|This morning we were picked up by our vehicles and crew for the journey into the desert - two Toyota Landcruisers, each with a driver (Abdul Adim and Hairi), and two support crew (Ali and Salem) in a blue Landcruiser pickup of 1970s vintage. Mohammed, our bus driver from yesterday had shared a room with Abdul and set off on the long journey home early in the morning.|
After a surprisingly spartan breakfast for what was supposed to be the best hotel in town, and with our gear stowed in the backs of the cars, we set off on the road for Ghat, 575km away in the south west corner of Libya.
Heading west from Ghat the road initially passed through land that was surprisingly fertile, though at a considerable effort of supplying enough water from boreholes to make it happen. Rich green fields of wheat and barley in particular made a striking contrast to the desert beyond. Off to the right (north) big golden sand dunes could be seen, sometimes near the road and at other times in the distance. This was the southern edge of Idhan Awbari - the Ubari Sand Sea - which we shall visit later in our journey. To our left (south) lay a low black-topped escarpment with occasional mesas. This feature was a step up to yet another land level, and remained on our left, in one form or another, for almost the entire length of our journey to Ghat.
Our first stop was at Jarmah, to visit the abandoned trading town of Garama. Another 5 dirhams at the gate for photography fees, then we were in to wander at will amongst the ruins - looking very fragile and eroded, both from the weather and from visitors' feet. Stretching from the entrance to amongst the ruins were the remains of a narrow gauge railway - we had seen similar at Leptis Magna and other sites. This had been used by archaologists to carry away spoil during their excavations. The fragility and sense of abandonment does make you wonder whether ruins such as this are really best left unexcavated until measures are put in place to protect them.
From here we continued west, the landscape getting more barren as we went, with any hint of agriculture giving way to a thin dry scrub of thorny acacia trees. It was under one of these that we stopped for lunch, the support crew having gone ahead to russle up a salad with chickpeas, tuna and sardines. This was to be pretty much our staple lunch for the next week - might have got a wee bit boring by the end but we certainly never went hungry. Meanwhile the drivers and crew had the more traditional macarona and sauce, and prepared a brew of Libyan tea, which we, never wanting to miss out, "enjoyed" too.
Another party was parked up under a tree a couple of hundred metres away so we were not entirely alone, and we were also joined by three Tuareg who laid out their rugs to sell their silver jewellery and trinkets. After some bargaining I secured three silver letter openers, something I thought would actually be useful and happily survive the journey, unlike some of the more delicate stylised desert animals. It turns out that we need not have been in any hurry to buy anything as any spot where a few tourists are gathered, there they were.
Past Awbari the vegetation died away completely and all we saw was sand and rocks, accompanied as usual by a set of pylons, and microwave transmission towers every 100km or so. These supplied power and communications to Ghat, the former having come all the way from a power station on the coast (which we had passed near Lebda), making a total distance to Ghat of some 1400km. Infrastructure might be thinly spread in Libya, but it is there, even in the far corners of the country, plus drinkable water is on tap and the main roads are sealed with tarmac. Even in Ghat mobile phones are ubiquitous, but it is a shame that the telecoms companies have so few international roaming agreements, so only a handful of non-Libyan phones worked - T-Mobile I think was OK but I never got my Orange phone to work.
After Al 'Uwaynet (Serdeles), where we stopped for a brief tea stop, the road to Ghat turns south, skirting around the northern and western sides of Jabal Akakus. By now the escarpment to our left had grown into a set of high, rugged cliffs, which stretched for the final 100km or so to Ghat. Meanwhile, ahead of us, an isolated and rugged outcrop silhouetted against the bright sky below the sun, loomed larger as we approached it for the best part of half an hour. This was Kaf Ejoul, an outlier of steep cliffs and spires of limestone, whose impenetrable appearance and dark shadows gave it a sinister appearance. For good reason it was long believed that evil spirits lurked here.
After stopping to admire the sight we pressed on to Ghat and our camp for the night, where we opted for palm huts rather than pitching tents. Once we located who would sleep where, we headed back into town to catch a souk before it closed. All manner of shiny and colourful goods were on sale, including CDs, clothes, fabrics and kitchen ware, but it was interesting that there was almost nothing of identifiably local origin. As a tourist looking for souvenirs you would be disappointed, though Sabine was happy to find a teapot for her mother, but made in China! It was also evident that this is definitely Tuareg country, with people taller, darker and of more African origin than further north.
After returning to the camp, we headed out to watch the sunset from the top of a nearby dune and later we had an al-fresco dinner, cooked from our own supplies rather than in the camp's restaurant. After dark I headed back out to see if the zodiacal light could be seen, but was thwarted yet again - too much moon and surprising quantity of light pollution for somewhere so remote. Perhaps the dark skies of the true desert would offer better pickings in the coming days.