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2 Apr 2006 - Ghadames
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Shaft of sunlight breaks into Ghadames old city Palm trees in old city of Ghadames Lunch in restored house in old Ghadames 
A bit of a lie in today as for once a long journey did not lie ahead. Instead, a gentle exploration of the old city of Ghadames this morning, a UNESCO world heritage site, starting off with a tour of the museum. The museum lies within an old fortified police station, built by the Italians as they exerted their authority over Libya following their invasion in 1911. It was quiet enough today, but during yesterday's journey we watched an epic film of the Libyan struggle against the Italians so the true significance of such a building took on a new meaning.

The museum contains exhibits of every-day and ceremonial objects of Tuareg culture. For me the real fascination lay in the herbal medicines (some outlandish but others in keeping with modern thinking), the minerals and fossils, and a selection of stuffed creatures representing the wildlife of the desert. Among them were lizards, snakes and scorpions, plus rather incongruously, a hedgehog, more at home in an English country garden than the harsh desert of Libya!

Our guide from the museum then took us on a tour of the old town, where a warren of streets are almost entirely roofed or built over. This provided protection from both unwelcome visitors and the heat. The 2 or 3 storey houses are solidly built of mud-brick with whitewashed walls, so are beautifully cool within. By contrast the whitewashed flat roofs, which were traditionally the preserve of the women of the town, were a blinding, baking furnace.

The houses are closely spaced, with a handful of small open spaces and mosques, but it is easy to get lost in the narrow streets. Most houses are unoccupied, but for a traditional lunch we split into two groups in two restored houses, richly decorated with rugs, tapestries, brassware and mirrors. Red seems to be the dominant colour.

After lunch, with most of the shops shut for their siesta, we returned for the hotel, where I had a wander and also took a nap.

At 5.30 most of us took off in a convoy of Toyota Landcruisers into the desert near the borders of Algeria and Tunisia. Here we climbed to see the remains of an Italian fort on a low mesa, then another climb up a huge dune to catch the sunset. Initially the prospects did not look too promising owing to a veil of high cloud that had grown during the day, but it cleared as the sun went down and we were treated to a fine display of changing colours.

Meanwhile, the kids and one or two others took rides on a particularly bad-tempered camel, then as darkness fell we convened by the camp at the foot of the dune for sweet tea and fresh-baked traditional bread.

Dinner was again in the hotel for it had been too late to book something in town, although I think most of us would have preferred the variety and atmosphere it would have offered. This was our last evening before the main group headed back to Tripoli and the adventurous, or foolhardy, folks, myself included, continued on into the desert. No star party tonight, with an early start again tomorrow.

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