31-May-2004 -- A trip from South Africa to Libya was planned by John Addison of Wild Frontiers and myself. The purpose of the visit was to investigate observation areas and to make land arrangements for a tour to observe the Total Solar Eclipse which will pass through West and North Africa on 2006 March 29. A detailed study of available maps, Landsat images and the projected path of the eclipse through Africa pointed to Libya being one of the prime observation areas, due to virtually guaranteed clear skies, and eclipse duration very close to (within 2-3 seconds of) maximum duration of 247 seconds. The eclipse track also passes close to some unvisited Confluences and what better way to combine two pastimes than to do a bit of confluence hunting in conjunction with future eclipse chasing!
We landed in Banġāziy (via Cairo) on 30 May and were met by Nasser Edeeb of Safari Tourism Services who was to be our guide for the three days, and also connected with the Libyan partner for the eclipse tour. After introductions we immediately left for the Great Sand Sea in south central Libya. From Banġāziy, first stop was Ajdābiyā on the SE end of the Gulf of Sirte. Then it was SE across the desert to Awjila and Jālū Oases, desert towns that are on the northern edge of the path of totality. This is also one of the main areas of Libya where many works on the Great Man Made River Project took place. The GMMR project has seen massive pipelines laid to bring water from the underground aquifers in the desert to the coast in the north. The eventual aim of the project is to make Libya self-sufficient in food.
Approximately 75 km south of Jālū (also spelled Gialo) Oasis in the Great Sand Sea, the centreline of the eclipse crosses the road from Jālū to al-Khufra. We successfully located this point and found that the desert in this area is extremely flat, with a hard packed crust of coarse gravel with soft sand below. The surface can just support a vehicle, but will not support a camera and lenses on a tripod for the eclipse unless extra stability precautions (such as buried bricks) are taken.
In search of better (harder soil) conditions, we followed the centreline to the south west, but after a number of kilometres we realised that conditions were the same or worse throughout the area. Fortunately, bricks and other solid materials are in plentiful supply at Jālū and Awjila, so this was not considered a problem. Camp was set up on the centreline-to-be. The next morning we ascertained that 28N 21E was within striking distance, and set off in the Landcruiser to reach the point. Fortunately, we could reach the Confluence by driving in a straight line over the desert and reached the Confluence shortly before 09h00. En-route we passed through some desert scrap yards, a crude oil pipeline and a camel that had passed his sell-by date.
Once at the Confluence, the required photographs were taken and John and Nasser were congratulated on their first successful visits. The much sought-after ten zeroes came up very quickly on the GPS (only a short confluence dance required) because of the open terrain. Essentially, the view was exactly the same in all directions - flat featureless sand, more sand and still more sand. The team posed for the usual photograph, and then decided to head back to camp, and then for 29N 22E to see if we could grab another Confluence in the area. Then it would be time to return to Banġāziy where we hoped to get to 32N 20E, to make it three in one day.
Nasser was particularly impressed by the concept of the DCP and has indicated that in his line of work as a tour guide with a deep knowledge of the Sahara, he will be contributing regular confluence reports from Libya in the future. As one of the leading tour operators in Africa, John has promised to make it easy for anyone to achieve any African Confluence they wish.
Libya is a wonderful and friendly country, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and look forward to returning in March 2006 to once again enjoy Libyan hospitality, and of course - the eclipse.