Thursday 22 September 2005, near the border, Libya
An official assisted us through the Libyan border. Unfortunately he did not speak English so we followed him around like sheep until we met a Libyan (also doing the customs round) who explained what was happening. First we had our passports stamped, then the fun started. From the border we went by car to Amsaad, the nearest town, first to an office to find out the cost, then to another office to pay for car registration, then another office to pay for insurance, then a fourth office to collect the number plate. Finally we returned to the border. At each office we would get out of the car and after doing our business the official would flag down another one. They must be official cars, although one or two received baksheesh from the official. We then took Grom through customs. Pieter proudly showed the inside including the nice cold beer in the fridge. Beer is not allowed in Libya and there is apparently a fine for having alcohol! However the customs officer decided there was no beer. Lastly we were cleared by a police post and were able to leave. The official asked for 2 beer which he hid under his shirt and hurried off!
It was late by the time we finished at the border so we stopped for the night at a Highway Services complex about 35k from the border. It is a new first class complex with service station, mosque with typical Libyan bell shaped tower, shop, business centre, restaurant and hotel.
Friday 23 September 2005, Bingazi, Libya
The road along the coast is scenic, through semi arid country and sometimes hills. Already in Egypt it was more moist along the coast than inland. This continued in Libya, becoming even better between the border and Bingazi. There were some commercial farms and lots of olive trees and cypresses covering the hills.
The roads are good with lots of modern cars and Peugeot 404's. In Libya the majority of the population live along the coast as most of the land is desert. It almost seems that the male population is also traveling along the roads there is so much traffic. All signs are all in Arabic script so we can read nothing. At least we have a map and our GPS. The main road is also relatively obvious.
Bingazi is the largest town in the eastern part of Libya. This time we asked at a restaurant if we could camp. They were very accommodating and we bought a well cooked chicken meal from them.
Saturday 24 September 2005, Sirte, Libya
There are very few police blocks, especially compared to Egypt where there are millions everywhere. However, we were stopped for the second time today. It only became a problem when the policeman insisted we had to have a stamp from Bingazi. We had been checked at Bingazi but nothing was stamped. Pieter argued with his English and little bit of French. Luckily another driver could speak English and between them it was sorted out. But it did leave a bad taste in our mouth.
We also saw some interesting posters with Gadaffi in front of a map of Africa stating
- great achievements by great hands
- we are no longer slaves to anybody
- we reject the dividing of Africa in the name of assisting it.
A lot of packaged food is imported. We ate biscuits from Korea, Turkey, Tunisia and UAE; long life yoghurt from Germany and crisps from Italy. The Pepsi, however, was bottled in "The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahirya".
Plain green flags are everywhere. I am not sure why except perhaps because Gadaffi wrote "The Green Book" which contains his views on development.
Stopped at another service station for the night. This is good for the budget.
Sunday 25 to Monday 26 September 2005, Labda, Libya
Labda is the modern town near the roman Leptis Magna. These are apparently the most complete roman ruins, certainly in Libya. We stayed in the parking area for two nights while I caught up on some washing and Pieter checked the oil in the gear box. We put in half a litre of transmission oil. So much for a small leak. It means we want to get to England quickly and have that oil seal properly fitted by the workshop who supplied the reconditioned transfer box. They did a good reconditioning job on the transfer box, so Pieter feels we can trust them. We will also sell them the old transfer box.
We did visit the ruins.
The facilities are great - hot showers and clean.
Tuesday 27 September 2005, Medenine, Tunisia
We made the border early and decided to go through. It was very well organized and very busy. The cars were queued in 4 lanes, trucks in another. Empty trucks to Tunisia, loaded trucks to Libya. Each lane went past a Libyan passport control cubicle, customs for both Libya and Tunisia, then a Tunisian passport control cubicle. The majority went through without hassle although it took time because of sheer numbers. Of course we were different. We had to hand in our Libyan car papers, obtain Tunisian papers and a visum for me. It took us 2.5 hours which is not too bad. But by then it was getting dark, too dark to go off road and camp. We decided to go to a hotel or service station. It was off-putting passing lots of stalls selling petrol and diesel by the litre. We also saw both being siphoned out of cars/trucks! This went on for kilometers. Eventually we came across a service station at Medenine, 120k from the border and stopped there. From the attendants attitude this must be quite common. The toilets were bad. Pieter decided a lot of arabs think toilets are self cleaning, but from the expression on a woman client's face when she had to go, there must be clean toilets in her house.
Service Stations have recognizable names like Mobil and Total. There are direction signs in roman characters so we can read them. The French influence is strong so Pieter's limited conversational French is really handy. Even my barely remembered schoolgirl French comes in handy. Other obvious differences to Libya are the orchards of pomegranates; the earth is more fertile; schoolgirls do not have scarves as part of their uniform; the tiling on buildings everywhere is intricate; the roads are narrow; there are lots of police again and there are clean-up crews on the highways.
Wednesday 28 September 2005, Gafsa, Tunisia
We left Medenine early, once again woken by the heavy traffic, and headed for the Algerian border. The country side continued to be dry and used for pasture and cultivation. Pieter had been told by the Algerian Embassy in Cairo that visa could be obtained at the border. This is not correct! The Tunisian Border Police were very good. They warned us that we would be turned back and then put the exit stamp on my visum in such a way that it could be cancelled. They were concerned because my visum was a single entry 7 day visum and when I left I could not return without paying for another one. Once through Tunisia we went to the Algerian border. We were not allowed in! They were helpful though and after some time found out we could get visa at the Consulate in Gafsa, 120k back. It is not nice to backtrack but the Tunisians cancelled our exit without problems. It was too late for the consulate (after 6pm) so we booked into the Gafsa Hotel for a hot shower and a sleep without traffic noise.
Thursday 29 September to Saturday 1 October 2005, Nabeul, Tunisia
After our petit dejeuner we went to the Algerian Consulate. The first comment was 'impossible'; then 'we will see'; then 'no, impossible unless you are a resident of Tunisia'. Maybe Tunis will have a different story, so off we went back across the country. It was lovely to drive through hills covered in cypress trees and plants even though it is relatively dry. Tunisia used to be the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and is still fertile.
By the time we were 60k from Tunis we had decided not to bother about Algeria but to catch a ferry from Tunis to Italy. We found Les Jasmines, a hotel in Nabeul that caters for campers with the intention of going to a tourist agency to sort out the ferry.
We were able to obtain ferry tickets from a travel agent in nearby Hammamet, going from Tunis to Genoa via Malta, leaving on Sunday. The alternative was a ferry direct to Genoa that left after my visum expired. Investigating and obtaining the tickets involved walking 2.5k into Nabeul looking for a tourist agency, taking a taxi to Hammamet 12k away, finding out ferry details from an agency and that we had to pay cash. The banks were closed for a 2 hour lunch so we took a taxi back to the hotel. Later we walked into Nabeul again! This is definitely enough for one day! The banks there do not close for lunch, they close early instead! We did buy some steak though and this was a proper cut of rump. Pieter finally had his first decent steak since SA. Saturday we went to the bank in Hammamet and purchased our tickets.
We spent the rest of the time pottering e.g. putting more transmission oil into the gearbox and washing sheets for the first time in months.
Sunday 2 to Tuesday 4 October 2005, Mediterranean Sea
The old roman city of Carthage appears to be right near Tunis according to the map. This is not quite accurate. Carthage is a modern suburb of Tunis with the ruins spread among the modern buildings. The sign posting is very poor and we did not actually see or visit any of them. We then headed for the port only to find out many kilometers later that it is at La Goulette, the next suburb south of Carthage. We did manage to go shopping at Carrefour in La Marsa, just north of Carthage. Carrefour is a French chain of supermarkets that has spread across the Mediterranean. The last thing we did was fill up on diesel as it is very expensive in Europe. My digestive system is gradually returning to normal but now we are leaving Africa I hope the different food will bring it back to full health more quickly.
The ferry was a pleasant surprise. The last ferry I had been on was on Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt. I had a cabin on that ferry. We also had a cabin on this ferry. While we were waiting to board I asked other passengers what I would need on board, like towels and blankets. They looked at me strangely and assured me that there would be such things in the cabin, though they could not guarantee an electric point for the laptop. What a difference! Our cabin had two single beds on the floor with a corner where the shower, toilet and basin were enclosed. Small but practical. Not only were there sheets, blankets and towels, there was soap, shampoo, toilet paper, a power point and we could set the temperature in the cabin. What luxury! There were several bars, a restaurant, a cafeteria, kennels for animals, a playroom for children and of course the deck. The deck was very windy and cold most of the time so it was not used very much. There were also very few passengers.
The ferry traveled at 38kph or 22 knots. The speed and position of the ferry was displayed on a screen for all to see.
Malta was a wonderful bonus. We arrived early on Monday and had about 6 hours to see the sights. There were maps available for the hundreds of over 60 years old European tourists. The whole set up catered for the tourist industry. Malta was the stronghold of the Knights Templar during the 16th and 17th centuries. The main town is Valletta which has fortifications, churches, catacombs and palaces. It was great to just walk around. We did see St. John's Co-cathedral completed in 1577. This has a very plain exterior but the interior is highly decorated. The floor stones are tombstones of fallen knights, the side chapels are carved or decorated with paintings and the vaulted ceiling has painted panels of the life of St. John the Baptist.
There is lots of gold ornamentation. Unfortunately the photos we took are blurred as flash was not allowed and the interior is quite dark.
We also had our first breakfast of bacon and eggs since Uganda. Between Malta and meal prices on the ferry we are truly getting a taste of European prices. We will have to watch our budget very carefully from now on.
|Averages||Rand||Dollar||Libyan Dinah||Tunisian Dinah|
|Cost per litre diesel||0.75||0.10||0.14|
|Cost per litre diesel||3.17||0.78||0.59|
|Kilometers per litre||7|
|Camping per night||80.25||11.11||15.00|
|Camping per night||45.192||11.09||8.40|
|Days in country||5||5|
|Cost of ferry||