October 11, 2004

To the Shores of Tripoli

I finally got my visa. I’m going to Libya at the end of next month.

While you are at home eating Thanksgiving turkey, I will be here eating couscous and being led around by one of Ghaddafi's official government babysitters:

Libya_lakes2.jpg

tripoli_river.jpg

tripoli2.jpg

apollonia.jpg

ghadames1.jpg

ghadames2.jpg

ghadames3.jpg

ghadames_store.jpg

(Photos from Michael Palin, Africatravelling.net, Komm.at, Safari Tourism Services, and Rediscover.co.uk.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 11, 2004 08:21 PM
Comments

Wow, that's great. I'm glad you're able to go. And what beautiful photos.

Posted by: Maggie at October 11, 2004 08:41 PM

Thats very Michael, please use know if the people of Lybia are ready for a change in leadership. Have a good time and bring back some of your very fine photos.

Derek

Posted by: Derek at October 11, 2004 08:47 PM

Great news.Hope you have a super trip.

Posted by: dougf at October 11, 2004 08:52 PM

Yes Michael, have a great time. I can't wait to see the photos you bring home. Couscous...God, I will be thinking of that!

Posted by: Cathy at October 11, 2004 08:52 PM

Have a ball, be safe, bring back tales and photos!

Posted by: spc67 at October 11, 2004 11:30 PM

Yep, you're gonna have the time of your life. My girlfriend (in Egypt) just got back from a week's vacation whirlwind tour of Jordan. Some of the ancient Middle-Eastern sites over there (Petra, for instance) are breathtaking. Enjoy yourself. Take alot of pictures.

And if you decide to try and buy an arabic newspaper to take home as a souvenir while you're there, try to avoid accidentally buying a Hamas one. My girlfriend made that mistake in Jordan and the locals were completely baffled by it, some of them a little pissed off. Just a word of warning.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 12, 2004 04:16 AM

“Yes Michael, have a great time. I can't wait to see the photos you bring home. Couscous...God, I will be thinking of that!”

In many ways, it is very regrettable that Michael Totten will be able to take some “great” photos. The reality is that Libyans will be be much better off when there are a McDonald restaurant and a Starbuck coffee shop on every corner. American tourists may enjoy seeing these people enduring a lifestyle reminding us of the 15th Century---but they most assuredly want to be more like us!

Posted by: David Thomson at October 12, 2004 05:35 AM

Awesome Michael!

Have fun, be careful. Should be an amazing and interesting trip.

Looking forward to your reportage.

Perhaps, if you're lucky, you can wriggle a "human rights prize" from the good Colonel.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at October 12, 2004 07:05 AM

Congratulations! How long does it take for visa?I guess you have to be very patient.

Libyans will be be much better off when there are a McDonald restaurant and a Starbuck coffee shop on every corner

The Libyans and the rest of the would be better off if they put a couscous and hummus place on every corner. I'll take baba ganouj and dolmades over McDonalds any day.

Posted by: mary at October 12, 2004 07:38 AM

Whoo Hoo! More travel writing and pictures!

Posted by: Eric Blair at October 12, 2004 07:45 AM

I'm sure it will be an adventurous trip. I thought your accounts and pictures from Tunisia were fascinating. Great stuff. Similarly, if you have a chance to speak with locals (hopefully minus the gov't minder) about their impressions of Americans, their ideas about the future of their country, especially since sanctions are being lifted, etc., it would be interesting.

Posted by: CP at October 12, 2004 08:19 AM

Ah, jealousy, rearing its ugly head again. Maybe one day I'll be able to fulfill a dream of motorcycling around the Med.

I look forward to the photos.

Posted by: crionna at October 12, 2004 08:54 AM

Mary: Congratulations! How long does it take for visa?

It took me six months. It was a hassle.

But now I know how to do it. I made many mistakes because no one I knew had ever been to Libya who could advise me.

They also streamlined part of the process in the past couple of weeks because (I think) they realized that if they want tourist money they can't have a Soviet-style bureaucracy standing in the way.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 12, 2004 09:11 AM

Hey - don't forget to bring back some Ghadaffi wristwatches for all your loyal readers! You can auction them off for a Spirit of America donation, or something. That would be ironic.

Posted by: Independent George at October 12, 2004 12:05 PM

It would be cool if you visited the ex-pat area of Benghazi and took pictures of my ancestral homeland, but I don't know if the house is still there or how to describe it.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at October 12, 2004 12:09 PM

George,

I'll buy some Ghaddafi watches. You bet I will.

Richard,

I won't be going to Benghazi. I'm going to Tripoli (obviously), Leptis Magna, Sabratha, Nalut, and Ghadames and the surrounding Sahara.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 12, 2004 12:15 PM

Michael---you are too blessed--this and being added to Hitchens web site all in the same week. Very nice. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Barre at October 12, 2004 12:31 PM

hey Mike, looking forward to more travel writing.

If you happen to see any captured US flagships, be a dear and set em on fire for us wouldya?

Posted by: Adam Yuret at October 12, 2004 01:21 PM

Good luck in my country Michael, you are welcome :)..I look forward to reading about your perspective on Libya.

A note to the person who spoke about buying a newspaper , we do not have Hamas propaganda papers in Libya !

In my experience foreign visitors/tourists do not need a 'minder' unless the person is there for 'another' purpose ?

Write to me if I can be of any help Michael and I'm definetely sure you will enjoy our couscous, and if you are lucky other dishes as well.

Posted by: Highlander at October 12, 2004 03:50 PM

Michael : you can buy the watches from the Tripoli old souk , in the goldmarket section , there are many famous names on display.

Richard Bennet : you are originally from Libya?

to the person who wrote about Starbucks and Mcdonalds , I surely hope we do not get those for a long time, what's wrong with our own food outlets ;) ...it's not like every Libyan is dying for a Mc Donald you know..But when in Tripoli Michael will probably notice the profusion of small local fast food outlets and with our own style of 'western' sandwiches , but also falafel shawarma, pizza places, hummus and much more...

I recommend that if you can there is a famous tiny restaurant in the souk, about 8-10 sitting places where you can enjoy local food cooked in the original way and served in local dishes..I was there this summer it's in one of the side alleys and it's speciality is fish!!!

Posted by: Highlander at October 12, 2004 04:06 PM

I lived in Libya when I was a little kid, highlander, but I'm not from there. My little brother was born there, so he's a genuine white-skinned African-American.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at October 12, 2004 06:24 PM

Those are fabulous photos! Looking forward to your travel shots.

Posted by: almost irrepairably alienated voter at October 12, 2004 11:03 PM

Hey, when you're there ask somebody where Presley O'Bannon stayed when he visited in 1805...er, maybe not.

Seriously, though - safe journey to you (both?). I look forward to the writeup and pictures, as always.

Posted by: TmjUtah at October 12, 2004 11:16 PM

MICHAEL...

Here's a question I'd love to know the answer to. Just out of curiousity, how much will this trip cost? What was the plane ticket (or tickets more likely) total? I'd love to know the roundabout final total or what you're expecting it to be. More Americans ought to be flying out and taking trips like these.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 12, 2004 11:52 PM

PS...

And I would soooo buy one of those watches, as well. I'm serious, man. Buy a bunch. I'll buy one off of you.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 12, 2004 11:56 PM

PS AGAIN...

Check out this site:

The Libya Travel Guide
www.virtualtourist.com/vt/e6b/

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 13, 2004 12:07 AM

Grant,

2,500 dollars total for eight days. Includes round-trip plane ticket on Lufthansa, 1st class hotel (with bugged room), all meals, ground transportation in-country, and private English-speaking guide/minder.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 13, 2004 12:22 AM

Grant,

That price is per person. (Yes, my wife is going with me.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 13, 2004 12:22 AM

"I recommend that if you can there is a famous tiny restaurant in the souk, about 8-10 sitting places where you can enjoy local food cooked in the original way and served in local dishes."

My guess is that the restaurant owner wishes they had a modern day stove. Would you like to cook your own meals "in the original way?" By the way, what does that mean anyway? Are you talking about how the cave people cooked their food over an open camp fire? Are you referring to the cooking styles of the 13th century, 14th, 15th?

Posted by: David Thomson at October 13, 2004 12:51 AM

"1st Class Hotel (with bugged room)"...

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this country, though? Seriously. And to think the Patriot Act keeps alot of us up at night. It should. But a little perspective goes a long way, sometimes. Yep. We're lucky sons-of-bitches to of been born here, I think.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 13, 2004 01:01 AM

"Would you like to cook your own meals "in the original way?" By the way, what does that mean anyway? Are you talking about how the cave people cooked their food over an open camp fire? Are you referring to the cooking styles of the 13th century, 14th, 15th? "

Dear David Thornton,

Thank you for pointing out the grammar/syntax disrepancy re. the 'original way' expression, after all English is only my second language. What I meant was the original/traditional method of cooking, spicing, serving ( maybe similar to original cornflakes taste for you and newer flavours more recently - does that clarify a bit?). So of course the restaurant does have ovens and cookers, but you might like to try meals cooked on coal/wood or sand as prepared by my very recent cavemen dwellers ancestors, the gastronomic taste may pleasantly surprise you would I ad.

Posted by: Highlander at October 13, 2004 04:59 AM

“So of course the restaurant does have ovens and cookers, but you might like to try meals cooked on coal/wood...”

In many respects, I am being a bit nitpicky. My central point is that it’s foolish to believe that the indigenous people of the Third World enjoy their poverty stricken existence. No, they wish to live more like us. I want Michael Totten to take some great photos---but not at their expense!

Posted by: David Thomson at October 13, 2004 07:01 AM

Talking food this early in the day drives me crazy. I'm doing a low-carb thing for a while.

Btw, Highlander or anyone else what is a guide/minder?

Posted by: bob at October 13, 2004 07:39 AM

“Btw, Highlander or anyone else what is a guide/minder?”

The Libyan government is almost certainly going to assign someone within their intelligence service to “guide” Michael and his wife. This is common practice in authoritarian and totalitarian societies. To be blunt, this person will be spying on them.

Posted by: David Thomson at October 13, 2004 09:07 AM

BTW, Palin's site is great! I wish someone would pay me to travel around. And I thought the Bay Area Backroads guy had the best job in the world. Palin rocks!

Posted by: crionna at October 13, 2004 10:13 AM

I don't know where this notion of guide/ minder came from ( maybe from the Cold War era Russian films?), but if you are a tourist in Libya ( I assume that is what Michael is or are you on official business there?) no one is going to spy on you... However, if you don't know Arabic and you have booked a guided tour from YOUR own country, then of course someone will be meeting you at the airport to act as your host presumably as you may get lost - Libya is virgin country , hardly any maps of streets are available ( unless you have downloaded stuff CIA websites ;) ). Though you will find that many indigenous people do speak rudimentary English. I hope that Michael would have the pleasure to find out that Libyans do posses ovens and cookers and other 'modern' things, maybe David Thornton has us mistaken with some Hollywood mis-representation of 'Thirld World' countries. I hate being nitpicky too, but on my recent trip to the UK I was met at the airport by a agent from the establishment I was visiting, do you think he was a guide/minder or more logically just a courtesy of this particular establishment to make my stay in the UK more enjoyable ?

Posted by: Highlander at October 13, 2004 10:16 AM

Highlander,

In order to get a tourist visa for Libya I had to make arrangements with a tourism agency inside Libya to invite me and guide me. The only tourism agency that promptly returned my emails partners with the Libyan government. That's why I joined the words "guide" and "minder."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 13, 2004 11:45 AM

Michael,
Thank you for your reply, that makes it clearer hopefully to all that there are no minders in Libya. I just did not like the implication of that world and how everybody kept spinning it off on the comment section. So what you have hired is a GUIDE or tourist guide, and not some sinister character. You will definetely need him/her if you also plan to visit the Libyan desert and the other interesting places and ruins, you just won't know how to do this on your own ( even I wouldn't ) and I'm indigenous to the country. So I wish you a great trip. I hope I can be back by the end of the month, as I would have loved to meet you and invite you over to my home for a Libyan meal, but so far I'm still stuck here in England :) and missing our wonderful food

Posted by: Highlander at October 14, 2004 04:37 PM

Thanks, Highlander. I can't wait to go. :)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 14, 2004 10:13 PM
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