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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Libya


Day 1– 15/10/12
Clearly it is still not normal for western/foreigners to enter Libya overland. Still, our business visas passed muster! There were some questions about our sponsor, so we showed the email from Libya travel with the details and all that passed quickly.
Getting the carnet stamped was another matter. Maybe we should not have bothered. Still, after a bit of a wait it was completed, unfortunately the customs officer took both the entry and exit portion. So we will see what happens on exit.
We had read about the Libyan drivers, but nothing could prepare you for the actual event. There is a divided road, 4 lane highway from the border. That did not stop folks driving on the wrong side! They drive super fast and only need 1 mm to squeeze past a slightly slower vehicle in a passing manoeuvre. That 1 mm includes allowing for the oncoming traffic to break hard and swerve to avoid a fatal crash. Actually, they are probably not as good as  they think they are, as along the road side there were a great number of burnt out wrecks.
We decided to stay at Sabratha for the night. We asked directions from a chap at the side of the road and he brought a fluent English speaker – very broad Irish accent! They shut their shop and jumped in their car to show us the way. Then at the well known Roman site we asked about accommodation.  This chap also hopped into his car to show us the way. He was the curator of the site. The Youth Hostel appeared to be closed. We went to another hotel, but could not find any staff to show us a room, so with the assistance of our guide, we went on to another hotel. Avril checked this out, but it definitely did not pass her scrutiny. So, unfortunately we had to go for the 5 star resort down the road – bugger. The Hotel Tellel Complex was very nice. It cost Dinar 180 for dinner, bed & breakfast. 
The beach looked quite solid and folks a little more adventurous than us could well camp nearby.

Ray driving; 429 km; 10 hrs; N 320 48’ 59.3’’ E 0120 22’ 42.6’’Day 1– 15/10/12

Day  2– 16/10/12
Find a Bank. Roman ruins. After a leisurely breakfast, we filled up the main fuel tank in the car. As promised it was A$ 0.10/l! The manager of the hotel had told us there was an ATM in town. And so there was, in fact a few ATMs and a very nice man went out of his way to guide us (via car) to the various places. Unfortunately, none would accept our credit card. So, we went in search of a bank to change money, but they do not seem to do that in Libya. So, we went searching for a money changer – but no luck. So we gave up and went to visit the Sabratha Roman ruins.
The ruins are very impressive and as the guide book says, the location on the coast adds to the appeal. The theatre is exceptional and the mausoleum notable. Most of the site it yet to be excavated, but there are still a lot of temples, columns, mosaics etc that kept us occupied for a couple of hours.
We then drove to Tripoli, searching for banks along the way. We stopped at a number of banks, but none had operating ATMs or could change money. We (OK, Ray) were starting to worry a little. Then, Amen bank to the rescue. They had a number of operating ATMs and a few vehicles with mobile ATMs. Unfortunately, the machine snapped one of Ray’s cards, but we managed to get it out and withdraw with another card (lesson: you can never have too many cards). We withdrew the money just before the start of the Tripoli ring road, so we avoided the city center and used the ring road all the way to the east of the city. We can accurately report that the city drivers are as bad as the country drivers. Very scary, the speed and overtaking manoeuvres.
We stopped on the way to fill the reserve tank. After filling, Ray had a senior moment and left the key on the pump – and only found out much later. Fortunately, we have a spare (lesson: you can never have too many keys).
Our final stop for the day was the exceptional Leptis Magna ruins. For once the World Heritage stamp meant something. The ruins are vast with much still in place. This was the home town of local boy, Septimius Severus, made good – all the way to Emperor. So, lots had been done to make the city impressive. The Arch of Septimius Severus at the entrance just being a taste of the great ruins: baths, nymphaeum, colonnaded street, forum (old and new), Severan Basilica, more temples, churches, arches, an amphitheatre etc. we wandered around for a few hours – no one else was at the site.
We camped at a clearly marked place to camp, with ordinary facilities near the entrance to the ruins.

Avril driving; 223 km; N 320 37’ 54.2’’ E 0140 17’ 23.6’’

Day 3– 17/10/12
A very long day. The Libyan love affair with octane and cars did not end until the early hours of the morning; hence we had a very poor sleep. We got up early to start our long drive.
The landscape in southern Tunisia and in Libya is quite flat and uninteresting to monotonous. So, the drive is a bit of a task. The Libyan drivers kept us very focussed on the road – driving is akin to a session in a simulator with all sorts of obstacles etc appearing in weird locations. A hard aspect for us was to predict passing distances with the oncoming traffic approaching at + 160 km/hr. The roads are in fairly good nick; however an interesting obstacle is the complex arrangement of single and dual carriage ways. At times we needed to drive on the “wrong” side of the dual carriage way, but it was not clear when this was necessary/appropriate. In general, we just followed the vehicles in front.
There were many road blocks and we were stopped a few times. On one occasion the young militiaman was a bit agro. The local Libyans quickly came to our aid and we passed on quickly.
There is not too much evidence of the war, apart from the large number of armoured vehicles along the road -those at the road blocks presumable as trophies. Some of the others show the impact of an air strike on a vehicle – best not to be in the vehicle we would guess.
We arrived in Benghazi on dusk and with no assistance found our way to the recommended hotel, only to find it was full. They directed us to sister hotel, Juliana Hotel, a couple of hundred meters down the road but it also was full. We asked the chaps at the desk to assist and ring another hotel in town. They started to do this, but did not want us to go into the middle of town, so gave us a suite at a reduced rate, LD 220, still expensive but it was late.
Along the way today we noticed that the rear, right tyre had developed a bubble on the outside. We nursed it to the hotel and after check-in Ray changed the tyre. Still this is very annoying, a new tyre! This is the 2nd time that BFGoodrich tyres have done this on our vehicle. No other tyre has done it.

Ray driving; 882 km; 11 hrs; N 320 05’ 03.5’’ E 0200 02’ 46.1’’

Day 4– 18/10/12
After getting a bit bamboozled by Benghazi traffic, we made our way to Cyrene. Some of the journey was marked green on the Michelin map. There were some small, rolling hills, but maybe the green was out of sympathy as these were only non flat bits we have seen thus far.
Cyrene was originally a Greek city before the Romans took it over. It is a vast site and justly rates a World Heritage stamp. We spent a couple of hours wandering the site – again we were the only tourists on the site. We are a bit “Romaned out”, so probably did not give the site its full due. We did look at the all the ruins mentioned in the guide book, but this site probably needs much more.
From Cyrene we drove to the sea. The drive from Appoloninana/Marsa Susah to Darman along the ocean was wonderful and fully deserved its Michelin green. We had a nice picnic overlooking the ocean. Along the way we needed to ask directions; an English speaker seeing we were asking questions, drove out of his way to check we were alright.
Then we drove to Tobruk, stopping at the Knightsbridge Commonwealth Cemetery to honour the soldiers there.
We stayed at the Al Masira hotel (LD 135) the best in town apparently. Again, we found the place with the help of folks we asked on the road.

Avril driving;   485 km; 9 hrs; N 320 04’ 20.1’’ E 0230 58’ 03.4’’

Day 5– 19/10/12
A disappointing start to the day. When Ray went out to start packing he found that the 2 side doors of the accommodation box had been forced. Fortunately only a torch and 2 (new) BBQ lighters were stolen. Still, this is the 1st time our vehicle had been targeted. AND, we parked beside the security hut to try and be safe.
On the way out of town we visited the Tobruk War Cemetery. This is the main Australian cemetery. It is always sobering to visit a war cemetery and reflect on the sacrifices made and the grief and sorrow of those left behind. Whilst the cemetery is in quite good nick, it was in need of some gardening and there was litter around.
We then drove to the Libyan border. Immigration was competed in less than 60 secs. Getting the Carnet stamped took 60 min! This is probably because they had not seen one before and did not have the stamp at the outgoing border post.

Libya Summary
The Libyans we met were friendly and super generous. They invariably went out of their way to assist us in any way. That said, they are the world’s worst drivers, total maniacs.
We did not feel there were any security issues and we always felt safe. However, we stayed in hotels or secure areas at night and did not wander after dark. This added to the cost. It would have been possible to camp in a number of places, if we had have been assured of the security situation.
Folks in Tunisia had been concerned about the availability of fresh food in Libya, so we had stocked up in advance. This was not needed. There were excellent fruit & veg markets across Libya.
We saw the main tourist sites in the north in the time we had. However, if the reported security situation was not so bad, we would have probably spent a few days more. There are some wonderful beaches and coast. The security situation prevented a trip to the desert in the south. The roads on the route we took were in good condition.
We obtained business visas at Tunis with the assistance of Jill at contact@libyatravelandtours.com. There was a mix up with fax/reference numbers for Avril’s visa. That took a couple of days to sort out. With the correct reference number, it is a straight forward process and takes 1 – 2 hours. Note, the application form needs to be completed in Arabic.
Libya seems to have a proper functioning economy, with civic works underway, clean and well presented shops (including diet coke and beer in some places). Apart from the destroyed armoured vehicles and tanks beside the road, there is little in any evidence of the conflict. After the drivers, litter is a huge problem.

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