A vampire of the Akakus
A story over evening tea
“In the evening, the heat subsided a bit. A group of tourists were already asleep, and I was irritated by the tiny dust that hovered above the ground. I tossed and turned for a while, then I felt a kind of heaviness in my throat and I found it very difficult to breathe. I opened my eyes anxiously and saw a dark figure above me. His white eyes stared straight at me, and his unnaturally long arms pressed against my neck. He had his head high in the sky, almost among the stars.
I couldn’t move in my numbness and I was afraid he had come to me. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I would scream, but I was just catching my breath, there was no sound from my mouth. I thought it would take an eternity and that I would now be enveloped in darkness. I finally just caught my breath, snorted and raised my head. My heart was pounding wildly. I felt drops of sweat on my forehead. I took a deep breath and only regained consciousness after a while.
The next morning, a few tourists found some bones in the dry bed of the torrent. They looked human. Probably the spring downpour took with it a shallow grave higher up in the wadi. The smell of death long time ago attracted him and he wanted to unload his rage at me. It was him, a vampire from Akakus.”
Mohamed was my driver, guide and chef, all in one. I wasn’t sure if I would believe his nightmarish dreams from the indefinite past, or if it was just a tall tale that local drivers tell tourists every time. He told me the story with a great deal of confidence in the evening by the fire, as he poured sweet Berber tea over an infinite amount of time. I didn’t like the idea of black long-toothed brood crawling out of the darkness. My mind shook of the story when I finally got my hands on half a glass of sweetness, and then disrespectfully to the maker rinsed it down like some shot of liquor. When he told me it is drunk slowly, sipping, it was already over.
Tadrart (in Berber it is the feminine form for hill or mountain, the masculine is adrar) Akakus or Jebel Akakus is not a mountain in the sense as we know it in Europe. The Saharan Mountain ranges are a little different. A hundred-kilometer chain of hills made of black volcanic rock, interspersed with numerous sandy riverbeds called wadis in the Sahara, is a labyrinth of granite hills and basalt sculptures among sandy passages where a sense of direction is quickly lost. Nevertheless, the highest peak is over 1500 meters high.
This beautiful lunar landscape, whose mysteriousness is enhanced by the diffused light of a spring afternoon, stretches south of Al Aweinat and east of Ghat, the center of the district in southwestern Libya’s Fezzan province. Al Aweinat or Serdeles in Berber language, meaning small spring, was chosen as the starting point for the trip to Akakus. The entrance to the area is marked by Adad, meaning finger or thumb, a high rocky outcrop. Soon after, magical hills appear in the distance.
Akakus is on the UNESCO World Heritage List not only because of its extravagant rock formations and landscape that seems to be “out of this world”, but also because of its prehistoric cave paintings dating back 1800 to 12,000 years. The Berbers, the natives of North Africa, came to the area between Morocco and Egypt about 50,000 years ago. For those rare families who still live in the area, they have drilled a few wells from which they can supply their households.
Although inhospitable, the Akakus landscape is home to several species of birds, geckos, lizards, and other species could probably be found. The giant vulture we saw with Mohammed didn’t want to pose.
UNESCO and tourism
In the northern part, called Awiss, an Italian agency had a noble camp, walks around it were like walking in heaven, and the lookout point named “il balconico” (The Balcony) was probably offering one of the most beautiful views of the world. When Akakus landed on the UNESCO list, the Libyans decided to move the Italians out of the park, despite their strong connections.
The camp is now much further east and tourists have to drive to the heart of the mountain range with offroad vehicles We drove to the camp in the afternoon. When he saw other libyan Toyota drivers from afar, Mohamed squealed “my chapeau” and frantically started looking around the car for a hat-like military headgear in which he felt like a commando, notable and important. He later told me that his Toyota is 24 years old and that tour operators call him to transport tourists only when newer vehicles run out.
The drivers said that they were driving a Slovenian group of tourists. And I really found a group with a guide. They couldn’t help but marvel that I could travel the country by myselt, as escort of a licensed Libyan agency was mandatory. I was invited to dinner, and to some Canon camera owner, the heavens opened when he found out I had a battery charger. Surprisingly, my Nikon charger charged his Canon battery, it just had to be weighed down with a 2-pound stone.
Secrets of the dunes
Desert dunes are different, in shape as in type and color of sand. Some are short, dense, low, with wind-blown edges up to a meter, two, others again stretched, with long gentle ascents. The sand is a story in itself, fine and light in color or it is harder and darker. The plains, which are covered by more than 125 square kilometers of wind-blown dunes and contain more than 20% sand, are called “erg” in the Arab world. The word means dune field, and also terms like sea of sand, sea of dunes or blanket of sand can also be found.
Thus erg Murzuq, south of the eponymous town and east of Akakus, is known as a difficult to drive area of unfriendly loose sand. Between Murzuq and Akakus, however, is a much smaller Wan Caza dune field. The almost dark red sand is hard, the wheels don’t sink in, the long slopes of the dunes allow for a nice ride. Whereever I turned was the motif of beautiful lines formed by dunes. Looking into the distance from the top of one of them, the eye really enjoys the beauty.