|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.