Day 79 - Libya Life To The Fullest

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
Trip End Nov 07, 2007

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My last night's sleep in Egypt was disturbed but it wasn't the fact that there was a 'rock' concert on at the hostel in which I was staying (it wasn't crazy enough to go on past midnight), it was my own strange dreams and diseased imagination - probably a function of my nervousness about the forthcoming border crossing.  I was doubly nervous...(1) Would I be let out of Egypt?  Were all my documents up to date? Valid?  Had the correct stamps on them?  How much would it cost me?  and (2) Would I be let into Libya?  Was that REALLY a transit visa?  Was I going to be allowed in on my own?  What about this dodgy Egyptian Carnet?

So half six up and eating a really quite excellent chocolate covered croissant (not the flakey sort, the spongy sort but you can't have everything) and some date filled pastries.  I was packed and ready to leave by just gone 7.  Fuelled and on the motorway by quarter past.  Then my clutch cable went (again).  Luckily I am now an expert with clutches (you can tell by the way the last 'fix' only managed to last a couple of months) and I managed to get on the road by 8.  Already behind schedule.  I had 515km plus a border to cover.

I whizzed the 240km to the border no sweat, even stopping to have a spot of elevenses with some nice chaps at a service station (no cucumber sandwiches but some very nice dhal and watermelon).  I was out and in the customs departure hall before I'd even had a chance to remember I was worried.

As Egypt goes it was a remarkably un-stressful checkout.  It was aided by the fact that the location of the offices at this border are a quite sensible 20m, rather than 20km, apart.  There was still a ludicrous amount of to-ing and fro-ing, a handful of random fees for postage stamps, and a general sense of confusion and chaos, but in the end it only (only!) took an hour and cost a couple of dollars to get through.

Then it dawned on me: I was free.  A weight was lifted from my shoulders (I took off my backpack) and I relaxed and had a last supper of a couple of dry falafel sandwiches, a coke, and a TigerTail bought with my remaining change.  Quite a goodbye-to-Egypt feast!  It was then that I twigged how screwed I would be if I wasn't let into Libya.  I couldn't even imagine having to go back through Egypt.  I would have to eke out an existence in no-mans-land, surviving on rain water, grubs, mites and TigerTails.  The idea of which eased my mind a little - whatever went down I'd be ok.

So I rode the 200m past the last Egyptian police check (of course they wanted to see ALL my documentation again...just in case) and into Libyan immigration.  I could immediately see the difference between the two countries: the border guard was smiling and wearing a different hat.  The process was like a dream.  No, not that sort, a good one in which surprising things happen very easily.  NO, not that sort!  I chatted and bantered with the immigration guys; they used a COMPUTER (Egypt has a lot to learn here); stamped my passport with a welcoming SMILE; SHOWED ME over to customs; HELPED me out; filled in the forms themselves; and when they didn't know what to do (regarding my 'transit' status - I do not or should not require an official Libyan guide) they didn't tell me to bugger off, they used their COMMON SENSE.

Cue Handel's Messiah.

When I pulled out of the border post I was a happy chappie indeed.  It was 2pm, I had plenty of fuel and a tarmac road ahead of me.  Even the drivers in Libya seem more considerate!  I hooned it to Tubruk, another site of mass death and destruction during WWII, caring even less than in Egypt about fuel consumption as petrol is around 12 US cents per litre - and that's the good stuff, the 95 octane turbo juice.  One thing that will be tricky is the navigation.  No English on the road signs.  I must have completely bypassed the war memorials.  Not that I had time to go to them, but as they are one of the biggest tourist attractions round here I'd have expected them to be better signposted.  I'll have to bear this in mind later.

I pulled into Derna (pick your spelling) as the sun was setting.  It's a large city, much like any Egyptian one: cluttered with mobile phone shops, barbers and chemists, but has more cigarette shops, the streets seem cleaner, and I reckon the inhabitants pay less tax.  I was decidedly chilly (at 100kmph).  I had to wear a fleece all day.  Gone are the days of 45 degree Sudan.  I booked into the poshest (and only) hotel I could find.  It is 20USD, more than I've ever spent so far by about double.  It was worth it though.  Hot shower. BBC World news.  Soap.  Mmmm.  I had a fantastic roast chicken in a little place near the hotel and even found an internet cafe that is reasonably quick.  This.

I think I'm going to like Libya.  It is just about opened up to independent travel (allegedly in the last six months) and it shows.  Not so much in the lack of tourist facilities but in the reaction you get from the locals.  They are friendly, welcoming, and interested in you - not so much as an object of curiosity or a potential source of dinars but something I can't quite put my finger on...but it's good.  It might even be simple friendliness!  I've not felt hassled or annoyed or overcharged at all.  A wonderful surprise.
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kaleta on

I learned about Charle's blog through Google alerts 'Libya.' Not very many people are brave enough to travel through Libya!! When you mention Libya to someone (at least here in the US) they look confused, and usually think Lebonon. I've been through Derna and visited these ruins, also Benghazi (thanks for the dust storm photo -- looks the same as 20 odd years ago that I was there) and experienced the friendly and helpful Libyans. I also came across some not-so-friendly types, but it's the same where every you go. Good food too. I'll check in tomorrow and see how the remainder of your time in Tripolitania goes.

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