This trip encourages us to go back to a simpler, more natural lifestyle. We will be accompanied by the Tuaregs with whom I have established a deep friendship but who aren't used to mass tourism. Their equipment is simple, traditional, occasionally outdated, but always reliable. It is the price to pay if we want to meet people who have stayed themselves and refuse to make tourism a professional activity. We choose to travel without taking our westerner demands and comfort with us.
It is extremely important to remember that we are going TO THEM. For this reason, we have to adapt ourselves to their lifestyle. This implies that we will respect their dress code and behaviour. We won't be using the desert as a setting in which we will arrive with our folklore, our demands and our habits.
The Tuaregs aren't paid to help us live our westerners' fantasies (e.g. seeing as many things as possible in minimal time). They have a wealth of things to teach us, and we will only be able to discover them if we stop filling our days with a multitude of successive activities, if we understand that it is sometimes necessary to do nothing and let things come to you...
Whether they come from noble or warrior descents, no matter if they are camel drivers, pastors, blacksmiths or engineers, the Tuaregs with whom we will be travelling are all extraordinarily welcoming, caring and kind. They are sensitive men, very open to new relationships, who don't play games and don't seem to feel like they have anything to prove. They are extremely respectful of our way of life, even though it may sometimes shock them, something which they will never show. They consider us to be their guests and therefore will never be judgmental or hostile towards us. It is therefore our responsibility to make sure we respect them in the same way that they respect us. They live in the present, accept life as it comes with surprising flexibility and face the unexpected with philosophy. They are very observant and often accurately figure us out, thanks to their instinctive intuition and great sensibility.
They are resourceful and reliable men, who know the desert like the back of their hand. Travelling with them is extremely safe.
They like singing and dancing, and if we let them, they will offer us a few wonderful musical evenings around the fire, under the starry sky. They sing religious incantations, traditional chants and improvised songs that convey their love of the desert, their joy of being with us and pay homage to us...
Instead of leaving them a tip, which can be humiliating, we can give them a present at the end of the trip, just like we would thank friends with whom we'd just spent two wonderful weeks. It isn't easy to prepare a gift for people we don't know, and to make sure it isn't cheap junk, or offensively expensive, but that it is a "gift from the heart", adapted to their lives and needs. But it is an excellent exercise!
There and around
We land in Tripoli. After that, and depending on schedules and wishes from the group, we may visit the ancient city of Sabratha. We will most probably spend some time in Tripoli.
After we will fly to Sebha and then drive further down South all the way to Ghat, where we may visit the old town, a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. (Currently, the south entrance to the Acacus desert is closed by the UN and therefore we will enter the Acacus from the North, near the village of Al Awaynat and won't be going all the way to Ghat).
It is possible that our flight from Tripoli to Sebha will be scheduled on the night of our arrival in Libya. In this case, the visits mentioned earlier will be cancelled, our priority being to get to the desert as fast as possible. It may also be the case that said flight is cancelled due to weather conditions or other events. If this happens, we will drive down to Ghat (or Al Awaynat accordingly) in a minibus. This isn't usually the most amusing part of the trip, it is quite a long journey, but travelling this way can be extremely interesting. These long hours on the road allow us to slowly leave the western world behind us and adapt to the desert at our own pace.
Once we finally arrive, we will start with a week in the Accaccus (6, 7 or 8 days, depending on our previous mode of transportation) during which we will be able to choose between camel riding, walking or going in the jeeps. The Accaccus is the prolongation of the Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria. It is a massif of sedimentary and volcanic rocks, that has been eroded into numerous mazes of surprisingly shaped valleys and peaks, at the bottom of which lie soft ergs and dunes. There, it is possible to find rock paintings and carvings, dating back from the Neolithic.
At the end of the week, we will leave the camels behind and continue by car and drive to the erg of Ubari, a real sea of sand, in the middle of which lies the extraordinary lake of Oum el Maa, surrounded by a few palm trees. We will stay there for one or two days (depending on the season) and can swim in the lake if we wish, which is a startling experience due to the lake's high salt contents. This is where our trip ends.
In the Accaccus, our days will be divided into two separate sections, mornings and afternoons, for which we must decide on our mode of transportation. In the morning, we tend to leave comfortably sometime around 10am during winter, and a little earlier during spring (due to the higher temperatures at midday). In the afternoon we leave after having had some time to take a nap (longer during spring than winter). Everyday, we must decide whether we will be walking, camel riding or driving in the morning and afternoon. The walks usually last between 2 and 4 hours, and we all meet at midday for lunch, which allows us to do different things in the morning and afternoon. The paths we take and the lengths of the different walks are chosen by the Tuaregs and depend on a variety of unknown reasons such as the beauty of the scenery, but also the possible proximity to a well and the quantity of food for the camels.
If we choose to drive from one stop to the next, we will be able to relax and rest for a bit, to see some beautiful archaeological sites and arrive at the camp earlier. If we feel more energetic, or if we wish to stay away from the smell of petrol and the sound of the motors, we may choose to walk or give camel riding a try.
The walkers follow the caravan trails and stay in sight of the camels. It's an intense pace, but it is accessible to any adult or child in good shape (approximately 5km/hour with short stops when necessary). The ground is usually relatively flat, and sometimes a little sandy. It is possible to arrange for the Jeeps to come and meet slower, frailer walkers. It is the role of everyone to walk at their own rhythm according to their strength. However, one must be careful not to slow down the caravan by taking an excessive amount of pictures and stopping every 5 minutes to admire a new rock.
Camel riding is a surprising experience. Some people find it very uncomfortable, but others will feel as though they are in a comfy armchair. It certainly requires an adaptation and an effort: finding one's centre of gravity, looking for good positions, preventing muscle aches, overcoming one's fears... We are always accompanied by 2 or 3 reliable and attentive camel drivers who will be walking with us. At first, the camels will be attached to one another but sometimes the Tuaregs may decide to let us guide them on our own.
The Tuaregs are in charge of cooking for us, we won't have to do anything. They cook on an open fire or a portable gas cooker. Meals are healthy, hearty and delicious, but material conditions and regional habits limit the possible variety of meals. Breakfast usually consists of bread, soft cheese, jam and tea or Nescafe; sometimes an omelette. Some may wish to bring a bag of muesli and a few snacks. At lunch time, they usually prepare a big plate of salad; and at night, after a delicious soup, we usually have a ratatouille with rice, pasta or couscous. If we happen to meet a shepherd, we will have meat for a few days (goat or mutton). Throughout the evening, they will serve us small glasses of a delicious, strong yet sweet, green tea.
Usually, at lunch time, we will eat separately due to different culinary habits, but sometimes in the evening, they will invite us to share their meal and we will discover some traditional foods such as "tagella", a sort of bread cooked in burning hot sand.
This certainly isn't a peaceful and relaxing trip, but we won't be looking for difficulty either. One must be ready to leave civilisation for 2 weeks and to live closer to nature. For example, one won't be able to shower every morning! But you will quickly discover that it isn't difficult to keep a good hygiene with a few baby wipes, and by the end of the trip, you will easily wash yourself with 1L of water!
One must be ready to be cold, hot, hungry or thirsty, and to learn to wait before finally reaching the camp. We must therefore remain attentive to the weakest and share snacks and drinks. You should also be prepared to be stiff and sometimes a little sick. Fortunately, chances of this happening are slim, but it can happen and is inherent to the trip. Of course, we will prepare a first aid kit together.
Moreover, the Tuaregs are very attentive to our comfort: they provide for example small foam mattresses, blankets and will carry our bags on their jeeps between campsites.
Bags and packing
Packing can be seen as an invitation towards simplicity, travelling with the essential and parting with superfluous objects. It is the occasion to let go of our materialistic dependencies and our anxieties. With a few exceptions, it is unnecessary to buy anything special. Being able to manage your bag everyday for 2 weeks is a feat of organization. Any questions will be discussed during the two preparation meetings prior to the trip.
At night, the temperature can drop down between 5 and -5 degrees (Christmas) and between 10 and 15 degrees (Easter). You will have the choice to sleep in a tent or out in the open. Tents will be provided. They allow for a greater intimacy, an improved comfort and a few extra degrees. But you will have to put it up and take it down every night and you won't be able to admire the starry sky or the beautiful sunrise without getting out of bed. Your sleeping bag should be suited for low temperatures, but doesn't need to resist to high humidity levels; the weather is so dry that there is no morning dew.
Living in a group
For some, life in a group is a source of pleasure and fun, a way to meet people. For others, it can be oppressive, almost invasive. It is important for everyone to feel they have the right to take time for themselves, away from the rest of the group. The desert is the appropriate place to learn to appreciate silence, to think and meditate, to look back on life ...
The program of the trip may often change due to unforeseen events; typical benchmarks (hours, kilometers) are unreliable, sometimes inexistent. One must therefore let go of the usual questions ("how long is the walk this morning?", "how far to the next campsite?" etc). Equally, tiredness, pains and scratches, the wind, finding sand everywhere, can wear down one's resistance! It is therefore important to be aware of how complaints and criticism can impact the general mood of the group, no matter how legitimate these may seem at the time. This trip is a choice, a commitment, it is necessary to prepare for it and the reunions prior to the trip are there for this reason. Once we leave, participants are strongly invited to accept the conditions of the trip with philosophy, patience and goodwill.
I look forward to sharing my passion for the desert and its inhabitants and to accompany you along a journey you will never forget.
The next trip
The political situation in Libya is too dangerous right now. I am expecting better safety conditions before organizing a new trip. I am sorry. For you and for me.