I went back down the road this time to Menedine, where I arrived in good time. I organised a perfectly good room at the Hotel Sahara and wondered where to eat. Najete (wife of Adel, mother of Loujeim, excellent chef) had given me two delicious home-made loaves of bread the night before and I had the ubiquitous tuna. Now all I needed was a few thousand chums. But I really needed a hot meal, on a plate, with cutlery. The meals of the previous two nights had convinced me that my malaise was less to do with the heat than lack of nourishment leading to feebleness both of body and brain. I've always wondered how little food I could manage on, and now I think I have a good idea.
Up the street was a grand wee fast food place run by Ahmed who has an R1, but used to have a TDM which was much more practical, he tells me. He loves biking in Italy. He noticed the bike jacket and "oh was that you that passed earlier?" He'd seen the bike and thought it far too old for such a journey. He did provide a lovely hot, freshly cooked meal, with plate and all the bits and bobs. Luxury. After an argument he let me pay for the food but I wasn't allowed to pay for the Orangina because, well, he'd opened the bottle anyway! He explained the loud 1 0'clock gun-type explosion I'd heard earlier as being a 'Ramadan bomb'. A kind of huge firework (a mortar!) set off by him to announce the setting of the sun. He had a video on his phone to prove it was him!
Next morning I crossed the border into Libya. Only two hours at the border and no Guide to pay for. However
, I had to pay $80 for my new number plate!
Some more for insurance. This bitter pill was sweetened when I mentioned I was really low on fuel. "Take some from there . . . " The guards pointed at some plastic water bottles full of green fluid lying in a puddle in the middle of the road. I decided I could probably get one of the 5 litre bottles into mine and proceeded to splish, splash and splosh it all over the bike in the freshening breeze. Having got about two litres into the bike and put the rest onto my legs and all over every other bit of the bike (phew - no smoking in Ramadan!) I went for my wallet, disappointed to have wasted so much. Lots of shaking heads meant I didn't have to pay!! Later when I got to a fuel station I found that I filled up with 20 litres of 95 octane for 3Libyan Dinars. I think
that's about one pound fifty!
Rode on through what looked like the antidote to scenery, towards what I assumed must be Tripoli. All signs are in Arabic only so I was going by the number of kilometres away, the signs suggested each squiggle was. Then I got the idea of the squiggle for 'Tripoli'. Whereas there had been thousands of tiny mopeds in Tunis, and the police used XT350s and BMW R1100s, there are NO bikes in Libya. None that I've seen anyway, except for the police.
So I appeared as something of a novelty. Lots of smiling and waving - in between the attempts to destroy - fairly cheered me up! Slowly it became dark. This is good because the roads empty while everyone goes home to eat, but bad because then I couldn't see the potholes. I could barely see the road! We are so blessed in the UK with cats' eyes in the road. Are they so expensive other countries won't buy them? Be grateful all you British road users!
Just as I was starting to wonder what I might do if it started raining, the 4star Al-Hasnian Grand Hotel loomed into view, all bright lights and warm glow inside. Safe!! "Certainly we have a place for your motorcycle sir. Do you have any whisky?" Their disappointment was palpable! "But you are from Scotland!" How dare I come all the way from Scotland without any whisky! Clearly it had been a big mistake to have let me in at all! I felt like a disgrace to my nation.
However, there was a refreshing 'welcome' (non-alcoholic) drink while I filled in the relevant forms. "And now sir, if you will bring your motorcycle through here . . ."
I was amazed, "what? Through reception? Across all this beautiful marble flooring!?"
"Certainly sir, it is the quickest way."
Had to get a photo of that - bike, red-faced me (just out of the cold!), beautiful surroundings and giggling staff
. The ice was re-broken, thankfully. With the bike parked up I was told t
hat my meal would arrive at my room in 20 minutes. "And we are very sorry sir, but there will be live music at 11o'clock tonight. Libyan Folk, perhaps you might like to come?" A live band? Who could resist?
Of the two they showed me, I chose the dearer room at 16, rather than 13LYD. For this there was a big telly, double bed, enormous balcony, and a wee separate living room. If only I had thought to arrange a small meeting! The phone rings - would I like to move my bike, it's raining. With an earful of bathtowel it rings again - would I open the door, my tea is ready! It rings again - "the band are waiting for you sir!" For me?
Wow! They were loud. I don't know though, I tried to get into how they were playing together but I really struggled. Music often makes more sense to me whenever I see it played live. I can see how each musician works together with the others to produce pleasing sounds. But these guys seemed almost to be playing against each other! Maybe some musician knows more than me about beats to some bar or other but I grinned as best I could through about five songs. I remembered to smile whenever the video camera panned round and settled onto me (only 'Westerner') before panning back. Then I remembered how tired I was and how I needed to go and sleep now. That was fine.
This very morning it was POURING with water that didn't even have the decency to bother arranging itself into droplets of rain before washing half the Sahara into the streets of Khoms. I wasn't going anywhere and I'd very little money. The following dear reader, I promise, is true word for word. I spoke to the owner of the Hotel, a young ex-lawyer with six children.
Me - "I need to get to a bank machine to get more money if I am to stay another night."
He - "There is no machine in this town, only in Tripoli - but don't worry."
Me - "Then can I pay by Visa card?"
He - "Oh, no, I'm afraid we do not have that facility, but do not worry."
Me - "Do not worry? But how am I to pay if I have no money!!?"
He - "If you have no money then we can get it later when you send it to us. And if you have only a very little money then do not pay us now, and we will give you a little more money, so that you can continue your journey. You can send it back to us later when you get some."
Me - Dumbfounded?
So as I'm recovering from this antiquated but very comforting state of affairs, he suggested running me into town in his car, till we can see the banks about possibly extracting money from Visa. None helped, but I have an emergency supply of US dollars which I can change tomorrow. Phew! Eventually, he dropped me here at the iCaff where they're playing the strangely hypnotic Qu'ran on a constant loop. I don't understand a word but I can listen to this. Ears, funny things!
In e-mail conversation with my favourite travel consultant in London, it is suggested that a picture of me might be a good thing to have on the Blog. Well I've just the perfect photo now and so I'll just go back and get the camera . . .
I went back for the camera and got a taxi to the hotel only to find it full of THREE air-conditioned busloads of retired Brit tourists all chowing down heartily on food in the middle of Ramadan without so much as a 'by your leave'! I get the taxi to wait, run in, grab the camera, get the cable to connect it to the computer, rush straight back out - pausing only to ask at reception whether they might have another hotel I could move to - jump straight back in the taxi, argue with the man about going to other iCaffs I know are shut, and don't know they have Windows XP, drag him back here, ask politely whether it's alright to stick the cable in and take it out of my pocket to show. "Aye, ye could," says the lad, "but there's no cigarette-lighter connection in the machine!" AAaaaaaaagh!!!!!!!!! I brought the wrong cable. This one charges the mobile!!! Such is adventure.
But at least the sun's blazing now! Back to the hotel for a nice cup of tea, a biscuit ad a slice of cake before tonight's knees up with Chas and Dave. "Snooker loopy nuts are we, we're all snooker, loopy . . ."!