the opportune moment and have a cigarette. After quite a long drive we saw less and less buildings and the roads became more remote. The ground was red and rocky but there was still plenty of vegetation around. Could this be 'the desert' they had talked about? A little further along the vans were stopped and we all got out. Literally, in the middle of the desert. There was nothing around, no major natural landmarks to speak of, or any differentiation from the last fifty kilometres but it was then that we realised how silly our request to the drivers had been. Here we were, in 'the desert' as requested. Basically the middle of nowhere, no trace of civilisation to be seen except for the occasional piece of discarded rubbish. So now what? Did we turn around and go back home? With not much else to do, we all got out and took the obligatory photographs.

Note: before you read on, you must read all the following comments with a deep southern drawl.

"Tom, come take a photo of me in front this big ol' tree"

"Jim, I wanna see if I can find me a camel"

And so in the full heat of the day, we headed off in different directions, some following camel tracks, some stopping for photographs, some chasing wildly after our three-year-old son Nate, who decided that it was his chance to run for freedom having been trapped in the van for three hours. All in the hot, hot desert, under the hot, hot sun.

After some time we were herded back into the van and we moved onwards, in the general vicinity of a waterhole we were told was this way. We stopped at a village (the only one we saw in the desert) to ask for directions where a kind man in the village offered to escort us and so he joined us in the van that my husband and I were travelling in, taking us towards the water hole.

Along the way we saw a train of camels travelling together. While we were stopping to take photographs with our zoom lens, the lone farmer who had been herding them along stopped to greet us, allowing some of our group to take a turn riding his personal camel.

've ridden a camel before. I think it was at the Melbourne Show in my home country of Australia. What I remember was the sharp angle at which you were flung when the camel stood up and down again. I didn't remember the sound that they made. A deep guttural roar, which when standing in the middle of desert land, seemed to echo for miles, to all who may be around to hear.

By late afternoon and on our way home we reached the village of our local guide who had accompanied us thus far. As we were saying our goodbyes our driver told us that he had asked us to join him and his family for a meal. It took us a while to decide what to do. Firstly, we were a group of 12 adults and we thought that to stay for an unplanned lunch would be too much hospitality to ask of this man, who had already been so generous with his time. In our moment of indecision however one of our drivers informed us that it would be impolite to decline his offer and so we agreed to have a meal with him and hoped that his poor wife wouldn't mind cooking for a dozen hungry strangers!  How little we knew of the Libyan hospitality.

In our group there were two women, myself and another. As we entered the house we naively followed the men and sat down in a furnished room when we were asked if we would like to meet the host's wife. We of course agreed and were ushered out of the room, and then into a second, then a third room and asked to sit down by his lovely wife who greeted us with kisses. We realised then that this was the ladies room and it was here that we would stay for the remainder of the visit. Here the women of the house were free to dress casually, with heads uncovered and a little more visible flesh than would be appropriate in the company of men.

We were treated to a fresh fruit juice and some sweet biscuits, then a sickly sweet coffee, a sumptuous meal of cous cous, chick peas and chicken (shared by all the women from the same bowl), then a very sweet chai tea.

The women were beautiful, their hands and feet decorated in henna, and their traditional clothing so feminine. They had a gracious manner about them which was so endearing, making us feel not the least bit self conscious about the fact that we were barely able to communicate with them as we shared no common language. We met the women of each generation, from the grandmother, the mother, sisters and the daughters. All of them so welcoming of us into their home.

In our two separate rooms, our group of expats and a growing number of locals talked long into the afternoon until the time came for us to head home on the three hour drive back to Tripoli.

Here, in the middle of 'the desert' we had discovered some of Libya's beauty.

> back to great days out


by Emma Parker