A photo-journal of our Libyan Solar Eclipse & Sahara trip, Mar.-Apr. 2006
PAGES:   Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent City | Eclipse |Tent City story | To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water | Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days
 Libya links | | Eclipse links | Photo gallery |

FEBRUARY 2011 - URGENT: 
NEWS & INFORMATION ON THE CRISIS IN LIBYA

 

Photos & journal by John Leeson (Toronto, Canada)
 email:  jooktoronto@gmail.com

Arrival & Tripoli

Click on photos for larger images:

On Mar. 25, following a pleasant two days "de-jetlagging" in Amsterdam, we finally arrived in The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

 

It had been a year of planning, preparation, and anticipation, and so we were quite confident in our decision, and sure that we were in for a great time, but…  As we walked into the Tripoli airport terminal and joined the many other eclipse tourists in the immigration line, we were not without some concern. Were we right, or were they right – all those other people who looked at us with surprise, puzzlement or shock: “Libya??!!”

 

To add to the uncertainty, the visa documentation we had with us had some of our passport information wrong.

 

As it turned out, the last concerns we would have on this trip (other than flying on Air Libya!) would disappear within just a few hours.

 

Our documentation worries disappeared when the last of three immigration officers we had been shuffled to clearly couldn't read any non-Arabic information. I just kept pointing out our names and eventually, he waved us through.

 

Libya here we come!

 

 
While standing at the immigration desk, I noticed one of the oddest sights I was to see in Libya. On the desk was a pocket notebook sporting a “Halliburton” sticker – the company of Dick Cheney and U.S. government contracts in Iraq, New Orleans and everywhere else. But in Libya? It surprised the heck out of me, but on return home, I learned a bit more. For example, see http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/about_hal/libya.html or http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/onpolitics/articles/halliburtonprimer.html.

 

(Apparently, even during the sanctions, Halliburton did business with Libya through non-U.S. subsidiaries – and according to Halliburton Watch, Mr. Cheney during his time at Halliburton was a leading opponent of sanctions against oil-producing nations. The Washington Post reports that Halliburton pled guilty in 1995 to violating the American ban on exports to Libya).

TRIPOLI
 

We didn’t get to see or experience a lot of Tripoli, as most of our time there was in preparation for travel elsewhere. This was almost the only regret we had about our entire two week stay in Libya.  A few cursory observations:

 

 

Hotels:

“Security” – depending on how you interpreted it – was a feature of Tripoli hotels. We stayed in two different hotels, and in both, everyone had to pass through a metal detector. The alarm went off constantly, and equally constantly was ignored.

 

And, as if following old Soviet Union traditions, the hotels stationed someone around the clock to sit by the elevators, in order to watch everyone come and go.

 

Hotel elevators in themselves were interesting. The Bab al Bahar hotel’s website boasted of its “big modern elevators”.  It seemed like an odd comment until we saw the elevators in our other two Libyan hotels. They were so small that they could accommodate only 2 or 3 people with luggage.

 

So, on a busy check-out morning (and hotels were pretty busy around Eclipse time!), you had to wait an awfully long time to get one. Elevators either would not stop because they were full, or the “overweight” alarm would sound when someone attempted to get on.

 

The Fezzan Hotel in Sebah had the same problem, but also had no working electric eyes on the doors. Combined with quick-closing doors, it meant you were inevitably slammed and pinned by the door until you managed to twist around, and find the “open door” button.

 

Hotel lobbies were generally spacious and comfortable – except for the cigarette smoke. Staff occasionally “cleared” the air by spraying equally obnoxious room freshener.


Tripoli skyline
 


Street scene


Mosque

Green

The colour green was everywhere. It’s the colour of Islam, and also the colour of the Libyan flag. (The flag is plain green with no design). Col. Ghadaffi's political treatise that forms the basis for the government is called "The Green Book", and the main public square in Tripoli is Green Square (although it's mostly parking lot).

 

Many buildings we saw were drab grey, with just one trim colour: green. Mosques were generally white with green trim.

 

However there was precious little green space. We saw almost no parks or playgrounds in the city, and those I did see were dirt, and not well equipped. One tiny soccer pitch consisted of a ragged goal on a tiny dirt “field” nestled inside the cloverleaf ramp at a highway overpass.

Jamahiriya Museum

Built in co-operation with Unesco, it has a deservedly excellent reputation for its exhibits and historic treasures from the Greek, Roman and Islamic periods, but we were disappointed that on the day we visited, the top floor (post-Revolution Libya) was closed. (Although one of the first exhibits you see on entering is the old Volkswagen beetle that Col. Ghadaffi drove at the time  he took over the country in 1969).

 

Unfortunately, there is very little signage in English or any other foreign language. The Lonely Planet guide is very useful here.

 

Despite housing such superb and invaluable treasures we noticed one guard smoking inside the building.

See a video taken in the museum (not mine) on You Tube.

 

Medina:

This area dates from the 16th-17th century Turkish period, and contained the entire city until the 19th century. Consisting of numerous paths winding between whitewashed earthen walls, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. There are numerous shops, mosques, cafes and homes. About 3,500 people still live there, but over 60,000 work within the medina.

 

We spent some time walking through some of the market area. One of the first things that strike most tourists when looking at or visiting shops in Libya is the complete lack of any aggressive selling. In fact, shop owners usually wouldn’t even say anything unless approached.

 

Most common goods included jewellery (gold and silver), and clothes. There was one shop that made crescents that sit on top of the mosques’ minarets. I bought some Libyan music tapes, but passed on the store selling “Twinkle Man” pyjamas.

 

Construction and/or deconstruction of buildings was everywhere

(In fact, this was also the case in most towns we saw). It wasn’t always clear whether we were witnessing buildings going up or coming down – particularly because even long-finished buildings were often surrounded by a pile of apparently left-over bricks sitting abandoned and forgotten.

Colonel Ghadaffi

 

Yes, his picture was everywhere (at least in Tripoli). It seemed that almost every intersection had at least one billboard of the Colonel in various “magnificent” poses, apparently either accepting the adulation of, or inspiring, his invisible admirers. The billboards often showed the African continent, with Libya coloured in glorious green, radiating out its pan-African message.

To us foreigners, he appeared rather foolish in these pictures, and they were the subject of many photos and just as many jokes. However, I left Libya with two images of him planted in my mind. One member of our eclipse group commented – with deadly accuracy – that his pictures made him look like a 1970’s porn star.

 

The other impression comes from his image on the one 1 dinar banknote, where he stood in almost perfect imitation of the signature pose of the late American comedian, Jack Benny.

 

However, obviously there are more serious issues than some silly billboards. We never volunteered conversation or questions about politics with any Libyans as we had been warned that this could be dangerous (for the Libyans). However, on several occasions, Libyans brought the topic up, and expressed frustration with the situation in the country. During these conversations, we were aware of how closely their eyes watched others passing nearby, and they would quickly stop talking if someone else came too close.

 

One person we talked to was at the site of the Italian consulate demonstrations in Benghazi in February in which 10 or more people were killed by police – in fact he had been standing very close to the first person killed. That incident had been reported worldwide as another violent demonstration concerning the infamous cartoons of the Prophet, although there are questions about its real cause and how it escalated into violence. For example, see various reports in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benghazi 

 

While waiting in the Tripoli airport for our Sahara-bound flight a week later, I bought one of the classic tourist souvenirs: a Ghadaffi watch. I put it on, but shortly afterward, thinking of how he was viewed by the Libyans I had talked with, decided to take it off. To us, it may be a quaint or comical souvenir. To many Libyans – a people I had grown to greatly like and admire – it no doubt represented something else. I didn’t want to be offensive, so took it off, and haven’t worn it since.

 

(One added bonus to our magnificent week in the Sahara: we saw no billboards of the Colonel while there).


Libyan 1 Dinar note


Jack Benny


The Colonel watches over our hotel lobby

Next: People

For some more of my photos of Tripoli, click here


PAGES: Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent CityEclipse | Tent City story |To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water |  Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days
Libya links
| Eclipse links | Photo gallery |