TRIPOLI, Libya – Picture a package holiday and a destination like Libya probably doesn’t spring to mind.
But a British travel agency is offering organized tours of the country as it emerges from its civil war.
Just a few months ago, fierce battles for control dominated the heart of the Libyan capital as forces fought for control of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound.
Today, Bab al-Aziziya is the first stop on a seven-day tour with a group of five American, British and Australian travelers.
The visit is organized by the company Political Tours, which also offers trips to places like North Korea and the Balkans.
Political Tours was created by former foreign affairs correspondent Nick Wood in 2009.
“I thought if you can have history tours, art history tours, music tours, why can’t you have serious political tours, the kind of thing that gives you the same kind of access as a journalist to current affairs,” Wood said.
The group visits one of the dozens of families who have moved into Gadhafi’s former compound for free housing.
They ask about life before and after the revolution, hearing firsthand the hopes and fears of ordinary Libyans.
Despite recent warnings by the United States, the United Kingdom and other governments against non-essential travel to Libya, members of the group still decided to make the trip.
Some six months after the fall of Gadhafi, Libya remains unstable. The group travels with a low-profile security team and movements are carefully planned.
“We assessed things are OK here in Libya, but if they got a bit more unstable, we wouldn’t do it,” Wood said. “So we are not happy to go where we think there is going to be a serious risk as a westerner or as a traveler where you would be a target.”
Members of the group, like British traveler Alex Langstaff, said being in Libya at this time of transition has allowed them to live a historic event and go beyond news headlines.
“You get a perspective that is second to none. It’s not just meeting people and talking to them, there is this wandering flaneur aspect about this,” Langstaff said. “You are walking down streets, meeting people outside shops, hearing about the price of bread, hearing about family in the eastern of the country, these are things you couldn’t read about in a newspaper”.
American Jo Rawlins Gilbert, 82, has traveled to more than 70 countries since 1986, including recent trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.
She said curiosity to understand other cultures drives her even in the face of danger. For years, Libya had been on her list.
“I am of an age for how much longer can I wait,” Gilbert said. “I am financially able to do it now, I am physically able to do it now do. I am cautious about what I get into, try to be careful not to get into a situation where someone going to have to come out and endanger themselves to get me”.
For now – no one feels they’re in danger. Group has received a warm welcome by Libyans who are eager and free to tell their stories.