Cairo to Algiers: Part 2
A mud storm?
Yep, the dust storm had been blowing hard for a long time and now there were big splats of rain too, well, mud actually
We were heading into the Sahara towards Ghadames, the wind had been gradually picking up and the sand was streaming across the road in little tiger stripes. Visibility wasn't too bad but that was a moot point cos there hadn't been much to see anyway. I was in a pickup (the bike tied down in the back, virtually unridden since I'd crossed into Libya from Egypt) and to get here we'd driven via Tobruk, Benghazi and Sirt on the coast before striking off in a fairly straight diagonal towards Ghadames
Tobruk had been especially poignant, lots of Australians had been there in the 39-45 war and lots never left. The military cemeteries were scattered about, not signposted - at least as far as I could tell, my Arabic reading skills are even poorer than my Arabic speaking skills and all the signs hereabouts are in Arabic. We'd taken a local guide to help us and so I visited not only the Australian, well, Commonwealth, war graves, but also the French and the very moving German memorial as well. It had been a long afternoon and evening was falling as we the visited the last of the cemeteries
at the going down of the sun...
we will remember them
so by the time jumped the fence into what was left of the cave where the Australian army had established a field hospital it was almost too dark to see anything, so we returned to a nondescript hotel, ate pizza(!) and watched those soft-porn game shows that Berlusconi's Italian TV stations pump out around the clock. Bizarre? Indeed!
Like all travellers in Libya, I wandered around the remnants of Greek and Roman settlements, like Cyrene and Apolonia, on the way to Benghazi. I'd seen both before but this time I was the only one clambering around the ruins, perhaps the rain might have had something do do with that tho. The sites are well worth the bother and as a bonus, there's a hotel near the Apollonia site that has the best caffé macchiato.
Sirt is meant to be dullsville. Dunno, only stopped to make about 20 or so copies of the goodness knows what it was 'permit' which we had had to give a copy of to the soldier(s) at every roadblock we'd encountered and we'd encountered a lot of roadblocks. We'd parked (half across the footpath, half across the inside lane) on a round-about and my guide had gone looking for a photocopier. The round-about was enormous and all around the centre 'island' stood, laid, squatted, an uncountable number of young dark-skinned young men. Occasionally, a pickup or van would stop, a crowd gather and then one or two youths would jump into the pickup/van and the rest would resume their vigil. Just as the guide returned with a handful of pages, two or three dark SUV's raced up onto the centre 'island' of the roundabout and before the police - yes, they were unmarked police vehicles - could jump out, the crowd dispersed, men and boys running in every direction. Almost all made the shelter of the back streets and alleys, the police managed to grab only a handful. "Refugees" the guide almost spat out. Young men from Sahel Africa and beyond trying to get to Europe, to the fabled "good life"
Anyway here we were driving thru a mud storm. A first for me. Living in Oz, I've been thru zillions of red dust storms, but rain and dust? Never! But if the way that the drivers behaved is any indication, they're pretty common here tho; no-one slowed down, in fact no-one made the slightest adjustment to their driving, they just kept on barrelling along the fairly ordinary road at warp speed. No wonder road sides are littered with wrecks of cars...
Ghadames is as amazing as it probably should be given that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. Again, I was the only 'tourist' wandering around. The old town is a maze of covered laneways and from the outside at least the white stucco walls have a uniformity that's quite plain. Once inside the front door tho, the houses are a riot of colour - mostly reds and yellows - with intricate hand painted designs all over the walls. And the new town? A few older Italianate style buildings, a mildly interesting museum, a few souvenier shops - and of course, the shoe-maker's shop - and a lot of concrete houses. In short, a whole different world to the old town.
I bought some postcards in the museum, we went to the Post Office to buy some stamps and believe it or not, the Post Office didn't have any stamps. I could fax the cards, even scan and email them from the Post Office but I couldn't post them...
The next morning we headed for Zuhwara, back to the coast and after another overnight in yet another nondescript hotel where I seemed to be the sole guest, the bike was finally unloaded, packed and ready to roll. From the hotel it was only about 60 k's to Ras Adjir, the frontier between Libya and Tunisia, it was a pretty easy morning ride
It was also the longest ride I did in Libya
But that's another story