Kate Grace Thomas is a writer that lived and worked in West Africa for five years, and who contributes to the Lonely Planet travel guide series. Thomas was working on the third edition of the tourist's guide to Libya when the revolution broke through this spring. In the new issue of Guernica, she tells of how her role as a storyteller in Libya took a striking turn.
The Libya guide wasn’t Lonely Planet’s most lucrative title, but for the last three editions it’s been a standalone book, with nearly 300 pages of reviews, recommendations, and information on ancient sites and desert safaris.
The guidebook I researched last winter was never published, put on hold when the Arab Spring surged into Libya that February. I was writing a guidebook to a country that no longer exists; a country where busloads of Italian tourists gathered around hotel buffets; where billboards advertised the Qaddafi brand—forty-one years, they sang, the leader’s face peering down at the cars on the highways like that of a god who thought he created them. The guidebook I researched was a guidebook to the past.
War is not my beat. I knew that. But Libya, somehow, was. I went in December to tell its stories—stories of nascent tourism and marvelous ruins, stories of deserted beaches and drinking sugary tea in the winter wind. And now, there were more stories to tell.
Thomas' looseform remembering of what stories she moved among this year is a different kind of guidebook. But if you, like me, are the curious sort, here is the most current rendition of Lonely Planet's introduction of Libya to tourists:
Libya is a crossroads of history, continents and ancient empires. Home to the Mediterranean’s richest store of Roman and Greek cities – Sabratha, Cyrene and, above all, Leptis Magna – each of which is overlaid by remnants of Byzantine splendour, it’s a place where history comes alive through the extraordinary monuments on its shores. Every corner of cosmopolitan Tripoli resonates with a different period of history. It’s where the Sahara meets the Mediterranean.
Libya is also home to Africa’s most exceptional and accessible desert scenery. The Sahara engulfs over 90% of the country, offering up vast sand seas the size of small European countries. Visit the enchanting oasis towns of Ghadames and Ghat, where the caravans once showcased the riches of Africa. Marvel at palm-fringed lakes surrounded by sand dunes in the desert’s heart. Be bewitched by extinct volcanoes, such as Waw al-Namus, where black sand encircles multicoloured lakes. Go deeper into the desert and experience Jebel Acacus, one of the world’s finest open-air galleries of prehistoric rock art.