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!!
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.
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 :)