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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!