Archive for December, 2009

24th to 27th December

Monday, December 28th, 2009

27th December
At 6am our worst fears are realised when Aly replies confirming that he advises that we should look at an alternative route. This is gutting for both of us and we know it now leaves a big chunk of land mass out of the challenge. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the heart of Saud Arabia, and we still haven’t reached it. With Iraq to the north and conflicts in Yemen in the south our travel insurance would not be valid, and as our safety is paramount we are not going to risk it through these countries.
At breakfast we try and think positively, and our new idea is not to let Saudi Arabia beat us. We are going to go through all the correct channels, make sure we have a group of four people and come back next winter to complete this leg of the challenge. For the time being it will be onto Hurghada and then flight to Abu Dhabi.
Our so we thought. After letting some key people know of our dates in Dubai from 4th to 10th January, we then find that all flights from Hurghada go via Cairo and prices are double what they should have been. So back to the drawing board again. The only option left for us is to just fly from Cairo, and as we don’t want to be in this horrible city any longer it means tomorrow!
One hectic afternoon writing press releases, booking flights, (flying to Abu Dhabi, with a transfer in Bahrain which will be a luggage nightmare), telling Holly that she has two days to book a flight herself, confirming with contacts for accommodation and packing up the bikes for the flight (thanks to Magdi and team), tempers flare before we crash out at 1am.

26th December
While the UK relax their turkey filled bellies, we are back to work on the challenge, route planning two options. One will take us down the Red Sea coast to Hurghada and one up to Jordan in case we are unable to pass through Saudi Arabia. But after much deliberation, we decide that the later doesn’t make any sense. We would be cycling for the sake of it and northwards as well, when we have spent the last 75 days cycling down towards the Tropic of Cancer.
Stodging through work, we are really waiting for one email – the one back from HRH’s office to confirm a green light for Saudi. So you can imagine our disappointment when the reply comes back referring us to another department for youth welfare. This isn’t good as we have been to the top of the tree, and this is a big nail in the coffin. One last ditch effort is ask Aly’s advice, so we then console ourselves with a Cadburys chocolate overload (we had to buy this, but hopefully in the NY Cadburys are going to send us out a parcel of chocolate and sweets).

25th December
Happy Christmas! After saying goodbye to Cata at 4am, Jon and I had a chilled morning before heading off to see the Pyramids (our Christmas present from the family). They are an immense sight, although could probably be replicated quite easily at Legoland, and despite the scamming Egyptians we got a camel and pony ride to view the awesome sights. This was funny when I was on the pony next to Jon (I looked like Dennis Waterman off Little Britain), and looks like someone shrunk me and the pony, (see gallery) , but we did get some stunning photos. With the sound of praying booming across the Cairo jungle below us, this was certainly a different way to spend Christmas.

Telling several more Egyptians to “do one mate” as they tried to sell us everything from tatty plastic pyramids to rubbish t-towels, we headed off to enjoy a civilized xmas lunch buffet (well they had some turkey!) at the Marriot. We desperately need Sky, as we had to make do with some terrible movies back at the hotel. (Miss Doubtfire, Hook and Jingle All The Way).

24th December
Another day in Cairo and embassy mince round 4. Today we need the Saudi embassy to clarify exactly what we need to fill in on the moody medical certificate required for our visa application. Our driver Magdi is trying everything he can to help, but after walking into the certificate office, we all realise that this route is a dead end. We need a sponsor and address in Saudi before this hurdle can be leaped over, and we might now have to do a detour to reach the Tropic of Cancer. With our heads pounding, we decide that we should head back to the hotel and try a few more tour companies, before rewarding ourselves with a break for xmas. Jon made one more call to Aly, and he said he will see what he can do on Saturday.
While trying to book a driver to see the pyramids in reception, we bump into a stunning Columbian girl called Cata, who decides that we should join her on the belly dancing cruise tour she booked with Magdi earlier. With a few hours to kill before we leave, Jon skypes Holly, while Cata and I go and grab some food out in the Cairo urban jungle. This is one hyperactive, fiery South American who doesn’t stop talking but I like that, and even with a bit of a language barrier, my embassy headache soon washes away.

Magdi didn’t know what had hit him when we jumped into his car heading for the cruise. Cata cranked up the radio to “Loveshack”, and we raced off into the Cairo metropolis (well down potholed, slum streets!). The belly dancer was ok, and a couple of Egyptian morris dancers completed the act, but it was all a bit budget. This was until she dragged Cata up, who then blew everyone away with her dancing and became the star of the evening. I like this girl! Back at the hotel I leave Jon talking to Holly, and head off to do my bit for British Columbian foreign relations – Christmas certainly came early for me!

14th to 23rd December

Friday, December 25th, 2009

23rd December
Off to embassy mince round 3. Despite being told that the letter was going to be ready at 9am it wasn’t until 1 that we left the embassy after having to get the letter changed, our patience was pushed to the max. While in the embassy a young woman walked in, I couldn’t help overhear her dilemma as she explained to the less than helpful woman behind the counter. She had lost her passport and needed a temporary one so she could fly back to the UK. She had been in Cairo studying for a year and a half and had converted to Islam, as a result her family in the UK had disowned her, she was now homeless and had no money as she had been screwed over, she had no work permit so couldn’t get a job and had exhausted all her friends patience in Egypt asking for loans. A friend in the UK had paid for her flight on 6th Jan and all she had was 300 Egyptian pounds. She was in tears when useless behind the counter was saying she couldn’t help her without money. I felt compelled to try to help her and went over, I knew she was about 300 Egyptian pounds short of what she needed so I tried to give her 400 (about £50) I wanted to use my Christmas present to give to her, after all Christmas us a time of giving. As expected she was too proud to accept my money and dropped it off on my table I was using when she left saying she’d find it by other means. I only hope she wouldn’t do something stupid. What could I do but wish her luck and tell her to stay positive. Off we went back to the Saudi embassy now armed with the required letter only to find out we now needed a medical certificate proving that we are free from infectious diseases or chronic illness. Eeek- I kind of think that cancer could be classed as a chronic illness. This should be interesting. The Saudi consul was on our side and told me not to mention the cancer, he gave us the contact details of a moody doctor who we could bribe to get a medical certificate so now we’d opened a whole new can of worms. We spent the rest of the day chasing the illusive doctor around the city. We now needed to fill out a form in Arabic explaining what we are doing before the certificate can be issued. Another frustrating day in the office and not much progress. We’re staying positive though, and I’m kind of likening it to walking through a maze; while there seems to be many paths there is only one true path and at every crossroads you’re shown a little bit more of that path. Where there is a will there’s a way and as Dom says we’ve just got to keep chipping away.

22nd December
Embassy mince round 2. Our hotel arranged a driver for us at a reasonable rate and even better was that he wasn’t trying to rip us off at every opportunity. First stop British embassy to get this letter. The less than helpful receptionist refused our requests to see a consul and kept reverting between us and them which took ages. She kept us waiting for 3 hours and when the penny finally dropped we were told the letter would be ready at 9am but we had to pay now. Although i was reluctant to pay for something I’ve not seen I ran across the street to get the 700 Egyptian pounds she needed. When I got back there was some people waiting but as it was empty when I left and all I had to do give some cash I thought the less than helpful receptionist would allow me to push in, I was wrong. There was also a girl waiting who had here knickers in a knot, she wasn’t going to let me complete my 20 second task and forced me to wait 40 minutes. This meant that our scheduled tour to see the pyramids had to be postponed. Pissed off with the embassy and with huffy attitude girl I left the embassy with the raging hump only to find out that Dom had been speaking to her boyfriend outside and arranged to meet them in Hurghada. That should be fun. She did however apologise to me via Dom and take the time to put a message on the website so all is forgiven, the British embassy in Cairo is after all enough to push even the strongest minded laid back person to the edge. After the embassy mince round 2 our driver, Magdi, took us to the Egyptian museum where we saw some really impressive statues and some artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The best thing though was the Royal mummies, the unwrapped bodies of 4,000 year old kings- thats some seriously old corpses! They had to be kept in temperature controlled individual units and photography was banned but I did manage to sneak a couple of photos with my iPhone- see the gallery section.

21st December
Great night sleep but both of us were stiff when we woke up. We got our moneys worth from getting the concierge to run around for us doing various tasks while we tucked into the best buffet breakfast yet, freshly made chocolate and banana waffles pipped the post for both of us! Spent a while on the net looking for a cheaper hotel as movenpick was too far out of budget. We found a hotel called Tiba Pyramids just down the road for £37 a night with good wifi. Then it was off to the embassies to try and sort out entry to Saudi. I already had a headache from yesterday but our lardy disgusting driver made it worse by his poor navigation across a hectic city home to around 22m people. At one point he drifted into the news van in front while he was telling us about his Belgian girlfriend who he got with 3 weeks ago just 4 days after his wife died. He proceeded to tell us that her boobs were like apple and mango – quite funny but a horrible thought if you’d have seen him, he certainly wasn’t an oil painting. In fact I’d go onto say that he was so ugly tears actually ran up his face! The Saudi embassy revealed the lengthy visa process and said it would be 3 weeks at least before we had our visas provided they were approved by senior officials. Before they could begin the process they needed a letter from the British embassy explaining what we were doing. By the time we arrived at the British embassy it was closed we’d have to come back tomorrow. I now had a cracking headache. It was time to call in the contacts all guns blazing. Aly had now put me in touch with the office of HRH the General Secretary – if anyone can sort out this huge Saudi hurdle it was a Saudi prince! I sent an email asking for assistance worried that I’d hash it up addressing him incorrectly or something but crossed my fingers and sent it. Got rid of the headache by listening to holly’s beautiful Christmas songs ( which made us feel a little festive – hard to do when it’s mid 20s compared to -5c back home. I miss her terribly, and can’t wait to see her in Dubai.

20th December
Without a doubt the Alexandria-Cairo desert road is the most dangerous road we’ve ever cycled along, it was a mistake having shisha and beer last night but that was the least of our worries. We saw 4 car accidents which included a crumpled van and orange truck which had flipped over. It took 100% concentration not to get hit ourselves. After the first 30 miles we decided what we were doing was ridiculous and dangerous so we jumped on the motorway which was being built which ran parallel to the desert road we were on. Mobs of construction workers stood in disbelief looking at us like nutters cycling along an unbuilt road especially when we came across a section of freshly laid tar. Obviously very sticky the tar flicked up onto our legs and covered our panniers Dom even pointed out some on my nose! this was clearly not a good idea either- we didn’t fancy getting knocked off our bikes nor did we want to get stuck in the tar. When the new road turned to rubble and then being dug by JGBs enough was enough and we had to jump back on death highway. Although night time was heavily upon us by the time we got to Cairo we did make it in one piece with bikes still intact. The ridgebacks who we’ve named Ronnie and Reggie had certainly been put through their paces and deserved a rest.

19th December
Today was supposed to be a nice and easy 45 mile cycle to the Adham compound, a resort highly recommended by the solar cycle team. The map on the website wasn’t clear and so we plotted the sat nav about 10 miles away. Still knackered from the previous day the extra miles was not exactly welcome with open arms but we still found the resort nice and early and enjoyed free wifi throughout. Dom pulled off an impressive blag and haggled the rate down. They also had a pool table where dom whipped me- my excuse was there was a slant but I was just crap. We asked for some advice about the long desert road to Cairo and ended up meeting Tim, the owners son. Tim thought we were absolutely bonkers cycling to Cairo and even more so for booking a cheap downtown hotel, “things will go missing and that’s if you can find it”. He advised us to book into the movenpick hotel about 10km outside of Cairo and gun it in one day although we were still mental. We were now faced with a dilemma, no hotels were open in the halfway town and it wasn’t possible to camp anywhere. We took his advice cancelled our budget hotel and booked one night at the movenpick to use as a base. The night was another sleepless for me I was concerned the wind would be against us and we’d struggle with the distance, to make matters worse, Abdul the Arabic mosquito was out of hibernation and fancied a buffet feast on my feet.

18th December
Our longest cycle yet! 125 miles but unfortunately the tailwind of the storm was now starting to fade. We were supposed to reach Sidi Abdel Rahman but when we arrived the town was nothing more than a base for construction workers building 5* resorts across the street along the coast – that’ll be us 2 yrs too early then! Instead we decided to pedal on an additional 26km to the next town El Alamein but when we arrived we found no hotels. Starting to panic and with the sun setting we were told that there was a hotel back on ourselves 5km. Not the best thing to cycle back on ourselves after such a long cycle but we did, no hotels there either now we were told there was one about 15km on. By now the darkness of the night was against us, and as we cycled on to find this needle in a hay stack of a hotel a van load of construction workers cruised alongside us for a couple of miles at first a little banter but we could sense the situation turning hostile. If they stopped and 15 construction workers jumped out we’d have no chance, fortunately they didn’t. We found a hotel in the marina as it was out of season the price was heavily discounted from a rate of 3,000 Egyptian pounds a night it’s a favourite for Saudis. We got a room for about £60 and because there was only 13 guests we had our own chef, own hotel wing, private concierge and super speedy wi-fi. This place had it all and dinner was out of this world – anything we wanted from the a la carte menu.

17th December
We left Sidi Barani with the wind still behind us and took full advantage, heads down pedal hard and let’s get there early. We wanted to make it to the tourist police office to get a camping permit in case the wind gods have a change of heart. We’re also a little concerned about the desert road link Alexandria and Cairo- a 200km south easterly road with no hotels, it’d be best to break this up with a camp so we don’t arrive really late into Cairo. Over a windy lunch we noticed a pack of wild dogs nearby that kept barking at and chasing after passing cars. They seemed to calm down and soon stopped. We were still getting used to the bikes with all their panniers on, they were like dead weights again and sluggy off the mark. So when we got back on the bikes after lunch the dogs seized their opportunity and burst into life. Dom in a lovingly brotherly way hung back letting the dogs chase me (cheers bro) while I peddled my socks off, the last thing I wanted was a skanky hobo dog sinking his rabies infested teeth into my calf. Two of the 3 dogs gave up after a while but one was determined, by now my speed had picked up and I was reaching 25mph but the hobo dog was alongside me drooling with a crazed look in his eyes. I knew the mut would not be able to keep up for long but I wasn’t taking any chances, I reached into my handlebar bag and pulled out one of my mouldy Italian sweets and threw it hard catching him in between the eyes. The dog reacted with a short squeal and dropped off to the side of the road. Jon-1 hobo dog-0 Arrived early in Matruh no luck with the tourist police and the camping permit but did manage a 3 hour Internet mince where we got loads done, got an email back from Thomas tapken who I’ve been chasing for a while and Aly who’s trying to help us in Saudi he’s assigned it to someone from his Riyadh office which is an awesome contact. Also got to wish Gran a happy birthday was great speaking to her briefly. Tucked into dinner of shish taewok only to find out half way through that the chicken wasn’t cooked – nice.

16th December
Woke up to find the fly army that invaded us last night had bought it more troops seeking revenge for their fallen comrades spattered all over the walls and floor. I had a bad feeling and a look out the window confirmed our fears – trees blowing around in what looked like a fierce wind. ‘Chin up’ we thought we’ve got to get on with it, this is what we’re here for. Once outside it was clear that the storm was now in full force, rubbish was swirling around in a mini tornado and I got a crisp packet in the face while fixing on the panniers. Not only did we see a look on the locals faces like 2 aliens had just rocked up in their town but they were also looking at us like absolute nutters for even attempting to cycle into a full on storm. Fortunately, once we were out of the town the wind changed and was now behind us pushing us along at 25mph! Tempting as it was to cycle the additional 80 miles onto Marsa Matruh we decided to play it safe, we had left late in order to have a little lie in, so it would have been tough to make it before dark even at these speeds, also the wind can change in a split second. We arrived in Sidi Barrani in rocket time 2.20 hrs to do 50 miles. When we arrived sand was everywhere in our ears, our hair, mouth- our faces looked like a couple of Essex tarts caked in foundation. At least in arriving early meant we had time to clean our bikes and ourselves. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of admin & drafted emails; I’m looking to get some PR in Egypt and Saudi on the back of the Libya article and also trying to get us on BBC world news. It was interesting communicating when ordering food across the street for dinner, Dom almost had to do a chicken impression but the iPhone translator saved the day. Just when we were about to go to sleep there was a knock at the door. Dom drew the short straw and opened it to come face to face with 3 Egyptian policemen. This didn’t look good as I heard Dom say “I know it’s the police”, but luckily they were just looking out for us and wanted to check what time we were leaving tomorrow.

15th December
6.30am came round far too quickly – because of the wind, we had no sleep and woke up with half a tent, and it sounded like machine gun fire. We were in the full force of a sahara gibley. Clouds of sand dust rushing towards us hitting us right in the face reduced our speed to 7 mph & it became obvious the 130km cycle to Sidi Barani wasn’t going to happen. In fact the wind was so strong that Dom somehow managed to splash piss all over his face – that was funny! It took 2 hrs to get through boarder, with loads of check points and after being handed from one set of authorities to another, it was weird being back on the lonesome & having to put panniers back on. It took a bit of getting used to as we started our wobbly cycle off into the wilderness of Egypt. Then in a valley below a town (As Sallum) appeared suddenly through the mist of the storm, and a windy road down enabled us to get some cover from the gale. Egypt is certainly going to take a while to get used to as crowds of kids gathered around me in, while Dom checked out a lonely planet recommended hotel that stank of poo. Luckily the manager suggested we didn’t want to stay there! and we found another hotel nearby for a bargain rate of £15. With our phone back able to send texts we chilled out, had a dreadful dinner with some unidentified spongy meat, and retired to our fly invested room.

14th December
Woke up to hear the howl of the wind and that sinking “oh no” feeling quickly followed, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been though – it was a side wind but still not much fun. As we left town more drivers were beeping and friendly people waving, a sight and memory which I’ll miss after Libya. Two brothers marched up to us in small town near camp and shook our hands – they were only like 5 & 7; the younger offered me his straw drink as a gift, this act of generous hospitality blew me away – these people have very little but are still offering what they have. I rustled around in my handlebar bag and managed to find two sweets left over from Italy, they declined. Yeah I wouldn’t fancy them either after a month in the sun. I just about managed to get a photo of the younger brother shaking Dom’s hand. We introduced Fathi to Ramsay’s nightmares and enjoyed our last desert dinner with him. He’s been great to us and really deserves a medal for driving at 25km/h across Libya – not many people can say they’ve done that. As we checked out the landscape Fathi pointed out a weather front coming our way – wicked! We had a sleepless night with harsh wind pounding the tent halving its size.

7th to 13th December

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

13th December
Woke up this morning loving this whole villa action! The only annoying thing is that it is so big, it’s just too ‘echo-y’, and I didn’t know which bathroom to use – I think I can live with that though! We were still undecided on whether to start cycling today or ask if we could stay another night. Then Fathi (number 2) arrived – he was a friend of Sami’s and informed us that he had a lot of things arranged for us, so our decision was made. First stop was to visit the main hospital in Tubruq, where we met the director. There were loads of people around, and about 10 in his office. We soon established that these were sports TV channel, newspaper and radio companies ready to interview us. Sami certainly came up with the goods here. It was all a bit surreal walking around the hospital in a big ‘media’ group meeting various doctors and consultants, as everyone wanted to say hello to us. We had our first TCC TV interview in the grounds, causing many more people to stop and stare.

We had a couple of hours to catch our breath back at the villa, before our next round of media interviews at the Tubruq football stadium (this time with the bikes). We met the manager, coach, and some players before cycling down to the corner flag and back to the goal for the TV camera. We also took a penalty each – Jon’s just saved by the keeper’s trailing arm, and I was denied by the crossbar. Now in Libya everyone is so friendly, and so they think nothing of offering to show you around their city, but what is weird is that someone who Fathi (number 1) has just met, takes it upon himself to drive his car (badly). Anyway it was the football coach who then drove us around before paying for dinner at an amazing fish restaurant for us. Back at the villa, Fathi’s back was causing him serious grief, so I had to administer an Arabic treatment. Not particularly comfortable with the situation, this involved putting a burning piece of paper in a small jamjar, and quickly applying it to his back, causing a vacuum and drawing blood to the skin. After massaging more blood into the area, I then slowly took the jar off and made 8 small cuts to the skin.  Another burning piece of paper and jamjar back on the same area then started to draw the blood out of the cuts. Only when we removed it 10 minutes later did we realise that this procedure separated fluid from the blood – in other words Fathi had fluid on some muscle and this was the desert way to resolve it. One weird day!

12th December
A big target today of 160km to Tubruq, I started off nearly falling from my bike with laugher at some of the states of cars on the road. One struggled to pass Jon, went for a gear change and nearly lost his engine. Another looked like its body panels were constructed from road signs, and one 1970’s Peugeot had more polythene than glass for windows.
Pulling over for our usual break stop (well a piss for me), Fathi pulled his back and was in some serious discomfort. He explained that he should be ok, but it didn’t look good. Jon popped in for some JoJo’s (chocolate cake bars), but the tin shack only had some nuclear swiss roll. I think this pushed Jon’s stomach over the edge, and let to his first roadside desert poo. Luckily he found a wall to shelter from the side wind, and quickly finished before some wild dogs came for a sniff!

More slow progress due to the wind, this is really grinding us now, but a quick change of direction at 72 miles, and it was on our side. Shame about the Italian road signs which still showed 60km to Tubruq. As the light faded, we faced another leg of nightime cycling. Not my most favourite pastime, especially with wild dogs wanting to chase us, and every wall, tree or scrapped car saw us tense up in case of a dog jumping out.

Big Dave had sorted us out the digs again, and we met the housekeeper on a roundabout on the outskirts of Tubruq. Again the driver wasn’t briefed, and not realising that we had just cycled our longest day ever (115 miles), raced to the Aecom villa, one of the biggest in Tubruq. Pimping!
Jon had the east wing and I went for the west wing, and after explaining to the housekeeper that we could both eat a camel, showed us to a Turkish restaurant, where we were actually refused the amount of food we wanted to order. Three kilos of kebabs was clearly a step too far, so we had to settle for 2kg instead!

11th December
A short 58 mile cycle to Derna, we followed the Green Mountain plateau, before a long windy hill down into town. We got some brilliant footage on the camera, but Jon was almost blown off bike while filming. Our upbeat moods were even matched by the checkpoint police today, with them offering us coffee – although they were all in dire need of a dentist and some aquafresh.

Fathi then offered to show us the town’s great waterfalls, or should I say an 8 meter trickle. Apparently this was going to fill the next big dam, but when we arrived we could barely see a small stream dropping from the rocks. Well Victoria Falls has no need to worry – we just tried to appear as interested as we could, not wanting to be ungrateful. We had a frustrating afternoon wasted in another pony internet cafe and poor old Fathi had to wait 2 hours for us to do some admin which should have taken 10 minutes. Our casual outfit no. 2 of swimming trunks and flip flops drew some strange looks in the soaking high street, with more potholes than tarmac.

10th December
A bit of bike love this morning as mum and Holly had very kindly sent out 4 new tyres – our bikes certainly needed them after 3,300 miles on the old set, and straight away they were put through their paces in driving rain (not seen since Sicily) – certainly a lot of Libyan school kids found it funny as clothes soaked through.

A much more energy draining day with gradual hills and windy roads, but the landscape was stunning – Fathi described it as European Libya, and we could certainly see that. We used our European knowledge to find a half constructed bus shelter to shield us from the pounding rain, but luckily no punctures this time.
As we arrived in Al Bayda, we realised that the other car following us was in fact a police escort, so felt very important as we parted crossroads where cars literally come from all directions! With the sky getting blacker by the second, we parked up at a dingy hotel and I prepared for another night of bugness! But we actually got an apartment with wi-fi, so we ended up helping the manager with his google maps – our good Libyan turn! Before bed we saw a sheesa room like Bob Marley’s house, and I reminded Jon that we need to make sure we aren’t cycling the next day before getting involved in that!

9th December
Jon is really not good in the morning – everything he does is in slow motion, so we had a mad rush packing up/ making use of internet before leaving the apartment. The reason for rushing is that Sami had arranged for an interview in Libya’s main newspaper ( owned by Gadaffi’s son) and we really didn’t want to be late. We were treated so well we felt like celebrities as we cycled round the courtyard for the photographer, before meeting the director and editor.

A shock to the system with the cycle next – Libyan hills! We were heading to Al Marj today, 90km from Benghazi. As we rose up above the Mediterranean, the landscape suddenly changed to lush green hills, which we didn’t know Libya had. Apparently they have been known to get snow here before!
The only hotel in AL Marj was a rip off (well £25 for the room), and after being stung with a 75 dinar bill for dinner (should have been no more than 25 dinar), Fathi confirmed our first Egyptian sting!
Boosted our morale after relooking at our itinerary and we could get to Dubai 2 weeks ahead of schedule.

8th December
It was brilliant waking up in a brand new apartment, rather than a bug hotel, and we just used the morning chilling out, watching bad yankee films and rinsing the internet connection. It was a result being able to send videos back home, including Jon’s cheeky request to Sir Richard. We even got our washing done with minimal hassle.

We met Sami from Ocean Tours – , and it was really good to put a face to the name. We honestly couldn’t have done Libya without him, and he was so generous and kind towards our massive charity effort. We filled our lunchtime boots at a Turkish restaurant – more kebabs, but I stupidly tucked into the houmous without checking first. True enough it had peanuts in, and I thought I was going to have an anaphylactic reaction. Luckily after throwing up and drinking plenty of water, a couple of hours lying down did the trick. 
Later on, Sami gave us a tour of Benghazi and had a private tour of a stunning Italian/ Libyan townhouse, before making it back to the apartment for another buffet dinner.
Watching the live Man U game, we began to route plan Egypt, which looked bleak for first 250 miles, and without a guide started thinking about our next TCC hurdle.

7th December
After a fawlty towers experience, 4 honey and chocolate croissants (each) should have done the trick, but as soon as we left the town we hit headwinds which reduced our speed to 10mph. At 35 miles my back started knotting up, and it was my turn to hit a wall. Especially when we knew there was at least another 70 miles to Benghazi, where we were meeting big Dave. The rest of the day was mind over matter, pushing ourselves to the limit, breaking down the distance into 10 mile chunks.

Eventually we hit the street lights of Benghazi at about 6pm. With bike lights on, this was our first experience of night time cycling – Libya style! Trying to see Fathi’s hands with the direction was so difficult, but at a city centre swamp, we parked up, got eaten alive by Abdul’s family and waited for big Dave’s driver. I don’t think Dave had explained to him that we had just cycled 105 miles, as we were instructed to follow him with Fathi behind. I think he was Schumacher’s Libyan cousin!

It was a big lift seeing Big Dave, our first friend since Holly flew to Rome. And boy did he come up with the goods at the Aecom apartments. We had 1 penthouse (each), open-plan, New York hotel style, and after putting down the bags had just enough energy to get downstairs for a buffet dinner – we like this place!

29th to 6th December

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

6th December
This morning we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise although it didn’t stop me and Dom arguing like a couple of bitches over the need to do an xmas newsletter, Dom felt it had to be done in the desert.
Really tough days cycling today 70 miles into a strong headwind and I hit my first wall of the challenge, I occupied my mind by focusing on positive thoughts- the finishing line next year, Holly, family and of course to give strength to those people fighting cancer.
We stopped at a shop for some Jo Jos to boost some energy and a lorry driver wanted to give me his number saying if there was anything I needed while I was in Libya I should call him- a hotel with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and all you can eat buffet would be nice.
As we were approaching Ajdabiya feeling shattered and longing for the first shower in 3 days the town never seemed to appear- it looked like it was just down the road for a good 45 minutes. We found the only hotel in the city and were directed up the stairs to the room, the trouble was they hadn’t finished building the staircase and health and safety wasn’t big on the agenda either; sparks coming out of the tv socket, a wardrobe that fell apart when you opened it and suspicious curly hairs on the bar of soap in the bathroom were best avoided.

5th December
Today was a good day for cycle stats. With the wind gods on our side once more we managed 95 miles in 5 hours, an average speed of 19mph and clocked 30.5mph at a peak
Not much to report on the cycle day itself today, just one long straight road of nothingness again with unpaved sections of loose gravel and pot holes- not the easiest terrain but our trusty Ridgeback warhorses saw us through. The day’s highlights were camels, donkeys and goats by the side of the road.
Another really starry night accompanied by a traditional spicy Libyan dinner.

4th December
The wind gods had turned from giving us a supportive tail wind to a punishing head wind. Dom soon felt faint and dizzy so we stopped for an early lunch, despite slow progress we still managed 81 miles before finding a place to camp.
While Fathi cooked another delightful meal of lamb and pasta we recorded a video to send to Richard Branson to appeal to virgin to help run a huge awareness campaign.
A full moon illuminated the sky; the only thing that’s missing is Holly.

3rd December
Today we headed for Surt, we even got there in good time to wash our sweaty cycle gear. As we approached the city huge billboards lined the sides of the road promoting Gadaffi’s vision of a United States of Africa. There was a massive sense of pride in the air, one guy pulled up alongside us and said with a huge beaming smile “welcome to my country” another friendly chap got into Fathi’s car and guided us to the hotel when we stopped to ask for directions. Later on another guy in a cyber cafe didn’t want to stop shaking my hand; he genuinely seemed so pleased to speak to me.
Dom forgot to sign out of my skype account so when I returned later to speak to Holly she saw a Libyan guy on the other end of the webcam, I went over and signed myself out of my skype account on his machine, I think the whole experience of Holly, me and skype had confused the hell out of him.

2nd December
Reached the true bleakness of Libya today lots of wind (fortunately tail) sand sweeping across the road which was almost ghostly and large sections of road completely unpaved with JCB’s either side of the road. Despite the obstacles we still managed just under 100 miles. We camped tonight under a starry sky, Fathi cooked up a good amount of lamb and couscous and we watched the moon rise up over the desert. Spent the evening watching some of Fathi’s tourists videos on his laptop.

1st December
Today’s cycle took us along a busy 3 lane motorway, lorries were only allowing a couple of inches despite Fathi driving behind us channelling the traffic out of our path. There was drums full of sand in sections blocking one of the lanes, one Vauxhall Astra driver didn’t pay attention to Fathi’s hazard lights and tanked it past him straight into one of these drums, glass went everywhere but fortunately the driver was ok, a stark reminder to us of how alert we need to be and how vulnerable we are on bicycles. The busy roads did clear up a little and later on in the day with a good tail wind behind us we managed to clock 28mph!
After Sabratha we had to stop at Leptis Magna, a supposed must see, the pride of Libya. Leptis is the best preserved Roman runis in the world. I could see the excitement build up in Dom’s eyes like a 5 year old on Christmas eve. We understood the crack this time and agreed the guide rate before entering, the photos speak for themselves and you can see them on the gallery section. We were kept amused by the guides language/accent . As he was describing bronze pans it sounded just like he was saying ‘prawn pants’ and when describing bricks he’s say ‘pricks’ classic. My personal favourite was when he was playing Dom some of his music on his phone which happened to be U2, as I rejoined them after recording a little video blog all I could hear was “I like you too”. The jokes rolled off seamlessly for the rest of the afternoon.
When we arrived in Misratah I helped guide Fathi into a parking space right outside our hotel, I was waving him back in and I’m not sure if he saw more hold up my hand or say stop but he reversed straight into the managers car! Fortunately the car wasn’t damaged and the manager didn’t notice but not surprisingly that’s the last time Fathi let me help him park!
After a shed loads of dust particles in my eyes today I decided enough was enough and went shopping for some sunglasses, the best of a bad bunch I emerged from a pharmacy with a pair of Stevie Wonder style sunglasses which Dom found highly amusing. We also went shopping to a supermarket to collect some food for the next 4 days of bleakness ahead, no hotels, no restaurants, few shops, just desert. Our shopping list included 8 packets of crisps, 8 cans of drink, a huge bag of boiled sweets and 30 Jo Jo’s (cake bars) & that was just for snacks! Imagine the dentist bill when we get back to the UK.

30th November
Had a great brekkie across the street, hot chocolate/honey croissants x 4, had to wait a Libyan hour to get out passports stamped (must be done within 48 hours of arriving into Libya) so didn’t get on the road till well after 10. Today I occupied my mind by thinking of ways and means to approach companies for more sponsorship, we’re still short of our final logistics target and our Just Giving site isn’t stacking up as quickly as I’d hoped. I think a big PR push is in order once we reach the Tropic of Cancer late dec/early Jan and to get all the charities involved too. Not that the key objective of raising awareness isn’t being met, I’m really blown over by the profile the challenge is getting back home through the support of friends, family and of course fiancé be it through events or simply word of mouth.
Dom’s now lost his 3 top gears, they keep slipping and my bike seems to have made a surrogate home for an invisible mouse- a squeak that I can’t locate and oil/tightening of bolts and screws won’t solve. Hopefully the bikes will hold out until Benghazi when we’ll take a rest day and have some time for a bit of bike TLC maintenance.
Some tough hills as we approached our stop for the evening- unfamiliar territory as it’s been flat for the past 2 weeks! Also not a great welcome from some mouthy school kids swearing at us, a wave and a smile is generally better after having cycled 80 miles. We got a nice hotel at a bargain price, well, it seemed nice marble floor in reception chandellers etc but all came clear when we got to the room which is where the good impression dissolved. According to our lonely planet guide the hotel had been undergoing renovations since 2005 which were obviously still on going- that’s Libyan time for you.
The towns only restaurant of rather the only one we found was a health buster- a few dodgy kebabs and the spiciest chicken sandwich that even a Mexican hillbilly would have been proud of.

29th November
Today our guide suggested we visit Sabratha an ancient city of well preserved Roman ruins. Dom was reluctant as he was keen to get the days cycling done and far less keen when it comes to looking at ‘rubble’ but we decided to have a look as it was on our route and we needed to break up the chore of cycling through Libya somehow. We were glad we did too, fantastically preserved ruins dating back to 600BC and a really impressive museum, our favourite was an original fully preserved statue of the head of Zeus. Dom was in his element and had found a new love for ancient mythology and ‘amazing artifacts’ rather than ‘rubble’.
The highlight of the tour however had to be when I quietly suggested to Dom that he tip the guide who had been great. When Dom rejoined us Fathi asked him how much he paid him to which Dom replied “1 dinar” (about 50p) which would just about buy a bottle of water and a jo jo cake bar- not really enough to feed the family!  Fathi quickly scurried over to make amends and seeing as we had a rushed half length tour due to our time restraints we agreed to pay him 25 dinar; you see in Libya at tourist attractions it’s mandatory for one of their guides to take you around at a cost of 50 dinar. A group of European tourists spoiled it for the rest of us in 2000 when they tried to steal a piece of rock art 6000 years old from southern Libya in the desert. In our defence however we didn’t know we needed to pay the guide and all friends again we headed onto Tripoli. For the next few days there would be reoccurring 1 dinar jokes at Dom’s expense.
We were intending to crash with Dave in Tripoli tonight apparently he’d arranged our own apartment through his company but despite consistent trying I couldn’t get in touch with him and we had to settle for a cheap bug infested hotel room. We’re talking bugs in the shower, climbing out of the sink, on the floor, up the walls- not pretty. At least there was a good restaurant across the street that served lovely lamb and couscous, we even caught a bit of the Barcelona v Real Madrid game on the tele, also got a chance to speak to mum and Holly on skype. I’ve asked Holly to marry me at the end in the carribean, a lot of work to do now for a cyclist with no budget, on come the blagging skills.

23rd to 28th November

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

28th November
Off we headed towards the boarder, loads more black market currency traders waiving chunks of cash at us as we peddled past, we got to the boarder about an hour and a half early to meet our guide and passed through the last few Tunisian checkpoints relatively smoothly, we weren’t expecting the same at the boarder. When we arrived I was following the traffic when one of the officials waived franticly for me to cycle down a different lane towards the control kiosk. I obliged not wanting to upset any Libyan officials and braked to do so not realising how close Dom was behind me. Our first accident certainly broke the ice with the Libyan officials- they all roared with laughter as Dom went straight into the back of me and fell off his bike. Sorry didn’t quite cut it for a very disgruntled Dom but at least the ice was broken. After that the officials were all sound to us and despite not understanding each others language we managed to chat to them about football and build up a little rapport, good job too because they failed to charge us for some boarder payments we were expecting of around 200 dinar thus saving us about £100. What a result! Speaking of football we met a couple of Tunisian fellas at the boarder who are cycling to the world cup next summer.
Our guide, Fathi (pronounced fatty) who l thought looked a lot like Borat was waiting for us as we got through. The whole process of getting through the boarder was a lot easier than we thought, largely  due to the fantastic assistance of Sami at Ocean Tours. Fathi showed us to his jeep and offered us to put our bags in his car, now you may call it cheating but as we have this mandatory guide for getting into Libya who has to drive behind us in convoy the whole way… well you would wouldn’t you.
A little serreal cycling in Libya and now our 5th country of the challenge, as expected Libya is rather bleak despite it still being Eid holiday we managed to find another budget hotel for 15 Dinar, best thing was they had cable so we could catch up on world news although nothing happy, another terror attack, this time on a train in Russia. Dom asked fathi for a good cheap restaurant, he took us to a Turkish kebab house where we each had 4 kebabs!! So my stomach is finally getting back to normal size again not sure the choice of cuisine will help at all though.

27th November
We left the hotel to the bemusement of a large group of French guests corrugating outside the front, and who were heading out on a museum tour. I gave a little speech in French, well “toute la monde” and “c’est bon”! I’m getting fluent at that now! Proper mincing about and finding out that the sat nav/ milometer wasn’t working, was not a great start. You think we would be more organised after a 4 day break!
Progress was really slow, and Jon was still weak from the tail end of his Tunisian belly, but we pushed on heading for Ben Guerdane, our last stop in Tunisia. After lunch we saw another touring cyclist heading towards us, and it’s only Christophe our friendly Belgian who helped us find the hostel in Tunis. He was trying to get into Libya, but his tour company had let him down on the visa, so he was turned back at the border, and was cycling back to Sfax to sort something out. This hardly filled us with confidence, and raised all the questions like, “what happens if Sami lets us down”, or “we get turned away at the border?”
We rolled into Ben Guerdane about 4pm, and because of Eid, most hotels were closed, and it felt the most hostile place we’d been in in Tunisia. Luckily Jon spotted a hotel, and while we waited for the owner, we were conscious of lots of staring eyes!- once again the aliens had landed. The toilet in the shared bathroom didn’t flush so you had to hold your nose when using the bathroom- it must have been broken for a few weeks and Dom complained his pillow was like a nik nak but it was cheap and there really wasn’t a lot of choice.
The other thing worrying us about Libya, was getting cash as we had been told there were no cash machines between the border and Tripoli and we didn’t want to let the guide down by not having money straight away. Luckily a very active black market saw us haggle 3 street sellers for the 800 Libyan dinars (£400) which we needed to get started.

26th November
Living up to our reputation as the strange English guests, this morning we nonchalantly walked through the marble reception hall armed with a wastepaper basket full of hot soapy water and our tent. You see last time we used the tent was in torrential rain in Sicily and it was starting to get funky. With the hot desert sun, this was a perfect opportunity to clean it and get it ready for next time we camp. We unwrapped it on the perfectly mannequired hotel entrance gardens and erected it there. We did get some strange looks from all the guests setting out on their desert tours!
More strange goings on at the hotel today included a brutal cat fight on the driveway, a camel by the pool, an African drummer and his pan piper mate, and five blokes standing one legged on top of galloping horses on the beach.

25th November
One thing that annoys me the most is unnecessary spending of money (even if it was only £7!). We headed back over to Houmet Souk this morning to try and obtain some euros in preparation for entering Libya (currency of preference, rather than actual currency!), and after being told on Monday that this would be possible, we only found out by getting a taxi all the way over (20km) that you can only do this as a Tunisian resident. Rubbish, but the bank told us there is an active black market (!) in Ben Guerdane where we should be able to exchange money.
The rest of the day we spent chilling out on the beach, wondering when our next opportunity would be to do this again! We are now at home at this hotel complex, and the managers all know the Wright brothers! I don’t think we have been that difficult guests, only a blocked bath twice, only speaking pigeon French and complaining about off milk, but when we got back to our room late afternoon, they had made swans out of towels, and sprinkled flower petals on the beds!- a little odd perhaps confirming our fears that there was more to Rym Beach than we’d first thought. We’d have preferred some money off the room.

24th November
Over lunch we took some time to scope out some of the guests and staff. There was Marcel, the over friendly Belgian on our table as well as Porno shorts. Aerobic Mike who liked nothing more than encouraging 75 year olds to do pool side star jumps to cheesy Euro pop, over enthusiastic Greasy Cheeko who loved shouting ALLLLEEEEEEZZZZ while he tried to drum up takers for a beach volleyball tournament (you’ll have to wake them up first mate and find their verifocals).
Ok so now my Tunisian belly bug had gone into the next stage, I was through the projectile vomiting and consistent ’10 second dashes’ to the toilet every 10 minutes, now my stomach was churning and spluttering like a 1979 piaggio struggling up a steep coastal road and all that was coming out was gas, lots of gas I seemed to fit quite well with the flatulence crowd and tactically parked up next to them for dinner so that the other guests would be none the wiser. Poor old Dom had to use his anti pollution mask we got for the busy Asian cities when we got back to the room, even I was choking. If only I could have bottled up the gas we’d surely set an unbreakable record for travelling round the tropic of cancer on a bicycle!
Received our visas this evening, but as there is a public holiday in Libya on Friday, we still need to stick to the original plan, and meet the guide at the border on Saturday.

23rd November
Checked into hotel, and rolled sleeves up for the buffet lunch. I could see the tears in Jon’s eyes as lashings of food were being served; beef, chicken, fish, pasta, chocolate, fruit etc, he took it steady with high fibre food to shake his belly bug. It’s weird suddenly having everything all there to eat (certainly times out on the bike we dreamed of a day like this), but I resisted the urge to overeat, and just had 4 courses!
Only bad thing about the hotel is that we are about half the age of the average guests, and so sunbathing around the pool, there is far too much flesh on display than we would like. Stomachs lined up on sun loungers like over basted turkeys at Christmas. Most of the guests are retired French and Italian couples, who have a penchant for speedos and bikinis. And bum munching bikini bottoms is certainly enough to upset even the most steel of stomachs! Over worn speedos where the elastic has gone are certainly not much better, hanging down like a bag of old sprouts. Speaking of which, that is what Jon’s farts are currently smelling like! All inclusive are great value, but very little class!