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Libya: Getting Warmer

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 28, 2006

Q. With America's renewed relations with Libya, what tips or guidelines do you have for travel there?

Ashleigh Wells, Chapel Hill, N.C.

A. The United States and Libya have been getting friendlier, especially after the Bush administration removed the North African country from the state-sponsored-terror list and lifted the ban on American travel there. But just because relations are warmer doesn't mean you can catch the first flight to Tripoli. "You can't get a visa in the United States," says Mary Dell Lucas, owner of California-based Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Trips (800-552-4575, http://www.farhorizon.com/ ), which is offering a September trip to Libya. "The diplomacy is not normalized enough; you must go through Canada and be 'invited' by some group or entity in Libya."

Since Libya does not have a diplomatic office in the States, Americans must apply for a visa through the Libyan Peoples Bureau in Canada (613-230-0919). Alex Thomas, corporate manager of Travel Document Systems (800-874-5100, http://www.traveldocs.com/ ), which helps travelers obtain foreign documents, says that while some of the paperwork can be completed by mail, occasionally he has to send a client to Ottawa. He also adds, "For individuals, it is very hard. Tour companies are the only ones getting visas, and not even all of them. If you or I were to apply for a visa, it would take a long time." The visa costs $100, and TDS charges a $45 service fee on top of that.

If your visa does go through, Lucas does not recommend going solo. "Libya is not set up for a person to go alone," she says. The main obstacles are Arabic-only signs, substandard hotels and unqualified tour guides, due to the nascent tourist industry. "It is a really new tourist destination and has all of the pitfalls of all newly opened areas of the world," she says. "You really need to go with a reputable company and have a really flexible attitude." For additonal advisories and visa information, check the U.S. State Department's Consular Information Sheet on Libya ( http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_951.html ).

Whether you go with an organized group or on a customized tour, make sure the itinerary includes the five UNESCO World Heritage sites, Tripoli's old city, and the Byzantine mosaics at Qasr Libya.

My grandchildren are going on a cruise with their parents. How can I stay in touch?

Evelyn Hamilton, Silver Spring

Back before satellite phones and WiFi, the only forms of communication between cruisers and landlubbers were ship-to-shore telephones and the postcard. Nowadays you can stay in touch with the press of a "send" button. "In general, most cruise lines have Internet centers and WiFi access," says Brian Major, director of public relations for the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group that represents the major lines. "Some ships even have cellphone and PDA access."

The cruise lines' communication capabilities differ, but Major says most lines have computer centers with Internet service as well as WiFi access for those with personal computers. In addition, some ships even rent laptops. All of these services cost extra. For example, Carnival charges a one-time Internet activation fee of $3.95, plus 75 cents a minute, or $55 for 100 minutes or $100 for 250 minutes. The line also rents PCs for $35 a day and WiFi cards for $10 a day (prices do not include Internet charges).

For cellphones, some ships have at-sea service that allows cruisers to use their phones when no land is in sight. Passengers must sign up for the plan (check at the customer service desk), which costs extra. When at port, your grandchildren can use a phone card or international cellphone plan to call the States. Be careful, though: If they don't have an international plan, they could be charged exorbitant fees.

We'll be in the Santa Fe area during the June summer solstice. Are any pueblos hosting dance ceremonies at this time?

JoAnne Sulak, Leesburg

On June 21, the Northern Hemisphere celebrates summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the kickoff of summer. While none of the eight pueblos in the Santa Fe region will be hosting dance ceremonies for the solstice, they will be dancing -- for other reasons. On June 13, four pueblos (Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Tesuque and Picuris) will celebrate Saint Anthony's Feast Day with dancing, food and music. And on June 24, the Ohkay Owingeh and Taos pueblos will perform corn dances. For info: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 505-843-7270, http://www.indianpueblo.org/ ; or Eight Northern Pueblos, 505-747-1593, http://www.eightnorthernpueblos.com/ .

For a summer solstice activity, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Labyrinth Resource Group are holding a meditative walk of the Milner Plaza Labyrinth on June 18 (they organize four a year). The event will include West African music and time to contemplate life. Info: Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-777-2489, http://www.santafe.org/ .

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include name and town.

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