Day 83 - Just Roman Around

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

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Flag of Libya  ,
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hair: Fit To House a Family of Sparrows
Beard: The Extended Family
Distance Driven: 11,580km
Frame of Mind: Weary

I am writing this on a Arabic keyboard and the screen is running from right to left so it is a bit difficult, a little like writing your name in a mirror without being able to see your hand.

I have changed my mind about Libya, but only about the rubbish.  The Libyans are just as bad as anyone.  I was temporarily deceived by the fact that they tend to sweep all their rubbish to the end of the street and leave it there, or pile it up on the seashore.  In fact they seem to generate a HUGE amount of the stuff, most of it seems to be construction leftovers from the omnipresent building work.

Day 80 - Along the Coast
Aside from the 10km or so of beachfront fortifications (mentioned above) around Derna the drive along to Benghazi, via the two Grrek/Roman sites of Apollonia and Cyrene, is a beautiful one.  The scenery was tri-banded in colour: to my left was the lush green of the Akhdar mountains (Libya's finest...they may be her only ones); then you have the rich red sand of the narrow desert scrubland region, over which I am driving, extending right up to the clean blue Mediterranean on my right, nearly blueberry in the depths.  It would make a good flag I think, certainly much better than the rather unimaginative pure green that is the current Libyan flag.  Ok, admittedly this is because of Gadaffi's 'Green Revolution' (which is a little ironic considering it involved pumping billions of gallons of crude oil and the removal of huge amounts of water from the saharan basin...but I suppose red has already gone, blue sounds a bit porno, and who wants to be yellow?) but I still think it's a little boring.

Those green ridged mountains reminded me of a cult classic to which alternative lyrics sprang to mind and I found myself warbling along happily to.  I was on my way home:
Take me home, coastal roads
To the place where I belong
Eastern Libya, Mountain Muammar
Take me home, coastal roads

Enough of this silliness.  After a brief stop at the scenic viewpoint of Ras al Hilal I arrived at Apollonia, one of the four big Greek/Roman sites in Libya.  This is the smallest and least visited but is right on the coast and partially submerged.  It's quite pleasant but not a spot on the much larger and more impressive ruins of Cyrene perched on a hillside 20km up the coast.  You actually drive through part of the ruins on your way up the mountain.  This extensive city was built cos the oracle at Delphi said to, and the Greeks always paid attention to drugged up semi-naked women.  Walking aroud the site you are accompanied by the smell of lavendar and mint and Cyrene is famous for its honey and there are many stalls selling big jars of the stuff.  I didn't buy as I have had bad experiences with honey in the past.  Is it my imagination or does Sainsbury's or Waitrose sell Cyrene honey?  I might be getting mixed up with Cyprus.

After Cyrene the road turns inland through those green mountains, which offers some more spectacular views and hairy bends. Even though the total distance was only 350km but with the hot sun and plenty of walking when I arrived in Benghazi I was shattered and it was getting dark.  Benghazi is big and has lots of one way streets.  My bike was playing up and was so hot my right leg was getting burned through my trousers and I couldn't find a hotel.  There are plenty of hotels.  I just couldn't find them.  The main reason for this is that I can't read Arabic.  "Why not learn the word for hotel numpty?" you may ask.  But it's not as easy as that.  Not only is the word for hotel (fondok) not very distinctive, Arabic is also a very stylised writing menaing that the word never looks the same twice!  And then there seems to be some special style used for printed signs.  It's all too difficult for me.  So I asked a lot of people and they pointed and then eventually a man got in a taxi and took me to the 'Africa Hotel'. Thank you sir. 

The hotel was a bit grotty and a lot overpriced but needs must.  I had a shower and headed out for some food.  I found a little eatery with some good smells coming from it but the language barrier reared its ugly head again.  I had forgotten my phrase book but did spot some 'fuul' (beans) on someone elses plate.  Nope, that was finished.  I resorted to looking really hungry and pointing at my mouth till they gave me some, any food.  It turned out to be a lamb stew very reminiscent of a Moroccan tagine.  It was top.  Really tasty.  Really cheap.  I finished the meal off with some Libyan custard that seems very similar to all other custards, which I happen to like very much.  I fell asleep to Mr Segal's classic 'Under Siege'.  A very good day all round.

Day 81 - Dust & Decisions
I did have a decision to make the next morning though.  My bike was behaving badly.  It felt like it was losing power because of a dirty filter or rubbish fuel but I didn't think that was it at all.  I had a feeling it was more internal engine-y and I didn't like it.  I decided that plouhing on was not the way forward so spent an hour investigating.  I was 90% sure that it was simply the chain being a cheap piece of crap.  So I cleaned and oiled it, massaged it, adjusted it and things seemed much better.  I was ready to head off when the dust storm came in, reduced visibility to 50m or so (a major issue at 100kmph with nutter drivers), blinded me with sand, and made it difficult to stand up let alone drive.  I had to wait it out.  And wait I did.  Nearly all day.  I had nothing to read and the internet cafe next door was not working, allegedy because all international communication lines were shut down because it was a public holiday.  The only interesting thing that happened was that the wind blew over my bike, smashing the brake level, the mirror and damaging the throttle.  The throttle I fixed, the mirror would have to wait for replacement (gulp, I hate motorway driving with idiots and no mirrors) but I had a spare brake lever.  Except that (again) it wasn't the right part!  I'm going to kill that lying git in Mwanza.

The wind had only died down a little but by 3 o'clock I was so bored I threw caution to...umm...the wind and set off.  It was 600km to the next big city but there was a place a couple of hundred clicks down the road that would shorten the next day's journey considerably.  It was not the most pleasant drive I've ever had but certainly not as bad as I had imagined.  By 5 the dust was gone and I had clear skies for the sunset over Ajdibiya, where I spent the night. 

The hotel smelled like stale cigarettes, damp and excrement.  Normally I'd have gotten drunk to compensate but this is Libya so I turned on the AC really high.  At about 10pm the fuses blew and I was plunged into darkness which lasted.  I had to go to sleep - not an issue as I was battered.  Then the hotel decided to wake me up by telephoning my room at 11, 12 and 1.  They didn't give me any breakfast.  They did take 20USD off me for the pleasure of staying there.  Hotel al Medina for your information.  Big up.

Day 82 - Accomodation not a Dead Sirte
The 450km drive to Sirte turned out to be much nastier than the previous day's.  I had clear skies but viscious low-level winds that very cleverly blew sand exactly into the places that my glasses do not protect my eyes.  Adding in the fact that the road was two-way traffic, meaning that every lorry that passed me in the other direction was a cross between a punch in the face (well, with one of those big fluffy cue-tips they use on Gladiator) and an facial exfoliation treatment (I have heard).  The 'chain' problem is still there.  I adjusted it many a time but couldn't get rid of it.  Oh dear.  I'm sure I'll find a proper mechanic in Tripoli.

You may have heard of Sirte (Surt).  It is where the international talks on Darfur are going on.  This means that every man and his dog is in Sirte and there are no hotel rooms free.  Silly bear.  I knew it was going to be an issue but there wasn't much I could do.  I thought of asking them to call it all off but I feel that sorting this Sudan problem out is quite a good idea.  I searched and failed.  That is when I became acquainted with Mrs Naima Ahmed El Sherif, who is possibly the nicest lady in the  world.  I met her in a spice shop whilst asking for directions.  She was shopping there but decided to help me.  She spoke excellent English and is the only female lawyer in Sirte.  She showed me to a hotel.  No rooms.  She got them to ring round all the other hotels to find a room.  No luck.  There are no places to camp either.  The next place with a hotel is 240km away.  She then took me to the YMCA (or I assume it is just the YMA in Libya).  There were plenty of rooms I reckon but they said there weren't but they did suggest another place that we'd not tried.  So she took me there too - by this time we'd just about driven round the whole city.  They had one room left.  Whoopie!  Ok, admittedly I could have driven a few ks down the coast and plonked my tent somewhere but I had had a very hard day and wanted some creature comforts.  She then disappeared to reappear a short while later with a goodie-bag full of treats (fruit, juice and biscuits)!  What a star.  She can be my Libyan mum.

Day 83 - Leptis Magna
It's about 350km from Sirte to Leptis Magna, the most celebrated of the Libyan ruins. Things were going very smootly and quickly until my bloody clutch cable broke again!  Admittedly the replacement I had put on only a few hundred ks ago was a very cheap rubbish piece not made for purpose but I'd hoped it would last till Tripoli.  Wrong.  So I was back to my botch fix I had first used in Ethiopia.  I got it working just about then I changed gear very little.  It was only an hour on straight motorway till Leptis Magna anyway.  I REALLY hope there is a place to get spares in Tripoli.  The only worry is that I haven't seen a single bike since I've been here.  Please don't tell me that motorbikes were on the list of embargo couldn't was all about oil, arms and arms spare parts no?

I arrived about 2-ish and it was hot.  There were loads of tourists there, all of them on package tours - how special am I!  I had a bite to eat and then set off round the ruins.  I was going to get a guide for this one but he was asking silly money.  So I wandered.  It is a colossal site and clearly a very impressive city in its time (it was built by Russell Crowe after he succeeded Joaquim Phoenix) and some of the most complete Roman ruins I'd seen.  Ok, so by complete I really mean that it is much more than just a floor plan.  I was amazed.  Why on earth had this not all been destroyed or the stone/marble 'borrowed' for more recent building projects? I subsequently learned that a lot of it was reconstructed, so this explains it and makes it a little less impressive but doesn't explain why it ain't all been nicked.  In fact the rubble was the most striking feature of the ruins.  There are piles of it everywhere.  Sometimes it is neatly arranged in piles according to where it is assumed to have come from, sometimes it is just left where it fell.  But it is very different to anything I've seen and lends a real feel of 'deserted city' to the place.

I was going to try and make it to Tripoli by sundown.  It's only 120km but I was knackered and couldn't be bothered.  There is a campsite next to the ruins so I plonked my tent down, got bitten by a few mosquitos, had a shower and headed into town to find something to eat, hopefully less Egyptian and more Moroccan.
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kaleta on

Ocean blue flag, great idea
Yes, the green flag is the dullest flag on the planet. I thought I should add that the color green, is also representative of Islam. The colors of the ocean would be a welcome change and is a great idea. Another Bravo for learning to type counter-intuitively on the arabic keyboard and for all the great photos.

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