Sunday, 5 September 2010

Lonely Planet Libya - friend or foe?

While I'm still in holiday mode, I have been flicking through some travel books including the Lonely Planet guide to Libya.

Those who know me know that I am not a particular fan of the Lonely Planet series. The books revolutionised guide books in the 1980s with a more critical eye and broader perspective than the older glossy books. But I think they have been overtaken by others (more on this later).

I am obviously most keen on seeing what the Libyan guide has to say on birds and on environmental matters. After much searching I found a couple of paragraphs on birds on page 63. 

"Libya is on the migratory route of many species of bird although most sightings are restricted to the coast. Birds that you may come across include the Lanner falcon, desert sparrow, Egyptian vultures (in Cyrenaica), shrikes, larks, crows, turtle doves and bulbul. The Houbara bustard is a particular favourite of Libyan and foreign hunters and is now considered highly endangered. We've seen in both the Hamada al-Hamra (see p177) and Al-Haruj al-Aswad ( p185). 

Further south you may come across the occasional migratory bird species blown into the desert, while the sociable moula moula, bird with a black body and striking white face and tail is a constant companion in the south; the Toureg call it the messenger bird or deliverer of happiness."

The bit about seeing Houbara bustard at Haruj really excited me but sadly there are serious inaccuracies in the rest of the text and its not going to encourage birders to come to Libya!

I am not going to pick the paragraphs apart line by line but here are three sample inaccuracies. There are no crows and no bulbuls in Libya. And the moula moula bird (white-crowned wheatear) does not have a white face never mind a striking white one! - the clue is in its English name.

In a simple make-over of the text one could replace "crows" with "ravens", "bulbuls" with "babblers" and "white face" with "white crown". But since I believe strongly in the wonder of Libyan birds I want a guide book that says a bit more. How about something more on the 750 million birds which cross the Libyan sahara in spring and autumn as well as the thousands of water birds (flamingoes, cranes included) which winter in northern lagoons.

Libya's tourism future is probably relatively less reliant on budget backpackers than many countries and certainly not on the boozy, mass market.  It certainly wants and needs more culture tourism. 

The profile of culture tourists is similar to eco-tourists. Some guides have noticed this connection.  I am now a moderate fan of Bradt guides. Both their guides of Mali and of Ethiopia have 4 or 5 pages on birds and where to find them. It's a shame that their only guide which partially covers Libya called "North Africa: the Roman coast" sticks to ruins.

I'm still waiting for the ultimate Libyan travel guide!


  1. You might have to write it yourself. One of the problems with writing about Libya these days is that it's changing so quickly.

  2. Nice idea khadija but I've got my hands full writing this blog, keeping notes for a possible bird book and teaching English! There aren't enough days in the week to write a travel guide as well.