Libya – Tanks, Kids with Guns and the Spice Girls!

January 29, 2013 / Libya / 0 Comments /

HEY hey KIDS! We’ve arrived just about safely in Alexandria, Egypt. We have had an incredibly eye opening and surreal journey through Libya and also at the border crossing.

Again, we cannot reinforce our thanks to family and friends old and new who have helped us through this leg of the journey! The care, concern and hospitality of everyone has been phenomenal! Thank you so much!

Libya was fantastic, we both cannot wait to return when it’s had a bit more time to settle and head to the Southern Deserts. It’s truly a stunning place and will be an up and coming area to visit in the future we have no doubt! GO LIBYA!
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Libya – Leptis Magna and Villa Selene

January 27, 2013 / Libya / 0 Comments /

Yesterday we took a day our to go on a bit of a tour to Leptis Magna and Villa Selene – Roman ruins an hour and a half out from the metropolitan city that is Tripoli.  Quite simple, the whole day was STUPENDOUS.  We have never experienced such beauty. It completely blew our minds. The size and scale of the ruins were just amazing… I was overwhelmed with the whole area and to think only 30% had been uncovered just made you jibber. I have no idea how the Romans managed to construct these places!

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We were fortunate to have a truly superb tour guide with us, Jamal, a local who’s passion is the history of Libya.  With astounding English he took his time to guide us around the sites answering all of our questions without hesitation and taking great pleasure at our exasperation in the sites.  The day itself was stunning too with eerie ghost-buster like clouds looming over us and the ruins.  Fortunately we only experienced a couple of down pours but nothing a shake of a leg and burst of sunshine didn’t dry off.

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I had so many moments of “wow”ness that it’s hard to pick any favourite areas but I think the two sections which had the most impact was the New Forum and Amphitheater.  The New Forum is just of a incomprehensible size.  It’s gigantic.  Jamal explained to us that what was still standing is only half the height of the original build… which when you took time to sit and take it all in left you stood gawping.  The amphitheater too was pretty much fully intact and blooming ENORMOUS!  You could run around the tunnels and see the exotic animal traps, all whilst you could hear the roar of the ocean just beyond.

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It was simply phenomenal.  Not only that but we were there for hours… absolutely hours… and in that time we only saw two very small families from a far.  The rest of the time we had the place entirely to ourselves.  Just a phenomenal experience.

Villa Selene too was just undeniably breath taking.  A small Roman Villa on it’s own private cove over looking the Mediterranean… it was a perfect harmonious place to be.  Built with such detail and attention the whole Villa is top to toe in delicate and awe-inspiring mosaics.  It’s nice to see too that the Romans had a sense of human with one mosaic depicting a story of two Pygmies trying to capture an alligator followed by another where the alligator had nommed one Pygmy and his mate was trying to pull his friend out from it’s jaws!  Funny expressions!

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When we stopped for lunch we met some wonderful locals and a lovely Australian lady who has been on the road with her husband now for years in an effort to raise monies for epilepsy and cancer for children.  How utter awesome is that? :)

All in all Libya has so far proven to be amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  We are loving every minute of it here, the places and people are just tremendous!  We both cannot wait to return when the times have settled a bit so we can visit the desert and oasis in the South!

Tomorrow we unfortunately have to leave which saddens us a little and also makes us a little nervous as we are heading away from the safety of Tripoli and into the zones which are a little bit dangerous.  Thankfully our friend Muhammad has arranged for our bikes to be put on a Libyan truck and covered for the trip meaning we will be much more inconspicuous and hopefully not draw so much attention. He has been an absolute star in helping us through this section and inspiring us with confidence – we cannot thank him enough!  Alongside our parents and friends who have remained in constant contact, thank you all again so so much :)  We will post again in the near future!

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Libya – Tripoli – Medina

January 26, 2013 / Libya / 0 Comments /

We have just come back from wondering through the Old City in Tripoli. It’s a maze of streets and alleys with something different on every corner you look. We were lost within minutes and ended up bundling through a busy market where we stood out like sore thumbs! Because there is now little or no tourism in Libya and there hasn’t been for sometime it is obvious that we were both of interest and in some areas perhaps aggravation. We spoke to a few people, including a group of guys playing fuss-ball who were all friendly enough and more than happy to say hello!

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We did, however, stumble upon a square which we think was surrounded by government buildings. As soon as we walked in from a small alley I spotted a car with anti aircraft artillery on the back… then a few steps later clocked two teenagers with AK47s. By this time we were centre of the square and had no choice but to continue to what we hoped was a main street, passing by two elderly fellas also propping up guns. To say we cacked ourselves a little would be an understatement, but again they greeted us and offered no harm. It’s been explained to us that being able to differentiate between militia and military is pretty much impossible as many are just plain clothed so we were pretty darn uncomfortable. Not only that, but kids are still throwing fire crackers around so the bangs as we just exited the square did enough to skip a heart beat or two!

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We did pass by a local mosque but unfortunately no one was there to let us in. All in all you can see how amazingly wonderful and incredible this place is. It is definitely a place I would recommend people to visit and see as it has so much to offer but perhaps after this period of uncertainty has passed.

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Tomorrow, Roman Ruins! Very excited. Will try and post more when we can – very slow connection speeds here so hang on with us :)

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Libya – Road Blocks, Bullet Riddled Cars and Explosions

January 25, 2013 / Libya / 0 Comments /

Sam had been shot.  I saw it happen.  I heard the gun go off.  I watched him swerve.  My heart leapt into my mouth and my unusually calm collected mind crumbled.  In a moment of weakness my bike lurched and swerved in to the direction of a parked car…

It is early January 2013 and as of the day before the Home Office were frantically pulling all British Nationals out of Benghazi, Libya due to imminent threat of hostage takings, murders and violence towards Westerners from the militia and Al-qaeda.  With the ongoing hostage situation in bordering Algeria, the war torn country Libya is in a state of absolute unrest and thus deemed high risk to terrorist activity… and there we were riding through the hub of it on our loud, brash, Western motorbikes.

We had crossed the border earlier that morning and on the instruction of many locals, friends and border guards we were hammering it through without stopping to our friend in Tripoli where we had been reassured we would be safe.  Sam had been holding up great, although the nerves in his voice and eagerness to ride at speed to get through fast was evident.  The road conditions were pretty diabolical and the car driving utterly insane.  With truck sized pot holes and plenty of traffic we were playing a constant game of chicken and dodgems.  Normally, given any other ordinary and uneventful day, I would be nervous riding at such a pace but for one reason or another I was void of such emotions and just focused on concentrating.  I think this was perhaps due my history with the Police.  It would seem in life threatening, high intense or dangerous situations I am able remain uncannily calm and level headed, sometimes in almost a scarily desensitised and detached way.  My energy and concentration channels into resolving the situation as quickly and safely as possible whilst remaining vigilant and in control despite any form of frenzy going on around me.

For example, earlier that day we suddenly found ourselves wedged inbetween cars in a huge chunk of traffic.  As we edged our way around the corner into view came a blockade of people… non military… all shouting rather angrily wielding AK47’s.  Some of them were just kids and to be fair angry kids with guns wasn’t an ideal Friday afternoon ride we wanted to be in, especially with the current political situation.  Although the adreniline was pumping I cannot recall feeling scared.  All I was doing was searching for an escape route as far away from the blockade as possible for us both to safely scoot round without being noticed… not easy when you’re on two KTM 690 Enduro R 2012’s with their baffles removed!  Nevertheless we managed to barge past various cars and although it was indicated for me to stop by a frowning gun waving bearded man, I kept rolling pretending I had not seen, keeping a truck in between as a form of cover and excuse.  Round the corner we bore witness to a freshly shot up car with very disgruntled looking occupants.  Again, no fear, no concern, just focus.  It’s odd… I don’t know what my mind does but it just works like that

However.  My Sam being shot at… that changed everything.  All emotions possible came flooding in at once and I all but flat lined on that back street.  It took me nearly a moment too long to reset my brain and recover all senses and in the nick of time I managed to wrench my bike back on the road and away from crumbing into the back of a car.  Sam had continued riding… I realised I was shouting in my helmet asking him to confirm he was okay and with nothing but swearing as I response I suddenly caught in my peripheral vision a laughing child with a fistful of fire crackers.  It then dawned on me what had happened.

The little *******!!

My heart pounded back into a steady motion and I explained to the now-needing-new-pants-Sam he had not been shot at and that it was in fact a small little shit lobbing a fire cracker.  We just had to be rocking through Libya the day after Mohammed, the Prophets birthday, a major celebration in Libya so fire works and crackers were in abundance!

A little bit of hysterical laughter later we continued on with the rest of the journey which was pretty uneventful in comparison.  As the towns built up heading into Tripoli the driving became more mental and required space hopper sized testicles to ride through it.  Some roads provided much amusement, particular one butchers street.  For the entire length of the road the tiny crammed pavement shops displayed freshly decapitated and dripping goats, cows and camel heads.  It was like a Predators trophy road, with many of the animals with their spinal cords still intact and blood running black into the drains.  Half way down the road rocking gently in time to the drumming traffic there was a camels head in the middle, tongue lulled out, eyes open in shock (not surprising really!)  Quite a sight to see!

We finally make it into Tripoli where we both sigh a relief after a long long day.  Tripoli is a stark contrast to what we were expecting on the sea front with its tall impressive buildings, shops and streets which aren’t too dissimilar to what you would find in London.  It’s all very modern and awash with a general feeling of liveliness and normality.  Whilst waiting for our family friend to come find us we were generously given a display of dough-nutting and wheelies by a fellow motorcyclist who stopped all traffic to give us the pleasure!

Mohammed turns up and after smiles and hugs we are guided back to his restaurant – Al Athar – a stunning and most beautiful set up opposite Marcus Aurelius Archway in central Tripoli.  Despite being absolutely filthily and smelly we are welcomed into the restaurant by all and then are proceeded to be refreshed with a gorgeous mint and lemon cocktail.  Food wise we are treated to meat soup, dips, mixed salad and a traditional Libyan Clay Pot camel meat meal with cous cous.   For afters we cannot refuse a caramel creme desert too!  An absolutely king size and quality meal we cannot recommend enough to all who visit Tripoli!  It is a must do!!

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During our meal we find ourselves smiling at each other.  What a bizarre day and quite a surreal moment!  Here we are, eating the most divine meal ever, in a simply breath taking setting over looking a roman ruin with the rolling mediterraen sea in the distance at complete peace… we felt a million miles away from a worn torn country.

After we are taken to Al Khan, a hotel in the Old City.  When we enter we are greeted by open aired court yards with a dipping pool and a very relaxed and absolutely stunning arabic environment.  Completed with archways and tastefully decorated with stunning arabic relics, we are guided to our room which is just a complete sight of luxury.

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Shattered and simple stuffed, we pass on our thanks and shortly after a hot shower collapse in a state of bliss.  This Libya crossing was turning out to be pretty amazing :)

 

 

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Libyan Border and Cous Cous Kindness!

January 25, 2013 / Libya / 0 Comments /

It was around 4:30am and despite the air being cold and dewy the atmosphere felt heavy.  The cats had returned to their dens by that time and only a quiet infrequent rustling was tweaking my ears causing me the odd eyelid flicker.  I had just managed to drift away from an uncomfortable thought and begun to fall in to a much needed but restless doze when suddenly there was a cardiac arrest provoking wail which exploded into our tent:

“ALLLLLAAAaaAaAAAHhhHHH…. ALLLlllllAaaAAAAAaaaAAAAhhhAHhhh”

We both bolted upright, limbs flailing and completely flummoxed at this attack on our ears.  In our utter exhaustion the night prior we hadn’t quite realised where exactly we had set up camp…. it was smack bang in front of the prayer megaphone.  No wonder we had so many   local guys smirking at us when we were setting up camp.  With all brain activity temporarily disengaged due to the booming voice pumping at our ear drums, we grabbed our stove and like the true Brits that we are made ourselves a cuppa to help settle our frazzled nerves.   In silence cradling our tea we blearily looked out beyond our potato sacked eye bagged vision at each other in the breaking dawn light and couldn’t help but crank a smile at the situation.  It was almost ludicrous!  We were about to ride into the currently most news worthy war thronged country in the world which was at threat to imminent attacks on Westerners.  Were we mad?!  At that moment we had no idea, not with the wailing going on anyway.

By the time the calling had stopped we had finished our tea.  With caffeine pulsating in our blood, we found hidden energy and hastily shuffled our stuff together and abandoned the cat litter campsite behind us as the sun began to rise.

Silence….

Where normally the scenery and world around us would spark conversations and happy banter, we rode in silence which was only broken to confirm if the other was okay.  The approach to the border itself is a bit of a blur.  I think I was so tired, all my energy was focussed on riding safely and staying energised.  I do remember wondering why some fella was running at me with a wodge of money in one of the small villages… I had thought it was a very generous gesture in my sleepiness… it hadn’t occurred to me it was black market exchange money for Libya!

The border itself is in the middle of no where.  We had seen various cars and trucks coming the other way when approaching, some of which were flashing their lights at us for reasons we still don’t know but either way added to our already tetchy nerves.  We had spoken about the border before and agreed that Sam would do all the negotiations and so after crossing one set of passport checking officials, I dismounted and stood to the side, hair and face covered and awaited nervously as Sam sorted our Carnets.

A short time later Sam returned a bit pale faced saying how we have been told to open up and keep going to Tripoli, stopping for no one.  Apparently the border guard had suggested people who have stopped had not come out the other end of it too well (or at all).  Another border guard came over and spoke with us, Khalil.  He was full of smiles and welcomes, extremely lovely!  Born in Tunis he tells us of his family and desire to return to work as a Police Officer as opposed to being so far away as a Border Guard.  He also confirmed to keep on the move once past the border but tells us not to worry too much.  Khalil then took Sam to the border entrance to help him do some black market money dealing (in all our stress and hastiness we had forgotten that it was Friday – their day of rest – meaning no banks or ATM’s were open).  Absolutely mega chap, so kind and lovely!

Libyan Border…

Next was the Libyan Border.  We approached still nervous but were welcomed with smiles and intrigue.  After striking up a conversation with a couple of guards, Mohammed and Osma, they decided to stay with us through the rest of the process.  There was a fair bit of too-ing and fro-ing and due to prayers we had to hang fire for a while but all in all everything was going super smooth!  The guards offered us tea, a lush court yard to chill out in, chairs and generally cheery conversation… this was completely against everything we expected!  At one point, we were told we needed to pay for some number plates which we didn’t have the monies for.  Initially Mohammed invited us to stay with him over night (his Brother does motocross so he was all for bikers!) until the banks were open and we could pay for the plates but then they decided to save us the time and just give us the plates without payment!  Really not something to expect at all!

After the paperwork was completed we asked where the nearest petrol station was and within moments both Mohammed and Osma were getting us to follow them in their car.  A kilometer up the road we stop off at a HUGE complex (it’s unbelievable it was a petrol station… more like a palace) where Mohammed and Osma insisted on helping us fill up our bikes.  Slightly flabberghasted at the kindness of the guards and the fact we were only required to pay less than £1 to fill up nearly 60 litres worth of fuel, we go to ride off only to be waved down by Mohammed and Osma.  Thinking maybe we had paid the incorrect amount we stop and watch them both leap out of their car and go foraging in their back seats telling us to wait wait wait.  After a moment or two they both jump back and reveal two packs of food (hot cous cous, beef and peppers), a bag of oranges and fanta and ask us to eat with them!

Seriously, how cool?!!  Having realised we had not eaten for the whole day we sat in the sun and devoured the delicious yummy food within minutes, smiling and joking and slightly bewildered at the kindness and generosity of the local Libyan Guards.  This was the best border crossing EVER!

Photographs later, full to the brim and smiling we are then waved off cheerily on our way!

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Sam and I just cannot express how amazing they were, it was a delightful crossing!  Our nerves had been calmed and expectations taken by surprise… all we had to do now was get to Tripoli safely…. :)

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