To Europe or Die Trying
Panorama have returned to West Africa to once again pick up the trail of migrants who are willing to risk everything for the chance of a new life in Europe.
Following on from my work in Destination Europe in September 2007 and Destination UK in January 2008, I have kept a travel log of the team's experiences.
Over the weeks leading up to our programme, Europe or Die Trying - scheduled for Monday, 14 September on BBC One - and beyond, I will continue to blog about everything from the palpable emotion of a cave that was once used to process slaves being shipped to America, to the delicate negotiations of dangerous border crossings, to a treacherous trip through the barren Sahara that claims the lives of desperate migrants on a near-daily basis.
Half the luggage didn't arrive. In a word - horror. No tripod, lights, microphones. So we can't do anything.
Filming permits for Libya are not easy get, so you don't want to spend the first day becalmed in a hotel.
All the buildings in Tripoli are being repainted cream and green in preparation for the Revolution Celebrations. It is 40 years since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi led the military coup. His new portrait hangs from state buildings, hotel foyers, even the crumbling antiques shops in the Medina.
Our fixer - the man on the ground who helps to organise our visit - tells me various titles for the Colonel which I had been unaware of: "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiraya", "The lone Eagle", and my favourite "The architect of the great manmade river".
Early next morning we return to the airport, and thankfully the filming equipment has arrived. We are off to a place very few westerners have been. In fact, the British Embassy tells me we are the first Brits to see it in at least a decade.
We catch a flight to Ghat, an ancient desert town in the Sahara. The views are Martian. The "sea of sand" drifts to the curve of the earth. Rocky cliffs like the Grand Canyon, then lifeless plains and more sand. Surreal formations: wind-worn rocks stacked like giant skittles.
Ghat airport is busier than expected. There are men in brightly coloured desert turbans,
Tuareg tribesmen in indigo gowns, women covered from head to toe.
Our welcome party comprises a number of high ranking military officers in desert camouflage, a couple of police drivers, and some Libyan secret service (who turned out to be a lot more personable than their title might suggest). We're off, in cavalcade, along a tarmac road that's hammered by such fierce sun I can't believe it's not runny.
Filming starts tomorrow, along the spectacular border area. We'll be looking for migrants heading across the desert, towards the Mediterranean where they'll board boats for Europe. They have to cross the Sahara somewhere, and this is the most likely place.
In the evening, there's nothing to do but check water bottles, tents, factor 50 suncream and medical supplies. I try to re-read Heart of Darkness but the air-con is thundering away, so go for a jog around town instead, past some 16th century clay houses.
The sun is so low in the sky, even the stones throw long shadows. People peer out of their homes at the mad white man. A police car drives by and gives me a concerned honk.
We are about to embark on a journey to catch up with migrants risking their last breath for the chance of a life in Europe.