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6 Apr 2006 - Jabal Akakus - Wadi Tashwinat
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Breakfast with a backdrop of Jabal Akakus Inspecting a tuareg camp - a few families live by choice in these harsh conditions View from beneath a natural arch 
Awoke before dawn and on stepping outside, having taken care to preserve dark adpation by not using a torch, was greeted by the fabulous sight of the Milky Way stretching north to south across the eastern sky. Now, I think for the first time since coming to Libya, there was a truly dark sky, the moon having set and not a manmade light to be seen. Towards the south lay the bright dense area of the galactic centre in Sagittarius, while all along the Milky Way denser clumps of stars and dark areas represented where the view along the plane of our galaxy was clearer or more obscured by interstellar dust.

Presently Venus rose over the rocks behind us, shining absurdly bright in the still dark sky, and quite capable of casting a faint shadow when you moved your hand in front of something. However, the same rocks meant that there would be no chance to see the sunrise today, so I retired back to the tent for some more sleep until a more reasonable getting up time.

After a breakfast of tea and rolls with jam or cheese, or Nutella - a special import courtesy of Sabine, we packed up and continued our journey in broadly a southerly direction. We passed initially from the wild rocky terrain into a broad sandy plain, with Jabal Akakus to the right (west) and the golden dunes of Iguidi Ouan Kasa distantly visible to the left.

From here we turned south west to explore the lower reaches of Wadi Tashwinat (view from space), exploring rock art and natural rock arches on the way. The paintings do not vary greatly in style, being mainly stick figures in red and white, along with more abstract forms from time to time. During the day we stopped by two impressive rock arches, whose huge scale can really only be appreciated when up close to them.

In the morning we also stopped by the camp of a tuareg family - a few people do willingly live in these harsh conditions - but no sign of any men. Presumably they were away selling trinkets to tourists! We also gave them some of our bread, but judging by a great pile of mouldering rolls behind one of their huts it seems that such well intentioned gifts may not in fact be much cared for.

We parked up in a shady spot under an overhang beneath a cliff for lunch. The ground was littered with fallen rocks so hoped no more would fall while we were there!

During the afternoon we explored further up the wadi, the walls closing in to form 100 - 150m deep gorges as we headed westwards. We also made a diversion to a water pump to freshen up and collect fresh water for the days ahead. Nothing traditional about this oasis though, except for the handful of Tuareg souvenir sellers - the water is extracted by a pump powered by a modern diesel generator and stored in a concrete reservoir. An old generator lies abandoned nearby - why take anything away when you have the desert to leave it in?

Heading back up the wadi we found ourselves a wonderfully protected camping spot, on sand gently banked up in a south-facing amphitheatre surrounded on three sides by cliffs. The rocks re-radiated the heat that they had absorbed during the day so the night was beautifully warm. Abdul and I judged that no tent was required so we would sleep on the dinner / breakfast mat just using a thin mattress and a rug for protection.

Meanwhile I assembled the one telescope I had brought and all of us used it for a tour of the night sky after dinner. The sensation of being in a planetarium was uncanny, with the looming cliffs all around and the great dome of the sky above. The moon made some of the fainter objects less impressive, but it was itself was a popular sight, along with the Orion nebula, the Pleiades, Mars, Saturn and the Beehive cluster. A look at Albeiro, a fine binary star in Cygnus, with its golden yellow primary and blue-green companion, proved, if any proof were needed, that stars are not all the same.

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