That was our first gut impression. But it was only kids playing with firecrackers on the streets outside the hotel. We had arrived in Tripoli, Libya and were a bit apprehensive at first. Posters of Muammar al-Qaddafi greet you in the airport, and are scattered on buildings and billboards across the country. Dated November 2005, the U.S. State Department’s web site states: “The U.S. lifted restrictions on the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya in February 2004. While Libya has taken steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism, the Libyan Government remains on the U.S. Government’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List. Americans who decide to travel to Libya despite this Travel Warning should exercise a high level of caution.” But the middle of the Sahara desert was the best place to see the March 29th total eclipse of the sun, and we had arrived with our tour group – eager, excited, and a maybe just a little nervous.
The people of Libya were friendly, and very excited to have visitors from all over the world seeing their country. Many were very forward, and wanted there photo taken with us for their memories, and were very curious as to from where we had traveled. The actual eclipse site in the middle of the desert had been assembled a few days prior, with tents to accommodate 2,000 people. In addition, two dining tents with excellent food were provided. Generators provided the power to light this mini-city and run the free internet and wi-fi computer stations available. Entertainment was provided by a group in nomadic costumes parading the area at night with native music and dancing, a fantastic fireworks display, and the locals themselves-selling their souvenirs from tents in the area.
But the big event we had all come for was something that is difficult to describe, and really needs to be experienced. At about 12:26 p.m. the moon came directly between the earth and the sun, blocking it completely and producing a total eclipse lasting for about 4 minutes at our site. The temperature dropped 20 degrees from about 90 to 70 in just a few minutes and bright stars appeared in the sky. Some people were screaming, some laughing, and some crying as the power of something greater than ourselves was directly experienced. Telescopes, videos, and cameras were all trained on the black disk in the sky for what seemed like a long time, but then all too quickly the “diamond ring” of the emerging sun signaled the end of totality and the return of sunlight.
But it turns out, that Libya was a lot more than just a place to see the eclipse. We saw astounding ruins from Roman and Greek civilizations along the scenic Mediterranean coast. These world heritage sites included: Sabratha, founded in the 6th century B.C., Cyrene and Appolonia from the 7th century B.C, and Leptis Magna one of the great roman cities complete with a coliseum and amphitheater. These alone were worth the trip, to a country just beginning its tourism industry and very willing to please the foreign traveler.
I wrote this article in 2006……so much for their tourism industry now. I met beautiful people in Libya. They were hard-working and just trying to better their own lives, as we are all. Unfortunately, greed, and power corrupts, and a few can ruin the lives of many.