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31 Mar 2006 - Sabratha - Gharyan
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Huge mosaic, Sabratha. This one has been moved undecover, but many more remain exposed to the elements and tourists' feet Admiring an arch, Sabratha. Some parts are reconstructed in concrete to hold the genuine parts in place Loo with a view, Sabratha 
Alarm calls failed this morning, though many of us preferred to trust watches or mobile phones instead so most of us were up in time for breakfast and a reasonable get-away. First stop, the Roman and Byzantine ruined city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli. Perhaps not as big as Leptis Magna but still very extensive and full of fine buildings in various states of preservation. The effects of the 365AD earthquake were felt here too, so there has been a certain amount of reconstruction work.

There are temples, baths and mosaics, but the highlight is probably the best preserved Roman theatre in existence. Much as ruins are interesting, I was glad that this would be our last city to walk around in the heat of the Sun. In fact for Alex, Dean, Michael and Phil, all from Australia, it was the end of the tour with us as we bade them farewell in the theatre before they were picked up by Amman, brother of the owner of Numidia Tours, for going to the airport and continuing with a visit to Egypt.

The rest of us headed south to our place for the night, the small town of Gharyan, 80km south of Tripoli, and making a few stops on the way. On leaving the coastal plain the road climbed a steep escarpment in zig-zag, almost alpine, fashion. Towards the top we stopped and piled out for a photo shot across the plain below, after which we headed on for Bughilan, close to the edge of the mountain. Here our quest was underground houses, the homes of troglodytes. Although this term is often used with humour or contempt these days, it does in fact refer to a tribe of people who quite sensibly built their houses underground to escape the heat of the summer and stay warm in winter. One such house is preserved as a museum, an interesting place to look round and take traditional tea, once we found it after getting stuck up a rapidly narrowing twisty lane-back. Mohammed skillfully reversed all the way back down, with a few screeches as wire and branches scraped along the side of the vehicle, but a good round of applause awaited him when he made it.

After turning out of the house I was surprised to see that it was almost dark - these rapid tropical twilights take some getting used to! In the west the two and a half day old Moon, completely on its back, made a fine sight in the fading twilight. This was the first time we had seen the Moon since the eclipse - the first evening it was too near the Sun to be seen and last night, in Benghazi, it was too cloudy.

I was pleasantly surprised by our hotel in Gharyan, especially after the shambles of last night. However, only a handful ate in, while the rest of us ventured out for kebabs, burgers and chips at a nearby cafe - for many a welcome relief to the traditional Libyan fare of the trip up until now. The owner even offered to go to a shop to buy more Becks - no-alcoholic of course (no booze allowed in Libya) - as we exhausted his supply. Excellent value for 5 dinars (about GBP2).

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