LIBYA: Quadhafi has abundant oil & sand.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Big picture: Because little is known about Libya by most, as it was for us, first the big picture, then our trip across it.

Big? No, vast: The 4th largest country in Africa, larger than Alaska, triple the size of France.

Except for abundant oil and ocean-front, it is not the finest real estate however, being over 90% desert.

Driving the shortest route straight across the top with no desert side trips, was about 1,700 kilometers. It would be a three-day drive if one were in a hurry; we took ten days.

Libya has a deservedly bad reputation in world news over recent decades:

. . .- Muammar Quadhafi, pan-Arab Nationalist, socialist, military
. . . . dictator since 1969, was hands-on pro-terrorist and anti-West,
. . . . with a substantial innocent citizen body count.
. . .- He backed Rome plus Vienna terrorist airport attacks, hit a West
. . . . Berlin disco in 1985.
. . .- US jets bombed Tripoli, Benghazi and Quadhafi's personal home
. . . . in 1986, killing a daughter.
. . .- In 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 Heathrow –> JFK crashed in
. . . . Lockerbie Scotland, killing 270. Two Libyan Government agents
. . . . were charged, one convicted in UK.
. . . - In 1989 a French UTA plane was bombed over Niger, 170 died.
. . . - UN Security Council sanctions against Libya were imposed in 1992,
. . . . lifted just recently.
. . .- Quadhafi had a WMD program, including nukes and chemicals.
. . .- Recently Quadhafi has cooled the rhetoric, so Libya might join the
. . . . mainstream.
. . .- George Bush lifted sanctions in 2004 in exchange for Quadhafi
. . . . renouncing terrorism and WMD, paying victim damages,
. . . . opening his country for foreign business.
. . .- USA-Libya exchanged ambassadors in 2009 for the first time
. . . . since 1973.
. . .- Here's one 2007 article ["Gadaffi Reloaded" link] which
. . . . summarizes things.


'Mismanaged country' is being kind: Theoretically rich, Libya has a lot of oil and natural gas, has been thinly explored due to sanctions. Currently more reserves are being discovered. Hyrocarbons are >95% of exports.

However they don't do much else besides sell oil/gas to Europe, the proximity of which is timely and cost-effective. Libyan crude is apparently of good quality with low production costs.

There is a little gypsum mining (for cement), salt from solar evaporation along the coast, but not much else of significance.

Libya imports 75% of its food, having so little arable land and not doing enough with it. Agriculture is just 7% of GDP, while scarcity of skilled labour holds it back, as does the necessity of more irrigation. They don't import much agricultural expertise, nor sufficiently train their own highly unemployed people.

Population is only 6 million Arabs and Berbers (although the regime denies the existence of its Berber minority); it's virtually empty.

Oil exports are large, hence GDP per capita (PPP) in 2008 was $13,100 [source link] – 63% higher than the latest available Middle East and North Africa average of $8,028 [source link.]

However as CIA's report [link] says: 'Little of this income flows down to the lower orders of society.' This is obviously true when you drive through.

Unemployment is enormous, consistently at 30% over the past eight years [source link.]

In the current world recession and low oil prices – especially with Libya's ongoing iffy history – it is highly doubtful that new foreign-investment and manufacturing plants will lower unemployment or diversify the economy. Hence continued low oil prices will likely exacerbate things for the working (unemployed) class via the negative trickle-down effect.

Gas is virtually free in Libya at 15¢ a liter, 60¢ a gallon. We were informed, but could not verify, that cars are actually retailed at below European wholesale prices; they are evidently subsidized because wages are so low. However paid for, there were a lot of recent model compact cars on the road.

Roads are OK mostly. The drivers, well, we are used to occasional crazies by now ...

Infrastructure spending is in evidence and is seemingly the national priority; meanwhile average folks are still poor – and many look poor.

If one has well-placed contacts within the government and is prepared to do the necessary palm-greasing, Libya is a big business opportunity. There is obviously abundant oil money, a very available labour force, low wages, and the country needs almost everything; decades of being anti-west, with world-imposed sanctions will do that.

We met a Belgian who is there fixing the oil storage tanks that have been rusting out; a Brazilian team designing water/sewage systems; plus other foreign engineering types. The most basic things are being worked on.

Brazilians Marcelo, Paolo, Claudio in front of our Tobruk hotel
They are here on contract, making water/sewage work.
(They emailed me this photo later.)
That said, it is a socialist military Muslim dictatorship that is taking halting steps towards a market-based economy. It's very early days in the liberalization process, we'll see what unfolds; probably not much before a regime change in a strictly one-party state.

Libya is quite serious about Islam and hanging on to its version of Arabic culture, or at least the current regime is – which only serves to isolate it from non-Arab foreigners. Signage is strictly Arabic-only. Women are mostly covered and have their mostly-traditional place. No booze or gambling is allowed. Quadhafi has his own interpretation of Sunni Islam which he imposes – he even has his 'Green Book' as an answer to Mao's Red one.

It's not a country to go and 'party.' Nor one in which to be a journalist or anything else the Government might frown upon.

But it's still worth touring.


Freedom & Corruption: This is a travelogue, neither a political nor religious treatise – just ridin' through and observing 'what is.' No pulpit. Obviously we are riding some of the more 'challenged' places, fleetingly observing the context. We're interested in how cultural things inevitably affect the economy – freedom, corruption and religion being big-picture cultural aspects.

Human rights in Libya are reportedly among the stellar handful of worst countries on earth. Freedom House an NGO in 2008 ranks it in the lowest 'not free' group [interactive map and explanation link] and gives its worst-attainable grades in Political and Civil freedoms [world freedom list link.] Libya was in the exclusive Worst Possible Freedom Grades Club along with only: Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Quite a club.

Corruption is also 'pervasive' in both the private and government sectors according to NGO Transparency International which ranks Libya #126 out of 180 countries surveyed [corruption list link]. On that list, Somalia ranks #180 (most corrupt on earth) while Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand tie for #1 (least corrupt.) It's an interesting list to skim ...

Corruption & Freedom list
of the countries we traveled. Libya loses.
One cannot help but notice while traveling, the economic privation that is most often correlated with freedom and corruption levels. There are exceptions but still ...


Visas: Do it the right way or no-go: We were the rare 'unguided travelers' with an A-to-B, two-week transit visa. Unfortunately we couldn't get more time in order to tour the south.

Official stats are that in the past three years, Libya has had an average of just 200,000 tourists a year, groups being the vast majority of this small number. Unguided tourist visas are basically not available; the official requirement is to book tours through a Libyan agency that makes all arrangements.

Catch-as-can free-floaters like us are discouraged or nearly forbidden.

Hence this blog is a rare go-where-we-wanted travel report. We were very fortunate.

Our great luck was meeting the nice lady at the Libyan Embassy in Tunis. She informed me – only after I pleaded with clasped hands after being told 'sorry no visa' – that transit visas are available for driving Tunisia –> Egypt. Yesss! Vehicle or passenger ferries between Tunisia <–> Egypt do not exist, so we would have been forced to ride back through Italy in cold February, no fun. It took 2 weeks of waiting for approval from Tripoli, but the visa finally came.

The best advice we have so far is, apply from Tunis or Cairo for a transit visa to drive across. It may be possible to get one from elsewhere, we have no idea, but if you get rejected, you are in their central database as having been rejected ...

Then, there was the Libyan requirement of an official in-passport, 2-page Arabic translation of your basic information (see Tunisia blog). They can't read your name and date of birth in Roman text? Plus their visa takes yet a third page. Assure your passport has abundant blank pages, mine got filled up quickly and I had to get a new one en route.

While waiting at the Tunis Libyan Embassy, I met Canadians and Brits who simply gave up on obtaining a visa. It took some patience and running around, but we finally obtained ours and took off.

Very glad we did – a positive, fun, insightful experience.


Reasons to go there:
- Virtually untouched by tourism, perhaps your last chance to see unspoiled Sahara.
- Apparently some of the best accessible Sahara scenery.
- An off-the-beaten-tourist-path adventure.
- Inexpensive.
- Safe.
- Very friendly people, not yet suffering from TMT as are Tunisia and much of Egypt.
- Algeria is too dangerous for remote travel areas nowadays; the deep Sahara there is also stunning but ...
- Libya has a good road Egypt <–> Tunisia if you are crossing.
- Roman ruins. Equal quality ruins are accessible elsewhere – but in Libya they are virtually empty of tourists, which is just great.

The People: On two counts we were a head-turning rarity:
..........(a) Unaccompanied tourists;
..........(b) On a big bike, in a land where there are very few motorbikes.

We weren't hassled in the slightest, just were stopped a half-dozen times out of perhaps twenty police road blocks nation-wide. The others waved us through. I think some checkpoints radioed ahead, we sometimes felt 'expected.'

Everyone – citizens, cops, soldiers, was smiling, friendly and polite. Not a nervous moment.

One senses and reads, that it's a very safe place. Being a police/military state has its upsides after all – being a bad boy is all the more dangerous. Steal a foreign bike, or rob a foreigner? I sincerely doubt anyone would risk it. But I didn't feel that anyone wanted to; in some places one has that 'hang-on-to-your-wallet' instinct, but not here.

We do not recall anyone trying to short change or over-charge us.

We felt many average Libyans were happy to see us – perhaps we were evidence of a step in the right direction? A theory anyhow. Plus they were not overwhelmed by TMT Syndrome like their neighbors.

For whatever reasons:
..........- they were almost universally touchingly kind, generous;
..........- many refused tips;
..........- no outstretched hands, ever;
..........- zero beggars;
..........- a few times it was we who got the gifts!

We had a half dozen invitations to come home for a family dinner – from total strangers.

One man in a car with a bunch of kids in it, with little English, had just guided us for 15 minutes through a confusing town – then he invited us home! Sadly we could not accept any of the invitations due to timing and the specific situations. We would have loved to say 'yes' at least once and witness their lives.

Not since Turkey have we met so many people who are so hospitable. Wonderful.


Our ride across the top of Libya was approximately 1,700 km.

Unfortunately we were forced to skip the apparently beautiful Libyan deep Sahara:
..........(a) It's a long distance, a week's detour with only a two-week visa;
..........(b) We had just seen the Tunisian Sahara and we would
.................see Egypt's;
..........(c) Having crossed Algeria–>Niger hard-core Sahara;
....................and last but not least,
..........(d) This is the wrong bike for any deep soft sand might encounter en route.


Border crossing: Crossing from Tunisia was uneventful; we had to buy a Libyan license plate, the $100 to be refunded on exit (it was,) plus something small for insurance. No issues or delay, it was perfect.


Travels Eastwards: The first Libyan night was in the town of Zuwarah [link]; stayed in a memorably baad place to which a police car had led us when we asked. Lost the name, but it doesn't matter, try keep driving through if you can. Perhaps it was the best place in town but: No towels, I dried myself using a pillow case; no soap or toilet paper; one bed sheet with icky blankets; a cold room on a cold night; a trickle of a shower where the bathroom floor was the shower drain; paper-thin walls.

But apart from the preceding opulence, the place was an ugly dump, over-priced at US$25. Anyhow, we had a laugh and got to write about it.

But ... we went into town, found a small supermarket that had ... tah-dah ... peanut butter and Coffee Mate! Yessss! Contain your excitement, please. All was forgiven of the hotel – it was the first PB or coffee creamer in many weeks. How small things amuse when we get un-spoiled for a while.


Next day, on to the Roman ruins in Sabratha AKA Sabrata [link] which we loved. The Roman theatre is spectacular, some claim it is the nicest in the world. We were blown away.

The Romans chose and did well. Sabratha is on a great oceanside setting. It's completely free to wander, we had the place to ourselves. 'A ruin-is-a-ruin' unless you are expert, but any ruin has much more impact when you have quiet time to yourself, realize you are walking the same cobblestones, sitting on the same theatre benches as people 2,000 years ago ... undisturbed by gaggles of picture-snappers, allowing the imagination to at least try place oneself way back then. It was more than mere site-seeing, rather a rare close-and-personal experience worth many weeks of uneventful travel.

The Roman Theatre in Sabratha, beyond just beautiful.
Those Romans, one can quibble with labor remuneration
but they sure built great stuff to last.
We rode the 60-some km on to Tripoli, where we lucked upon the nice Hotel Zahret al Khaleej [link] at around US$65 for an actual suite. Staff had virtually no English, but some English TV channels, wi-fi in the room, most of the amenities – a remarkable contrast to the previous night. Spent five days there to do blogging, plus business stuff via internet/phone, and explored Tripoli. Also visited the Saudi Arabia Embassy who were very friendly, but they sent us to Cairo for visas – we had a faint hope anyhow (ultimately to be proven in vain.)

Being helplessly mapless in Libya, with its Arabic-only signage, is a real problem; one good reason to hire a guide. We had no Libya guide book either. Finally, Thao found a book shop called Fergiani (biggest in town) on Mezran Street, where they speak English. The owner gave Thao a free (!) very good road map of Libya in Roman alphabet – worth $10 but stands out as a first of several gifts Libyans gave us. Such generous hospitable people.

But still no guide book was in sight. Lonely Planet has on-line info [link], but no book sellers stocked hard copies.

One night we went to Marsa (also called Al Hufra) fish market on the edge of town, looking forward to a gourmet feed. It has perhaps a dozen fresh fish sellers; met one who had lived in UK, chatted a while, he informed us it's almost zero-overhead, electricity and rent is completely paid by the state.

Free overhead notwithstanding, we paid a lot for a big swordfish steak sliced in front of us, giant shrimps and a fresh local fish. Took the catch to the Barakoda Restaurant with a good ocean view, one of several in the market, so they could make a meal of our fish. Salads, bread etc., it ended up badly over-priced by any standards, would have been better and cheaper at home, and of course no wine. Bottom line, Al Hufra fish market is a tourist trap, likely priced at triple-value. Visit it once there, enjoy the fresh seafood, but be prepared for no African bargains.

Meals are otherwise very cheap in Libya; not the greatest Arab cuisine, but at $1-$5 per person normally, one doesn't expect Paris.

Spent a day in the Tripoli Medina, very authentic and enjoyable, walking through the old town. We found nothing to buy ourselves, but did get my fine lifetime accountant and friend Stan Spencer a Libyan hat – he collects hats, and we thought a very Quadhafi-style Libyan one would be appropriate irony for a nice Jewish boy.

In the Medina


After Tripoli, we drove on a few hours to Leptus Magna [link] which has famed Roman ruins that are a long walk to visit – physically enormous. Lots of ruins, some in good condition, and they are quite famous, but we liked Sabratha better for its intimacy and the spectacular theatre. Still, if you are passing through anyhow, it's definitely worth stopping for a few hours at Leptus Magna.

Arabic-only signage strikes again: Unable to read, we had passed the town and had to double backwards 30 km, finally finding accommodation in Khums, at Al-Madina Hotel 2-star at $30; it's OK but the better place in town is likely 3-star, called Hotel Severus (no relation) that was fully booked.

Leptus Magna
our favorite thing was the restored entrance arch


Frankly, it's a boring drive along the A2 coastal road [map link], pretty much all of it; desert on your right, ocean on your left. Or desert on both sides. It's broken up by some agriculture, sheep flocks, occasional villages. But even nothingness can be revealing.

The road is mostly quite good but we kept it reasonably slow as a precaution against asphalt or animal surprises. Not the best of countries to have an accident I figured.

En route we encountered this shepherd.


Next night was in Surt [map link] which is Quadhafi's birthplace, a very modern-looking well-off town – perhaps not by total coincidence, the birthplace part I mean.

Unlike any other town we saw in Libya: Nice apartments, landscaping, lots of moderns stores, wide manicured streets; lots of big Pan-African billboards. They had hosted a big African conference here and were still proud of it. Indeed we stayed at the Africa Hotel which is allegedly 3-star, looks nice from outside, but we'd give it 2-star, about US$30 – and has nothing African about it apart from the name. Finding internet, like everywhere in Libya was a challenge; in fact here we failed totally in Surt after much driving around.


Continuing east the following morning, along the (yawn) coast, the road turns into B13. Pouring rain, about 10˚C, the combination of which on a bike, truly sucks. Some stretches of the road were under construction, had been for months evidently. This is the trans-national highway, with slippery mud tracks, deep water-filled potholes that cars and trucks had deteriorated into offroading quality; a dodge-em drive, with cars and trucks of all sizes bumping, splashing and slipping. Hole-weaving in first gear for 5-10 km stretches after which we and Black Bike were covered, totally filthy with mud, then rain, then more mud. Ah, the joys of biking.

It ain't enduro but also not all autobahn ..

Deeply freezing and wet, we needed a break, some hot food and beverages – finally found a place and stopped at a café/restaurant 20 km west of Bishr [map link] for a giant chicken leg and pasta meal at his tent-sided café, and befriended Al Salem. His English is good, he warmed to us quickly. Over coffee with him after lunch, we actually had a half-hour man-to-man talk on business and even lightly brushed on some politics. We hit it off, and could become friends if we had time: He even suggested maybe I should consider doing business in Libya. I deflected that one.

Al Salem in his coffee shop
However in world travels, we just love it when very occasionally, two people of vastly different cultures, upbringings, geography and races – share similar views on many things in the world. Via such different routes, two arrive at the same spot. Great.


Ajdabiyah [map link] is where you decide if you want to take the longer coastal route to Benghazi the second-largest Libyan city – or alternatively, if you prefer to cut across to Egypt in a straight line. We wanted the latter, meaning >400 km of absolute, total barren desert, with nothing else en route; not a road to drive at night, and night was coming.

Just before the turnoff, a police roadblock; we were detained for 45 minutes while they radioed in our documents. No problems, just checking on the unusual travelers that we were. They served us tea, we chatted, they asked Black Bike questions. Finally the reason for the wait is clear, a police officer pulls in from town, to 'escort' us to a hotel – i.e. assure we are not there for other reasons whatever they might be, since the major oil fields are nearby. And what a hotel to encounter in mid-nowhere! Amal Africa [link] at $80 resembles a good Hyatt, excellent luxe. The manager from Malta is a very nice guy. The hotel is populated largely by foreign oil people, we even met a Calgary oilfield guy while we both struggled with their very poor quality, lobby-only internet. The $70 dinner buffet for two was a tad cheeky for Libyan prices, but they're accustomed to corporate spenders, so milk them. It's a western oasis in the desert – stay there if passing through!


Next day: The 400 km B11 highway is across pure, empty flat Sahara; arrow-straight, excellent two lanes of pavement; untethered herds of camels wander, do they even have owners? No signs whatsoever of human habitation. Zero. Some tiny shrubs many meters apart. Just sand, and more sand.

Wheezy snacking on B11.

One can go flat-out on this road, to 'see what she'll do,' certainly there's no cops or radar! Confessing, a couple times I pushed it to 180 k/h = 112 mph, learning there's lots of throttle left at 180. The GL1800 handles high speed with total nonchalance, even as loaded as this one, like it's on rails. Could have done, and wanted to do the whole stretch at 110 mph, but backed off to save gas – I can't do 400 km on one tank even much slower. There is supposed to be gas at the half-way point but ...

Almost no traffic encountered, the occasional car/truck waved and honked as if we were best buds. We did have something in common out here – being out here was enough to bond us momentarily.

Sure enough, at around kilometer 200 there is a memorable rest stop, just a bunch of portables and a generator-driven gas pump; even a linked-portables $50 motel. It's owned by Highway Service Company, a Libyan chain we had seen before.

So, we filled up with gas, costing $2 for a tank fill, and at their little snack bar ordered hot sandwiches and two Hostess Twinkies (!) – the first time I've seen them outside North America. Trust me, it's a rare treat in this remote context. Huge delicious sandwiches on long buns too, they brought a third one not asked for, just in case we were hungry. They over-fed us, we even packed the third one to take along.

Then we went to pay the nice no-English guy behind the counter – but once again in Libya, he wouldn't take our money! Tried to tip him, but nope again, it was waved away with a grateful gesture of the right hand across the heart. So damned nice, generous, hospitable. Probably partly because they don't get many white bikers stopping by, let alone Canadians, partly traditional Arab hospitality – but whatever it was, just so kind ...
(Thirty years later, I still remember the mid-Sahara bath house in In Salah Algeria [map] where I was the first white man to have bathed, they refused to take my 50¢ or so ... no big deal but again a touching memorable gesture of Arab hospitality.)
Two of the employees at the rest stop, mid Hwy B11


The second-last Libyan night was in quite-interesting Tobruq [map link]. Another policeman kindly led us when we asked, to Hotel Jaghboub which is evidently the best place in town, pleasant enough at about $50. Sorry cannot find a web link, so ask around when you get there.

At the hotel we met Walter a Belgian chemist working there on foam insulation of oil tanks ... he invited us to a superb sea food dinner on the same block and we had a great evening with him. The restaurant itself is a yellow building, the chef is Tunisian – it's another good reason to stay at this hotel, excellent dining a few steps away.

Tobruq is a nice town on the water, good walking in the old city behind the hotel, and it has an internet café – no in-hotel internet again.


The look 'n touch hordes of young bucks all over Black Bike is often a problem in certain cultures, it was occasionally problematic also in Libya. No harm is intended by the vast majority, but it only takes one – among crowds touching and pressing buttons. It's nervous-making and upsetting. The alarm doesn't scare them away. Covering it helped, as did parking right in front of the hotel in sight of the front and security desk people who shooed them away.

An occupational hazard, and almost always a factor in hotel selection. Hotels on the main drag are always a crowd-attraction problem unless they have walled-in parking out back.


The final night was spent in the ugly Hotel Jamal in the town of Musaid, a village right on the Libya-Egypt border. This is the best dive in town, but did I mention ugly? It had 2 single beds, but we removed the sheet from one and thus had 2 bed sheets instead of being in contact with a coody-blanket. However to their credit, they have a locked gate in back for vehicle security, we got soap and towels when I asked, plus we got a fried egg for breakfast – so it's not the worst of suffering.

The town has one ATM that ate my bank card at 8 PM when it crashed, scared the hell out of me – without a bank card I'm in serious trouble; but with local friendly help, even at night it got re-booted and it spat my card out in 15 minutes ... whew!

The town of Musaid also features many dumber-dumbest monster speed bumps, higher than the bike's ground clearance, literally, I had to ride around them. And the restaurant rip-off across the street ... oh well, a bad last Libyan town.

We slept there to be close by, in preparation for an early morning border attack – expecting major hassles at the Egypt frontier, and not knowing about the Libya exit. We had been warned in our reading, and were not disappointed about the Egypt side anyhow...


Altogether, Libya was a big pleasant surprise country for us. If you can arrange it, it's definitely worth an adventure visit.

For those seeking a 5-star resort vacation on the beach, go elsewhere.

But as a transit across the top of Africa, and seeing another slice of Arab life under a rather 'special' famed regime, it's memorable, eye-opening and fun.

In addition, if you have not experienced true Sahara – either get a longer driving visa than we could obtain (maybe their rules will change) and go into Libya's apparently fabulous south for a week or two. Or, join a Libyan-organized group and tour the deep desert by AWD.

The latter is far easier to arrange and not costly. It might also be the best idea for relatively inexperienced desert adventurers – deep sand riding/driving is something else. I would not advise solo vehicles to chance the deep Sahara, especially not off-roaders. Mistakes, weather or mechanical failures can and do turn fatal – there's strength in numbers here.

Read up on it if slightly interested in the deep Sahara, perhaps you'll be tempted. It is truly magnificent, among my very best life experiences. The greatest Algerian stuff I crossed 30 years ago is inaccessible politically these days, but from what we read, it sounds as if Libya has equivalent greatness, is far safer due to shorter distances, and it has mostly paved roads. Plus, Libyans are such fine, friendly, hospitable people.

Try to go there, you won't regret it. We certainly don't.

Goodbye to our Libyan license plate ...


PS: 'Comments' on Libya by Brazilians who work there.

Details sent to us by Marcello, Paolo, Claudio, a very friendly Brazilian engineering team we met in Liyba. They are working under contract there, read our blog and kindly sent us this (slightly-edited) email:

Dear Peter and Thao,

We have read your blog and would like to add a few comments.

Libyans are fast drivers (much too fast), it is very common to see babies in the front seat and children driving in towns. There is a growing concern about traffic safety on the authorities' side, but this has not reached the population yet.

Near the shoreline, potable water comes from desalination plants or wells. We had the opportunity to visit one, in spite of a lot of security, with guards holding machine guns at the entrance.

Water is not charged to customers, there is no such thing as a water bill. Electricity bills do exist, but don't come regularly.

Houses are rarely painted in the outside
[true - we forgot to mention that point, just unpainted dark grey concrete plaster -Wheezy], which gives cities the looks of a construction site. Cities are not beautiful, however the city surroundings are likable.

Houses are normally big, large enough to accomodate several families, as children continue to live with their parents even after marriage. It is not hard to find houses with 7-8 bedrooms, and more than one living room. The house layout, however, is strange for western standards. Very rarely do we see en-suite facilities, such as a bedroom with a private bathroom.

Should you want to visit a house to rent it, you won't see women nor children. Before you get into the house the owner will ask them to stay in one of the house's rooms and tell them not to leave until the visitor leaves.

Libyans are friendly and always invite strangers to have a meal with them.

We were once invited to have lunch at our driver's house. Meals are served on many trays, but no cutlery is given. The only person who had lunch with us was his father. The house owner is expected to host visitors. Our friend, the driver, just brought the food and drinks. His sisters and mother had prepared an excellent and tasty lunch, but didn't show up officially. That is, we could see one of them behind the fridge glancing around the corridor, or two other wrapped up in carpets in a dark room, peeping through as we left their home.

Weddings take a 3-day celebration and are one of the few possibilities of entertainment in Libya. It is easy to spot where a wedding takes place in town because the site is identified with a large tent and many colourful lights that flash all night. The bridegroom has to give money and food to the bride's family.

Curiously enough, we met a Libyan guy who is going to marry his cousin, whereas the lady's brother would marry the first guy's sister. Their wedding will be held in August, the four of them altogether in a single party. Apart from emotional reasons, the budget will be facilitated this way.

Restaurants are divided into men's room and families' room. No man can get into the families' room unless he is accompanied by a woman.

Al Marj [map link] is the city where our team lives and works. There are five other cities being developed by the company which hired us.

Peter and Thao, that is just a sample of our experience so far. We hope to see you again in Sao Paulo or Canada.

Best regards and enjoy your trip!

Marcelo, architect and urban planner, agronomist
Paulo, civil engineer
Claudio, civil engineer and physicist

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