Last week was tough. Lots of work and lots of stress and add to that some homesickness and you have a combination for a quite depressing weekend. Fortunately the timing of my next internal trip in Libya was perfect as the long hard week would be followed by a weekend out of Tripoli to the town of Gharyan on the Eastern edge of the Jebel Nafousa.
After the eleven person group for the Ghadames, the reduction to a four person group was quite a welcome change. Less worries for me and Abdulatti. So this time Abdulatti and I were joined by Marcelo and Belina, who were also part of the Ghadames group. When six thirty struck on Thursday afternoon, we all got into our van and returned to Jebel Nafousa for the second time in 3 weeks.
Jebel Nafousa is famous for its examples of Berber architecture. Our previous trip to the mountain range exposed us to the vernacular beauty of the Qasrs (fortified granaries). This weekend we would be exposed to another piece of ingenious Berber Architecture, the dammous. I first found out about the dammous in my lonely planet and ever since seeing the photo of it, I’ve wanted to visit and spend a night in one.
A dammous is a troglodyte cave home built by the Berbers in this mountainous region. The houses were built by digging a pit vertically into the ground around three stories deep and with a circumference of ten meters. At the base of the pit the dig horizontally rooms into the mountain, with the central pit acting as courtyard. The houses were perfect for the weather in this region as the houses were warm during the cold winters, and cool during the hot summers. Though what makes the style of the houses so special is that they were also a self defense tactic. As the houses are pits in the ground, you wouldn’t be able to know people were living in the area until you got really close to one (or fell into the pit).
As we left after work we got to the dammous after nightfall which left our location on top of the mountain as a bit of a surprise. The dammous is clearly a very popular tourist destination as it was very well maintained on the outside and the entrance was quite charming. We met the owner of the dammous, Arabi, at the door and he led us into dammous.
The dammous is entered through a tunnel which leads down into the base of the pit. When we emerged from the tunnel and the little reception room we were in the pit of the dammous. Not for the first time in Libya I was left speechless. The big open space with stars in the sky as your roof is simply breathtaking. Arabi gave us some more information about the house and showed us the room he and brothers and sisters were born in. This particular dammous was built in 1666 and as with most examples of Berber architecture with some regular maintance these structure can last for ages.
After our introduction, we were led to one of the room where we had an amazing dinner in the warm rooms of the dammous (it was actually quite cold outside). After our lovely dinner we decided spend the rest of the time chatting in the courtyard with the stars winking down to us while we smoked some shisha and enjoyed some Tuareg music in the background.
After a while we all went to get some sleep and retired to the rooms where we would sleep. It was warm inside the room but blankets and covers were still necessary to keep the cold away.
The next day we were all awoken with the sound birds. Not one or two. But what sounded like millions of them. It was mating season for these birds and the males (in typical Libyan fashion) very loud and up front with their courting of the females. It’s strange to be awoken by the sound of birds, when in the city you can sleep through heavy traffic, but I guess modern life has made us unaccustomed to the natural sounds of nature.
When we all eventually got up to have a nice breakfast in the courtyard/pit of the dammous. After breakfast Arabi was supposed to lead a little hike along the mountain, but as he had a very busy day ahead of him, he told his son, Kassem to guide us. His six year old son.
The little boy clearly seemed excited with the responsibility his dad had given him as he was literally running ahead of us! We had to keep shouting “Schwei Schwei Kassem!” (Slowly Kassem!) But it was a nice day for hike. It wasn’t too warm and the view over the plateau from the mountain was stunning. We didn’t know where little Kassem was leading us, but we just kept following despite finding several markers and arrows pointing in the opposite direction we were going to.
We soon reached our destination, a sliver of a rock formation jutting out from the mountain and it was here Kassem said “Khalas” (finished). We all collapsed and just took in the breathtaking views. Little Kassem just sat to one side and looked at these stupid, tired and unfit foreigners and wondered when we would be done looking at the mountains.
After a while we headed back to the house, with little Kassem leading the way again. We got back to the house and had some refreshments before I prepare a shisha. While I was preparing the shisha we were slowly (really slowly) being surrounded by three turtles. Turns out these not-so-teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles were the resident mascot and pets. They were also part of the attraction for the hundreds of tourists who passed through the doors of the dammous while we were there. The visiting kids in particular were fascinated with the turtles.
With our break over and the shisha spent we took a walk down to the main road to see something else Gharyan was famous for. Pottery. We walked around the pottery stalls and Belina was in paradise. She was looking at things to buy for her house while Abdulatti, Marcelo and I just kind of tagged along behind her.
I was taking photos of the pottery, but while I was doing this Abdulatti played a prank on me by telling the owner of the stall to charge me for taking the photos. So as I walking towards the next stall the owner called me and said I must give him ten dinar for taking photos of the pottery. Not wanting to offend the guy I said yes, then he suddenly started laughing and I saw Abdulatti behind laughing as well and realized it was a prank.
After wandering the stall, Belina bought a few items and we headed back the dammous to wait for our driver. We saw other unused dammous’ along the way which were used as chicken pens etc. Quite sad to see these ingenious and beautiful structures fall into disrepair.
Our driver arrived soon after and we said our goodbyes to the Arabi and he’s sons who were helping him and headed back towards Tripoli on a windy road down the mountain.
Another good weekend. Batteries recharges for another week of work!