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Journal Entry:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 11:27:21

Arabia 2006: 5 - Libya to Egypt

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Taher picked me up at 8:45 AM to take me to ruins of the Roman City of Sabratha, west of Tripoli. My knees and feet had recovered a little from the abuse yesterday, but as it was necessary to check out of the hotel my carry-all vest was loaded with books, video camera, spare cassettes, wallet, plane tickets, itineraries and vouchers, calculator, notepads and pens, wet wipes, business cards and so on. When at capacity it weighs in at about 15 pounds, making trekking a bit more challenging.

I was pleased to find that Sabratha is smaller than Leptis Magna, but the walk to explore the area was still a couple of miles. The city was established by the Phoenicians around the 5th century BC then taken over by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Only about 30% of the city has been excavated to date. It had a population of around 35,000 at its peak.

The city plan was similar to other Roman Cities, with the drainage system, several multi-temperature baths, temples to Greek, Roman and Egyptian Gods, the forum, market areas and public toilets well excavated. The theatre, which had a capacity of 7,000 people, has been dramatically restored, including the three stories high columns behind the stage. Unfortunately the restorers used much smaller blocks and modern concrete, which takes away from the original design.

It was a 1-½ km hike to the amphitheatre, so I declined, as my knees were beginning to protest. Tourists on the site are largely French and Italian. There were more than anywhere I have seen on the trip, as there was three cruise ships in Tripoli today.

Next stop was the centre of Tripoli where we walked to explore the old medina, a market area of streets too narrow for vehicles, that twist and turn through an area about 10 city blocks square. Some streets let under the archways connecting buildings, others twisted to dead ends. Fortunately Taher knew his way around. It was interesting to see the "pet" shops, where tortoises, birds, fish, dogs, cats, a selection of grown flacons wearing head covers and a full sized cobra were for sale.

We stopped at a restaurant with only 3 tables, where we had a good lunch of soup, lamb stew, salad and mint tea. My legs were delighted for the rest! Prices here are low. I got an explanation of the money. 100 piastres = 1 dinar, or 1,000 durhams = 1 dinar. Wages are relatively low - doctors just received a raise from 1,000 to 1,500 dinars per month. ($US 760 to $1,140)

We wandered through the four-story museum, which is a part of the famous fort of Tripoli, and then back into the streets of the medina again. Pain was making more frequent stops necessary, so we had tea at a variety of places, ending up at a street restaurant to eat what looked like meat and ground bean filled soft tacos. They were very tasty. The tea places we stopped in were crowded with people playing board games, smoking hookah type water pipes or just talking.

We finally visited a large, carpeted tent in the main square where there was an exhibition of the atrocities committed by the Italians during their rule of the country. It is set up in honour of the anniversary of the date they left the country by an institute which is trying to get maps of their minefields, still a serious problem today, and to seek monetary damages for widows and orphans of the period.

Most women wear traditional coverings. Taher says this is not compulsory by law, but the tradition is continued optionally. Over the past two days there were no roadblocks, and no visibly military presence. Apparently people are quite free to come and go in Libya.

Nasar Edeeb, the product manager of the travel company, accompanied us to the airport, as he had a regular client coming in on the flight I was to take to Egypt. Egypt Air had a comfortable business class lounge. Announcements in the airport are only in Arabic, but almost everyone speaks some English so asking questions is not a problem. Lounge staff ensured we boarded at the correct time.

The flight arrived in Cairo on time and the plane parked about a kilometre from the terminal. A separate bus was laid on for business class, so there were only 8 of us from the flight in the first wave for customs. The representative of Le Meridien Heliopolis Hotel met me before the customs line, found I had no visa, took $15 for the visa cost and was back with the visa stamps in my passport before the people ahead of me had been processed. He has been doing this for over ten years, knows everyone, and so gets away with entering the secure areas. Most other hotel and tour company greeters were located in the public area of the terminal.

I changed money at the bank (which was open at 3 AM), was escorted to the hotel bus and immediately driven to the hotel. Check in was quick and easy, and Egypt Panorama tours had my train tickets and voucher waiting at the desk as promised. The clerk on duty suggested leaving the hotel an hour before train time, and as I was sure the train left at 9 AM a 7 AM wake up call was arranged. I fell into bed at 4 AM.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The hotel wake up service and my alarm clock both worked to drag me out of a dead sleep at 7 AM. I was in the lobby and ready to go at ten to eight, when I checked the train ticket to find the train left at 8 AM. Hotel staff confirmed that the ticket could not be used for a later train or refund, so I returned to the room, called the tour company to leave a message to cancel the guide in Alexandria, and went back to bed, where there was no way I could get to sleep.

I was up when Panorama Tours called, so explained what happened and asked if an appointment I had with one of their clients who would like to visit Costa Rica could be advanced to today. The hotel is near the airport and the short transfers are complementary, but a trip to Panorama Tours would require a cab ride into the city and then another to get to the airport. Ms Ranwa, who does outgoing tourism, called back to say the meeting could not be changed due to previous commitments on the part of the client.

After a trip to the restaurant where I was informed it closed ten minutes before I got there, it struck me that I had been doubly stupid. I could have taken a cab from the hotel before the train left and intercepted it at a station down the line, or even driven to Alexandria to get back on schedule at the station.

Deciding today was not my day I chose to stay in the hotel - something I don't believe I have ever done before. A delicious two-hour lunch accompanied by copious quantities of local beer was followed by a massage and a siesta. Tomorrow, with luck, I'll start at Panorama Tours office, and then fly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to connect to my fight to Sa'ana, Yemen.