Libya

Sometimes, all we need is an excuse to travel. Observing my first Total Solar Eclipse from the Sahara was the main reason for my trip to Libya.

Joseph of Arabia - Joe wearing his ghutra in the Sahara on eclipse day
Joseph of Arabia – Joe wearing his ghutra in the Sahara on eclipse day

On March 29, 2006 there was a total Solar Eclipse. The track for this eclipse started on the coast of Brazil, traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and over northern Africa and central Asia, where it ended at sunset in northern Mongolia. NASA – Total Solar Eclipse – March 29, 2006

I decided to join an Eclipse Expedition to Libya being hosted by the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. We observed the eclipse from deep in the Sahara Desert – the chosen location was optimum, offering over an 80% chance of a cloud-free day. This tour also offered very near to the maximum duration possible for totality – some 4 minutes and 3 seconds.

We spent a week in Libya (March 23-31, 2006), which gave us time to see the largest intact Roman ruins to be found anywhere (Sabratha and Leptis Magna), as well as some other sights. The group itinerary also included a week in Italy, where we experienced both astronomical and the usual sights in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. The group then returned to Toronto, however I added an extra week to the trip by traveling onward to Athens, Greece. This gave me time to kick back and relax…and see a few of the sights on the Greek mainland. Believe it or not, this was my first trip to Europe (up to that time), and I really found that portion of the itinerary fascinating.

Itinerary

Please click on one of the links above to get started. On each page, click on the link to the next destination just above the Comments section of each page to find your way through the whole trip from beginning to end as it happened. Of course, click on the above links to jump directly to a location that interests you.

We toured locally in Tripoli for a couple of days, flew to and from Benghazi, and drove to and from the Eclipse Camp and Benghazi. We only covered about a third of Libya, which is fine since the main point of this trip was to observe the eclipse. As I always say, leave some destinations for a future trip.

From – ToHoursDistance (mi)Distance (km)
Tripoli – Benghazi (air)1400650
Benghazi – Eclipse Camp (bus)8300500
Eclipse Camp – Benghazi (bus)7300500
Benghazi – Tripoli (air)400 650 
Total 1,4002,300
Travel times and distances within Libya

Thoughts about Libya

The Libyan people are generally friendly, although some are hesitant around tourists and draw away, especially women. Speaking of women, you won’t find any on the streets, except in the markets. It appears Libyan men spend lots of time in coffee bars smoking, drinking coffee, and having discussions. I’m assuming their wives are in the home, and stay there for the most part. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization, especially in downtown Tripoli, where there are some women who work for a living, wear office clothes, and are present on the streets.

Our guide and driver from Numidia Travel, and our Tourist Police were all very friendly, and worked very hard to keeping us safe, and at the same time ensuring we enjoyed ourselves. Our Canadian tour operator Bestway Tours & Safaris who put the land arrangements in place throughout Libya had a staff of four with us (including their other two groups) at all times, and again, they worked very hard to ensure everything that was planned actually happened.

I felt very safe in Libya, once I got over my initial nervousness from being immersed in a foreign culture (culture shock). I was more concerned about security when I was in Italy and Greece than I was in Libya.

Despite Libya’s descent into tribal warfare after their Arab Spring, I want to return some day when it is safer to experience the rest of the country we missed on this trip:

  • Ghadames, Ghat, and other inland Saharan cities and towns
  • The Great Sand Seas – lots of adventures in the middle of the country – mountains and sand
  • The area just south of Tripoli in the mountains – close by, but a world apart from the coastal cities
  • Mediterranean coastal area between Benghazi and Egypt – Cyrene and Tobruk

This trip involved a great deal of travel, mostly by air, but also by bus. I traveled a total of some 27,000 kilometers or 16,600 miles, all within three weeks!

From – ToDistance (mi)Distance (km)
Victoria – Toronto, Canada – airline2,1003,400
Toronto – Tripoli, Libya (via Milan, Italy) – airline5,0008,100
Tripoli – Benghazi, Libya – airline400650
Benghazi – Eclipse Camp via Jalu, Libya – bus300500
Eclipse Camp – Benghazi, Libya – bus300500
Benghazi – Tripoli, Libya – airline400650
Tripoli, Libya – Rome, Italy – airline6001,000
Rome – Florence – Pisa – Venice – Milan, Italy – bus500800
Milan, Italy – Athens, Greece – airline9001.500
Athens, Greece – Victoria, Canada – airline6,1009,900
Total distance (air & land)16,60027,000