During Christmas 1999 we had our bivouac high in the sanddunes south-east of Ghat. It was a fabulous place with stunning views all around at huge sanddunes and mountain ridges. The sunset, sunrise and desert skies at this magic spot were incredible, feeling almost unearthly.
Luckily the night here was not really cold, it was about 15C in my umbrella tent. After our meals we stayed around the campfire all together for some time, singing Tuareg songs accompanied by drumming at a jarrican.
The most memorable christmas night ever. At the same time it was ramadan and friday. Far from the civilization and crowded world it was the most HOLY and SILENT night I ever experienced in my life.
Before I could go finally into my sleeping bag, I sat in front of my tent under the sky full of uncredibly bright stars.... meditating without any notion of time.
Two trips to the Akakus have seen us spend two nights in hotels in Sebah, one the shabby sprawling Kala Hotel in the centre of town, the other the shiny new Byt Sebah Hotel on the outskirts. Both were simply overnight stops connected to flight departures back to Tripoli, booked by our agent and basically asking for no more than a bed for the night and a decent shower after our desert camping.
Whilst the Kala is decidedly undistinguished - "shabby sprawling" says it all - I could add a mite dusty in the corners but we had arrived after a gbili (the sand-laden wind of the Sahara) had blown us in from the desert so the dust was everywhere - the big room was clean, the bed was comfortable enough and the hot water was adequate. 800 kilometres south of Tripoli and after nights spent either wild camping or sleeping in a mud hut, it was fine.
The Byt Sebha was very new, very clean, with an immaculate bathroom, hot water to spare and a nice little balcony, ideal for a sunset drink (non-alcoholic of course, this is Libya). Whoever fitted the bedrooms out had clearly been watching some lifestyle television show judging by the decor and artfully draped bed scarves - it's a pity they hadn't picked up on the desirability of a comfortable mattress. Never, never, never have I slept on a more spectacularly uncomfortable bed! The mattress was literally a wooden box covered in fabric, with not a millimetre of padding to soften the board. Efficient central heating was obviously deemed to provide sufficient warmth for cold desert nights and so the bed was only made with sheets and a light coverlet - no chance then of sleeping on top of the bedding to pad out the bed a bit more.
Perhaps I should have written about the Byt Sebha's beds under "Warnings". Maybe, by now (I'm writing this tip a year later) the message has got through and new mattresses are in place. Certainly, what we slept on was a unique feature of the hotel - one I hope never to find anywhere else. The staff were charming and free internet use and a small gym/games room were added amenities, but I think, for my money, I'd go back to the Kala.
Thatched roofs and walls of mud or reeds - that's where you're likely to find youself staying when you're not actually out in the desert on your Akakus journey. We stayed in two of the camps owned by our Libyan agent - Abubaker Karnafoda of Al Faw Travel - and made stops at two others, the big camp owned by Camping Africa at Tekerkiba, and the even bigger camp owned by Fezzan Tours at Sebah.
The camps we stayed in, at Tiwiwa (photo 1) - near the Ubari Lakes, and at Al Awein (photo 3))- the entrance to the Jebel Akakus, had similar mud-walled huts that were spotlessly clean and simply furnished (photo 4) with mats on the floor, beds and small cupboards. They were lit by electricity and the Al Aweinat hut was airconditioned, though this certainly wasn't necessary in March. Power in the hut meant we were able to charge our camera batteries in Al Aweinat - I'm not sure about that facility in Tiwiwa. Bathroom facilities were fairly basic but there were western-style loos and hot water showers in cubicles and openair basins for teeth-cleaning, shaving, etc.
Both camps served a set meal at dinner - soup, coucous, chicken, salad and fruit. Breakfasts were simple affairs of yoghurt, bread, cream cheese and spreads, and fruit. The dining room at Al Aweinat is a large , open-sided thatched room, Tiwiwa's a less-picturesque blocky concrete building. Al aweinat also has a large open thatched-roof "gazebo" with chairs and tables where people gather.
As well as the permanent huts, both camps have a large area where tents can be pitched. The grounds are clean and well-swept, if rather bare - the Wahat Fezzan and Camping Africa sites were both set among quite lush gardens with lots of trees. Where you stay will, of course, depend to a large extent on which agent you book with, particularly if you're on a tour, and as we would certainly use Al Faw Travel again, we would stay at Abubakr's camps, and be happy to do so.
The staff at both Al Faw's camps were excellent - very helpful and most obliging. Al Aweinat is the company's main camp, and an office is maintained there as well as one in Tripoli. Abubakr himself is a lovely man, very knowledgeable and well organized. He has been involved with Western oil companies in Libya for years, organizing camps, catering, vehicles, etc and is well-known and liked throughout the industry.
Tiwiwa, set at the base of the dunes of the Ubari Sand sea, is fairly new and, as such, is still a little raw around the edges, whereas Al Aweinat is long-established and justly popular. It was quietly busy the first night we stayed there, though when the gbili drove us back there from the desert a night earlier than intended, it was deserted. People trickled in through the evening and by the time we woke next day it was full to its absolute capacity
Be sure to take a look at the charming thatched mosque at Al Aweinat.(photo 5)
Excellent service (our own personal cook), a delicious dinner (home-made soup, couscous, fresh lamb and vegetable ragout, char-grilled lamb) served in a stunning dining room (decorated in ever-changing shades of red-gold, blue and purple) lit first by the setting sun and then the light of a brilliant full moon and countless stars, before retiring to a comfortable bed (sponge rubber mattress, warm blanket and rolled-up jacket for a pillow) in a cosy room (pup tent)with private facilities (up the hill, behind a rock) for a night of undisturbed slumber in the quietest surroundings you could ever imagine - what more could you want for a memorable night's rest after a day full of wonderful sights?
Would I recommend this to others? Unreservedly. The night spent in our in our desert camp has to be one of the best accommodation experiences of my life, and one I can't wait to repeat.
You will experience the most lovely bath - when you return to a hostel after some nights in this great place.
Fantastic sight in the middle of the desert. The facilities are limited to what you bring yourself - e.g. a toothbrush and a bottle of water.
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