Amazing trip in Libya

It is hard to believe how Elayne and I have been so looked after, meeting the right people just at that critical point in time, when you are just about to give up, an amazing person appears helping you without any questions, without any thought for themselves, just wanting to help us any way possible……it blows us away every time…but this is life on the road, those unexpected treasures popping up when you never expect them and Libya had more than enough unexpected treasures.

Libyan border control

Victor and his new green Libyan number plates.

Our first night in Libya 30 klms from the border.

Thanks to the Libyan police for finding us our very very cheap diesel 15cents a ltr…..great.

Libya’s fight for freedom.

Street art in Sauan Libya

Libya street art.

Libya freedom comes at a cost.

Every building we saw was riddled with bullet holes.

Getting our Libyan visas was just the start of all the wonderful help we received in Libya, our Libyan business visas being sent to us from the ‘’ Eye of Libya’’ agency in London without our cheque being cleared, without any charges, without any issues ….it is so humbling to find such ambassadors of the world…just fantastic people, we will never forget help.

Crossing into Libya at Ras al-Jedir  from Tunisia was a real test, as this border was in constant flux…open or closed what would we find?…….Our paperwork was not really correct in every detail and this was putting a real strain on Victors crew, Elayne was not happy with my decision to try and cross into Libya with paperwork a little irregular….and as for Egypt it was going to be even tougher….well some of our readers will know what I am talking about…so I will leave this subject and its explanation for another day.

It is always nerves before a border crossing and it was showing Elayne and I not knowing what to expect at this border between Tunisia and Libya, months before in France we had searched the net trying all we could to find any information about other Overlanders crossing into Libya. The news was thin on the ground, but an Australian couple had crossed a few months before and this was all the news we had.

But this was now and the anxiousness was showing, we were arriving at the Tunisian border control and it was a Friday I think.

Leaving Tunisia turned out to be a little more difficult than we thought, we are told an important Customs official is away, and we would not be able to leave Tunisia…….This is a new one…I think …and go off to explain to Elayne our predicament. I talk to Elayne still waiting in Victor keeping an eye on passers by, borders can be a doggy place and we do not want anybody planting stuff on us which would cause a huge headache.

We did not expect this hold up as every Tunis official scrutinizes our passports and Libyan business visas making sure they were genuine….why do you want to go to Libya ….The Tunisian border guards ask us….I try to explain our travels wanting to return to Australia Overland where possible….The border guards treating our intention to visit Libya as a waste of time…..Again confirming our suspicions every border hates the people on the other side…..well that’s my interpretation for the attitude shown by the Tunis border control and our endeavour to cross into Libya. We have come a long way to see Tunisia and we would also like to see Libya…my comments not hitting a note of consensus.

After 2hrs of my persistence and pushing my point to cross as soon as possible payed off and our passports were stamped out of Tunisia and we were allowed to proceed to the Libyan side, without the very important Tunisian Customs Official being present?????

I fire up Victor and head to-wards the Libyan border control…..we are now in no mans land and we have wasted a few hours of daylight ….how long will this take Elayne asking the million dollar question both knowing it could be hours.

WE arrive at the Libyan border control and are immediately surrounded by Officials….YIKES this looks bad….I exclaim Elayne nodding her head opting not to make any further comment.

But Looks can be deceptive as all of the Officials shake our hands and welcome us to Libya.

The Libyan Officials were amazingly kind to us, our first experience at the Ras al-Jedir border where we spent 4hrs with friendly Police and Customs officials, eventually attaching some hand painted green Libyan number plates to Victor with some old tie wire and having endless handshakes with every person wanting pictures with Victor and crew and his new ???? Green Libyan registration plates.

I pose for a picture at the first Libyan Classic car club run.

Some great classic cars stored away from Mr Gaddafi.

Freedom for the young at heart.

The cost is payed in lives Libya and its  freedom

The former leaders of Libya.

It was amazing to find out a few months later while trying to cross from Sudan to Ethiopia Gallabat we stumbled across a professional German tour guide who had spent 3mths organizing a tour with 2 professional Libyan tour guides to cross Libya onwards to Egypt and Sudan. Only to find out he had tried to cross from Tunis to Libya the very next day we had come across, and was refused!!!!!……he even new our names as he had asked Immigration and the Libyan Customs Officials when was the last entry for foreign traveller’s…..The Customs Officials replied Christopher and Elayne Clash …..And they crossed yesterday.

Bernd Landau  the German tour guide crossed back across Tunisia back across to Italy, around Turkey shipping to Port Said Egypt……wow just one day later we would have faced the same problem the borders were closed indefinitely with no answers when they would be open again.

One day later for us……????….it is hard to believe ….but that is how it goes…. life on the road is not cast in stone, even if you do have a valid visa.

We had made it across into Libya our documents never needed, their interest in our Carnet ….ZERO…….no we don’t need this document …, you are free to drive anywhere in Libya our friendly immigration office exclaims.

Waving our farewells Victor rumbled off with fuel tanks on empty….yes we had just a few litres of fuel hoping to fill up in one of the cheapest fuel Country’s in the world. 12cents a litre, we were looking forward to that….

We are in Libya…GREAT we hug and our anxiousness disappears and the reality of driving across Libya has us excited, but we opt just to drive 30klms from the border and camp along the beach. I manage to find a spot off the road behind some limestone boulders a few metres from the water.

The wind is up and we decided to leave putting up our roof top tent until the light fades and nobody can see us. The track down to the beach was not for sedan cars so hopefully we will have a quite night our first in Libya. The sunset and we had a wonderful quite night the wind easing but the rain followed with a few heavy showers.

The sun hits our tent the following morning a real peaceful night, it is time to make a big breakfast we were so pleased we had crossed into Libya complete hassle free and our morning challenged when we set off was to find diesel ASAP. I had some 40 lts plenty really but it’s just a habit to keep one tank always full.

BUT……we could not find any diesel available…YIKES……and we had no Libyan Dinar after we had exchanged a Usd 100.00 for 111 Libyan Dinar to pay for our temp Libyan plates. We are told we will receive  Ld 100.00 back when we exit Libya….It was actually  115 Ld but they were not bothered about the few Ld we did not have and excepted the Ld 111.00 we had exchanged for our Usd 100.00

We started to worry after several fuel stations had no fuel whatsoever ….Yikes looks as if we will never be able to indulge in Libya’s cheap fuel…Elayne exclaims.

Eventual 2 Libyan police stopped as we entered yet another fuel station and pulled alongside Victor. Can we help the officers ask us…..yes I reply we need some diesel?

No problems follow us we will help you…….lights and sirens blazing we follow our Libyan police escort stopping at every fuel station in the next 30klms asking the attendants where we could find diesel… last they found a fuel station which had diesel……thanks again for the effort the Libyan police made to help us find diesel., we shook their hands and had a few pictures take and waved them good bye.

Yes it was a pleasure to fill up with such cheap diesel; we again had to exchange Usd 100.00 for Ld 110.00 this time but who cares if we are a few Libyan dinars short of the official rate (what ever it was) when fuel is so cheap. 120 ltrs for Ld 17.40

Just out of interest this was all we ever changed in Libya and we think we only spent Usd 92.00 for our whole trip across Libya which included fuel, food. We wild camped everywhere in Libya except for our invitations to stay in homes and garages and our wonderful hotel in Tripoli the Libyan deserts were wonderful and easy to find peaceful and safe rest for the night.

Our Libyan adventure was just one of endless hospitality …if we stopped just for a few minutes to take a rest or a few pictures, a passer by would stop in cars or pedestrians to invite us for tea, supper, or just to visit their families….. It was a wonderful experience one we will always remember the kind hospitality the instant invitation….please come and join us and my family…we invite you for tea.

One day we were waved down by a man waving fish at us as we cruised along a street in Sirt looking at all the awful mess their struggle for freedom had created, new apartments shot to bits windows of paleaceous houses smashed and broken homes empty….. Where had the people gone…..was a beckoning question.

We pulled over to greet the man waving fish at us…..I park Victor and walk over to great him.

Please take these fish …please take as many as you need…please…please it is my pleasure to help you…..What can you say the man’s eyes were smiling, his heart was there in his eyes ,his handshake warm and welcoming as both his hands clutching my one. It always brings a tear to my eyes as I look around the surrounding chaos broken buildings shot to bits, and then this humble man wanting us to have as many of his fish from his wheelbarrow.

His shoes were broken his jumper in taters his wheel barrow carrying his catch rusty and broken.

Please…. he asks me again please….. Take as many fish as you need.

He is possibly my age his grey beard ragged, his weathered face deeply lined.

His English is perfectly understood. And I wonder where he had learnt this foreign language.

I take one fish and he looks upset his eyes reflect his disappointment with me…..selecting only one fish from his broken wheelbarrow.

He places several more into a plastic bag and smiles. He turns and pushes his wheelbarrow away..I stand humbled and silent by his kindness.

I return to Victor and place the plastic bag of fish attaching them to a strap. I look back only to see him wave as he disappears along rubble filled path out of sight.

This was always a question for us …where had all the supporters of Col. Gaddafi gone? They where mostly still here the supporters of this broken regime still here …still with their neighbours????

How would all this resolve itself neighbours knowing their neighbour had supported this brutal regime!!!!

This was a question I could not answer …but it was something I had not realized Gaddafis followers were still here????

No tourists to be seen …and that is great for us ( sorry) all the famous tourist sights empty from combat photography we could walk around historical sites completely alone in most cases just a few  locals enjoying a walk with their families rekindling their links with a fascinating past.

It was clear the country was in a very new stage, the revolution fresh and it was clear Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s tight grip of law had clearly disappeared , people were free their eyes reflecting their excitement….but not all were convinced their new opportunity was for them. This proved a difficult balancing act for us……. which way would the conversation go in favour of Mr Gaddafi ….or not…..we tried to stay away from this subject as best we could.

Most towns where guarded by military check points, or had some checking post next to a major intersection young men brazing weapons of one sort or another would stand and wave back like childish boys. We were treated with every respect…Welcome to Libya …where do you come from was the main question we were asked. Very few document checks and big smiles were more the norm no aggression was every shown to us.

Victor joins the first Classic car run in Libya.

By some amazing coincidence we are just ambling our way towards Tripoli when we were flagged down by a pedestrian. I pulled over to find another friendly Libyan who welcomed us to Libya and wanted to tell us all about his struggle and his part he played in freeing Libya. We were ushered to a coffee house where we where surrounded by 20 people all wanting to hear our story and welcoming us to Libya… you know you are at the epi- centre of our struggle for freedom ….no I replied I did not know all about Libya’s fight for freedom but I would like to hear your story I replied……We were again asked to drive a few blocks away where they would explain all the last days of Colonel Gaddafi’s struggle to remain in power. I was following another vehicle to the centre of the fight for freedom Colonel Gaddafi’s last stand Surman…..pleased don’t quote me on this …but this is what I was told.

One block away from our brief coffee stop and another world appeared, every building was shot to bits blackened paint, broken plaster, burnt out shells of grand buildings, bullet holes, large shells and twisted and bent metal poked from every building. Large Palm trees trunks stood without leaves just  stood riddled with bullets blackened and scared.

It was like something out of a mad action movie…..we stood mouth open I have never seen so many bullet holes in everything which was still standing.

Ten minutes later we were still trying to take in the stories from people just coming up to us and shaking our hands …Welcome to Libya…welcome….please look around and see our struggle….our fight for freedom …”we will leave this for the world to see”  one bystander shouted to me. The dreaded gates of the infamous goal ripped from the hinges was the entry to the martyr’s museum

Rows of pictures of young men martyr’s surround us.

It’s hard to take in the surrounding chaos and make sense of it, real life is allot different than watching it on TV even when the explosions have long gone, these images will stay with me for a long time to come.

A young local man asked if we could drive around the square and meet some friends which would love to see Victor. We did drive around the centre square as requested, and to our amazement we stumbled across the first Classic car rally to be held in Libya for years and years. It was amazing to find 60 plus classic cars on their first run to celebrate their new freedom, these classic cars hidden away unable to be used under Gaddafi’s rule.

We were immediately introduced to the organizers Dr. Rafa Swesi, Abdul Mounem Heba and Samir Saed.

We could not believe our chance meeting with even more passionate Libyans who went BONKERS…when Victor rolled into their gathering completely un- planed ….it was an amazing experience one we will never forget. It was great the background of obliterated buildings filled with bullet holes faded fast as the enthusiasm around bellowed in triumph.

It was like nothing I could ever explain… a foreign car visiting the first Libyan classic car run…they didn’t even have a name for their new club…they really did give us a Royal welcome we were treated like visiting Ambassadors there  was nothing they would not do for us, it was just great to be part of this first gathering of like minded car crazy people. Victor was surrounded Elayne could not even get out of the car. Young children were placed on Victor’s bonnet and roars of appreciation and flag waving erupted in the crowd around Victor. You are safe don’t be frightened one older man spoke to me nothing on your car will be touched it is safe we are so glad you are here, we are glad you have come.

At the end of the display we were to drive to Tripoli and lead the convoy behind a flashing Libyan police cars sirens blazing( not again Elayne exclaims)  us waving to the crowds of spectators lined along the streets, cars weaving in and out passing their new Libyan flag to us as they drove alongside Victor ..It was a scary operation ……but nothing was dampening their smiles so we could hold their new flag in triumph for their new Libya….horns blasting people shouting and waving all the way to Tripoli.

It was an honour for us to be treated with such appreciation for taking the time to visit Libya and make the effort to come and see their new found freedom. Tripoli at last my nerves in shatters the last 30klms was an interesting driving experience to say the least.

Stopping directly below that infamous pulpit from which Gaddafi would speak to the crowds below, but this was a new crowd gathered around us hundreds and hundreds of people all shaking our hands and welcoming us to Libya and Tripoli…….this is where he would speak ( one bystander started to explain)to us pointing to a stone wall with a balcony above…..he would disappear after his speech nobody knew where he would go …but there are tunnels all under our feet ….the bystanders pointing to the ground…..tunnels everywhere.

We were immediately booked into a first class hotel, we could not pay for any thing. Food lunch, supper, all was provided it was very humbling indeed. We had been part of a new found freedom with classic car owners who had kept their hidden treasures under cover for years….can you imagine the joy they had in driving them, it was a privilege for us to be part of this new freedom and find like minded passionate people who loved to keep their old cars going. Can you imagine owning an old Citroen, Jaguar, Oldsmobile, and Fiat, not being able to use it or find one part for your car having to make or use another part to keep it going? I could go on for ever talking about the wonderful Libyan Classic car club without a name.

Thank you all our Libyan friends for helping Victor and crew across Libya.

Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna.

Wild camping has its moments …was there anything else????

More left over stuff unknown to me.

Victor was now a star and we had been invited to garage for a complete service, what great guys supplying everything they could to help us and Victor. I sat down after Victor was placed on the hoist ….please stay Mohamed from MRKAPAT garage and eat lunch with us…don’t worry about your car all will be fixed…….it was hard to convince Mohamed I would like to stay and see how all your servicing is progressing……he finally relented and I eat my lunch in the workshop overseeing Victors helpers.

Thank you so much Mohamed at MRAPAT garage in Tripoli we will stay in touch when we can. Please if anybody needs to fix their Overland vehicle call into MRKAPAT garage in Tripoli.

Thank you also Mohamed for cutting off your own number plate and giving it to us.

Thank you so very much Dr. Rafa Swesi, and without Abdul Mounem Heba and Samir Saed who acted as an interpreter for several days your English was perfect your hospitality even more, and your wonderful old Fiat, Life would be less rich for me, thankyou all so much for taking care of us and our wonderful stay with you in Libya.

It was a sombre moment while standing alongside the war memorials at Tobruk alongside the Gulf of Bomba. What can you say all such a tragedy in time now rows of engraved sandstone stand all looking so regimental, so clinical as if to hide the chaos with its immaculate setting. Nothing has changed the fight for freedom goes on here in Libya, what will the next few years bring, we hope peace for the wonderful people of Libya…we hope in-shala

Another no overtaking sign adding to my collection.

Wonderful Libyan hospitality.

Libya’s wonderful deserts.

The border to Egypt was now insight known to all as the worst border in the world to cross, the Soloum border between Libya and Egypt would be a tough encounter for Victor and crew.

Arriving at the Libyan Egypt border the next day was a another sight of Chaos as kilometres of trucks lined the road packed full of goods of every kind small trucks loaded down with reels of cloth stacked so high the trucks were buckling under the weight. Hundreds of people sat next to their vehicles cooking and talking waving as we slowly drove past. It was looking like rain and none of the acres of lining/cloth on the small buckling Utes was covered up…what would they do if it rains Elayne asks …I have no idea what would happen to all this material.

It never ended truck after truck after trucks…….My plan was to try and not stamp our Libyan business visas out but try and see if my paperwork for Egypt would be ok?????….this is never going to work Elayne exclaims you are really going to find out this was not a good idea.

It was grey and overcast as we approached the final few hundred metres of Libya and the infamous border of Soloum.

We are approached by a young Libyan border control officer and I tried to explain to him if it would be possible to try and visit an Egyptian Border officer to see if my paperwork is correct….let me look at your paperwork the young Libyan border officials asks…….I show him our file and Triptic……Yes I see no problems with your papers you are all correct. I am still nervous and I ask him to ask the immigration officer wether he will allow us to not be stamped out of Libya in case we have a problem with our documents in Egypt.

It was a last ditched attempt to have an option to return to Libya if our paperwork was not in order to enter Egypt. But again the Libyan border officer checks our documents and confirmed everything looks correct……I see no problems with your documents….he replies.

No luck, I will need to take the chance and if all goes pear shaped I have made good friends with the Libyan Immigration officer he may let us back in….who knows.

Stamp Stamp our precious Libyan business visas have sealed their fate. I look down at our passports Elayne was right my throat was dry as I see the 2 exit stamps across our Libyan visas. It was all well planning this back in France but now it is real and my nerves are getting a little on edge, my voice croaky and this was not Egypt.

The young Libyan border officer points to Victors Libyan number plates……You will need to return those plates back to customs which is 6 klms back from where you have just come from…….Oh I exclaim….don’t worry I will take you in my car your wife can wait for us to return. Can you believe another willing person enters our lives only too pleased to see we have our Ld100.00 returned to us?

Back along the queues of trucks piled each side of the road nothing moving we eventually find the right official just about to go for lunch. My young Libyan border officer explains we need our refund……..mmmmh the Customs official sighs… much did you pay at the border when entering Libya….Ld 115.000….( well really 111.00 but I did not want to confuse the paperwork trail)…..yes this is correct the Libyan Customs official exclaims…..but I do not have the keys for the safe. Yes their was an old safe in the corner of the small office. They all speak amongst themselves even other people from outside just wandered into the Customs officer’s office and join in the conversation…..all wanting to help.

Don’t worry we will find a solution to your problem…The Customs official replies…..I really did not think it was my problem …but I was not going to argue along my line of thinking opting to keep my thought’s to myself.

Eventually we drove part way back to the border where another phone call was made and another officer was found surrounded by hoards of truck drivers some 50 persons jammed into his small dark office. I was immediately taken to the front of the queue (if there was ever a queue) and everybody went silent as the young Libyan border office explains my situation. ………The surrounded man opens an old wooden draw full of what looks like Libyan dinar……How much do you need he asks …well I stumble at the question thinking surely this was discussed ………..Ld 115.00 I reply…… The money was counted out amongst piles of paperwork covering his desk, no other questions asked even 2 other men counted the Libyan dinar as well (who looked like truck drivers) the money was then handed to me, all eyes staring straight at me. Shukran  ( thank –you ) I replied Shukran for your help…..No it is our pleasure the surrounded official exclaims have a safe trip you are always welcome in Libya. Money in my hot little hands those first thoughts of never getting a cent back after we handed over our hundred dollars at the Raz al Jedir border between Tunis and Libya and the thoughts of the Tunisian border guards thinking it was a complete waste of time visiting Libya…..all those thought’s came flooding back… wrong I was …how wrong they were.

We leave the jammed dark office and the chaos resumes as I enter daylight once again.

Good the young Libyan border officer exclaims we are ready to go back to the border we only need our Libyan number plates returned.

Victor and Elayne are still waiting at the Libyan side of the border surrounded by new onlookers I struggle to get to our number plates the onlookers all wanting to help. The Libyan number plates are only attached with thin steel wire and in minutes they are removed and I hand them back.

I shake hands with the young Libyan border officer offering to pay for some fuel for his Lada Niva which he drove me around in for the last hour. No it is not necessary he replied.

Again Libya has been so welcoming so helpful it was sad to leave our new friends, it was sad to leave Libya and all those great memories we had.


About Adam

Site admin and son to Chris and Elayne Clash. :)
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