Mediterranean Cycopaths

Libya! Camera! Action!

    26th January 2007

Libyan visa requirements had the potential to derail our entire project and from the earliest stages of planning it was clear meeting them would be complicated. How do we arrange to be accompanied by a guide at all times – whilst cycling 1800km of Libyan coastline – without costing a small fortune?

Without going into detail of how we have approached this problem over the past 6 months (and we have considered a number of options) our final arrangements for the crossing would best be described as tenuous and it was with a degree of trepidation that we approached the frontier to learn of our tour guide’s plans.

Our fears couldn’t have been more misplaced. We were warmly welcomed at the border by the hulking Mr. Abdullah and his sidekick Tahumi (picture the Libyan equivalent of Schwarzenegger and De Vito in Twins), and, after slipping them a wad of USD for the visa and ‘service’ they led us into their homeland.  We had only proceeded 200 yards when we were met by a waiting media scrum from which emerged no less than the Pan-Arabian Road Cycling Champion! Amid handshakes and camera flashes it became clear that not only were we to be accompanied by this elite athlete the 60kms to his hometown of Zuwara, but also that our visit had, inexplicably, captured the imagination of the country.

As our convoy – with the three cyclists flanked front and rear by cars with hazard lights flashing – moved off, things took a turn for the absurd when a sedan bearing a cameraman from the national sports channel pulled alongside Jon and proceeded to film him in action at close quarters. An attention grabbing Sean decided to add to the drama for the undoubtedly captivated viewers at home by puncturing. This, of course, necessitated the full attention of seven members of our entourage and an excited cameraman gleefully capturing every second or the repair.

And so we unknowingly entered an unravelling celebrity programme of which the details remained hidden from us until the final moments in order to maximize our surprise. We were feted at multiple sports clubs where the standard order of proceedings involved a presentation of flowers on arrival, an inspection of the facilities and silverware, a perusal of a centuries worth of mediocre sporting moments caught on film (over lunch and drinks), an overwhelmingly passionate expression of heartfelt gratitude by the ‘3 dicks’ Club President and a lavishing of gifts upon us.

Unfortunately, dedication to the element of surprise backfired spectacularly when we – having been left to ride into the capital city unaccompanied – naively checked into a hostel instead of phoning our Libyan ‘minders’ on entry. A waiting crowd – including the nightly news team – who had gathered in Tripoli’s Green Square for our arrival was left bitterly disappointed.

The fleeting feeling of guilt when this news hit our desk that evening (we had no fewer than 15 missed calls on the phone) was later compounded when we met the President of the sport’s club whose cyclists had been designated to meet us on the city’s outskirts and accompany us to the welcoming celebrations. It was made abundantly clear, via an interpreter, that he was a shattered man.

Jon & Sean



February 1, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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