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Travel Story by Kyle Sterry

  The Libyan Sahara

Shifting sands

A chartered plane, looking worse for wear, took us from Tripoli International, a graveyard of airplanes, to an airstrip in Obari. Obari is in the middle of the Sahara. On approach, you find you are pinching yourself as you see green fields surrounded by a sea of sand as far as the eye can see. There are even trees out here!

There is a well-established infrastructure - pylons dot the place and overhead cables straddle the tarmac streets haphazardly. Water is pumped from underground or a well, and a giant satellite dish can be found on the top of every house whose construction looks permanently unfinished.

It being December, it is a pleasant 23C in late afternoons but temperatures drop to just above freezing overnight and for most of the morning. If you venture out here over the winter season, be sure to wrap up warm and wear something to keep out the winds. January, I'm told, is the windy month and the winds do kick up a dust on the exposed plains.

The area is an archaeologist's dream - human artefacts dating back 1.5 million years litter the region and some Greek and Roman features can be found near towns such as Germa. The Libyans do take great care of its history and some of its monuments are well preserved.

If nature is more your thing then be sure to visit the sand sea just north of Germa where sand dunes tower precariously to 250m high, sculptured by wind and gravity in ways beyond imagination. Hidden oases can be found in the vast sand sea; they are jaw-droppingly beautiful and one of the few places where you find your breath is literally taken away at the sight - the other being Grand Canyon in the USA for me. Above the cliffs south of the sand sea are jebels and wadi (hills and valleys) of loose rocks, which eventually flattens into a dust desert leaving you with vast skies and a mirage-infected horizon.

The area is a true desert; do not be fooled by civilisation and infrastructure in the region as temperatures rise to well over 45c in the summer. Go with a guide who is competent in driving off-road; there are some limited organised tourist attractions in Germa for a 4x4 tour in the sand sea. But be prepared for a rough ride! The nearest commercial airport is Sebha, some 150-200km away, and a taxi can cover the distance. To venture out into the desert you will need a desert pass, which is ideally obtained at Tripoli airport.

Click on photo to enlarge

An oasis in the desert  The Sahara  Desert colours

Date Submitted: 02 Apr 2007

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