Jebel Nafusa: Where the Berber live underground and Castles are for food

After a long (too long) hiatus from travelling within Libya, my itchy feet went ‘walking’ again. The last trip I had done in Libya was in September last year for Eid (small one) and I was really missing getting out of the city to just get away from things. I had been speaking to Abdulatti (my trusty Libyan travelling companion) about a trip to Yefren for a long time, and at the start of last week I decided, khalas*, we were going to do this! I managed to get some other colleagues and friends interested in the trip and in the end, there were seven of us. So this is the post of when a Libyan, an Englishman, a Portuguese-South African, a South African and three Brazilians went into the Nafusa mountains to get see fog, rain and some biting cold!

The view of the Nafusa mountains by night

We all left our rendezvous spot, the airport, at around 6:45pm, and headed out South from Tripoli, towards the Nafusa mountains. I can’t say the road was uneventful, as we were stopped at a police check point and waiting there for around fifteen minutes while one of the very competent police men (note sarcasm might be in play here) checked our documents and quizzed Abdulatti and our driver about us. These check points are really becoming a nuisance on my travels in Libya as they really make me nervous as police men here are notorious for the understanding of the laws in the country and just end up ‘fining’ you for being a foreigner.

Finally we were waved through and restarted the journey up into the town of Yefren. Not only were check points a nuisance, the weather was also not cooperating. It had been raining when we left Tripoli and it didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon, but hey, we were going, rain or not.

The plan for the evening was to check-in at the hotel before heading towards Eslyien House, a Berber dammous or troglodyte house, where we would have dinner before heading back to the hotel for some sleep. Having already spent a night and had dinner in a dammous in Gharyan, I thought I knew what to expect, however Eslyien house, proved to blow my expectations away.

Inside Eslyien house

The dammous was beautiful and had an organic feel to it as the walls of the cave were not plastered. Just look at the photos to get an idea of what it looked like. Soon after we arrived, dinner was served. Traditional Libyan soup (good as always) and then a Berber dish called Ftat. I don’t really know how to described as other than tasty wafer then bread with some sort of sauce, but rest assured it was fantastic! This was followed by some mint and then a tour of the other parts of Eslyien house. I was really happy we made it all the way out here but really wanted to spend the night in the dammous instead of the hotel. Our driver picked us up (before we froze in the blistering cold chill outside) to take us to the hotel to spend the night.

Post-dinner story telling

Just a quick word on Yefren Hotel: For once the Lonely Planet Libya was correct in calling it a good hotel. I have merely one problem with it. The beds. The are quite high, I really dislike sleeping on high beds, make me think the Tokoloshi* really does exist.

Yefren Hotel draped in mist

We all woke up refreshed ready for a day of exploring a bit of Yefren, only to be faced with a bit of a problem. The weather. It was extremely foggy (visibility was minimal) and drizzling. These were clearly not conditions to head out and explore the old town. We calmly had our breakfast while I thought of a plan B. Well the only other thing we could do was looking for the ruin of ancient synagogue before driving to Qasr al Hajj.

Even in this simple task we failed as we couldn’t find the synagogue, so we simply decided to drive to Qasr al Hajj. We had another run in with a police check point, where our papers were checked and our names and passport numbers written down on a paper which I’m sure would find its way to a rubbish bin. Several minutes later we were back on the road.

The impressive Qasr al Haj

It took us an hour and something to arrive there and when we did, lo and behold, it was closed. I was starting to think that this trip was not meant to happen, when Abdul alerted me to the note on the door with the phone number of the gate keeper. Five minutes later, the man was there opening the door for us.

The group inside the Qasr

Lonely Planet Libya on Qasrs

I was looking forward to this as I am a massive fan of the vernacular and organic nature of Berber architecture. My first exposure to this architecture was the old town of Ghadames and then the Qasr in Nalut. The dammous’ in the Nafusa mountains are more examples of the Berber architectural ingenuity (for more on Qasrs, read the LP insert in this post). The size of Qasr al Haj is what impressed me. It was quite an imposing place and trigger happy with my camera, though the lack of sunlight and blue skies did take away the shine from it.

We took our photos and hit the road again, this time heading to Gharyan. Most of the group hadn’t been there before and wanted to look at some the famous Gharyan pottery. After some pottery shopping, we went to the Belhaj Dammous (which I’ve seen before, click to see post) so the others in the group could have a look at another dammous.

The Belhaj Dammous (again)

When the sun finally peaked out, the views in Gharyan were fantastic

Some photos later we were back on the road towards Tripoli. It was another good trip out of Tripoli, even if the weather wasn’t very cooperative. Now, it’s time to go back to work for another six days before I’m off to South Africa and London for my (deserved) holiday.

*Khalas: Finished, the end in arabic

*Tokolishi: Google this for a bit of funny South African superstitions

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