9 Apr 2006 - Ubari Lakes
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One of our drivers buried in the sand after last night's storm. Thanks Sabine for getting up early enough to catch this one. Can we drink it? The answer is yes - this Ubari lake, Mafu, is fresh water, unlike most, which are as salty as the Dead Sea. Lake Gabr On, by an abandoned town at the foot of a truly mountainous dune 
My initial uneasiness of yesterday in fact turned out to be correct, for at around midnight a gusty wind got up and I could feel the sand that it carried being blown onto and under the rug. I wondered whether it would be better to sleep in a tent tonight but these were hardly the conditions to erect it. Abdul and Ali showed no sign of moving, and the air was still beautifully warm, so I stayed put, trying to sleep in the face of the noise and endeavouring to cover up as best as possible.

Only partially successful in both, for when morning came, even though the wind had abated slighty, I found I was half buried in the sand and it had got everywhere, especially in my hair and ears. A good shakedown got rid of most of it, but my rucksack, which I had put upwind of my head for protection, continued to shed sand from its anti-perspiration fabric even after I got home. If I had known how much it contained I would not have bothered to bring some sand back as a souvenir!

Sleep had not come easily to Guenther or Matthias either because the flapping of the fabric of their tents seemed to outweigh any protection it offered.

After breakfast we packed up and were soon on our way northwards into the vast expanse of dunes that comprises Idhan Awbari. Apart from our excursion into the dunes on the edge for Idhan Murzuq for the previous night's camp this was really our first closeup experience of what most people would consider as a proper desert - sand dunes stretching to the horizon broken by the occasional palm tree and oasis. This is just such a desert.

Our route today took us to several oases that form part of the Ubari Lakes, the first one being Mafu. I had imagined an oasis as being small, so was surprised to see this lake, surrounded by low vegetation and a number of palm trees, was so large, perhaps 150m long by 100m wide. The water was fresh and reasonably clear, but it remains a mystery to me what prevents such lakes filling with sand, given the size and steepness of nearby dune. The large palm trees here, around other lakes and also scattered in patches elsewhere in the desert, take decades to reach that size so give an indication of the permanence of the status quo.

We then moved on to another lake, Gabr On, even larger, passing through an abandoned town just beside it. The decrepit buildings and abandoned machinery, cars and rubbish made a sorry sight, but by now we have come to expect such things in Libya. The lake was highly salty, and after exploring the town and taking lunch under a canopy beside one of the few buildings still intact, we went for a dip. The dark water was cool at first but beautifully refreshing. Floating was easier than swimming owing to the high density of the salty water, and you could feel a much warmer layer of water towards the dark bottom of the lake. A well just by the lake gave an opportunity to wash off afterwards, as failure to do so would leave you and your trunks coated in a salty crust.

We debated whether to camp here, for this was our intended stop for the night. However, the gusty, dust laden wind seemed to blow up again in the afternoon, and given memories of last night the civilisation and shelter of a proper camp suddenly seemed very attractive! So we headed back, by way of a dried out lake, similarly surrounded by reeds and palms. The cracked mud floor was bone dry, but a little digging in a hole perhaps started by a jackal we had seen run away over the dunes as we approached, revealed water at around 30cm (1ft) depth. This was evidently a seasonal lake, but still attractive to wildlife even in its current state.

Near the edge of the dunes we once again met up with the Dutch group, who were heading in for what could be a disturbed night just as we were leaving. One of their 4x4s broke down at the very moment of climbing up the first dune - not an auspicious start - and our crew did what they could to help fix it.

On arriving back at Africa Tours camp we had the opportunity to freshen up and wander out to see the sunset, possibly our last in Libya given that we would be travelling back to Tripoli tomorrow. Later Ali showed us how to make bread in the traditional Tuareg style and he cooked us dinner that we had in a shelter within the camp.

The straw huts were a bit of a sham because they were in fact concrete covered with palms, but we were glad of their shelter and they actually had proper beds, two to a hut. I shared with Abdul and we agreed to set alarms for 4am for one final look at the Milky Way and the perhaps catch the zodiacal light in the pre-dawn sky. The manager agreed to turn out the outdoor lights in our vicinity so we would have a reasonable view.

In the nearby dunes a party was in full swing, allegedly locals celebrating the end of the tourist season for the summer is low season when it is too hot to go into the desert. They made a good deal of noise as they bang their drums, sang and danced around fires, but I was sufficiently tired not to be bothered by it, though not tempted to join in!


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