North Africa: 3. Libya
At Tunis airport it was obvious we were the only non-Arabs on the flight to Tripoli. As we boarded, people were asking if we were journalists; of course we weren’t, but we stuck to the job description on our visa forms of ‘engineers’. Once landed in Tripoli airport we joined the mass of people at the border office trying to get entry stamps. Our passports and paperwork were taken away, and an hour later we were called forward again. We were successful! At last!
With no questions asked, we paid the required fees and proceeded through to the baggage reclaim. To call us overjoyed would be an understatement, on top of which there was the slight sense of disbelief to be finally in a country that we had spent so much time and effort trying to get into.
We caught a taxi into Tripoli centre, not really sure of what to expect in the immediate aftermath of a revolution. On the whole, things seemed to be running business as usual, but with plenty of reconstruction occurring. Finding accommodation was a massive uncertainty; Rich had earlier sourced an address for a youth hostel, but that turned out to be full. Another hotel we had details for had simply disappeared, so it was with some relief that some locals gave us directions to a cheap alternative.
We spent the next few days settling into Tripoli and getting used to the atmosphere. We talked with numerous locals in Martyrs’ Square, and there was a strong impression of happiness and joy in their new-found freedom, although the overthrow of the old regime was not completely over. Some of the older generation we talked to told us remarkable stories of the totalitarian control Gaddafi had on the country, and the extent to which the revolution has changed things for the better in Libya. For them, they were particularly happy to be able to foreigners like us, always asking what our impressions were.
Apart from a brief diversion west to Sabratha, we spent most of our time in Libya travelling east on the coastline, stopping off at major sites along the way. Rich had planned to return to the UK partway through, leaving Oli and me to celebrate Christmas on our own.
Travelling through Libya was a fantastic experience. The strongest impression I got was the friendliness of the Libyans to help us out whenever we seemed to be struggling. Many would often give us lifts when we were lost, or even try to negotiate us cheap rates on hotel rooms. Undoubtedly the country is far from ready to be a popular tourist destination, though the potential they have is huge; it will be interesting to see what direction the Libyans take in coming years with their new-found democracy.