29th May 2012
28.05.2012 - 29.05.2012
Ali’s farm was fantastic; from the sandy dirt he grew peaches, apricots, olives, pomegranates mangoes and more. We had a tour of the chickens, sheep, goats and rabbits and then ate a breakfast of tea, croissants, bread, yoghurt and milk.
At the garage, we had a look inside Redvers’ engine again and Ali commented that our oil was dirty and it needed changing. He insisted on having his staff change the oil before we left. With that, I jumped under and started draining the sump and changing the oil filter. The transfer gearbox oil was a little low and so I topped that up too. For some reason the hand brake cable wasn’t sitting well and so after removing the prop-shaft and hand brake drum to have a look, we decided that the cable would need replacing in the UK but would be fine for now.
During this time we’d try to put Redvers on the vehicle lift in the garage, only to find that he was too heavy. Ali had sent one of his guys to fill our jerry cans with eighty litres of Naphtha on his account; the man’s generosity knew no bounds.
With the work complete we had coffee whilst Ali spoke to a client and then he insisted on escorting us to the edge of Tripoli to make sure we didn’t get lost. He also asked us to call him in Sabratha so that he could arrange our hotel for us. We pulled over on the edge of town to wish goodbye yet another man whom we had known for hours that felt like eternity. We took pictures and waved goodbye.
Sabratha was an hour’s drive away and we eventually arrived after stopping to get directions. The man had spoken no English and we no Arabic but he was a charades champion and his directions were clear.
Sabratha was another city on the edge of the Mediterranean. The Bradt guide told us that it had been built by the Carthaginians, destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt by the Romans. It too had benefitted from Septimius Severus’ investment in Leptis Magna but it eventually began its descent proper after the earthquake of AD365, the same one that destroyed Cyrene. In the aftermath there was insufficient money to rebuild the city. The remaining Romans finally scarpered for good when the Vandals came in AD533. The Arabs later overlooked the city and it fell into disuse. When the Italians arrived in the ‘Scramble for Africa’ at the beginning of the 20th Century they had set about rebuilding the great remnants of the Roman Empire in order to prove their world dominating heritage.
Sabratha was another fine example of a Roman city. Again we saw beautiful mosaics, laid in situ, as well as forums and temples. Sabratha’s piece de resistance however, was its theatre. Reconstructed it stood three stories high, each story with its own row of Corinthian columns and each floor providing a window onto the sea behind. At the front of the stage the walls were lined with alabaster carvings, still clearly visible showing stage characters, masks and Gods. The theatre was a breathtaking sight.
The museum at Sabratha was closed. We chose not to sleep there but rather to make a start for the border and, ‘Inshallah’, get across it and cover a couple of hundred kilometres into Tunisia.
We arrived at the border at six and had our own ‘tourist’ lane opened for us. The border official stamped our passports immediately; but he was more uncertain of Redvers papers. Uncertain is the wrong word, unmoved is more appropriate. We asked for his stamp but he didn’t really want to stamp it. Instead, as we spoke to him, I slowly reached out for the stamp, gesturing that it wouldn’t hurt anyone and stamping the carnet myself. He was unmoved, I offered him the customs slip that he needed and he waved me away, he didn’t need the paperwork cluttering his tidy desk, we had our stamp, we were cleared for passage.
Exiting Libya had taken around eight minutes. Entering Tunisia took five minutes for us but, for Redvers, it would take an hour and twenty minutes of confused Tunisian customs officers reading a document that was written in French, their national language, and still unable to work out why two pieces of paper said ‘Entree’ and two said ‘Sortie.’ After a lot of patient hanging around, and a little money changing, they stamped the ‘Entree’ sections, took their bit and let us through. The wait hadn’t mattered; Libya’s speedy service had more than offset any delay.
Tunisia’s roads proved to be a lot slower than those we’d used for the past five days, narrow, poorly lit and filled with old trucks and older beaten up Peugeots, Citroens and Renaults. We didn’t have trouble guessing who’d colonised them during the ‘Scramble.’ We drove into the night and at ten o’clock found ourselves in the town of Gabes where we drove around the campsite three times before finding its entrance and driving in. We were bought peppermint tea by a gentleman at the bar, we called home and checked in with parents and we went to sleep; we were back in the comfort of familiarity; our tent was our home.