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Libya looks finally to dispose of Gadhafi and plunge into hopeful uncertainty. Last November The Rapid Traveler visited Libya. It is a country little-known beyond Gadhafi and Pan Am flight 103, but was once a thriving breadbasket of the ancient world. When peace pervades and Libya opens, tourists will rave at is treasures. To contextualize the events flashing on cable news, the next several days at Rapid Travel Chai will be devoted to a brief glimpse into a country that had the eerie quiet of totalitarianism. The story begins in Zarsis (Jarjis), Tunisa…
A LandCruiser rolled up, leather-clad driver Kamel and my guide, Ali, hopped out, both with the slicked curls popular in Libya. (I embarrassingly confess to forgetting my guide’s name despite being able to picture him clearly; for convenience I call him Ali in this piece.) They had driven overnight from Tripoli. Before the desert they trolled the Tunisian markets for fruits and vegetables, remarking on the low prices and better quality than in Libya, an early indication of the economic misery wasteland ahead.
The border was humming with French senior citizens piloting several dozen French classic cars on a trek from Africa’s top to bottom. Oh do I envy the French ability to vacation! Our crossing was uneventful, Ali saying some days it takes several hours, others a breeze. Back in the US it seemed a little worrying when I was asked to check that my name was written correctly in Arabic for the visa application, but the visa on arrival was correct.
Government policy requires foreigners to be have pre-approved itineraries and always be in the company of a guide and driver. An expensive proposition for a lone traveler, so I scaled back my original ambitious itinerary, cutting out the Greek ruins (Cyrene, Apollonia and Ptolemais) and World War Two battle sites (Benghazi and Tobruk of the Cyrenaica in the east and the jewels of the Fezzan and Sahara, the Ubari Lakes. In retrospect, Libya was such a grim place that I am glad I only had a brief taste and got to explore spectacular Tunisia, where I could roam free.
For trips to Libya, Sabri Ellotai of Sabri Tours is the expert and is back in business as of September 2011, ready to welcome tourists.