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Libyan desert journey 2009 in pictures

“[…] when a youngish Libyan man approaches me in Green Square. He extends a hand and asks … what I think of the country. I murmur the usual praise and we shake. ‘I won’t tell you what I think,’ he says bitterly, and is gone.”

Michael Palin, Sahara, 2002

When I read this a few days ago it sounded familiar to me. By this short sentence ‘I won’t tell you what I think’ the whole dilemma of a country is told. I had similar experiences in certain countries when discussions immediately came to a dead end as soon as political topics came up.

But things changed in this case: Green Square is renamed as Martyrs’ Square, Gaddafi’s dead and every Libyan is free to tell about his country whatever he wants. I really, really hope that the newly achieved freedom will manifest itself in the future political system of Libya.

When I traveled to Libya back in November 2009 I wanted to see the Sahara desert. I already have been to the Great Karoo in South Africa and the White Desert in Egypt (which actually is the Sahara) but what I wanted was to be in the “middle of nowhere”. At that time there only has been few saharian countries left which I considered interesting and safe enough for me to visit. None of the south saharian countries were safe, Morocco and Tunesia were not central-saharian enough, in Egypt there has been an incident near Gil Kebir and the travel agencies were about to restart their business in the next season, Algeria has been booked up – so Libya it was!

With Suntours, which I can highly recommend, I found a competend travel agency at reasonable prices. We were eleven tourists, “Jochen” our excellent tourguide, six Tuareg (four drivers, one cook, one policeman – who had the easiest job: besides a few formalities he had to manage for us, he was responsible for cooking and serving tea since he was the youngest of the tuareg) and had three jeeps and one pick-up.

Here’s the route of the journey. We spent our first night in Tripoli and then flew to Al-Jawf via Benghazi where we started the desert tour, which led to Jebel Uweinat and the surrounding plutons, Rabyana Sandsea, Wau-an-Namus and finally from Sabha back to Tripoli:Tour overview Libyan Desert

Here’s a more detailed map of the first part of the journey:Tour Jebel Uweinat

And here are the pictures:

First morning @TripoliFirst morning @Tripoli

First morning in the desert near KufraFirst morning in the desert near Kufra

Flat plain. In each direction….

Dawn, day 2Dusk, day 2

Dawn, day 3Dawn, day 3

Jebel BahariJebel Bahari

Jebel Bahari

Jebel BabeinJebel Babein

Jebel Babein

Jebel Babein

Jebel Babein, Dawn, Day 4

Foreground: banded marble; Background: Jebel ArkenuForeground: banded marble; Background: Jebel Arkenu

"Entry" of Jebel Uweinat“Entry” of Jebel Uweinat

Jebel UweinatInside Jebel Uweinat

Jebel UweinatInside Jebel Uweinat

Prehistoric petroglyph 1Prehistoric petroglyph

Petroglyphs like these are very common in this and other regions of the sahara. They are thousands of years old and are only protected by the extremely hard reachability of these areas. It’s like beeing in an open air museum. And that’s exactly one should think of when visiting these places: Even touching petroglyphs leads to a faster fading away.
Unfortunately some paintings we have seen have been moistened with water or oil by people who thought this could get them better pictures of the paintings – which it doesn’t: It just destroys them.

Inside Jebel UweinatInside Jebel Uweinat

Dusk, Day 4Dusk, Day 4

Dawn, Day 5Dawn, Day 5

Prehistoric "factory"
Prehistoric “factory”

Around this place we found paintings, a mortarium and lots of stony chips which come from crafting tools like handaxes and spearheads.

Prehistoric petroglyph 2
Prehistoric petroglyph

Prehistoric petroglyph 3Prehistoric petroglyph

Dead camel
Dead camel

This was the first of hundreds of camel corpses we saw. Most of them near a former military outpost outside of Jebel Uweinat (see below).

Prehistoric petroglyph 4

Karkur Ibrahim @Jebel Uweinat


Tributary canyon of Karkur Ibrahim

Dusk @Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel Uweinat 1@Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel UweinatDusk @Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel Uweinat 2

Dusk @Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel Uweinat 3Dusk @Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel Uweinat; Day 5Dusk @Karkur Ibrahim; Jebel Uweinat 4

Dawn; Day 6

Abandoned military post outside of Jebel Uweinat

Camel skeleton somewhere between abandoned military post and frontier post

Around this area hundreds of camel corpses are to be found. We were told that these camels come from a caravan whose herders wouldn’t pay the customs fee (or whatever is necessary to import camels into Lybia). Whatever really happened: the caravan couldn’t continue its way to Kufra and the camels wouldn’t have survived the way back to where they came from. So they were left here to die.

Tank from the Chadian–Libyan conflict @the entry of Jebel Arkenu

Inside Jebel Arkenu; Dusk day 6


Prehistoric petrograph @Jebel Arkenu


The single tree that marks the entry to the main Wadi of Jebel Arkenu

Migrant workers on their way back to Sudan

Caravan on the way to Kufra

Camel market @Al-Jawf

Access to the gas station at Al-Jawf and the main road full of cars at the background.Early morning; Day 8

On day 7 we arrived at Al-Jawf again to refill our supplies of water, food (a goat) and gas, and to take a shower (!!!). Unfortunately all over Kufra there was not a single drop of gas to buy.
Due to the low gas prices (compared to German prices, gas was almost for free in Libya) there is a lot of smuggling going on. To avoid that there are only limited amounts of gas at the stations close to the border-zones of Libya and you will only get higher amounts of gas when you have a special permission.
Luckily, we were informed about the gas station going to be reopened soon at about 4 in the next morning . We arrived early, and only minutes later there has been this long queue of maybe 200 cars with their drivers waiting to get gas.
When the gas station finally opened everybody pushed and shoved and the road has been completely blocked:

Back in the desert

Dawn @Rebiana Sandsea; Day 9

The hill I climbed to take the previous pictures

Our drivers were very good at fixing cars (here with the camshaft) as well

Rebiana Oasis

Abandoned gas station @Rebiana

Abandoned administration office @Rebiana

Abandoned repair shop @Rebiana (at that day the only people we met at Rebiana were some kids, but the mechanic came over to see us late in the evening and worked on the engine trouble until the early morning)


Me, taking this picture:The abandoned oasis of Bezima

Bezima has been abandoned because of the sinking groundwater level. The water of the lake is too salty to drink or to use for watering.
Since this is one of the driest regions of the world (it rains once in 25 years) the people living there at the oases depend on fossile groundwater, which accumulated itself during the last humid period at the Sahara during the last ice age which ended about 12.000 years ago (same period the petroglyphs were painted).

And this is the reason for the lowering groundwater level and the exhaustion of the fossile groundwater:

Water pump

A part of one of three lines of water pumps near Tazerbu

This is part of the “Great Manmade River-Project” which supplies Lybia with drinking water (get more information by clicking the link).

Dusk, day 10 @Tazerbu

Fossil mussle bed

Limestone buttes, dawn, day 12

Vehicle from world war II

The area around Wau en Namus

Wau en NamusWau en NamusWau en Namus panorama(click to enlarge)

On top of Wau en Namus

Unfortunately it’s not recommended to spend the night at this place: Wau en Namus means “Oasis of Mosquitoes” and I can tell: they are huge!

To keep it simple: Wau en Namus is a caldera, which means that it was a volcano which erupted and then collapsed. Wau en Namus on Wikipedia

Last day in the desert

Leptis Magna 1Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna amphitheaterLeptis Magna amphitheater

Leptis Magna on Wikipedia

Jami Gurgi Mosque @ Shari Hara Kebir, Tripoli
Jami Gurgi Mosque @ Shari Hara Kebir, Tripoli


Old City of Tripoli


Bazaar @Tripolis

So this is it. Please leave your comments or questions and feel free to ask if you’d like to get a picture in high resolution.

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