Mediterranean Cycopaths

Sights from the Saddle – Libya

9th February 2007 

While Sean puts his head down and pedals furiously trying to keep pace with me, I always have my senses on high alert to take full stock of the surroundings, garnering a unique insight to a country that only this sort of grass roots travel affords. So what does this approach yield in Libya?

The most striking observation is the cacophany of noise from the road. Aside from the wind, engines and the self inflicted MP3 tunes, there’s the sounding of horns that persists from every other vehicle until you raise a tired hand to acknowledge the driver (and his 8 passengers). The charismatic truck drivers are the most accomodating and excitable of road users – they will move their rigs right across into oncoming traffic to give us as much room as possible, while at the same time jumping up and down on the horn until they get a wave.

Towing derelict cars to no particular destination for no apparent reason appears to be a national pastime – “Hey, Ahmed, wanna tow this wreck to Al Hishah and back? Hazard lights? You bet!”

The feral dogs run recklessly, yelping, into the road looking at any moment like joining the ranks of their countless fallen comrades that have been hit and left to rot in the gutter. Although easily the most prevalent, the canines are far from alone: carcasses of donkeys, goats, sheep, cats and camels litter the highway, assaulting the senses, the stench of decompostion often preceeding the sight depending on the wind direction.

There’s the distinctly coloured travellers from neighbouring Niger, Chad and Sudan hitching for a lift, the disorientated long haul truck driver who has pulled over to pay homage to Allah but, by my calculations, has his bum facing Mecca.

When the breeze picks up, sand is blown over the road at an ever increasing velocity and is invariably followed by a short but intense rain squall that sees us scrambling for the rain jackets. Sleet stings the face as it comes in at a 45 degree angle.

As we roll into another town, a camels (detached) head stares at us from the local butchery. We sit down for lunch and a small crowd gathers at the bikes. Before long, Sean is tracing them through our route on the map. Everyone has an email address and others, most of whom we haven’t even met and can’t speak English, are falling over themselves to divulge their mobile numbers and requesting ours (you can just imagine the conversation if they ever called).

They love their Mobiles. A grown man, at least 45 years of age, moves towards our table brandishing his and films 2-3 minutes of the scintillating action of us eating lunch, muttering the word “sorry” as he pans in for some close-up chewing time. He then reviews the tape, twice, while sitting two metres away. Somewhat disconcerted, we call for the bill, only to find it has already been picked up by the well heeled man in the corner. He probably likes Sean’s beard.

Once in a while we have also been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Libyan yeti. They lurk in the aisles of supermarkets, slink into the shadows of darkened streets – the distinct, but rare sight of a veiled head is the giveaway: A woman. We love a bit of male bonding, but the ‘sausage fest’ of Arabic society is a step too far. As Sean, a sensitive man at the best of times, commented back in Tunisia “I miss having women around, just to talk to”. I have since purchased a violin and play it every time I sense his spirits flagging.

Jon

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February 9, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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