Bushnotes Title

Libyan Desert Wanderings
Travels in a Tourist's "No-Man's-Land"


The following extract, written by Reinhart Mazur of Feldafing, West Germany, recalls an interesting journey through the Algerian and Libyan Sahara earlier this year. Reinhart, one of a small cadre of German professional Sahara drivers, has travelled the vast desert from end to end, with the exception of Chad, and has come to know the desert and its peoples. While a journey through the wastes of the desert is, but for the hardy traveller, a distant possibility we thought you might enjoy a sojourn in the Sahara. Of course, we also chose to take you to one of the more inhospitable parts of the desert – physically and politically – Libya. At present, for most of us, the potential or desire to travel in Libya is a far cry from reality, but someday the opportunity may come and wouldn't you want to be primed and ready for an adventure? Travelling in a Toyota Landcruiser Reinhart discovered the true meaning of 'Sheriqat?' and the final resting place of a World War II vintage bomber. Shall we join in the expedition now?

After ten days of waiting we were granted a visa by the Libyan Embassy at Bonn. In Mid-December 1988 we crossed the Libyan border at Nalut. To our surprise there was neither passport nor customs control! By order of Ghadafi, the Libyan border post building had been leveled to the ground some weeks previous. Only after a couple of days did we get accustomed to the strange feeling of being in an Arab country without an entry stamp, without car insurance and even without a money declaration form. It turned out that we would not run into any problem due to those deficencies.

Our main concern was how the authorities and the people would react upon seeing tourists travelling through their country. However, the most common question on any occasion was: "Sheriqat?" It took quite a while until we understood the meaning of that word. They just wanted to know for which company we were travelling. It was simply incomprehensible to them that anybody could come to Libya just for fun (instead of for business)!

Well, our main objective on this third trip to Libya was closing the gap on our east-west Sahara crossing from Port Sudan to Nouakchott on tracks. In particular, the traverse from Jebel Uwainat, located at the border triangle of Libya/Egypt/Sudan, to the lonely crater oasis of Ouau en Namus in Central Libya was to be accomplished. Beside this, there awaited another tempting object to be discovered: The World War II U.S. Mystery Bomber 'Lady Be Good' right in the heart of the Libyan Sand Sea!

One of the few problems with off-road travels in Libya is the lack of precise maps. In order to define the position of the 'Lady be Good' we had to rely upon a map from 1962. We were very lucky that after a short search of not more than twenty miles or, just half an hours drive, we found her lying on slightly undulating ground far away from any human settlement. Forty-five years ago, when returning from a raid to Naples, in the dark of night the bomber missed its home air base near Benghazi and flew far to the south until running out of petrol. The crew bailed out, leaving the bomber to its fate. Twenty years later, petroleum prospectors happened to find the aircraft almost undestroyed after an apparently safe touch-down. Soon a large-scale search of the missing crew was conducted and after some months the bodies of all the men but one were found some seventy miles north-west of the aircraft. From the pilot's diary one knows that the crew had to live no longer than eight days before they died from thirst and exhaustion.

We made our way south to Cufra passing the Dunes of Mehemessa where we came across the remnants of some trucks belonging to the Long Range Desert Group which, in the forties, used to patrol from Cufra to Siwa. Today, an excellent tarred road leads down to Cufra. Nothing remains of the days this legendary Senoussi town was still untouched by Europeans. Cufra has become the administrative center of Libya's south-eastern region with schools, hospitals, gas stations, television and radio stations, markets and hotels. State-of-the-art cultivation techniques made agriculture one of the most important sectors of Cufra's economy.

We had no desire to stay longer than absolutely necessary in that chaos of civilization and, after a drive of eight hours and crossing of seven dune ranges, we reached the Jebel Uwainat, starting point of our traverse. Heartily welcomed by the Libyan border officials at Ain Zuaia, we had to return to Cufra the same day because it turned out that we did not secure the required authorization. In the afternoon we accepted an invitation to dine with the customs officers. Sunset was near when we headed north again under the protection of an armed Landcruiser patrol. Next day found us on our way to Tazerbo from where we easily reached the crater oasis of Ouau en Namus, an immense 500 foot deep, nearly 4 kilometer wide, bowl of black volcanic ashes with an eroded reddish lava cone in its center. Some palm trees around brackish lakes amidst a jungle of rush provided perfect shelter to birds of all kinds and desert foxes as well.

Originally, we intended to continue to Gatrun, Tejerhi and Tummo in order to reach Bilma via Seguedine. However, we were stopped by the Niger military brigade in Madama who refused our entry. So we were forced to go back newly aware that our visas were valid no longer! No problem. The Libyans were pleased to see us again and allowed us to pursue our trip to Djanet. Highlights on our way through the Fezzan were the marvellous rock engravings in Wadi Mathendush on the north-western edge of the Edeyen of Murzuk, the old capital of the Garamantes beside the modern village of Djerma and not far away from there, the lakes of Mandara in the Edeyen of Ubari. Difficult to access, the lakes are imbedded in huge mountains of golden sand dunes, surrounded by a green belt of mighty palm trees. In the brackish water, a special species of small crawfish lives. Once it was the basis of nourishment for people living by the lakes. Nowadays, each family owns its own Landcruiser which they use for going shopping to Ubari.

The road to Ghat runs through a green country of gardens and fields bordered on the southern side by the steep rocky shelf of the Acacus massif and on the northern side by the diminishing dunes of the Edcycn of Ubari: the Wadi Ajjal. After hundreds of kilometers on an excellent tarred road we came to Ghat. Like most of the famous ancient Libyan towns, Ghat has changed its face. The fortified old town has been abandoned, the people now living in newly erected blocks in the outskirts.

A last time we refueled with cheap Libyan diesel not knowing if there would be a shortage in Djanet. This town is only 150 kilometers away and can be accessed much more easily from Ghat than from northern Algeria. An improved road winds the rough scenic green valleys along the Tassili. What a difference to the deadly Libyan Sand Sea which at that moment seemed to us to lie on an other planet!

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