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Friday 18 September 2009

Two cars, five people and lots of camping gear set off on a hot and quiet Friday morning, the last day of Ramadan. In Aziziyah we bought bread, then turned right and took the low road before cutting up past Kabao on to the top road, therefore by-passing Nalut. After a couple of hours driving we always know that it is time to stop for coffee, so we found a secluded spot under a tree. We scarcely saw a soul, so the next incident of interest was lunch. No trees by this stage, so we draped a mat over the two raised car boots. The heat sizzled around us.

We didn’t see many people, but did see lots and lots of camels with one herder riding alongside them, plus a multitude of goats and sheep and a lone donkey.

We were heading in the direction of Ghadames. Just after Sinaw there is a nice group of palm trees, then a new road with the old and new running parallel for a while. At Dirj there is a tower and the old town has interesting walls with triangular cut-outs along the top. There is a petrol station on the right just before the Ghadames turn off (marked by a big pic of Brother Leader). After filling up (and I would suggest when out in the wilds that you fill up whenever you see a petrol station as sometimes they are closed or without petrol) we turned away from Ghadames and headed east. I thought this was a gorgeous road, with a good surface, nice and wide, and running through pleasant landscape with lots of mesas (‘flat-topped formation with steep rocky walls, found in dry areas’), bushes and without rubbish!! We found an excellent camping spot about 60 km out of Dirj.

We put the tents up before dark then had a relaxing cool drink before cooking dinner.  I was travelling with friends and was really impressed by this trick I learned from them. You bring your rice or pasta to the boil, then remove the pan from the heat, wrap it in a towel and sleeping bag, and leave it to continue cooking like that while you use your stove for the other part of the meal. Clever!

There wasn’t a breath of wind which meant it was actually rather warm and made it hard to sleep initially. I lay in my tent looking through the mosquito net at the sky, stained with milky splashes of stars. I felt a little bit uncomfortable when I began to hear dogs barking  and to see lights in the distance, but then I figured that the dogs were barking at the lights rather than us and as it cooled down I fell fast asleep.

Saturday 19 September 2009

What better way to start the day than with a nice fried egg for breakfast, especially when it is cooked by somebody else in a well-used frying pan? Put that with home-made sourdough bread and a strong mug of tea and you’re set up for the day. (Not true. I still craved my coffee after two hours of driving …)

Apart from camels we could also see paddy melons growing by the roadside. These appear after rain and look impressive but are inedible. We saw a big bird. It got flatter. Then there were small lakes on the left side of the road! It had definitely rained in the recent past. We entered an orangey-black gravel plain which had many piles of tyres marking something or other. We saw only a handful of other vehicles and finally a  shepherd with goats and  sheep happily nibbling the small bushes. We shouted ‘Eid Mubarak’, hoping that it really was Eid. Likewise to the herd of camels accompanied by one rider and one walker.

About 225 km from our camping spot we reached Qaryah al-Gharbiyah, Roman fort and Berber village. (It is  300 km south of Tripoli.) We flitted from shadow to shadow to escape the heat as we looked around. Finally the west-east road joins the Sebha road at Qaryah ash-Sharqiyah where the petrol station was closed. We turned south towards Sebha and had our lunch under a tree.

For the first time on our trip we saw a Bedu summer camp with white tents. Luckily we could get petrol at Al-Shuwayif where  there is an Italian fort which we explored. From there we peeled off to the left and soon found the Great Man Made River service road which you are not really supposed to drive along but we weren’t the only ones. There were some trees and lots of camels and finally we decided to stop in a large and beautiful wadi, perhaps Wadi Zemzem.

It was lovely to watch the trees gradually turn into black silhouettes as night fell, although less lovely to see lights and hear gunshots – obviously hunters out on an Eid jaunt. They were using their car lights because at the beginning of Eid there is only a sliver of moon. It had been a perfectly still evening, but as bedtime approached a strong wind blew up, making it very hard to sleep because of the noise of the tents! Sometimes you just can’t win …

Sunday 20 September 2009

We kept going along the GMMR road. More camels, goats, sheep. We spotted two herdsmen on donkeys and stopped to give them crisp apples from our cooler; they were delighted to have a chat and told us they were from Chad. This morning’s coffee stop was at Suq al-Oti (Otwei), a picturesque wadi with a ruined Byzantine church and other buildings for you to explore.

Last night’s annoying wind had now turned into a pleasant cooling breeze and it was hard to move on. All too soon we were back in civilization at the Bani Walid  roast chicken shop. We had lunch under a big tree on the road to Tarhuna, surrounded by litter. Back to reality and back to Tripoli to shake the sand out of our gear and dream of the pristine land of mesas.

It is easy to follow the route of this trip on a map of Libya. To find coordinates for Qaryah al-Gharbiyah and read up about it, get a copy of Philip Kenrick’s book ‘Tripolitania’. Even with coordinates, you won’t find Suq al-Otwei without help as the access road is difficult to spot, but there’s even more to see at Ghirza – full details in the book.

> back to travel adventures


by Kate Minogue


Published April 2010