The nitty gritty details
Much of this stuff is obviously now merely of 'historical interest'... we'll just have to wait and see how things go with visas and travel in the 'new' Libya
Hopefully more of us will be able to enjoy it's wonders
I had hoped to spend April 2003 riding my trike thru Libya but in the end I spent the time riding my trike thru and into neighbouring Tunisia
Getting ready to go:
Apart from the usual ride training to get the legs ready for pedalling day after day there were a few things to do:
Maps: I took the Geoprojects 1:1, 000, 000 map of Libya
Visa: Everyone needs a visa for Libya. Seems that solo travellers aren't particularly welcome, Libya apparently wants groups of at least four
Getting a visa for one wasn't in fact that difficult. All you need to do is contact a Libyan travel agent and work out a suitable tour itinerary and then send passport details of yourself + three friends to the agent. The agent in turn sends both you and the nearest Libyan embassy copies of the itinerary and passport details for yourself and your three friends. You can then simply send your own passport to that embassy and in the fullness of time your passport will arrive back with the magic visa. Your friends? Well, they just don't do anything - no-one seems to ask about the others in the group...
Libyan travel agencies are pretty good but their offerings are also pretty expensive, they're asking between $100 USD and $150 USD - that's $200/300 of our monopoly money Oz dollars - per day for a tour that it seems you just have to take to get your thirty day visa
The scuttlebutt on the web was that that once your tour is over you can easily stay in Libya for the balance of the thirty days of your visa. Well you can, and you can't... I couldn't but others have told me they could. Tho they weren't on bikes
Update 2005: This seems to have changed and cyclists seem to have things easier, tho a seven day dash thru Libya along the coast from Egypt to Tunisia on a Transit Visa - a 7 day visa issued in Cairo after a 5 week wait - may not in fact be so 'easy'
Thanks for the info, Gregor
Update 2009: Visas for solo cycling are do-able but still seem to take ages, but you can now get a 15 day visa plus extensions. See Peter Gostelow's fabulous
A Long Ride Home for some info - and for an inspiring read too!
Update 2011: 'Tourist' visas are not available until further notice
B/trike: Bikes and planes don't always mix well
Bottom line is to check, check and check again before you hand over your hard-earned and if possible get everything in writing
I flew Royal Jordanian and they made me box the trike, so thank goodness Greenspeed trikes can be deconstructed easily. I was able to leave the box at a hotel with the thought of reusing it for the return flight but as I left for home from Tunis rather than Tripoli, re-boxing was a bit problematic. Still it was done, and while the box ended up pretty bashed about, the trike arrived home unscathed
Vaccinations: The list of recommended shots is scary. Hepatitis (both A and B), tetanus, typhoid, rabies and on and on it goes... I didn't bother
Once you're there:
I spent a few days just being a package tourist with a pretty quick glimpse at some pretty fabulous sights - Sabratha, Leptis Magna and so-on - plus an opportunity to get used to life in an 'Axis of Evil' state, well my trip was in 2003, before Libya lost its pariah status, when it was still the most evil of the 'Axis of Evil' states
Accommodation: Tourist hotels are definitely NOT the cheap and cheerful type, rather more of the functional type
Food: Whoever it was that described Libya as a culinary desert wasn't too far off the mark, in general, food is bland but filling. In the tourist hotels and restaurants the piece-de-resistance is 'Libyan soup' (a fairly stodgy noodle thing) and outside the tourist places, the restaurant offerings were cheap, bland and filling
If you have a sweet tooth, the usual syrup soaked pastries were pretty good, well actually, very good. Almost as good as those in Damascus
Bottled water is available, cheaply, everywhere. And yes, it's true, water costs more than petrol (gas). Although Libya is alcohol free, tourists can get a wide variety of non-alcoholic beers
Money: Changing cash into Libyan dinar wasn't hard at the airport(s) but it was a different story at a bank where it was always a long drawn out, red-tape process - even with the usual tourist concession of always being pushed to the front of any queue
Travellers cheques seemed to be a no-no as did credit cards and ATM's just didn't seem to exist - tho there are reputed to be a couple somewhere in Tripoli
Roads: Libyan roads were mostly well paved and often there were nice verges but there were also plenty of times I saw pretty rugged pavement, no verges and sizeable drops off pavement edges. Of course out in the backblocks the roads are more like a collection of patched potholes - just like in Oz actually
Traffic: Roads are mostly pretty good; traffic pretty bad
Despite the usual exotic traffic hazards, like camels on the road, getting around wasn't too bad. Compared to Sydney drivers, Libyan drivers weren't too bad at all. As usual, any speed or yield sign was taken as advisory rather than mandatory... except around the now mostly un-used road blocks that dot the roads
The bits that didn't look good? I wouldn't even think about nite riding... half the vehicles don't seem to have functioning lights plus the edges of the road are littered with rocks and glass
Smoke belching vehicles of all descriptions were too common
And those inclines? In the mountains, some look just about impossible
The most frequently asked questions:
By folk outside Libya: Why on earth do you want to go to Libya?
Libya, the concept of stereotypes - terrorists, loopy 'ol Gaddfi, blah blah - is quite obviously different in the flesh as it were; I found friendly, if relatively reserved, people and a safe secure environment
But still, why? I really don't have an answer beyond cos it's there; although Libya was the last piece of the puzzle and I've now been to all the countries of the Mahgreb along the southern Med coastline
By folk inside Libya: What's your name? Where do you come from?
Yes, yes that's two questions, but they were always run together by School kids practising their English language skills. Grown ups were polite and friendly but rarely initiated or sustained conversation or even ventured to ask anything, tho I did have a thought-provoking chat with one elderly man about forty two (the meaning of life that is, not his age... )