The past weekend Muslims around the world celebrated the Eid Al Fitr Holiday which marks the end of Ramadan and is usually accompanied by three days public holiday. Last year me and some friends from work went to Beijing. This year I took a different approach. I was going to stay in Libya and go to the Acacus mountains in the south of Libya. Ever since seeing the photos of this place I was fascinated and desperate to go there but considering the long drives to get there my normal one day weekend would not be enough so I decided this Eid I would be staying put and travelling in Libya.
So Abdulatti and I took our flight from Tripoli to Sebha in south of Libya (the third time I’ve done this trip). Othman, our guide/driver and friend from the previous excursions to the desert picked us up from the airport and we went straight to the supermarket to get our supplies for three days and three nights in the desert. He then did something that both me and Abdulatti did not expect. He invited us to have iftar with him and his family. We naturally accepted the invititation. I was intruiged. I was going to have iftar with a Libyan family for the first time and suddenly I was reminded of the iftar with my friends family in Abu Dhabi.
Iftar with a Libyan family is quite different to what I experienced in Abu Dhabi. We arrived at Othman’s house and were escorted to main reception room where Othman’s brothers and cousins were already sitting down eagerly awaiting the prayer in order to break fast. We sat on the floor around a communal platter where all the food placed. Fast was broken with dates and a glass of milk (haven’t had a glass of milk in such a long time). After breaking the fast, the main dishes were brought in which consisted of a delicious lentil soup and an even more delicious stew with were all eaten from a communal bowl. They kept insisting I eat more but I was full and just said in my pigeon Arabic “La’a Shukran, anaa kolo kabira!” (No thank you, I’m too big i.e. too full or fat for more). Coffee and tea was served after our meal and the men started chatting (leaving me a bit clueless as I didn’t know what they were saying most of the time). The interesting thing about this experience was that at no time did I see the women of the house. They were in another room, however this seems to be normal when there are guests at home. I don’t have any photos as I thought it would inappropriate to take some and I also didn’t want my hosts to feel like I thought this was some tourist attraction.
So after that interesting iftar experience, Abdulatti and I said our thank you’s and goodbyes and made our way into the desert. It was only around 11pm when Othman found us a nice spot in the dunes to camp in and I was already so sleepy, that I literally pitched my tent and went inside and fell asleep.
Day 1: Ghat and Entering the Acacus
The next morning I was awoken by the sunlight penetrating my tent so I got up to look at the amazing sight of the golden desert sands rippling out before me and even though I have seen this spectacle of nature more than once, I will never get sick of it. So we packed our stuff away and got ready for the long day ahead of us. The plan was to drive to Ghat were we would visit the old medina. From there we would head towards the Acacus. The remainder of the day would be spent in the mountain range where we would camp for the night.
The drive to Ghat was long and monotomous. Six hours on the road where the landscape at times just looked like a warren wasteland of rocky flat desert with the occasional bushel and tree to remind you that things can actually live out there. There is another sign of life on this road. Police checkpoints. We must have been stopped about five times, though most of the time a greeting was exchanged before being waved through.
We arrived in Ghat at 1pm. Not the best time to explore the medina due to the heat, but we had no choice. We went off and explored in the heat. Even though I didn’t have any expectations, for the first time in Libya I was left disappointed. The medina looked and felt derelict, abandoned and uncared for (Yes, I understand it was 1pm on the first day of Eid, but still). After exploring the eerily abandoned medina we got back into our car and headed back to the town of Awaynat where we would enter the Acacus mountains.
Our long drive into the Acacus was broken by a short lunch where we had a delicious watermelon. After driving through some farm land most of the remaining route was an open stretch of flat rocky desert. There is something foreboding about being in a place like this. There’s a scary sense of solace that constantly leaves one wondering ‘What happens if the car breaks down?!’ The long monotonous drives were too much for me and was constantly dozing off.
After an hour (or twelve) I was awoken by Othman, “Tonito! Look! Acacus!”. And there before us in the distance the basalt rock monoliths stood guard at the entry of the mountain range. I was feeling excited. Over ten hours on the road and we were finally here. Our first stop would be a rock formation called Adhad, or the finger. Here we got out and climbed up the rock which seemed poised to fall over at any second. From here Othman took us to our next point of interest which was a engraved rock drawings of a woman and child. After some more photos, it was time to look for a place to camp for the night.
We headed straight into the mountains. The mountains looked like they were there long before the sand and then one day a giant walked over with a bucket of sand and emptied it over the mountains. There is also a strange change that occurs during sunset as the rock monoliths lose their almost aggressive and foreboding aura and suddenly it feels right to be surrounded by all this rock and sand, like you are meant to be there, like it is home.
Once Othman found us a nice camping spot, we set up camp for the night. Abdulatti and I went out looking for firewood while Othman got dinner started. Once the fire was going strong and dinner was simmering away, I opened up my ‘golden box’ (the name Abdul gave for my shisha case) and prepared a shisha for me, I mean us. Surrounded by rock formations and sand we had our dinner under a blanket of bright stars. The serenity of this night was only heightened when I put some Tuareg desert blues on the iPod. Tinariwen lulled us into submission of the deserts inescapable beauty with their mesmerizing guitar riffs and so we went to sleep in the sea of sand with the rocky plinths.
To be continued…