Saturday, March 26, 2011

Libya:2003; my story

On April 8, 2003, during the first days of the war in Iraq, Ira and I, as passengers on Swan Hellenic's Minerva2, visited Tripoli, Libya. We had enjoyed our previous day's visit to Benghazi and the amazing site of Cyrene. Our Tripoli based tours included touring Sabratha, the Spanish Fort (see bottom photo) and a marvelous museum that had the most wonderful, intricate mosaic floors from various antiquities sites. We didn't go to the huge site of Leptis Magna due to lack of time, but hoped to return on another voyage for that great experience. As we rode through the city, we noted that we saw no women on the streets, in the shops; in fact, we saw few people and unlike other places we visited, those few neither looked up as we passed, nor waved. There were huge and varied pictures of Khadaffi everywhere. There was only one taciturn vendor at the beautiful, huge Sabratha site. I haven't heard anything from the media re the many sites of antiquity; whether they're being protected, etc...The ones near Tripoli were distant from the city, but from Sabratha, near Benghazi, we could see the sea...I hope Cyrene survives this civil war intact; that its not in the path of any fighting.
When our ship came into Libyan waters, all bars on board were required to be shuttered though wine was available in the dining room. As we were ready to depart from Tripoli, our 2nd Libyan port, there was a very long delay. When the ship finally left, our captain announced that the ship's stated port taxes had been tripled by the harbormaster; that if the exorbitant amt. wasn't paid, his passport would be taken, the ship searched and if any alcohol was found on board, the ship would be impounded. Of course it was paid, albeit under protest. This British ship was scheduled to make several visits to Libya, and I thought that those ports would in the future be bypassed, but various maneuvers behind the scenes satisfied the shipping company and Libyan officials, and no changes occurred. The next year however, the US and Libya were at odds and US passports were no longer acceptable at Libyan ports. I still hope to visit Leptis Magna.

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