(Third post of my three part series on my journey back to war torn Libya in Sept 2011.)
On the last leg of our journey to war torn Libya we boarded an old Mercedes bus in Alexandria for the thousand km road journey to Benghazi.Benghazi is the de facto capital of free Libya since the uprising began in February 2011.The bus fare was 200 Egyptian pounds or 50 Libyan dinars.You can also travel in smaller Mercedes vans called Vitos which are a dime a dozen and regularly ply the route.Be warned that they drive these like maniacs.
The coastal road is very well maintained and we made good time to the Egyptian border post of Salom.We reached there after a six hour journey at two o clock at night. The next two hours was spent in the border crossing formalities ,first on the Egyptian side and then later on the Libyan side.The Egyptian customs and immigration were more through than their Libyan counterparts who did not bother to check or scan our luggage.Perhaps they were not too worried of a few more guns smuggled into a country already awash with weapons!So it was Egyptian customs and immigration check followed by a short ride through no man’s land (200 mts) and checking on the Libyan side at Ahsaad .Finally we heaved a sigh of relief when our Libyan visas were stamped.It was 4 a.m when we finally entered Free Libya.
The journey to Benghazi was far from over as we had a further nine hours journey ahead of us.The new tricolor flag of free Libya was everywhere.Our driver then left the coastal Mediterranean route and took an inland route which cut through the northern regions of the Sahara desert.The landscape was stark and dusty but beautiful.Here and there we came across hordes of camels .For hundreds of kilometres south stretched the world’s largest hot desert.Below its sands lay Libya’s wealth;the sweetest crude oil on the planet.Less well known but equally significant the Sahara has a gigantic fresh water aquifier which brings water to Libya’s cities and has the potential to make Libya’s desert bloom.Also the sands are the theatre for the great Libyan manhunt – the hunt for Muammar Gaddafi who was thought to be hiding in the desert down south.(edit:Muammar Gaddafi has since been killed in his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and was not hiding in the Sahara as was widely speculated.)
We came across many dusty small towns with numerous checkpoints where young gun toting rebels checked our visas .At one such dusty town we stopped for a brunch of koobz (bread) and tuna fish washed down with coffee.Finally at one in the afternoon and a sixteen hour bus journey we rolled into the city of Benghazi.It was a emotional reunion for us as we were accorded a warm welcome by our landlady and her family.It almost felt like coming home.