Tony Wheeler Zooms the Dunes of Libya

I’ve had Tony Wheeler’s new book “Bad Lands,” by my bedside table, I read the section on his trip to Libya. In the book the author visits as many vilified places as he can, including North Korea, Albania, Iraq and Iran among others.

A few stories Wheeler relates that he learned from his tour guides gave insight into what the Libya is like today. Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, is an articulate writer who uses funny phrases but manages to convey the essence of the place. He recounts a story told to him by a friend who worked in Libya’s oil business in the 1970s.

There were two flights that left Tripoli for Rome….one empty and one completely full. The first was flown by Libyan Arab Airlines, and the latter by Alitalia. Everyone on the Alitalia flight would be clamoring for a drink and the moment the door was shut the flight attendants would be racing down the aisle handing out drinks before the plane reached the runway.

Wheeler goes out into the desert, his Toureg guides zoom their Land Rover up the steep sand dunes and park at the highest peak, offering views of the deep blue lakes visible in the horizon. ‘A dragon’s backbone of dunes, regular as a sine wave, ripples away to the southeast.”

One sad thing Wheeler relates about Libya is that everywhere he goes there is litter and garbage by the side of the roads. In fact approaching towns in the desert are marked by the build-up of debris on the roadside. When a guide notices a piece of the Leptis Magna, the country’s best Roman ruins, has been stolen, he sinks into a funk. Dozens of similar pieces now reside at the chateau of Versailles and other French landmarks–stolen back in the 17th century.