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Published: October 26th 2013
As we approached Misrata there were burned out hulks of tanks, and the buildings were regularly pockmarked with bullet-holes, or burst open by shells, rockets, or bombs. The war that had ended two years ago felt close. It felt real. But it was this backdrop of armed revolution, the resulting lack of governmental structure or services, and and the instability of the country that served to highlight the generosity and enthusiasm of the people we were meeting.
In Misrata we met Moftah, a friend of one of the Tripoli guys, and spent the evening with him and his uncle. Misrata was were the bulk of the fighting had taken place during the war, and we gained a first-hand account of what it had been like. The people of Misrata had decided to resist Gadaffi, which resulted in nine months of nasty urban warfare. Moftah's brother was killed, along with 100 guys from his unit of 400. He explained how they would go on foot at night to locate Gadaffi snipers, and then hammer them during the day with those massive AA guns on the back of Hiluxes, or rocket-lunchers designed for tanks rather than personnel. Apparently was pretty effective, particularly
as it sapped the morale of the Gadaffi forces who were not fighting for their homes like the people of Misrata.
There were so many crazy stories casually relayed by the guys. For instance, Moftah intercepted a group of Russians a couple of kilometers offshore who had been advising Gadaffi, and now has the speedboat in his back yard (along with a fully functioning tank and an anti-aircraft gun). At one point the revolutionaries virtually ran out of ammunition, and he successfully undertook a round trip in a fishing boat to Benghazi for arms. The German pistol in his Land Cruiser's glove box is from Gadaffi's compound. And while he was not personally involved in finding Gadaffi or his death he told us about Gadaffi's last moments.
Our minds had been put completely at rest by the guys in Triploi, and the relative normality of the place. But Moftah sobered us up a little when he said that it was not really the time for tourists to cross the country. He recommended that we drive to Benghazi in one shot, and only stop for fuel. So the next day were up and off early to get to Benghazi
850km away before dark. Along the way we were stopped at about 12 check-points, and everyone was very friendly and interested in our trip. The main condition of passage seemed to be a request for a wheelie as we left.
As I'm writing this, I'm aware of how far away I am from conveying my experience of riding through Libya. Because for the week we were there it was just so much damn fun, and felt like a real adventure. The feeling of riding through a check point on your 100 horse-power KTM, with AK47s everywhere, Hiluxes with anti-aircraft guns mounted, black flags with Arabic writing on them, and Tool pumping through your headphones... umm, I can't really explain the feeling in words, but it goes something like: "yeeeaaaahhh!!" Our video of Libya might give you a better idea (click here
We arrived into Benghazi just on dusk, and the check-point on the outskirts of town was the first where we were not able to get a smile out of the guys. Their uniform was different, and they looked far more, well, Islamic extremist. They were actually just guys a bit on edge due the troubles in the town,
Tank in the back yard
Everyone should have one.
but with night falling, and our contact in Benghazi not answering his phone, it was the first time I felt a little uneasy. Once through the check-point we pulled over at a random spot to try our contact on his phone again, but no luck. Then just as we were discussing what to do next, a guy comes out of his house and asks in reasonable English if there was anything we needed help with. He then showed us a picture of his Harley, called his mate, who called his mate, who organised an impromptu motorbike escort/tour of Benghazi, complete with stunt-riding, the usual super-enthusiasm and generosity, and the best kebab I have ever eaten. I was asked how the trip from Misrata was: "no problems?". It was fine I replied, can there be on that road? "Hmmm, Yes". Again the contrast between the tension when arriving into Benghazi, and then the VIP status with which were treated, served to highlight what would have been an awesome evening anyway.
The next day we followed our new mate Hatem out east for 60km to a turn off to an elevated desert road that would get us safely to Tubruk. We
had a great day. Really beautiful. And best of all we met some hard case dudes at a check-point in the middle of nowhere who wanted to get a photo on our bikes. Desert camo, AK47s, KTMs, Arabic beards, us, great snapshot.
On the outskirts of Tubruk we were met by more bikers, but this time there was a heated argument between them about who was meant to be hosting us. One group had been organised by Hatem in Benghazi, and the other had been organised by a guy we met along the way. All a bit confusing, but it seemed that the group that won us had organised a reception and TV interview in the middle of Tubruk. Once there, a humorous interview
ensued where Jaap was mocked in a friendly way for admitting he had been concerned about security in Libya due to reports on TV, while at the same time gunshots were going off right next to us. But apparently it was just an impromptu celebration due to a wedding, so nothing to worry about...
The next day we were escorted to the border, and a guy high up in the police sorted out our documentation.
Libya had been one of the best weeks of my life (and I've had a pretty good life!).
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