Libya, 23 March to 7 April 2002



Libya, 23 March to 7 April 2002
At last we are in Libya ! It took us some days to realise we had managed to get in. The difficulties we have encountered to obtain visas and to get in this country are explained in the first page of this update : "not a picnic". Having left Egypt late, we were only able to allow for 14 days in the country, two of which we spent at the border acquainting ourselves with Libyans ! In these 12 days we managed to cover the huge distance of 4500 km of which several hundred on pistes and dunes.


Along the Mediterranean coast to Cyrenaica


North East Libya
Before heading for the south and the desert, we followed the Mediterranean coast along what is called Cyrenaica, in North Eastern Libya. This area of Libya is so different from the rest of the country it is said to resemble Crete. It is rocky but green as the high hills make sure it receives plenty of rainfall whereas the rest of the country receives less than 5 mm a year ! As we camped in the car that night, our first night in Libya, we got shower after shower !



In the suburbs of Tobruk (left), trying to find out which way to go with road signs in Arabic only (centre)


On our way to the West, we stopped in Cyrene, one of the cities of the Pentapolis. "It is the most splendidly preserved of the Greek cities of Cyrenaica, and apart from the wonderful Greek ruins, its location high on a bluff overlooking a plateau across to the sea is quite stunning. Enough of the city has been resurrected to give the visitor an impression of how it originally appeared, but without the over-restored air that detracts from many classical sites. Cyrene still has very few visitors." (Lonely Planet Middle East)


We visited Cyrene is spring and we were greeted with fields of flowers !


In most countries of the world with a Roman past, these statues would have been removed to a museum, not in Libya


South Libya
As soon as the road allowed us to, we headed south into the desert which means less rain and less people around, both good for camping in the wild ! The only thing we could do very little about is the wind that has made life difficult for us during the whole of our journey in Africa these last 2 months. On several occasions, the wind would pick up in the middle of the night making sleeping in the roof-top tent impossible and obliging us to move in the middle of the night. Most of the stuff we did in the south is related in the page "Troopie goes to the Sahara" !



Libyan propaganda (left), the Libyans have an efficient and cheap trick to make cars slow down in villages or at checkpoints : a thick rope stretched across the road (centre), Troopie after driving in some very light sand powder (right)


Most desert pistes in Libya are littered with hundreds of tyres (left), in the streets of Sebha (right)


North West Libya
Heading North again towards Ghadhames, on the border with Algeria and Tunisia, we met with an English couple heading for Oman in their Land Rover. Jason and Anne Smith ( had arrived at the Libyan border a month earlier only to be told their visa had expired which cost them 2 weeks of waiting in Tunisia. We spent a delightful evening talking and camped together before each car going its own direction next morning. What was awaiting us is the strongest sandstorm we have had so far.


Camping with a fellow overlander (left), flat out at 90 km/h and seeing little (centre), Gaddafi here, Gaddafi there, Gaddafi everywhere (right)


Ghadhames, famed for its traditional desert architecture and named "the pearl of the desert" is a real labyrinth, "the dark streets lit only by the occasional overhead sky lights and open squares" (LP). "With its thick mud-brick walls, held together with mud-mortar and then whitewashed, the old town is a quiet and cool retreat from the desert sun." (LP)  The old city, that used to be an important stop on a trans-Saharan trading route is no longer inhabited. "Apart from gold, ivory and wild animals destined for the Roman arena, slaves formed an important part of the trade in Ghadhames and many of the people living in Ghadhames today (of Arab, African, Tuareg and Berber origin) are descendants of former slaves" (LP). 



The inside of a home in the old city : intricate decoration, small niches, mirrors stuck in the stucco and holes everywhere leading to small rooms (centre).


Inside Nalut's Qasr (fort) that is home to the city's magnificent 300 year old grain storage. "The storage chambers of the Qasr were used for oil as well as grain, and each keeper knew exactly how much each family had in storage at any given time, even tough there were 400 chambers. 


"Have we seen too many Roman stones ?" we asked ourselves as we headed for Leptis Magna. Right next to the azure blue sea, this Roman city must be one of the best preserved around the Mediterranean. What makes Leptis Magna an outstanding archeological site is the fact that a blanket of sand protected the monuments for centuries.



A giant Medusa head on the forum at Leptis Magna, Libya


Tarabulus (Tripoli)

"Hello Mr. President !" we shouted as the black Benz drove by. Traffic had been stopped for at least 10 minutes when we heard sirens coming closer. And who turned up ? Mr. Gaddafi himself who must have been proudly showing Tripoli to Africa's other popular ruler Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe. We were told Mr. Mugabe had come to Libya for a crash course in "How do I make myself more sympathetic ?"


Even Libya has empty petrol pumps (left), German vehicles bought after the embargo ? (centre), Africa's other great ruler (right)


Is there a market for these in Europe ?


A visit to the Roman city of Sabratha on our way to the Tunisian border


Here are our extra pages on Libya : 

Not aways a picnic 55,000 km since HK Troopie goes to the Sahara

We are doing well !

Coming from Egypt Back to Trip page Heading to Tunisia