Troglodyte - it's a lovely word that brings to mind a very primitive way of life. It trips off the tongue very nicely, filling your mouth with a sense that this is a word to be respected. But when push comes to shove, for all the beauty and intrigue of the word and all the thoughts of past times, it's just a fancy word for someone who lives underground or in a cave. When I read the itinerary for our week long tour of Libya I was still quite excited about the idea of staying in a 'Troglodyte Lodge'. I've been to Cappadocia in Turkey, probably one of the most impressive places for seeing troglodyte dwellings and cave churches and other buildings carved out of the rock so my expectations were based on what I'd seen there. The reality of the Libyan troglodyte experience was a bit of a disappointment.
We spent most of the afternoon driving inland from Tripoli stopping only to see the granary at Qasr al Haj. I don't entirely know where we were since the trip itinerary is very vague on the location but by checking the internet for photos of a troglodyte lodge which appears to be the same one we stayed at, I suspect it was somewhere near to Rayehbet.
Our bus pulled up in a small village at the end of the afternoon. There was nothing immediately visible that suggested we'd reached our destination. A large modern house was built on the roadside and we were told that this was where the family who owned the lodge now lived. Clearly they'd given up living underground in favour of running a nice little B&B business for foreigners who want to sleep in a novelty setting. I'm not going to pretend I was expecting our troglodyte hosts to be running around in animal skins with bones through their noses but it did seem to be rather more commercialised and 'theme park' than I had expected. Our tour leader led us into the accommodation area. With a party of 18 we didn't have quite enough rooms to go round so the single ladies all shared a room together, and the single gents took another. We were led through the rock room 'complex' with our tour leader pointing out the doors, suggesting which rooms were best for the people sharing, and then showing us the communal areas. Everything was lighter than I expected and even though the rooms themselves were below ground level, there were large open spaces that let the light flood down.
My husband grabbed our bag and headed through the first door that he saw, accidentally and unknowingly grabbing what was probably the largest of the rooms. To be fair, space isn't a big benefit but I was glad we'd got one of the rooms with its own door since some of the rooms were paired up with only curtains separating their entrances. I was suffering from a very unpleasant cold and knew that I'd spend most of the night coughing my lungs up and if we'd been in one of those rooms I'd have kept everyone awake.
Inside our room the facilities were very basic. Two single beds had been cut from the rock, one on either side of the room with a small wall-mounted light between them. Each of the beds had a mattress, sheets, and a blanket but there was a thick rug folded at the foot of each which we could tell was going to be very much needed. The floor was decorated with a striped rag-rug and that was all there was in the room. Worryingly - especially in the middle of the night - there was a large step down from the sleeping area to the door so we both kept head torches to hand in case we needed to get up in the night.
The bathroom block had been built into the back of the owners' new house with one side for the men and the other for the women. The facilities were ok with two toilets, two showers and a large sink area. I didn't have a shower because I feared freezing on the way back to the room but there was plenty of hot water for washing.
There's not an awful lot to do at the lodge apart from sitting around and chatting. Our tour leader suggested to use some of the time before dinner by visiting a local 'museum' - a place he considered to be one of a kind and really very special. With nothing else available in terms of entertainment we all agreed to join him and headed off to walk the short distance towards a large house. The owner and two of his daughters were waiting for us. Our tour leader explained that this was a private museum and he knew only a couple of other such places in the whole of Libya. He felt it was important to support such an initiative by bringing us to see the place.
We all traipsed in and found a place that reminded me of my grandfather's garage; a couple of rooms filled with random objects that the owner had found or bought. When I was a child it was typical for children to decide to 'collect' things. Sometimes these were things of value - like stamps or coins - often they were things collected for the sake of having a collection, like the picture cards from cigarette packs of packs of tea. Others collected random objects and the owner of this 'museum' was probably the kind of kid who said to his friends "I'm going to collect key………….and locks………..and boxes………..and bags………….and animal skeletons…………..and rocks…………and every other daft thing that a sensible human being really wouldn’t bother with.
I struggled and I tried really hard to fake interest in this little museum. I went round two or three times to try to make it look like I was really interested in shoe lasts and woodworking tools and keys and old jerry cans and snake skins and half-broken old saddles and even random bits of rock but inside my quiet inner voice was screaming "You're having a laugh mate, this isn't a museum, it's your garage filled with old junk". I sought the glory in amongst the junk - "Look at these nice old pots" I said to my husband who snorted through his nose in surprise. There was nothing more for it, we had to get out and swallowing down our sniggers we burst out into the evening air.
We headed back to the lodge to wait for dinner which was - according to my diary - "a bit bleurgh". Slightly stale bread with very garlicky dip followed by vegetable soup and stuffed green peppers. The meat eaters tucked into a dish of rice with lamb whilst we non meat-eaters got rice with……almonds. There was nothing sweet to follow except for glasses of the worst tea I've ever tasted. We all dragged the meal out as long as we could but it was cold and there wasn't anything to do once the meal was over other than to go back, build up the layers of clothes, rugs and blankets on the bed and go to sleep. It was a cold night but we were surprisingly cosy in our little cave room though I coughed most of the night and slept very badly. Breakfast the next day was poor with just slightly old croissants served with honey or cheese spread.
If you are looking for a 'sleeping in a cave' experience, I don't think this will really satisfy most people. I'd definitely advise to book into one of Cappadocia's 'rock hotels' instead.