Travel Through Libya on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Libya on a Harley (21/2/99 - 9/3/99)
Distance 4658 km (127127 km to 131785 km)

This is part of the fifth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Tunisia

21/2/99 The border crossing took just two hours, half an hour out and one and a half into Libya. We were politely shepherded to the head of the queue, with a few minor complaints from the locals, and with a very thorough check of every page of our passports, presumably looking for any indication of a visit to Israel, we were stamped in. The charges for the motorcycle were greater than anticipated and had to be paid in US dollars at the official rate of 0.45 LD to $US 1.00. The initial quote was $US 10.00 for insurance and $US 180.00 for a Libyan number plate. After some enquiries the number plate price had been reduced to $US 145.00, a problem with the bank and not the officials. However on checking my receipts they only tallied to $US 110.00. You do however get 50 LD of the 65 LD paid for the number plate back when you hand it in at departure. Sounds good but the catch is you get paid in Libyan Dinar which can't be changed to $US at the official rate. It all sounds expensive but when you realize that because we had to pay for the motorcycle we didn't have to change any money at the official rate for personal use, and our first nights accommodation was $US 1.00 each in our own room at a hostel and lunch of quarter chicken and salad was $US 0.60 and petrol, 94 octane, $US 0.03 a litre, all at the unofficial rate of 3 LD to $US 1.00, once into the country the expenses are minimal. In the afternoon we visited Sabratha, one of the most extensive and beautifully set Roman ruins we have seen. Helped by 23 degrees of sunshine and positioned onSabratha, beautiful Roman ruins the Mediterranean Sea we strolled for hours in the warmest travelling day for over one year. Libya is the 50th country we have visited in just over three years (2 years actual travel) and 100,000 km since leaving Australia.

22/2/99 Strange things and coincidences happen while travelling. Travelled to Tripoli this morning and while looking for the hostel 3 km west of town we ventured down a seaside street to find at its end a large building overlooking the ocean. While parked in the driveway the occupants, two women, invited us in while they telephoned someone who spoke English to help us. The older lady with her son as chaperone offered us tea in the palatial lounge and turned out to be Colonel Gadaffi's sister in law. Don't believe me? Well after showing our photos of the trip she produces her snapshots. Her, her husband and Gadaffi, her children sitting on Gadaffi's knee. Her husband shaking hands with past Egyptian President Nasser. We photographed her son sitting on the motorcycle, but she was not allowed to beWaiting in Colonel Gadaffi's sister in laws house photographed in her position, i.e.. Gadaffi's sister-in-law. We were given as a parting gift of a large tin of Libyan pastries and Kay was given a bottle of French perfume, with the english speaking guide, who had been summoned, escorting to our $US 1.00 a night hostel. This was just an extension of the hospitality shown from the morning when the general manager of Sabrata Travel and Tourism company registered us with the police (necessary within 48 hours of arrival) at no cost and the small shop owner who gave us free bread while we ate our yoghurt breakfast in the street outside his shop. The afternoon was spent reflecting on the days occurrences and walking around the fort and medina of Tripoli.

23/2/99 Leaving Tripoli early and with the coastal green belt quickly disappearing as we headed south into the desert, gradually vegetation and people became scarcer till at times there was not a living thing in site, not a blade of grass, a bush or animal. During the last 300 km we only passed about 10 cars. Our destination Ghadhames, at the junction ofTesting the Harley's off road capabilities, just for the camera Algeria and Tunisia with Libya. There is nothing in Libya written in Roman script and usually only Arabic numbers. To navigate it is necessary to have towns along the route written for us into Arabic so we can compare, together with calculating the kilometres, asking questions and a bit of guess work. It is difficult working out even what a building is, travel agent, hotel, restaurant etc. The roads are very good with occasional sudden dips caused by subsidence bringing you back to reality from watching the passing desert. The bumps being easily identified by the dark oil patch on the road caused by the shaking loose of oil drops from some of the ancient vehicles. Periodically there were car graveyards, 100 or so dead cars sitting in the desert waiting to be robbed for spares.

24/2/99 For the first time in two years the motorcycle did not start this morning, bringing home the isolation from western spares in the Sahara in a country that has an international airline ban. Parts would have to be flown to neighbouring countries and then trucked to Libya. Luckily this was not necessaryEnormous sand dunes (ergs) as Sahara dust had entered the hidden kill switch isolating electricity to the engine. A quick multimeter diagnosis and we were underway. The same isolation is also here in a medical emergency, evacuations only by land or sea. Visited the local occasional lake and extensive sand dunes and then the old city. An extensive labyrinth of mud, rock, palm trunks and frond houses, where the narrow paths between houses are covered walkways by the houses themselves, up to four stories high with the occasional skylight lighting the connecting pathways. The effect is that of underground housing, creating a cool area in the desert heat.

  25/2/99 Setting out two hours before sunrise we headed away from the town lights to look at the northern hemisphere stars. The stars are always brightest in the clear air of the desert. Over a cup of tea and toasted bread rolls we waited in 6 degrees to see sunrise before riding almost 900 km, the sun setting before we stopped in Sabha for the night. 900 km of desert,Evening decends on a lovely row of sand dunes the first 300 km flat to all horizons, lifeless, pebbly nothing. Kay slept in her armchair seat in the sun on the back of the motorcycle. The last 60 km moving sand dunes encroaching on the road and an oasis that the Sahara is famous for.

26/2/99 450 km to Al Awaynat we are now surrounded by about 1000 km of desert in all directions. The road following an old caravan route links oasis to oasis for the first 200 km down an old wadi with a  plateau one side and drifting sands the other then returns to open desert for the rest.

27/2/99 We have come across different societies with different values built by religion, governments, politics, tourists etc. but Libya's is difficult to understand. The people so generous and friendly. There seems to be little if no bargaining over price with Libyans and when discussing a price you almost always end up with more than agreed, they will assist you when needed without looking for reward. Yes the hordes of tourists haven't been here to spoil them but they are still more generousLined up waiting for petrol than most western countries. Perhaps some of the ideals of the Green Book by Colonel Gadaffi have filtered, over 30 years of rule, through to the population, perhaps their partial isolation has helped keep old values alive, perhaps the Tuareg easy going desert life has sifted through the country. Whatever the reason the country is a joy to travel in. Into Ghat and spent all day discussing and arranging for a five day, 4x4 drive through the Acacus Mountains. We will be travelling with guide and driver, food provided, sharing with a Dutch couple in their own 4x4. Our share $US 280.00.

  28/2/99 The 9.00 am rubber time departure soon became 11.00 am, a relaxed tone set for the five days. It is too difficult to describe the enormity and vastness or beauty of the area. A mountain range inhabited during the last ice age with a wetter climate. Animals more common today from the south of Africa were common here as depicted by the many rock paintings and carvings the people left behind. StillMoving sand dunes between rugged mountains sparsely inhabited by the Tuareg running goats and camels. Generally we spent today negotiating large sand dunes, the size of small mountains, deposited in valleys between sheer wall cliffs of wide gorges. Our Dutch companions were bogged a few times, needing assistance, in the bottomless sands as our experienced driver seemed to sail across the top. To slowly wind your way around and to the top of an enormous sand whale only to drop sharply down its face into the next valley is an experience. Camped in total solitude and eating and drinking a mixture of western and local foods ended the day.

1/3/99 The same as yesterday, but the scenery is ever changing, the wind and sand sculptured rocks forming columns and caves, hundreds more red ochre paintings, Tuareg grazing their camel and goat herds. The sands from white, yellow to red changing colours with the light from dawn to dusk and the enormous dunes changing shapes as we drive past and over them. The tracks made to our camp yesterday evening removedTuareg guide and tea maker by the night breeze and our tent peppered through the night with the blown sand. Camped again under the full moon.

2/3/99 230 km from Acacus Mountains across a wide expanse of sand flats with both vehicles travelling quickly to avoid being dragged into the soft sand. Then we travelled south to be able to climb up onto Masak Mallet. A flat topped mountain range capped by sand dunes blown into enormous sand piles. Camped just 30 km short of Wadi Mathandoush. Three days out and every minute the scenery is still changing. The fine sand has penetrated every part of the vehicle, every part of our camping gear and every body orifice. Hopefully a shower tomorrow night as the 100 litres for 4 people for 4 days for drinking, washing and cooking doesn't stretch too far in the 30 degrees of barely springtime weather.

3/3/99 Wadi Mathandoush, an old waterhole in the middle of a gibber (stony) barren flat, and further out sandy plains. About 8000 years ago the inhabitants had sufficient time, energy and skills to carve and etch, the animalsStunning desert landscape in Acacus Mountains they hunted, in to the rockface of the wadi. Dozens of animals, particularly giraffe and cattle carefully drawn into the rock. Passed an enormous farm watered by travelling irrigators, pumping water from underground, turning lifeless desert into wheat and lucerne. Camped at Germa.

  4/3/99  Last day of our tour and the most spectacular in terms of scenery and adventure. Leaving the camp and heading straight up over large sand dunes we wound our way passed two lakes to finish at Lake Gaberon. These true, picture postcard desert oases, a small lake and palm trees surrounded by mountains of sand. To make a greater impression the wind was blowing the fine silty sand along the massive dunes and with the reflection of light the dunes took on the appearance of enormous flowing silk. More mountains of sand, a long drive and we were back at Ghat.

5/3/99 Back to reality and having spent longer than anticipated in the desert, worth every minute, we must now hurry through to the Egyptian border 2200 km away. After repacking 550 km today to Murzuq. Joined up with an Austrian tour group we had met a couple of times earlier in Libya and after enjoying dinner at their expense, relaxed.

6/3/99 650 km today and the interesting mountains and sands of the south give way to flat sameness, a vast nothing as the motorcycle drones along. 280 km between petrol stations and not wanting to risk a shortage particularly if a strong desert head wind comes up we carried a spare 4 litres. This being only the third time we have needed extra fuel it is easier to find a disposable container locally rather than carry one or install a larger tank. Only the dead tyres littering the roadside show of anything but desert and small settlements are identified kilometres away by the gradual increase in rubbish dumped on their outskirts. From building to household rubbish, the goats eat the vegetable matter, the rest left to the environment to slowlyKay sitting on the sand dune overlooking a typical desert oasis disappear. This is the same even around large cities, there appearing to be no organized form of garbage disposal. The road today not as good with the asphalt suffering in the desert heat, expanding and contracting till it cracks and sharp ridges appear. 3500 km and not one road repair gang seen, if the past excellent roads are not maintained within a couple of years they will all be broken up. Perhaps the government has no funds or no machinery since the breaking up of the Soviet Union and the advent of private enterprise here in 1992.

7/3/99 After free camping last night in the desert 150 km south of Sirte we had hoped for a hotel in Ajdabiya. But the only hotel there was a four story concrete cancer block with half the windows broken. Inside it was the third floor before any room was partially habitable, no hot water although the broken units were still in place, the only plumbing working, one tap over the bath, the doors kicked in, the mattresses torn and the room not cleaned for months. It looked exactly like a squatters room in a derelict building in the west. This largish city would have housed 10 orBaby camels run from the motorcycle noise more hotels in Australia but with no business travellers and no tourists to this part of Libya, a government run hotel was left to collapse. Private enterprise doesn't seem to have reached the hotel industry here. We decided to press on and camped again in the desert on the way to Tobruk (Tubruq).

  8/3/99 Chalk and cheese, the Tobruk hotel was a Libyan gem, polite, helpful, well maintained and they did our washing after nearly ten days in the desert. The colour green takes on a grand meaning here, after the "Green Book", Colonel Gadaffi's view of democracy and government, preached but doesn't seem to be practised, to every government building outlined with green, green doors, gates, fences and flags and if patriotic you would use green on your home. Our last day in Libya and politics aside a friendly warm country and people. Sometimes overly trying to help change the stereotype media view published in the west. Certainly the cheapest country we have visited and one of the easiest.

9/3/99 140Colonel Gadaffi, and us under the crossed swords km to the border and out of Libya no problem and managed to keep our number plate as a souvenir exchanging it for the deposit.

Move with us to Egypt


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