Freedom from motoring regulation.
Libya, a land with no trafic regulations.
We are gradually becoming a country full of opportunity to not do things. As Land Rover enthusiasts we share a sense of adventure - a desire to escape the rat race and explore. But in the UK these freedoms are being eroded away and will never return. We grumble, but the simple fact is there is not enough room on this island for all of us to enjoy the countryside without upsetting someone. We are over taxed, monitored, regulated and subjected to a mass of anti 4x4 hype on a daily basis. We are, bluntly, an oppressed group cowering under the watchful eye of Big Brother.
For some years now I have been privileged to join a group of Archaeologists working in what is traditionally regarded as an oppressed country, Libya. Over ten years I have noticed the one activity that appears unregulated is the right to drive a car. When I tell Libyan friends of the taxes we pay and the restrictions on where we can drive, they look at me as if I am describing another planet.
Our project is based in the small desert town of Germa, 600 miles south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. For fun, locals and tourists drive a route known as The Dune Lakes Circuit. A route that takes in three Oases spread out over 100 km's. What is refreshing, is that you do not have to ask permission, get a permit, or feel guilty! You just stock up on fuel and water and head off. Four of us tackled this route in January 2007. My pal Kevin White and two Archaeologists, Federica and Marta, piled into my Carawagon, checked our rations and set off.
Pulling off the road we meandered down a few tracks to the foot of the great Ubari Sand Sea. Before us was a climb where locals amuse themselves by watching tourists make a hash of this first big dune ascent. European honour was at stake here, so I opted for a fast approach in 5th, low, safe in the knowledge that I had plenty of gears to fall back on. A nifty shift down to fourth half way up, then third near the summit saw us safely over the top and onto a vast plateau of flat sand, stretching before us like a fifty lane sand highway. This was easy running for about 20 km’s, with the odd small dune outcrop.
We paused at the top of a dune and assessed the next bit. A switch back that involved traversing an adverse camber of soft sand, turning sharp right to head down the slope, then up the other side, left on the crest, to avoid a near vertical drop, then along the top of the dune before dropping back to the flat sand. The first bit I achieved, feeling the Land Rover gently slipping sideways down the dune, but my mistake came when I was not going fast enough to reach the top and ground to a standstill. Curses! We were committed to returning to the bottom and trying again. Predictably we got stuck, had to do a lot of digging and deflate the tyres to 18 psi for a bolder attempt. With a good push from the other three I made it to the top and we carried on, reaching picturesque Lake Gabrun in time for lunch and a paddle round it in our inflatable boat.
From Gabrun it’s a long haul up a gentle gradient, northwest for about 10 km’s in soft sand. This puts a great strain on the engine with the temperature soaring into the red continuously. The approach to Um el Mar is particularly dramatic. There is a small raised lip of sand with a few visible tyre tracks going over the edge, but we had been warned to look first, because on the other side is a colossal drop down to the Oasis. The trick is to maintain enough momentum to clear the ridge, but not overdo it and descend too fast. The drop down this dune is the equivalent of driving off a six storey building so it is important to get it right!
The local midge population were out in force, so we didn’t stay long and headed back on an easy piste into a setting sun. This bit was fast - firm sand and plenty of other tracks to follow, so no surprises. As the sun finally set we dropped back down the slope that had seemed so daunting at the beginning of our day and called in at the small cafe for mint tea and cakes. The perfect end to a day in the desert. No critics, no speed cameras, no damage and no ill feelings from locals. Most refreshing!
Full details of this route are in Chris Scott’s Sahara Overland guide book.