Thurs 20 Mar 08
Jerba - Tripoli, Libya
I've had a 'bad toilet' day with some serious smells of urine reeking from holes in the floor. I don't recommend visiting a toilet at a border!
The drive to the Tunisian border went well with us arriving at 12pm along with the craziest of Tunisian drivers. There were 6 rows of cars for a 3 lane crossing through border control. As we were patiently waiting, queue jumpers suddenly whizzed passed us and soon there was a 'queue jumper lane' too! The drivers push their luck and whoever hesitates first is the looser. Luckily we escaped Tunisia without a bang but Andy and Noeleen weren't so lucky with a car scraping the side them. More damage done to the car than them luckily.
We suspected problems at the border and that there were, when we showed our visa that had expired on the 13/3/08. The border police had heard nothing of the rule of paying 10TD per week we overstayed our visa so they sent us aside to wait while they investigated in African time. They had to get a fax from Tunis confirming our story and after about 3 hours of waiting we eventually discovered that the problem now was that they only had a 1TD stamp and we had paid 10 TD for which there was no stamp. After much to'ing and fro'ing Bruce finally suggested they just stamp our passports 10 times. The chief policeman then returned 5min later with 10 stamps as Bruce had mentioned. Africa really needs a bit of lateral thinking at times.
Our wait was pretty entertaining though as we witnessed some seriously dodgy characters getting their cars searched. Their beaten up rusty cars were practically falling apart and one chap pulled an amazing manoeuvre pulling a 20liter see through bottle from his car filled with what I'm convinced was weed! He stashed it behind a pillar right in front of us, then went over to talk to the police as his mate's car was getting searched, and then sneakily reversed his car back up to the pillar, threw the bottle of weed in the back and headed for Libya! It was like something out of the movies.
The Libyan border was a breeze and after 20mins we were through with our guide Fatti, Arabic number plates, and we never saw one official person. I guess that's why we paid mega Euros for a guide. The best news is that we successfully smuggled through our illegal beer and wine!
First impressions of Libya were that there was litter everywhere and psycho drivers. The rule seems to be that if the car in front is going slower than you are, you overtake regardless of whether there are 1, 2 or 3 oncoming cars (which may be overtaking themselves). Stopping for diesel we couldn't believe how cheap it was as we filled up with 61l costing £5! The petrol station was something else with diesel all over the ground. It was literally oozing the stuff and we got it all over our shoes. The best yet is that all the Libyans stand around the pumps smoking! Our guide also informed us that all the Tunisian come over the border just to fill up with cheap petrol to take back and sell in Tunisia. To do this they put 2 petrol tanks in their cars and are so heavily loaded with fuel that sometimes they bottom out, causing sparks, and their whole car ignites! We saw several of these burnt out car on the side of the road.
We arrived late in Tripoli only to discover the camping consisted of camping in a paved car park with no toilets so we opted for a hotel only to find that all the hotels were full. Eventually we found a cheap hotel for 30Ldinnar and leaving our Landies parked in front of the Grand Hotel our guides dropped us off at the shady local hotel, which was rather below cleanliness standards but will do for the price.
Fri 21 Mar 08
Our hotel last night was ok, if a little run down and noisy, but Noeleen made it clear that she was not staying there again so Andy was back looking for hotels while Se and I were happy to stay on. Had nice coffee with a chocolate croissant for breakfast, served by a lady with weird scary blue eyes. Our guide, Fathi, met us with Ahmed the driver and we went to the Tripoli museum. We got some insight into Libya, the economic and socially governing Green book, written by Gadaffi, and saw his cars and photos everywhere. There were loads of statues of gods from Leptus Magna, mosaics and a little on the Arabic way of life. Since we knew nothing of Libya it was good to get a small insight into this country.
We had lunch at a little local restaurant, Se had couscous, and I had pasta both served with lamb. Fathi seemed to add his meal to our bill which was a bit of a surprise! After lunch we walked around the old town for a while and then went to find a new hotel for Noeleen and Andy. Once we had dropped them off we went back to our hotel to check in but to our dismay they were full and had checked us out1 So we did a U-turn and headed back to Noeleen and Andy's new hotel which was twice the price but at least we were all in the same place. In the end this worked out well as we had arranged to meet Hadi at their hotel at 8pm. None of us were too happy about not having resolved itinerary or about spending a fortune on a guide for a day to go to a museum! After a nap Se and I went for a walk around town. Met Hadi at 8pm and had a good chat to him about Libya and what we could do with the time available to us. We agreed to do Leptus Magna tomorrow and then head south to the desert before heading to the Egyptian border on 2nd April. We also agreed the price upfront with him which I think will be a good thing at the end of the trip.
After meeting Hadi we went out for a bite to eat, Kebab and a pastry, and after doing some internet it was bed time.
Sat 22 Mar 08
Seeing Leptus Magna today was brilliant and definitely a highlight. The city had been buried in sand for centuries and was discovered and excavated in about the 1920's. There is some debate about when the city was built but it varies between 1000 or 500BC. An earthquake around 600AD then shook the remains of it to the ground, hence why it was all under sand…at least I think this is the just of the story.
The massively high Roman columns, roads with sewage systems running underneath them, the cold baths, hot steam rooms, and forum etc. were all impressive. A lot remains in ruin with only partial reconstruction in places and it's a shame not more restoration has taken place but there is no more money for further restoration and Libya is reluctant to let other countries excavate. The amphitheatre is the best preserved and is very impressive, seating 3000 people. The setting is beautiful as it is right on the coast. Apparently 80 000 people lived in Leptus Magna. Dad would be in his element here.
From Leptus Magna we visited a villa on the coast with beautiful geometric and curved mosaics on the floors. Again there is no money to maintain the site and it's going to ruin. We bribed the guard to let us in and I felt guilty walking over the mosaics although the path was carpeted. I get the feeling our guide takes most people sneakily here like this. Naughty - but worth it.
The good news is that Andy's new power steering pump has arrived so his power steering is fixed! Although we had to stay in another expensive hotel, tomorrow we head south to the desert where it will all change.