Libya has a long way to go

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Rex FritschiI read Arnie Weissmanns story about the Libya fam he accompanied [Take notice: Cruises ideal way to see Libya, Dec. 7] with a smile on my face. His account matches my impressions of the region.

Indeed, the people I met were wonderful, sincerely bidding us welcome, especially when told we were from the U.S.

But seeing Libya only on a cruise provides a glimpse at only one side of the coin. I was with a group handled by Bestway, which, considering the many obstacles we encountered, did an excellent job. The obstacles? Lets begin with the properties.

By and large, the hotels are in a state of decay -- they remind me of hotels in Russia in the 1950s. Apparently nobody gives a damn about fixing them. Electrical outlets hang from the walls by their wires, elevators dont work and sink stoppers and toilet-paper spindles are missing everywhere.

The one hotel pool I saw was filled with a pale-blue, milky liquid. Floors and windows, even in so-called four-star hotels, remained unwashed.

Exceptions are the expensive, business-oriented Corinthia Bab Africa in Tripoli and the Apollonia in Apollonia (the Uzo in Benghazi is not too bad).

The Kabir in Tripoli has an excellent location but is tacky and worn, needing a complete makeover. Hotels in Tobruk and El Beyda are dumps to be avoided.

Internet cafes are around, but when open they are jammed with kids looking at porn. If you finally get to a machine, the e-mail invariably does not get through to the U.S. I never was able to send an e-mail.

Above all, my gripe -- and it increasingly wore on me as the trip progressed -- was the garbage piled up in the cities, even strewn across the desert, ruins and beaches. Sitting in a tea shop would be relaxing if not for the piled-up garbage (although it sure didnt seem to bother the locals). Each city and village, it appears, drives the garbage out of town and tosses it on the highway shoulders -- a sight you would not believe.

Equally disconcerting is that most hotels and local airlines are controlled by the government. Without notice, you can be bounced out of your confirmed and prepaid hotel room or airplane seat. My 12-day program experienced sudden changes three times -- with no notice, my group was switched from one hotel to another.

Libya has great potential. But, if it wants to compete with neighbors Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, it has to get its act together by fixing its tourism infrastructure and, above all, cleaning up the garbage.

Rex Fritschi, a travel veteran of more than 50 years, recently launched an upscale leisure travel consultancy: www.rexclass.com. He also is associated with Rex Travel in Chicago. E-mail Fritschi at [email protected].

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