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Alluring Libya: Before you begin reading past the first two sentences – close your eyes, and what can you imagine about Libya? In fact what do you imagine about North Africa?

 

In one’s greatest imagination would you equate Libya with tourism? Would you envision Libya with lush green rolling lowland hills, valleys, and verdant croplands rising to mountains covered in tall evergreens? In our two days in Libya we did not once see the vast Sahara desert.

 

Would you expect to see multitudes of families caravanning by car, truck, and even buses out to wondrous azure coastal areas for day-long family picnics and camp-outs in this often misunderstood land still steeped in mystery? Would you expect throngs of school children waving to a tour bus? In my recent visit Libya exuded warmth with a welcoming gentle ambience.

 

Libya is “In from the cold” as the expression goes, and the doors are now open for tourism. But this alone is not a reason to go there … There are impressive historical preserves from bygone eras that you must see in this pristine, unspoiled setting before any commercialistic tourism with all its neon trappings inevitably develops.

 

Libya today is a world of wonderful smiling innocent faces, so welcoming, and I know you would love it! Libya is so new to tourism that souvenir hunters find it somewhat difficult to find any typical tourist wares and vendors for their must-do souvenir shopping! We found Libya on an outstanding cruising adventure sailing on the Silver Cloud, a luxury Silversea Cruise Line ship. The line is making a record 9 stops in Libya this season and is pleased with consumer comments and ratings.

 

 

Going to Libya: Self-drive and individual touring is not the best option for Libya at this time, however. Lodging and mechanical assistance for car issues is limited, and although highways are good, signs are not in dual languages. Plus, the Arabic alphabet is not conducive to easy interpretation. There are some land tour organizers operating, but for now I recommend the rather newly-opened cruise itineraries that stop at ports like Benghazi, Darna, and the modern capital of Tripoli.

 

The Sun deck of Silver Cloud off Africa’s warm coast. We boarded the Silver Cloud in Port Said, Egypt recently, after spending 5 nights in Cairo to view its ancient wonders. This was a sold out cruise, and the passengers were quite pleased with this relatively new tourism destination. Today’s discriminating well-traveled vacationers want new and more, and Libya fits this perfectly, offering a wide range of fresh experiences.

 

 

Cyrene: This wonderful Greek/Roman site was founded in 630 BC. It is vast, and still in the process of being excavated. Tourists can wander around today in this newly opened archeological site and may see artifacts poking from the sands or randomly scattered ornate mosaic tiles while viewing some of the best-preserved ruins anywhere.

 

The views from Cyrene of the nearby Mediterranean are magnificent, and we can easily imagine an ancient city with perhaps 100,000 inhabitants over hundreds of acres, from the lowland hills with a view to the sea. Visiting Libya by the Silversea Cruise Line schedule and itinerary is ideal, since the line is making nine stops in Libya this year and the upcoming season.

 

Cyrene was built on a series of levels, thus the spectacular ruins include the Sanctuary and Temple of Apollo, the Acropolis, the Agora, the Forum, the Stoa of Hermes and Heracles, the House of Jason Magnus, the Nine Muses and the not-to-be-missed Temple of Zeus, which looks like a more preserved Parthenon of the Acropolis in Athens.
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Leptis Magna: Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best preserved and most significant Roman cities in the world. Founded by the Phoenicians in the 10th Century BC, it survived the attention of Spartan colonists, becoming a Punic city and eventually part of the new Roman province of Africa around 23 BC. As a Roman city it prospered, boasting Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus as one of its sons and benefactors.
Leptis Magna was defeated by a Berber tribe in 523 AD. The city was abandoned and quickly reclaimed by sea winds and desert sands. Unknown and hidden until the 1920’s, it had been preserved like a time capsule. With improved political relations with Libya and now her budding tourism, you will be among the fortunate and honored to visit this little-known and sparsely visited, but immense and impressive archeological site. Rome’s Forum seems to pale in comparison to both Cyrene and Leptis Magna, and these sites compare well with Turkey’s Roman wonder, Ephesus, home of one of the original seven wonders of the world.

 

 

Trip & Travel Overview: Travel best exemplifies and showcases our commonality and gives us a world-view that reveals the ties that bind us all – that being the common threads of our humanity. Many scholars feel politics, religion, and greed and not the world of communities cause much of the world’s conflicts. We all want shelter, food, love, friendship and enough prosperity to enjoy our lives as best we can. These basic fundamentals vary little from culture to culture, and in our Middle-East adventure we found new friendships and a warm welcome.

 

Our fascinating trek was not only to the Middle East, but onward into Western Europe – starting in Egypt and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Here is how we planned the extensive exploration: We flew in a full five days early to Cairo, Egypt, before boarding Silversea’s Silver Cloud, docked three hours to the north at Port Said, Egypt.

 

We had waited a lifetime to see what television, books, and classrooms had tempted us with – King Tut at the National Museum, Pyramids and much more. We did not have time to get to southern Egypt to explore the beautiful temples of Luxor and Aswan, destinations we hope to visit someday.

 

After our arrival into Cairo, checking into the elegant Four Season’s Residence Hotel, and wearily glaring out of our window, there they were – the most wonderful sight to a history buff’s imagination. The great pyramids of Giza were ahead in the dusty glaze on the horizon; we could see them from our hotel window!

 

We were in a land that presents wonders of our world that cannot be explained even today. The construction of the pyramids is still a mystery these thousands of years later. We were in their midst and quite excited!
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We felt that private touring was the best and most practical way to visit this vast city of 23 million. With the help of the Four Season’s Concierge we had arranged a car, and a well-informed guide and driver, fluent in English, for three consecutive days. We did this by e-mail in advance of the trip.

 

For a modest $65/day we arranged for the two of up to eight hours of touring each day. This was a superb bargain. We enjoyed a history-packed and engaging touring agenda daily, tailored to our individual interests, and with the ease of door-to-door service from the Four Seasons Residence.

 

We visited the Giza pyramid plateau, and in the Mid-South the Step Pyramid of Saggara and the museum and gardens of Memphis, Egypt. Then it was down to the Bent Pyramid of Dashur and its replacement, the Red Pyramid. These early pyramids were architectural prototypes for the later Great Pyramids of Giza that stunned the world, and remain as one of the last of the Great Wonders of the World.

 

Cairo had its own special magic, from hectic though functional traffic masses to the friendly smiles along our daily outings. It was nearing the time to leave the pampering ambience of the Four Seasons Residence Hotel and take our bus north to Port Said to enjoy the epitome of cruising’s finest – Silversea’s Silver Cloud.
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The Silver Cloud: Silversea’s cruise line has long been a part of the prestige realm of six-star rated cruise lines in a world where five stars is the norm for excellence. Silver Cloud lives up to this rating by delivering world-class cuisine in three elegant dining options nightly. And the Silver Cloud team offers sterling service from every staff member, subtly and without a feeling of being over-served.

 

At maximum Silver Cloud carries 296 passengers in an all-suite environment, an intimate number for finding life-long friends, without feeling crowded or inconvenienced by waiting in lines. There is a feeling on-board of elegance without pretense, and this special chemistry prevails ship-wide to offer a welcoming at-home feeling aboard.

 

The Silver Cloud offers world-wide varied itineraries for those seeking new frontiers, as well as many well-known and loved vacation stops. Ample deck space, a pool, whirlpools, a generous workout room, and movies to borrow for your suite … the list seems endless, and near perfection. Fascinating lectures and a variety of nightly entertainment helped make our visit to the Middle East and onward to Barcelona one of those special memories of a lifetime.

 

I recall Carol and I walking about Silver Cloud’s eighth deck one evening, gazing above at the endless blackness of the heavens above winking with those diamond-like stars downward toward us. I was wondering – what ancient civilizations had come and had gone in these waters of adventure, what battles fought, what loves and passions tenderly experienced … now faded.

 

Silver Cloud was etching her own voyages into the chronicles of sailing history – she had come, visited, and now would go onward – but these silver-lined and cherished memories are ones we can take with us and we can savor whenever – and often. I know somewhere she beckons our return – on some distant sea to some yet-to-be-visited land …

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Karen Blixen (Isak Dinseen – “Out Of Africa”) describes an experience which must have been excruciatingly painful for her. Once you go into Equatorial East Africa the experience is permanently etched into your brain. I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit Tanzania and Kenya for three weeks in late 2004 and early 2005, and the experience exceeded my wildest expectations.

I had wondered why the U.S. Sate Department issued a warning to Americans not to visit Kenya. After spending three days in Nairobi the answer was clear. The U.S. Navy had asked the Kenyan Government for permission to build a large base in northeastern Kenya, and the Kenyans had rightly refused saying, “if you build a base here, the terrorists will come to Kenya like they did to Iraq.” Our Bush-led government responded by slapping a State Department warning against travel there, almost halving tourism, Kenya’s largest industry.
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East Africa is arguably the most beautiful, bio -diverse place I have ever seen.water buffalo, tanzania, kenya, africa Kenya has banned hunting countrywide, and has dedicated hundreds of thousands of acres to protecting their abundant wildlife. There are areas where animals have not been hunted since 1970, and the animals do not fear man. From our Land Cruiser, we were able to get as close as five yards to rhinos, lions and elephants, buffalo and giraffes. My group rode camels and horses which enabled us to get even closer.

We were able to visit authentic Masai and Samburo tribal villages where women were in the process of changing hundreds of years of cultural degradation by entering the business world, then using the profits to pay for school teachers, books and pencils so their children could attend school. We heard the children singing in English and Swahili and were moved by the happiness and hope we saw everywhere we went.
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We arose at six each morning, and our days ended with what the locals call “Sundowners”, a hike or drive to the top of a hill to watch the sunset over the African Plain while sipping our favorite cocktails. The sun sets in Africa are truly spectacular. The colors are vivid reds, oranges, yellows and lilacs, like a palette of impressionist
paints intertwined with the deep purple mountains all around us. After dinner we were in bed by ten, listening to the sounds of lions, leopards and hippos all around our camp as we were nodding off.
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We were taken on darting trips to save a rare Grevy Zebra, and a sick elephant in the north of Kenya. We watched as brave scientists and conservationists risked life and limb getting close enough to bull elephants to fire darts that would enable them to administer antibiotics into their thick skins. We flew, drove and trekked through the thickest bush, in the most remote places we have ever been, and were elated by the effort and the results.
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My traveling companion unfortunately broke her wrist crossing a small stream while we were searching for Jane Goodall’s chimps in Mahale, on the edge of Lake Tanganika, but our guides flew us out and got us to Nairobi where we were able to get excellent care at the Aga Kahn Hospital. We did manage to see the chimps before we left and while a broken wrist was a high price to pay, the experience was amazing. The animals walked right up to us, sat down and acted as though they wanted to talk!
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Of all our experiences the most memorable came on our next to last night. Until then theonly animal we had not seen was a leopard. I awoke at three in the morning to the sound of a saw cutting through wood, exactly the sound a leopard makes when stalking prey. At five that morning there was a loud knock on our door and a hushed voice saying, “Come quick.” Not a hundred yards away there was a leopard in a tree with a dead gazelle! I felt a mixture of unadulterated excitement mixed with a sadness only a New Yorker who had never been to Africa could experience.

We went into Africa with high expectations of seeing “The Big Five”, and left with memories of people, wildlife, landscapes and conservation efforts that will last a lifetime. There are still serious problems in the Dark Continent, not the least of which is AIDS, which has all but killed off an entire generation there. Poaching exists becausethere are people in Japan, India and the U.S. who will pay exorbitant prices for ivory and rhino horns. The Kenya Wildlife Service has orders to shoot to kill armed poachers, and this tactic is reducing the numbers of poachers there.

Three weeks was barely enough to scratch the surface and we have vowed to return when we can. We made many new friends and better understand the commitment and passion of these people. Going “Out Of Africa” was difficult, but the experience there was exhilarating.

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There he was, casually strolling down a bustling lane in one of the vibrant outdoor markets in Mauritius. I spotted him immediately. His colorful flowered shirt open almost to the waist. The massive gold jewelry around his neck. The tight, bell bottomed trousers. The slicked back, coal black hair. The ever-present dark glasses with the extra wide temples.

There was something different about him though. Sure, a lot of time has passed since he reportedly passed on, but this was something else. He had slimmed down quite a bit from the later years, but the look was there; but somehow different. Then, of course, I realized what it was. I had been so mesmerized by his sudden appearance in the alley in front of me that it was only after I photographed him (yes, I did actually get a photo of Elvis!) that it finally struck me.

What was it about Elvis that was now, after all these years, so different? He appeared to be Indian! Not his sometimes reported Cherokee heritage, but really Indian, as in India. He had very dark skin and this may be how he has managed to go unnoticed for so long on this tiny island nation of Mauritius where 52% of the population is Hindu.

Of course, it’s still hard to believe that he has gone undiscovered for lo these many years. After all, while Mauritius is not in India, the population here is still much influenced by Hollywood and Indian movies are shown in many of the local theatres. Can a nation of so many moviegoers not even notice Elvis when he walks down the street? Or is there such love and respect for the King here in Mauritius as to foster an island conspiracy to help him hide his identity from the outside world?

Whatever the answer may be, if you visit this wonderful English speaking French island half full of Hindus in the Indian Ocean you will find a tropical paradise that is thought to be the peak of an enormous sunken volcanic chain stretching from the Seychelles to Reunion. Mauritius boasts a unique marine environment surrounded by one of the largest unbroken coral reefs on the planet.

Port Louis is the capital of the country, the largest city and the main commercial and administrative center. The weather is great with an average annual temperature of 73 degrees on the coast with an average rainfall of about 40 inches. Up to 200 inches of rain inland.

Originally occupied by the Dutch (named after Maurice of Nassau, stadtholder of the Netherlands), taken over by the French and captured by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. To offset the labor problem arising from the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the planters were allowed to import indentured laborers from India, and since 1861 the population has been predominantly Indian. Mauritius was granted independence in 1968 and it is not known when Elvis immigrated to the island nation.

Good buys in Mauritius include Indian fabrics, postage stamps and spices. Local cuisine offerings to sample are Creole, European and Chinese, with the specialty usually seafood. A typical Mauritian buffet might include a Muslim biryani, Indian chicken curry, Chinese pork dish, Creole roast beef and French style vegetables. Boiled rice is served with just about everything! A favorite local beverage is lassi, a refreshing yogurt and ice-water drink or alouda, a syrupy brew of agar, milk and flavorings – available everywhere from street vendors.
The local currency is the Mauritian Rupee.

If you fly check into Delta and Air France. Several cruise lines make a stop in Mauritius – Silversea Cruises, rated best of the small ship cruise lines is a great choice.