Foreword to the Libya Expeditions Journey:
Before the Arab Spring, we were last on an adventure trip in Algeria and Libya:
The NEW expedition is only described roughly, as we will adapt the routing individually to the expedition group and the conditions.
The description of the Libya Expedition below is deliberately very "superficial", a mega tour in terms of driving technique and scenery, which is primarily aimed at experienced drivers who have already been in the desert.
This Africa tour can be booked as a two-week flight tour or as a three-week tour with arrival by land. The following tour description, like all other adventurous desert tours far away from civilisation, is suggested as a basic framework.
The expedition through Libya is a challenging tour over the highest dunes to the most beautiful places in the Sahara. A must for experienced endurists!
From Genoa via Tunisia to the Libyan Sahara - Franky is my son's godfather and will organise the border formalities for us at the Libyan border!
We will arrive in Genoa by land, then take the ferry to Tunis, from where we will travel to Tripoli by 4x4 and motorbike.
Those arriving by plane will join the group 5 days later, and together we will travel on a pleasant but long day of driving towards the Sahara.
At the "end of the road" we will stock up on provisions, firewood and fuel before entering the vastness of the Sahara.
Those were the days: With the Honda Trans Alp through the desert of Libya!
Through the Hammada al Hamrah and the Erg Urbari to the Mandara Lakes!
We cross the Hammada al Hamrah on rugged gravel and stone tracks. Far away from any civilisation, our machines move kilometre by kilometre in a south-easterly direction until we reach the northernmost foothills of the Idhan Awbari dunes. We continue through the Erg Ubari. Along gigantic dunes we find our way in the sea of sand. It is the hardest and most beautiful stage. After two to three days we will reach the Mandara Lakes and recover from the exertions.
Al Awaynat - A Fast Ride
We reach the last dune crests via fast desert tracks. An already unfamiliar view stretches out before us: Roads, houses and civilisation! A 300 km asphalt stage to Al Awaynat follows. There we will take on provisions again before we dive into desert again.
Libya Expedition with 4x4s and Motorcycles in the Libyan Sahara
The Sahara crossing in Libya stretches over hundreds of kilometres on a sensational plain, in the areas around Seba it is a challenge for everyone to pull the fat BMW's out of the sand!
The golden rule is: GASSSSS is on the right ;-)
The Akkakus Mountains - Signs of a long lost era
Through the diverse Garden of Allah we reach the Akkakus Mountains. For the Akkakus National Park we will allow two or three days to take in the impressive rock paintings and the overwhelming landscape, to visit a barber, to inspect the vehicles or simply to relax.
Off Road Adventure Mandara Lakes
Via Ghadames and Sidi Bouzid back to Tunis - A guest of a friend in the desert
Dusty tracks along the Algerian border are our companion. Over the last dunes we leave the seemingly endless Sahara on fast tracks to the north. We reach the former "hub of the caravan trade" Ghadames.
Our motorbike trip through Libya is coming to an end. From Ghadames we head north, back to Tunisia. In Sidi Bouzid, our friend Rouf is already waiting for us with a delicious dinner.
Genoa - Tübingen ... and Africa on your mind
We arrive in Tunis and have time to wander the souks (bazaars) before ending the evening with a shisha (water pipe).
The ferry leaves Africa behind and we are on board with the greatest treasure that cannot be taken away: a huge load of beautiful images and vivid memories.
Toyota Landcriuser in the Libyan Desert
We deliberately do without luxury and costly supply trucks. The motorbike adventure tours are carried out with a focus on experience. We are flexible, go new ways that do not necessarily guarantee a flawless course of events.
This is deliberate, as we believe that an adventure can only be experienced and not planned. The sometimes chaotic conditions and circumstances that await us on site also lead, among other things, to these aforementioned adventure experiences that are typical for Africa. The tour guides who are on tour with us know North Africa very well and are familiar with the customs of the country.
What we offer you is pure adventure, by off-road vehicle or motorbike.
On the Libya expedition in 2003, the Touareg was amazed at how many countries one person can travel to. LUXURY living and travelling then becomes conscious again.
Motorbike Tours in Africa: On Tour since 2001
Travelogue from the Libya Sahara motorbike and off-road vehicle trip 2003:
From Europe to Africa:
It's shortly after midnight, I'm sitting in the office making final corrections to a client project. Around 3.30 a.m. we are supposed to meet at Joe's place to leave, it's not worth sleeping any more. Shortly before three the mobile phone rings. "This is a wake-up call," says Joe. I see. I am awake.
I arrive at Joe's at four sharp, having struggled through the first heavy snowfall of the year. Joe, Martin, Falk and Silke are already packing. The Defender is fully packed, the motorbikes are on the accompanying trailer.
Roland from Radolfzell calls and confirms that he is ready to go with his Land Crouser and will be at the meeting point on time with the second trailer. 4.30 a.m. We start the engines and off we go. I make myself comfortable on the back seat and nod off.
It must be early in the morning when we meet up with Roland despite the snow-covered road.
From there we continue towards Italy, over snow-slippery motorways. Time is working against us, as our ferry "Karthage" was supposed to leave Genova at 3 pm. From the Alps, however, the snow breaks up and we drive relaxed towards the south.
In Genova the two Swiss, Reto and Wendelin, and the others arrive on their machines. The customs procedure drags on, not only for us, and so it is late in the evening before the Karthage departs. We enjoy a far too expensive dinner and move into very modern cabins. In a heavy swell, some of us have fun on the dance floor, where we sway merrily back and forth even without drinking any alcohol. Outside on deck, a wonderful natural spectacle takes place in high waves, while Roland's stomach experiences a very private storm.
By ferry to Tunisia:
While one half enjoys what will probably be the last chance to sleep in for a long time, Joe and Roland "Rodeo" devote themselves to passport and visa matters, which should take some time. Tunisians and Europeans alike queue up at several counters in the ship's corridors to get the necessary entry documents, also for the vehicles. Towards afternoon there is a short travel briefing.
It is already dark when we dock in Tunis. We are already several hours late, but the following procedure is to finally put us behind schedule, to which we owe a continuous rush for the next few days. In large halls the vehicles, mostly Tunisians with fully loaded and completely worn-out cars on the one hand and European expedition and travel groups with off-road vehicles and motorbikes of all sizes on the other, are now being processed. People exchange information with other desert riders, examine vehicles and equipment. Entire desert trucks with several spare tyres and dozens of water and petrol canisters as well as sand sheets can be seen here; in the cockpits, GPS and satellite telephones are as much a matter of course as a radio is here. Very interesting. The only thing is that it doesn't go forward. Is it the Tunisian authorities who are taking their time or is it the ailing computer network that is failing again - whatever the case, it is only after a long wait that we are able to leave the customs hall at around 10 pm and set off for xxxxxx, to Raouf, a Tunisian friend of Joe. The journey drags on, however, and when we get there it is already so late at night that everything is in a deep sleep. We don't want to wake anyone out of politeness and set up camp next to the house.
The first overnight stay in Tunisia
It was a very cold night, which makes us crawl out of our tents nice and early. I have climbed into my sleeping bag in full clothes, I suppose, and yet I am freezing. Rauff now also comes out of the house, greets us and prepares a small breakfast while we look for the quickest way to the bathroom through the back entrance.
Welcome to Africa: Of course, no warm water awaits us, but surely no one expected that. At least there is some, and it even flows from the tap. The toilet, however, cannot cope with the onslaught and fails before everyone has had a turn. On the terrace we have hot coffee and tea as well as baguettes with butter and various Tunisian biscuits and sweets, which, as we know from the Greek on the corner, are so sweet that the sugar level would probably be covered until the end of the tour.
During the meal, Wendelin, one of the two Swiss, tells us that he will be going back immediately due to severe back problems. Joe is the first to leave, as he has to pick up a tour participant from the airport in Djerba. After the motorbikes are loaded from the trailer, he speeds off on his xxxxx and we sort out much of our luggage with tears in our eyes under the keyword "weight reduction" that we had already considered most necessary. At around ten we head south, while Wendelin makes his way back to Tunis.
We make a short stop in Matmata, where we don't have much time to visit the cave dwellings there. In order to reach our meeting point, where we are supposed to meet up with Joe again, on time, we set off into the semi-desert after a few minutes. The landscape now becomes more and more dreary, bushes scarcer and the roads emptier. At a godforsaken crossroads in the middle of nothingness made of stones and dust there is a small "cafe", a wooden barrack with an adjoining Bedouin tent. We saddle up and make our way to the cosy seat cushions under the wide and low-hanging tent roof. Our stomachs are rumbling, as we had eaten our last meal with breakfast and had not seen any food the previous evening. Here, however, away from any village, no matter how small, the menu is small; once again sweet biscuits and tea and a few country hunters we brought ourselves are our late lunch.
It is a beautiful setting for our eyes, and the feeling of spending Christmas here, far away from civilisation, fills us with pride, but our pioneering thoughts are abruptly interrupted when Martin notes with puzzlement that there is inexplicably still a mobile phone signal to be received here. And indeed, shortly afterwards a phone rings and wipes away all our dreams into the desert wind. But that is about to change.
After Joe arrives with Funy, our photographer, and we have put our luggage in order, we turn left onto a sand and gravel track, and from here on we will probably be far enough away from reachability for the next 24 hours. Now our GPS come into play on the way to Khsar Ghilan, an oasis in the Tunisian Sahara. The motorcyclists - Klaus, Reto, Martin and Joe ride ahead, and shortly afterwards have disappeared on the horizon. The ground conditions change quickly, and the initially pure gravel road becomes increasingly sandy. This was to take its toll on the motorcyclists who had not yet familiarised themselves with the new surface; behind the next crest we see the bikers on the side of the road. Reto's bike had got stuck on a sand field that suddenly opened up in front of him and sent him hurtling through the air. After several rollovers, he found himself a few metres further ahead, unhurt. Perhaps it was just this benign fall that tempted him to be a little careless. In any case, not more than an hour passed when Joe caught up with the vehicles ahead in the meantime to tell us that Reto had fallen again and had probably sprained his ankle for good. In the meantime it had become dark and we agreed that part of the group should drive the last 10 kilometres to the oasis to set up the tents, while I drove back to the accident site with Joe. There we deposited the motorbikes of Reto and also Martin, who had waited there with him, on the side of the track behind a sand wall, set a GPS marker and drove with the jeep towards Khsar Ghilan. It was late when we got there, and hunger made us ditch the planned Christmas ravioli and head for the local tourist restaurant for a sinfully expensive but fortifying meal, lamb on rice with soup. Meanwhile, a French development aid doctor arrives to examine Reto's foot, bandage it and give him pills to reduce swelling. After a very exhausting and hungry day, there was little anticipation when Joe told us after lunch that we would have to leave very early tomorrow in order to be at the Tunisian/Libyan border in time to be picked up. The hot springs, for which the oasis is so famous, were enjoyed by some that night, while others were looking forward to a hot bath the next morning, which could be taken in a hurry.
Journey on the edge of the Sahara:
After an early start, we set off on the way back and collect the motorbikes we have deposited. Reto, who will probably be unable to ride for the rest of the tour due to overstretched ligaments and the associated pain, has to watch as his damaged bike is loaded onto the trailer that was brought along for safety reasons. We will leave it in a safe place as soon as possible to pick it up again on the way home. As we approach the border on a restless route in a race against time, hunger grows again. Some of us had left the camp without breakfast, and the bikers in particular are at a disadvantage, as they can't have a snack as easily as we can. Another complication is the cold. Even in North Africa, temperatures are often quite cool in the winter months. With daytime temperatures around 15 to 25 degrees, the long, non-stop stretches are doubly stressful for the motorcyclists.
We reach the border at dusk. Farak "Franky" and his brother xxxxx have been waiting there since the afternoon. Franky is Joe's acquaintance and at the same time the person we have to thank for getting a last-minute visit visa for Libya despite the current entry ban. Joe and his two friends fell into each other's arms when we had crossed the Tunisian border despite some problems on our way out - customs had not declared Roland's motorbike on his last tour of Tunisia when we left the country. This shortcoming was noticed by the Tunisian official when we left the country, and only after a long back and forth were we allowed to leave.
The Libyan border, however, was to take us much longer. As expected, the necessary formalities proceed very slowly. We have to take out overpriced insurance for our vehicles, get the Libyan number plates in Arabic script. Forms upon forms in multiple copies and also in Arabic have to be filled out laboriously with the help of our interpreters. While the drivers of the jeeps and motorbikes complete these and other formalities in a nearby barrack, the rest of the group waits enervated and - once again - hungry in the cars.
It is after midnight when our passports are stamped and the number plates mounted, and we take off for Tripoli, the capital of Libya, 170 km away. Under Muammar Khadafi, the country has undergone a rather paradoxical development. Most of the country's infrastructure is in a very dilapidated state, but here we are surprised by a generously constructed multi-lane "motorway" - even outside towns brightly lit by thousands of lanterns on the central lane. Electricity is one of the subsidised things in the country, just like oil and petrol - the latter costs no more than 15 pfennigs per litre here.
So we make a short pit stop about halfway along the road to relieve our hunger with at least a small snack in a curious bar with strange characters. Hastily fried hamburgers and a Libyan Miranda with Arabic writing on plastic sets are eaten in silence. Shortly afterwards, the engines start up again and we reach Tripoli at around 5am. I wake up as our vehicles are already pulling into the car park of the hotel "xxxx". We bring the luggage into the reception hall. Right behind the door is a metal detector, like the ones you see at airports. The device is activated and triggers a signal for each of us. The receptionist, if that's what you want to call him, just looks tired and hands us another carbon copy form. "Father's name - mother's name - address - passport number...". Half asleep, we fill out the form. Then finally we go to the rooms, which were as messed up as we felt at the moment. That suited, and after we had talked the seemingly never-tired Joe out of the idea of "waking us up at 10 o'clock", everyone fell into bed.
Around 2 pm, one after the other arrives in the entrance hall, and over a cup of coffee and tea, Joe discusses the next few days with us. It quickly becomes clear that the group needs a day of rest. The schedule of our tour is tight, however, and Joe, who has calculated the route precisely in order to visit some interesting points, is dissatisfied. Nevertheless, we agree to stay at the hotel for the next night and plan a short tour of the city in the afternoon. Joe and Franky set off to exchange money. Unexpectedly, however, this is to become another time-delaying problem; the banks are not exchanging foreign currency at the moment, as the exchange rate of the Libyan dinar, whose import and export is prohibited, is fluctuating wildly. In some jewellers we finally manage to get at least a few hundred dollars at a reasonably fair rate. Equipped with the new notes, we leave for the city late in the afternoon. Franky and xxxx guide us through the medina, the old fort, where many jewellers and shops are located. It is getting dark when we arrive at the "green square", a rather ugly busy piazza with a big car park in the middle. From there the main shopping streets lead through the city. Italian clothes and shoes at western prices can be found here as well as snack bars and specialist shops, and once again jewellers. Gold jewellery has a special status in Libya, as Franky tells us later. When getting married, it is not only customary and expected in the higher social classes to host a big celebration, but also to pay a rather large amount of gold jewellery as bride price.
After a long search for an affordable restaurant, we eat pizza, chicken, fish and meat with delicious side dishes and a spicy soup in a snack bar at a quickly assembled table. In fact, most things in Libya are surprisingly expensive - or we exchanged at the wrong rate. In any case, the price difference we are used to in other African countries is not noticeable here. However, the way the offers and the service are made and the condition of the sales rooms are customary African, which makes the price/performance ratio seem very unfavourable in our eyes. Well, other countries, other understanding of order and cleanliness. After all, that's why we are here and not in Mallorca.
On the way to the Sahara:
It is around ten o'clock when we leave the hotel and, after a more or less short fuel stop, start driving south. With the help of the GPS and several enquiries, we find our way out of the jungle of Tripoli's road network, where direction signs in Arabic are of little help to us. An hour later, there is nothing but stone desert to the left and right of the asphalt. Every few hours we pass through a small town, which by western standards is no more than a village. In Libya, however, which has about 5 million inhabitants, every small cluster of houses is a point on the rather imprecise map. Due to time constraints, lunch is once again limited to a baguette with fried egg at the petrol station, which now looks typically African. In a small shack, a Sudanese guest worker, whose dark skin colour contrasts with the lighter-skinned Libyans living in the north, prepares lunch. Behind a rickety counter, he prepares tea and coffee on a gas cooker and fries omlettes in an old pan. The motorcyclists in particular are glad for every warming sip. I swap places with Joe, who can recover his backache a bit on the back seat of the Terrano, while I move his bike a few hundred kilometres southwards on the monton straight road. As darkness falls, we drive sideways a few hundred metres into the countryside. We set up our tents in a hollow, sheltered from the road. Roland conjures up ravioli on the gas cooker from a 5-litre can and some mulled wine, which had not been noticed during the surprisingly weak border controls. After all, Islam is the state religion and the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
Africa is colder than you think:
It is very early when the cold drives us out of our tents. The thermometer in the cockpit of our Toyota shows 3 degrees. At this point we do not yet know that this should be the last night we still have temperatures above freezing. Even Joe is surprised, and given his - let's say optimistic - packing lists, there is hardly enough warm clothing in any of our backpacks. Most of us will have to make do with one or two pairs of long trousers and just as few jumpers for the next few weeks, and those who preferred to reach for the thick sleeping bag at home are among the luckier ones. A cup of tea and a baguette with jam or Nutella (which, thanks to its popularity, should soon run out) is taken standing up before we pack up the tents and stow them in the vehicles. Those who have undertaken the tour by motorbike are now subjected to a severe test. Even before the sun is high enough to catch a few warming rays, we set off. There are several hundred kilometres on the programme again. At a stop in Sebha we stock up on the most necessary provisions and continue our journey. Only after dark do we reach the "4x4 Camp" in xxxx. The campsite consists of eight larger tents and a house where the sanitary facilities are located. In fact, there are functioning toilets and even a hot shower (even from above and not just "from the bucket") in the usual "African ambience". Abdul, the site manager, welcomes us in broken German. While we take care of our luggage and prepare our camps, he and his crew prepare a delicious dinner for us; couscous with chicken, preceded by salad and even warm(!) bread. Thanks to his longer stay in Germany, he knows the expectations of European guests; you would probably not find such service in a purely Libyan establishment.
By motorbike on the "frozen" dunes of the Sahara:
The night was cold. After the now well-known snorers in the group had been banished to a tent a bit off the beaten track, no one had a peaceful night's sleep due to the night's temperatures. Roland's first glance is at the thermometer and he announces with surprise, "It's warmer at home, guys - minus three degrees! Grumpily we grope towards the shower, where the first two, Klaus and Thomas, are the only ones lucky enough to get warm water before the pipe runs dry. The rest have to wait, only after breakfast at the prepared seating area next to our vehicles do they get a few warm drops. From the camp we have a wonderful view of the high sand dunes that open up directly behind the site and are the beginning of the endless sand desert.
Joe drives ahead and leads us sideways into the dunes, where it becomes clear from the first few metres that riding a motorbike will not be as easy as some people had imagined.