8 Apr 2006 - Idhan Murzuq - Takarpibah
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Our camp at the foot of the dune Morning prayers Another desert charge. Idhan Murzuq in the background 
Again woke early, but with the air colder than last time and with the telescope not immediately ready for use, I was not tempted to get up but remained content to watch the lightening dawn and doze in the comfort of the blanket. After breakfast we broke camp and headed north to Wadi Matkhendush to see a menagerie of ancient rock carvings. The last 4km was over a rough surface of angular black stones on a light sand, which must have done our tyres no good at all. For the most part there was no organised track as such, and we merely followed the route that somebody else had taken previously.

Bumping over the stones we realised we were not alone as we could see other Landcruisers converging on the same target. They turned out to be a Dutch group that we had periodically encountered both in the desert and on our earlier travels in Libya. It was so often the way that we had the road or desert to ourselves but on stopping at a point of interest, a group would appear out of nowhere, much like the flies did as soon as we stopped anywhere in the desert.

Wadi Matkhendush is home to some 12km of low cliffs littered with carvings of animals long since disappeared from the region, including giraffes, elephants, crocodiles - as well as the occasional person. The representations are bold but simple, hammered out as light lines in the dark weathering rocks. They are said to be the oldest in Libya at around 12,000 years old. They are certainly robust enough to survive weathering without much sign of degradation, although some of the rocks they are on are now cracked, and the lower ones have to endure periodic flash floods too.

The obligatory Tuareg jewellery sellers had set up their pitches between the valley and the lunch area, but we had seen too many now to give them the time of day. Lunch itself as taken under palm shelters designed for the purpose. Apart from a nearby low building, looking out you feel you could have been on the surface of Mars - the jagged black stones on brown orange sand, with no sign of life (unless you looked very carefully), looks just like some of the pictures returned from Mars landers!

We left the wadi by the same bumpy route as we had come in, then turned north east and skirted Idhan Murzuq for the next several hours, keeping the golden dunes to our right at all times. We kept up a good pace across the flat dusty plain, and about 200km from Murzuq picked up a road, or rather a set of markers counting down the number of kilometres to civilisation, set in a straight line in the sand. There was no danger of getting lost for we also ran parallel to a set of electricity pylons for a good deal of the way.

Towards Murzuq a splash of green intruded on the otherwise barren desert. On closer inspection this turned out to be great circles of barley, each being continuously watered by a long wheeled arm that slowly rotates around the field in 24 hours (see also the view from space). Refreshing for us to get splashed by, but I wonder how sustainable this agriculture really is.

Moving on, we finally reached a sealed road and turned north to reach the Sebha to Ghat road, along which we had passed 4 days earlier. Turning left (west) we presently reached Takarpibah, where we turned right onto a dusty track between half built houses. After unpromising start the track opened out onto the edge of the dunes of Idehan Awbari (the Ubari Sand Sea), where two permanent camps were situated. However, we were not to stay here, for tonight at least. So, after a much welcome shower and freshen up, the first since Sebha - facilities pretty much all working and plenty of hot water - we got back into the cars for a journey north of maybe just a kilometre to find a spot for the night amongst the dunes.

A completely enclosed bowl amongst the dunes was quickly located. It seemed to be the ideal sheltered location, and I put aside the slightly uneasy feeling caused by the realisation that this was the first time we had camped completely away from any solid ground. No stones, rocks, mountains or any living thing, apart from ourselves and a small scrawny thorn bush, broke the spell of sand and sky.

Our attempt to see the sunset failed because we were unable to secure a high enough vantage point - climbing to the top of one dune simply revealed another higher one beyond. With the sun going down rapidly, and the way darkness descends quickly in the tropics, it was pointless to go further. As usual we dined under the moon, and everyone apart from Guenther and Matthias decided to sleep out, or in one of the cars. Ali, Abdul and I shared the rug as usual.


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