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BandA’s Travel Diary

Monday, 05 Nov 2007

Location: Libya

MapChapter 2A Libya



Our route through the Mediterranean countries is shown in red

Monday November 5, 2007
Well before leaving Australia we had booked our flights from Malta to Tripoli (the capital of Libya) through the Internet with Malta Airlines. When we went to check in at Malta airport we were told we were not booked on the plane though they did have a record of our having paid for our tickets. Apparently they had tried to post our tickets to us but had left off “Australia” in the address. Fortunately the tickets were returned to the office and we were able to sort things out satisfactorily. By the time this had been done however it was time to board our plane to Tripoli so it was just as well we had allowed plenty of time. The plane was small but only about a quarter full, with only one other woman besides B.

It is only recently that Libya has been opened up to tourists and some limits still apply. The only way to obtain a Libyan Visa is to register for a guided tour with an authorised tour company. One reason given for this restriction was because some irresponsible tourists had been helping themselves to archaeological souvenirs. In preparation for our visit, therefore, some six months earlier we had registered with a tour company through the Internet called Arkno Tours . They had an agent in London who was most efficient and co-operative in dealing with our correspondence by e-mail. When we were booked into an 8-day tour we were pleased to learn that we were in fact the only two participants on that tour. This meant we would have our guide/ driver and vehicle to ourselves. On arriving at Tripoli Airport we were met, as promised, by our guide, Mr Othman Sighareeb , who cared or us very efficiently throughout our visit.

The airport was an hour’s drive out of the city but, even though there was comparatively little traffic, it was served by an excellent 6-lane highway. Perhaps we expected Libya to be expansive dry desert as depicted in newsreels from World War II but, in fact, there was green vegetation along the roadsides though not as green as Malta had been. The rain we experienced during our first two days in Tripoli probably helped this green growth. Most of the residential buildings were new high-rise apartments— a great contrast to the small one or two storied homes in the narrow winding streets that we had become accustomed to in Malta. As we drove through the commercial section of the city we saw many new multi-storey buildings under construction and observed that they had a great idea for keeping the site attractive and safe. Instead of green netting safety screens they had a painted screen that depicted what the building would look like when finished. Very Attractive.

We had been booked into a hotel by Othman but, on arriving there, learnt that there was no room available for us. Apparently a British Airways flight had been delayed and passengers had to stay an extra night in their hotel in Tripoli. Fortunately this did not concern us as our guide sorted out the problem and, after unsuccessfully trying a second hotel, booked us in at a third. In fact it was a more up-market hotel than we were entitled to and was actually owned by the Arkno Company.

Regularly on our tour, our guide allowed us plenty of time to relax and investigate at our leisure. Being a devout Muslim he often used this time to pray. On this occasion we had a couple of hours relaxation in our luxurious hotel room so we took the opportunity to read up from our guidebook all about Libya. After this break we were taken for a stroll through the souk.

As we wandered down the narrow alleyways we were able to see the artisans at work making jewellery, leather goods and embroidered materials. We were fascinated by many heavily embroidered white satin objects of various sizes that looked like dog beds for dogs like Tricky Woo. Othman was able to clarify what these actually were. Apparently the groom and his family are expected to overwhelm the bride with gifts and these baskets would be packed with cosmetics, etc. for the bride.

We were then taken to a Turkish restaurant for our evening meal. Copious quantities of delicious Turkish bread were offered. B ordered soup and shiskabobs but the helping was so large that, even with A’s assistance, we could finish only half the serving. The whole meal cost $5 including the bread. In future we ordered only one serving between the two of us

After our meal we were taken to the large Algria Square that had an attractive colonnaded walkway around the perimeter and very attractive buildings. It was dominated by what had been a beautiful large cathedral built by the Italians but, since independence, had been converted into an attractive mosque—shades of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

By this stage B was getting over her cold and cough, while A’s was building up to its typical crescendo. In our hotel room we had satellite TV with 80 channels but only two, BBC and Al Jazeera, were in English. As we travelled further through North Africa we discovered that it was not surprising that everyone had satellite TV because there was no monthly fee; only the initial installation cost.

Tuesday November 6
A had an awful night with his cold but knew that after three miserable days we could both leave our colds behind us. “Delhi Belly” was still to come!

Before leaving Australia we had been told that a visa to Tunisia (the next country on our itinerary) could be obtained on arrival in Tunisia. On further enquiries we found that this was true if you arrived at Tunis airport. However, we received conflicting advice from our Tour Company and from the Australian Consulate in Tripoli as to whether you could obtain a visa when entering by road from Libya, or whether a visa had to be obtained beforehand. The trouble was that there was no Tunisian Embassy in Australia and officially we would have had to send our passports to Japan in order to obtain a visa, and that was scheduled to take 6 weeks. Since there was a Tunisian Consulate in Tripoli we decide the first thing we had to do on arriving in Tripoli was to go to the Tunisian Consulate and obtain our visas. Easier said than done!

As mentioned earlier, Othman was a very helpful guide and drove us immediately this morning to the Tunisian Consulate. Even this was easier said than done. Although we had a street address, in Libya and most developing countries, they do not have street signs, let alone numbers within streets. When we eventually found the Consulate we had firstly to move up the queue and then to find anyone that knew what to do about Australians wanting a visa! After the best part of an hour’s wait we were told to come back next Sunday at 1100, although we were told “Perhaps you could get one at the border”.

We were now taken to find the hotel we should have stayed at last night. It was quite comfortable and became our home away from home for the rest of our time in Tripoli. One advantage it had over the more up-market hotel of the night before was that the staff were very friendly. This was especially true of one of the waiters, an Egyptian, who came in very early on our last morning to farewell us even though it was his day off. The previous evening he had given us two papyrus paintings. His English was excellent, unusual in Libya, and in one of our conversations we discovered he was actually a topographical surveyor. Like so many other people we met he wanted to come and live in Australia.

The major streets of Tripoli radiate out from the central square so it was fairly easy to find our way round, at least by the time we were due to leave the city! For our visit to the Medina (the old, walled city) Othman parked our tour car some distance away so we had a long but pleasant walk alongside the harbour on the edge of the Medina, to the Jamahiriya Museum. This is now housed in what was once a Byzantine fort but, in recent years, had been converted into a very modern spacious museum. As had been our experience in Varna in Bulgaria there were more supervisors than visitors to the museum. Unfortunately we found there were very few descriptive signs in English. This was the first place where we found the frequent custom of paying $5.00 for the liberty of taking photos inside.

The presentation of the artefacts was very well thought out as it was designed to take you on a walk through history starting with the Neolithic Age. On the ground level we saw a mural of the Medina surrounded by a moat filled with water. This gave a medieval bird’s eye view of the area we were now about to explore. There were also many wonderful mosaics which we always find fascinating; beautiful Greek statues, for example, a very beguiling one of the three graces; many more of Roman Emperors and divinities; then, as we moved up, displays of the Christian and Muslim heritage until we finally reached the top floor which introduced the viewer to wars throughout the centuries and some fascinating fossilised trees from the Sahara.

Amongst other displays, besides Colonel Gaddafi’s VW Beetle, there was a statue of Venus which had been taken by the Italians and given to Herman Goring. It was returned in 2000 and Italy has since apologised for its rape of archaeological treasures during its period of colonial rule.

By this time B was ready for a cup of coffee so we stopped in a small square next to some men meditatively smoking hookahs. Each man seemed lost in his own world of enjoyment and conversation was totally absent. Every-so-often a waiter would be summoned and he would place a wad of tobacco and dried apple and, if necessary a live coal to keep the hookah functioning. All this kept us entertained while B was sipping her coffee then, when she had finished, B persuaded the man beside her to let her have her photo taken with his hookah.

From here we wandered again through the souk and watched the silversmiths at work and then on to the restored 18th century house of Yusufa Karamanli. It was a typical two-storey courtyard style house where all the rooms open onto the courtyard and there are no external windows on the outside walls. Later on the journey, we discovered at first hand what it was like to live in such houses.

Our next point of interest was the arch of Marcus Aurelius (163 AD). This arch was typical of those often placed at the intersection of the two main roads of a town so you could pass through it from any of the main points of the compass.

Then it was on to the site of the British Consulate from 1744 to 1940, recalling the great days of the British Empire. The building is now converted into a community library. Although we hunted assiduously along the shelves we found only one or two books in English.

After this there was long walk back to our car, then to the hotel for a well earned rest for a couple of hours. Across the street and at right angles to our hotel was the only Catholic Church in Tripoli. It had been built by the Italians and was dedicated to St Francis, as the painting behind the altar made clear. Today there was Mass at 1800 especially for young Sudanese refugees who were supervised by Mother Teresa’s (Indian) Sisters of Charity. The Sudanese adults in the congregation and the children provided a delightful mixture of singing, dancing, musical accompaniment, etc.—such a contrast to a typical Western Mass. The prayers were in Arabic while the priest was Egyptian and assisted by some black African Franciscan seminarians. A delightful young Nun had her hands full with some of the boys but her gentle but firm motherliness kept them in line.

We then ended the day with a shared meal of macaroni in the hotel dining room before early bed for a well-earned sleep.

Wednesday November 7

This morning we had to rise early as we had in front of us a long drive, 600 km, to Gadames, down South-West in the Sahara Desert. Tripoli on the coast has an annual rainfall of about 400 mm, however, as you travel south, the rainfall declines rapidly and agriculture becomes much poorer: changing from cereal cropping to olives, to sparse grazing, and finally nothing but bare stony ground. We were pleasantly surprised to see both Eucalypts and pines thriving well even in very dry conditions. It seemed that, even though the rainfall was very low, the land was poorly utilised, as there were limited areas of olives that were apparently growing well so perhaps olives could be grown much more widely, as well as pines and Eucalypts for timber.

The roads were excellent—initially 6 lanes, then four and finally 2. One of the things that fascinated us here, but we also saw it in many other parts of the Middle East, was the extravagance of having “street lights” for km after km well beyond town boundaries. What made the observation sadder was that apparently the foundations for these very tall lights was inadequate and most of them were leaning drunkenly.

We passed through a number of medium sized towns composed of many new one-and two-storied apartments being built in the characteristic Berber style of architecture. We wondered what kept these towns out in the desert going and were told that half the people were effectively living on social security or being paid for token work. Thanks to its large oil deposits Libya can afford these generous social security schemes.

Our first major stop was to visit a ksar, “El ksar al haj”. A ksar is a cross between a circular food silo and a fort and this one, built in the 12th century, was still in use until recently. In times of tribal conflict, the safeguarding of food reserves, primarily grain and olive oil, was almost as important as personal safety. Within the ksar each family had its own storage cubicle. Apparently villagers also buried their treasures in the open area in the centre of the ksar. There were at least three “storeys” with bags and jars being hauled up to the higher levels by ropes and pulleys. The doors of the cubicles were made of sawn palm tree trunks. The family’s contribution for the storage were distributed three ways: a third to the poor of the village, a third to the madrasa and a third towards the cost of making the haj for those who were able (hence the name of the ksar). There were a total of 114 cubicles in the ksar, reflecting the 114 sura in the Qu’ran.

Stretching across the landscape in this part of the country is a very steep escarpment running East-West, called Jebel Nefusah. The road climbing the escarpment was very steep with the town of Nalut perched atop. This town, consisting of narrow alleyways winding between small/tiny mud brick houses, was built in the 13th century on top of an earlier town but has now become deserted as the government has built better housing. We saw the ruins of two deserted mosques, a large ksar (in use until 8 years ago, with 400 compartments) and the old oil press where farmers left the crushed seeds, a source of animal feed, in lieu of payment for the pressing. Camels were used to cart the water from the foot of the escarpment up to the village. It might seem to have been a better idea to build the village nearer the water supply, but perhaps being on top of the escarpment was better for defending oneself against invaders. As you can imagine, the views were spectacular.

We then had a further extended drive though barren desert with little to see except a few camels grazing until suddenly, on the skyline, we saw numerous buildings and an even greater number of palm trees. As we moved closer we saw cultivated fields. This was the great oasis of Ghadames the home of over 17,000 people. For many centuries it has been a major stopping place on the N-S and E-W trade routes. Given the countryside we had just been travelling through this was an amazing sight.

Here we were booked into an attractive and comfortable hotel and enjoyed a pleasant shared meal of chickpeas, aubergine, tomatoes, gourds, chips and lamb. Bed was very welcome after the long drive at speeds exceeding 150km/h. However, even the best hotels can have unexpected visitors. See Footnote 16.

Thursday Nov 8
After a breakfast of bread rolls, cheese, jam, and fruit juice we had a local guide show us though the town’s museum. Here at least, the signs and labels were in English but we were becoming a bit blasé about the displays. We then went on to see various craftsmen at work, making special embroidered shoes for weddings.

Now it was time to explore the ancient city that had been established in such an unlikely place, but first an explanation of how it became possible to build a city in such a dry area. The story goes that a caravan of merchants stopped at a tiny oasis but moved on next day because they thought there was not enough water. Shortly after starting off they realized they had left a cooking pot behind and one returned to the oasis and collected it. As he was heading off, his horse pawed the ground and an abundant supply of fresh water rose to the surface forming a large pool, now called Ain al-Faras (Well of the Mare).

Actually it is possible to trace settlement in the area from 3,000 BC, through the Roman period when it served as a garrison, through a Christian period, then the arrival of Islam up to the present day. The walled city we were to visit was approximately 800 years old. In 1984 there were 6666 people living there but four years later there was only one family. This was because the Government built a new residential quarter of the city and encouraged the people to move to modern homes that even had reticulated water. As a result everyone “voluntarily” moved out of the old city (which now remains only as a tourist attraction) and now live in the new city. Despite this, the original families still own the houses and gardens and many return in the hottest months to enjoy the cool climate created by the way the town has been designed.

The first impression as we entered the old city through the Bab al-Burr, main entrance gate (below left) was how white everything was and the unusual shape of the arches, then we began to appreciate the coolness of the atmosphere. This is created by having the alleyways of old town almost completely roofed in. Fortunately A was never in danger of banging his head. Everything is white (gypsum over mud brick) and skylights are placed at strategic points in the roof to provide sufficient light. Some walls are decorated with geometric and floral patterns which had been pressed into the plaster before it set.

At one stage our guide asked us if we would mind going along an alleyway with no skylight —apparently some tourists find this too claustrophobic. Every-so-often the alleyways open into small squares surrounded by built-in benches where people could socialize. Of course, we quickly realized that for “people” we should understand “men”—women did not frequent the alleyways except from necessity. Their paths were along the housetops. Our guide, who grew up in the old town , explained how it was important to knock on the house doors correctly. If a man knocked only the man of the house could answer so there was a special pattern of knocking specifically for men.

Socially the city was split into two sections in which the members of two different tribes resided. The meeting point for the two was at the surprisingly small main square next to the two Mosques. One important feature of the main square was the water supply regulator niche. Water from the Mare’s Well was channelled underground to the main square and from there to the Mosques and gardens. The water flow was strictly regulated. A large bottle hung under the well water outlet in the niche. This took 3 minutes to fill. A flap in the bottom was then opened and the water directed to the appropriate channel. An assistant tied a knot in a palm leaf each time the bottle was emptied and when the right allocation had been sent down that channel, measured by the number of knots, that channel was blocked and the water was directed down another channel. The system, of course, also served as a timekeeper so people could always find out the time of day by checking the number of knots.

The residential quarters circled this square while, further out, were the household “gardens”—small agricultural plots with date palms, vegetables, chooks, goats etc. All these were still inside the city walls.

As you walked along the alleyways all that indicated the presence of a house was a palm trunk door with a big keyhole. Once inside you were in another world. The walls were still white but were colourfully decorated with bright colours and mirrors. On ground level was a reception area for visitors and a storeroom, on the next level was the brightly decorated living area (3m x 4m) which contained a small area, about as big as a double bed, called the bride’s alcove (Al Qubba). It was here she received her husband on their wedding night and it was here she sat to receive guests for 4 months and ten days after the death of her husband. In all that time she was confined to the house, after that she was free to remarry.

The next level contained bedrooms and storerooms until finally the staircase reached the flat roof which housed the kitchen and also provided the people with a place to sleep on hot nights. On this upper level, doorways gave access to the women to enable them to enter the adjoining houses. There were no external windows so all light and ventilation came from above, down the stairwells—there were often two. Electricity became available in 1960.

In November 1943 the French, in American planes, launched a very destructive air raid against the Italian forces in Ghadames. No Italians were killed but 70 locals were, including 12 children. Seventy homes were destroyed as well as a mosque, which had stood there for almost 1300 years

After lunch we had a pleasant siesta, as the weather was quite warm even though it was November. In the cool of the evening we were driven 10km in a 4WD out into the desert to Ras al Ghoul along a very rough desert track, reminiscent of our drive from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum in Sudan in 2005. Ras al Ghoul, literally “castle of ghosts”, is one of many pre-Islamic desert castles. It is perched on a rock bluff rising up from the plains so was in an ideal position for its inhabitants to see any oncoming invaders. There would have been another half dozen 4WDs there besides ours. We climbed half way up the craggy peak, much to the concern of our guide, and were able to see, in the distance, settlements at the border crossing into both Tunisia and Algeria. We then returned to our 4WD and headed 4km further west to where there were some huge, typical Saharan sand dunes. On the way it was interesting to come across a number of mini-oases, with just a single palm tree or a little patch of saltbush arising out of the vast barren desert.

We arrived at the towering dunes about an hour before sunset and found about 30-40 4WDs already there, as it is a very popular tourist activity to climb the dunes and then watch the sun set. Popular it may be but it was also very hard work climbing up the ridge though soft sand. Fortunately it was well worth the effort and we were rewarded by a spectacular red sunset. We can now add this experience to similar ones in Negombo in Sri Lanka and Bagan in Myanmar.

On coming down to earth again we were taken into a typical huge Tuareg tent that had the floor covered with rich rugs, just like the one you regularly see Colonel Gadaffi in on TV. There we were surrounded with cushions on which to recline, offered very sweet green tea, peanuts and beautiful freshly baked bread (the best both of us had ever tasted). Outside, colourfully dressed Tuareg women and children and two beautiful camels posed for tourist photos. We can assure you there are camels and Camels (with a capital C) and these two were “top of the pops”!

Friday November 9
Today we were scheduled to return to Tripoli but Othman asked us if we would mind a detour to Bani Wahid, his hometown so he could see his family. We were more than happy to do so both for his sake and because we would be seeing a different part of the country and it would actually be on our way to Leptis Magna thus saving a two-way trip there from Tripoli.

It was still a long drive so we had to leave early and at our first stop we came across a busload of Australian tourists. It was good to hear their salute: “Ossie, Ossie, Ossie, oy, oy, oy!!” Twice more that day our paths crossed so we caught up on news from home and were delighted to hear there had been heavy rain in Gippsland. That really cheered up our farmer hearts.

Our first stop was the village of Kabaw where we saw another 700-year-old ksar with over 300 cubicles. It was most impressive and gave us an idea of how uncertain life was in the past. We passed through what is now the deserted village as it had, once again, been replaced by modern housing as part of the Government drive to resettle people in modern housing. We saw the ancient flourmill, olive press and numerous cave like homes in various states of dilapidation. We also were shown through the local museum.

Our next stop was for a picnic lunch. This was again at a deserted village, Tarmeisa, but one we could never forget. The stone houses, like a huge rabbit warren, were very interesting but what was more impressive than anything was the view from this village that was poised on the same escarpment that we had seen two days earlier at Nalut a hundred or more km to the West. The walls of the houses came right to the edge of the sheer cliffs and when we eventually stumbled out of the last doorway we found ourselves on a small ledge with nothing between us and the rocks and desert far below. We quickly retreated two steps where we could feel the wall behind us and slowly adjusted to the immensity of the view. It was literally breathtaking! Its depth and breadth, perhaps 150km, provoked a strong emotional response so we took our example from Othman and sat and meditated. Eventually we returned to earth, ate our lunch and marvelled at the lines of the wadis snaking across the land far below.

Our last stop of interest today was at Gharyan where we visited a Dammous—an underground Berber house. These houses were built to protect their inhabitants from heat, cold and invaders. From a distance there is no sign of habitation but, when close, you discover a 10m radius circular pit about three storeys deep. The depth depended on reaching rock that was hard enough to tunnel into to create rooms.

We arrived at Bani Wahid just on dark and found welcome accommodation at the local Hotel. Our room was large and tastefully decorated in shades of pale apricot. Very restful! Our windows looked out onto the huge Wadi but, as it was dark, we could not see it. After we settled in we headed off to the empty dining room for our usual shared meal, much to the consternation of our very solicitous waiter. He was further disturbed to find that neither of us liked Coke and, even though we said we would be happy with water, he went to the trouble of offering us a bottle of beer—even though beer is taboo in Libya. We eventually convinced him we were OK without any of these drinks.

Saturday November 10
The country round Bani Wahid appeared to us very dry and inhospitable but Othman assured us that the wadi running through the locality made it quite productive agriculturally. We drove along the very large wadi and eventually passed Othman’s home on the ridge at the other side. Unfortunately none of his family was home when he called in the previous night but perhaps his fiancée who lived next door was home.

We arrived at Leptis Magna by mid morning. It is a large tourist complex and even had an ATM, so one of our first tasks was to replenish our Libyan money. Apparently ATM’s are comparatively new in Libya as Othman’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw us withdraw wads of money from the “hole in the wall”.

We have decided in the interests of your sanity to keep our two visits to Roman sites. Leptis Magna and Sabratha, for a separate chapter. If you are less obsessed than B by these you can then skip them. She had waited 50 years to visit Leptis Magna and she was determined to make the most of it!!!

On the way back to Tripoli in the late afternoon A developed a very severe toothache, the worst he had ever experienced. In desperation he asked Othman if there was any possibility of finding a dentist, even though it was a Saturday and late in the day. Miracle of miracles Othman returned to our hotel half an hour after our arrival back in Tripoli to say he had found a dentist, made an appointment and he would now drive A there. The surgery was down a little side street and there was no way we could ever have found it without Othman’s help. A expected and was prepared for the dentist to pull out the tooth but, fortunately, the lady dentist located the trouble (not where A had indicated) did a simple filling and within half an hour all pain was gone. The dentist’s fee was only $30, plus another $28 for antibiotics at the chemist’s.
Sunday November 11
There was an English Mass at our nearby Church to which we went. There were very few people there but we were told that at other French, Italian, Korean, Tagalog and Polish Masses there were quite big crowds of foreign workers.

After Mass, Othman drove us to the Tunisian Embassy, as directed the previous week, only to find that they had still not been able to sort out our visas. They did however give us a form (all in Arabic so we did not know what it was about), which they told us to present at the border the following day.

Today we were to visit Sabratha, a site of major Roman ruins comparable to Leptis Magna, some 75km West of Tripoli along the coast road. (See next Chapter.)

The journey was an experience in itself as the traffic was very heavy and although there were lots of traffic lights, as well as police, at most intersections, the Libyan drivers seemed to ignore both.

At Sabratha there were numerous tourist buses as apparently a cruise ship had arrived in Tripoli and Sabratha was a “must see”. Once they were gone, we had the place more or less to ourselves.

On our return “home” we found our room door and windows wide open and two painters busily at work! Fortunately they restored all our belongings to their original places and by bedtime the smell of the paint had disappeared.

Monday November 12
Up early this morning, 0600, as Othman was going to drive us to Ras al-Jadir on the border between Libya and Tunisia. Normally the tour company would leave us at Tripoli where we started the tour but, as usual, we found them most helpful. The country, as we drove West, became more arid and agriculture poorer.

Othman saw us through the Libyan customs and immigration then said farewell. For the previous week in Libya we had been well cared for by Othman and before that, in Malta, it was not unlike home with English being the “Lingua franca”, but now we were on our own. In some ways it was a relief to be free and on our own, so we shouldered our packs and headed for the Tunisian Border Post. Once there we managed to make our wishes clear but had no idea of what was happening as the officials had no French or English and of course we had no Arabic. We showed them the “piece of paper” we had been given the previous day and although they seemed to make some sense of it we still had to wait for over an hour while, we assume, they had to phone the Immigration authorities in Tunis to see whether they could let two senile Australian tourists into the country. Finally our passports were stamped and at last we were in Tunisia.

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After-thoughts
Here are a few random comments about our experiences in Libya.

Nowhere in Libya did we see women serving in shops. At the University the sexes were segregated into separate classes. Nearly all, but not all, women wore headscarves in public.

We were amused at one sign in a public toilet: “because of water shortage, please only use toilet to urinate”. We were not sure what one should do if one wanted to do more than that!!!

A was surprised to see that where the power lines had to go round a bend, the power poles were braced by another leaning pole rather than by a guy rope as we are accustomed to. Especially in a country with few trees one would think a guy rope would be more attractive solution.

As we also found in Syria, and to a lesser extent in Turkey, people were very careless with the disposal of rubbish, particularly plastic bags and plastic drink bottles. That was bad enough but what distressed us more was the way the authorities simply disposed of truckloads of rubbish along the roadside just outside the town or at times even within the town.

Painted lines on the roads, which we would assume to indicate the limits of lanes, appeared for Libyan drivers to be an indication of the centre of a lane and therefore to be straddled!! At times when it was too difficult to overtake in the conventional way, drivers would overtake on the wrong side of the road heading straight for the oncoming traffic. Speed limit signs in km/hr appear to be interpreted by Libyan drivers as speed limits in miles/hr! The main roads were of excellent quality but frequently there was a parallel second-class road apparently reserved for heavy traffic associated with the oil exploration, etc.
Petrol was cheaper than water—15c a litre. At the Tunisian border local cars were closely inspected and we saw one man lose all the petrol containers he had stashed in the boot.

Every local car seemed laden to the rooftop, and at times even on the roof, with thick, plush blankets which were, apparently cheaper in Libya then Tunisia. We found them to be warm but very heavy.

Internet Cafés were quite common and very cheap - $1.00 per hour.

Tune in to Chapter 3 in due course to hear about our Tunisian adventures.

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