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Intrepid Journeys

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Libya: Jeremy Wells' Diary


Day One: Landed at Tripoli. Lots of men standing around looking at you when you walk through customs. Airport is a stunning 70s building with a teal interior. Picked up by Ahmed, our guide, who drove us into Tripoli at 175kph. Frightening journey. Into Tripoli centre. Bought a picture of Gaddafi and a kaftan. Thought this would help me blend in but I'm pretty sure it had the opposite effect. Bustling place with kind-looking people.

Day Two: Drove 30km to Sabratha, former Roman port city. Lots of brown buildings that seemed half finished on the way. First view of the Mediterranean coast through the ruins of the old theatre. Very hot. Had lunch at roadside diner. Drove home through the flash part of town. Heaps of roadworks. Tried to go and film more market action but got told we weren't allowed. Starting to think things are more complicated here than it first appears.

Day Three: Up early and started on our journey to Ghadames - 630 kms by white diesel Merc van driven by a guy who is keen on putting it through its paces. Stopped to see halal-style killing of a goat. Looked at former Berber castles - no Berbers though. Entered the desert. So hot we have to have black blinds on the van. Arrived at Ghadames at 9pm. Pretty much over driving now. Went for a run in the desert. Bad idea.

Day Four: Visited the old city of Ghadames. Amazing semi-underground village which was abandoned in 1982 because there was no running water. Incredibly hot today. Hottest day I've ever experienced. Mid 40s. At sunset, we ventured into the sand dunes in a 4WD and crossed the Algerian border. Nearly met a Berber. Rode a camel and had sand bread. Best experience so far though was attending a wedding.

Day Five: Back into the van today and, boy, what a drive. Much cooler today. Nice breeze. Made our way through the Sahara over the Jebel Nafusa highlands and back to Tripoli. Nice to get back to civilisation actually. Saw some troglodyte underground houses. Early dinner and bed.

Day Six: Still no sign of any clouds. Drove 120km to Leptis Magna. Had a lot of trouble trying to get our cameras into the site. Very strange. Leptis is an amazing ruin. Huge amphitheatre which seated 16,000 people. Huge forums and basilicas. Saw some Roman mosaics still visible in a former villa. Leptis hugely impressive. Brief look at used car market.

Day Seven: Saturday. No one in the streets when we drove to the airport. Saturday is like Sunday in New Zealand. Flew on an MD83 to Benghazi in the east of Libya. Benghazi markets impressive. A long alleyway selling just about everything. Bought a new outfit - a blue long shirt and drawstring trousers. Not getting so many weird looks now. Best dinner yet - beautiful seafood on roadside.

Day Eight: Drove from Benghazi to Shahat. Long drive. Stopped off at a place which stored stunning Byzantine mosaics. Looked like cartoons. Went for a swim at Apollonia port with some kids but a fight broke out so we got out of there. Had to get past a checkpoint, where a solider had a Kalashnikov, to have a swim. Great body surfing. Surprisingly good waves. Had dinner in a troglodyte cave.

Day Nine: Up early again and into the van for the drive to the war cemeteries. Very quiet trip. Lots of thinking. Commonwealth War Cemetery was the best-looking and best-preserved piece of land in Libya so far. Mohammed was the caretaker. He has been doing it since he was a kid and his father did it before him. A very moving experience. Stayed the night in Tobruk.

Day Ten: Visited the wreck of an American B-24 bomber which was found in the desert outside Tobruk in 1963. Also drove to the Italian trenches which were overcome by the Australians - a very important strategic position for the WWII desert campaign. Long drive back to Shahat. Stopped at Gaddafi's son's fish farm on the way. Nicest piece of coast I've seen in Libya. Stunning limestone cliffs and crystal clear water.

Day Eleven: Breakfast in the special cave that smelt like my grandparents' basement. Visited the fig tree hospital where Australian troops were healed. Basically, it's a cave. Big drive to Benghazi for flight to Tripoli. Three flights had been joined into one. 1970s 747. Interesting boarding procedure. Queued five times to get on then sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half. Long journey.

Day Twelve: Thursday - the Libyan equivalent of Friday. Chaos on the roads. Went to a mosque for the very first time. Amazing mosaics. Shukri took us to a Libyan restaurant where they served lamb's head, lamb stomach and lamb intestine. Not too bad. Lamb intestine was the pick of the bunch - surprisingly tasty. Got measured up for a safari suit.

Day Thirteen: Drove 160kms to go on a fishing trip with Jamal, the owner of the tour company who are looking after us. Found out on arrival there was not going to be any fishing, although there were fish which we bought from the market. Went by boat to a sandspit - nicest beach I have seen here. Sadly, strewn with rubbish. Very hot. 40+C. Lots of swimming and eating mackerel.

Day Fourteen: Last day. Went looking for Gaddafi memorabilia. Found myself a Gaddafi rug. Stoked about that. Can't wait to whack it down on the floor of my hallway at home. Collected my tailored safari suit. Very happy with these purchases. Sad to say goodbye to Shukri and Ahmed. They have become real friends to us. Feel like I will leave a little bit of me in Tripoli. Very happy to have had this opportunity.


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