Going to Tripoli

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It is November and the days in Denmark are getting really short. The weather this time of year is dark rainy and windy – it is not a place suitable for humans to live. Hence I wanna go on holiday – now. There are only a few restrictions on my next holiday. It got to be a place with longer days than Denmark, it must be sunshine and the travel time and price of a plan ticket must be reasonable. These three conditions give me a variety of option but also preclude a few areas where I actually would like to go like New Zealand, Tasmania and southern parts of Argentina/Chile with a side trip to Antarctica. The price of a plane ticket and the time it takes to fly to these area is simply too long. Hence I got to settle with some other options – but I still go parts of North America, most of Africa and large parts of Asia to choose from.

After some searching I end up with North Africa – more precisely Libya. The trip down there is relatively short and the plan tickets is affordable for some unknown reason it is still possible to get the cheap tickets to Libya over Christmas – whereas everywhere else seem to be sold out – nobody wants to stay in Libya during Christmas and New Years – strange.

The view from my hotel room – Tripoli harbour

With the plane ticket sorted it should be a piece of cake to get a trip to Libya. What kind of problem can you possibly have? The answer lots and lots. For starters you are not allowed to travelled in Libya without a guide – hence you need to book an organised tour.

Ok no problem I just find a company – and I did that without any problems. Next problem you need an invitation to apply for a visa to Libya – great my tour operator takes care of this. They also organize the visa so I can get it on arrival at the airport in Tripoli.

This was the easy part of the process – next to get to Libya you need to get your passport translated to Arabic – and it must be done by a translator approved of the Danish authorities. This should not be a problem I mean there are lots of people in Denmark with an Arabic background hence there must be an official translator on every second street corner in Copenhagen. Hence I don’t expect any problems with the translation of my passport. I look in the phonebook. Strange there are not a lot of Arabic translators in it.

Hmm I just wait a few days and phone some company to get it done. Then I try calling them – and now my surprise. There is only one official translator in Denmark – and they don’t have his number. Now I am close to panic where is this person and how do I get a hold on him. I try the next translator service they know him at tells me he actually lives in Copenhagen and is very very expensive. I call him and he can do the translation. And he is indeed expensive his hourly wage must be about the same as Mike Tyson got for a title match in his prime. But I get my translation done pretty quickly and can take the passport to the Danish ministry of foreign affairs to get the passport legalised – yet another payment makes it way out of my pocket. But now all the documents are ready and I am set to go.

The view from my hotel room

When the day of my departure comes I go to the airport with my plane ticket and go to the check in counter. And here is trouble. I don’t have a visa in my passport because I will get it on arrival – but this is not what the screen told the woman at the check in counter you need. It said I need a visa in my passport – hence she called here superior to come and help her. At this stage I was getting a bit uneasy – and started to produce an invitation to travel to Libya and documentation that I would get my visa on arrival. Well at least this is what I think it is – in reality I have no clue what they say because it is all written in Arabic. The woman at the check in counter has got the same problem she tends to believe that I may actually have all the necessary paperwork to go to Libya but her inability to read Arabic means she is not really sure what to do – let my on the plane or tell me I can’t get onboard. In the end her boss decides that I probably got the right documents to get into Libya and she tells the other woman to let me on the plane to go to Vienna and let the Austrians deal with me.

In Vienna the gate with the plane to Tripoli is not really busy – it is actually pretty dead. At the gate I am asked why I am going to Libya? My answer is a bit to the confusion of the man at the gate – for holiday apparently he doesn’t believe any sane person will go to Tripoli over Christmas for holiday. Then next question are you with a group yeah but it is a British company hence everybody else will be travelling from London and not Vienna. I produce my Arabic language documents – he clearly have no clue to what they say – and he lets me on the plane. And it turns out I am almost the only European on the plane – no sane person is actually going to Libya for Christmas.

The plane trip is without much of interest I think about whether or not to have a drink I have heard something about a very strange alcohol policy in Libya – but I don’t really believe what I have heard is correct – hence I skip the drinks on the plane. Just before landing a somewhat disappointing announcement comes on the speakers. It is illegal to take alcohol to Libya if you are carrying any alcohol please pass it over to the cabin crew. Damn. It seems what I had heard about the alcohol policy is correct – Libya is a dry country – not just in the dessert but in general.

I get out of the plane and am a bit nervous about the immigration after the problems I had getting on the plane. Well the plane was virtually empty and there is not that many standing in the line in front of the counter for the people from other places than Libya and North Africa. Hence I get to the front of the queue fast and there I am met by a representative from the local Libyan tour company. He takes me to a counter and points on my name on the list of people with a visa. The man at the counter doesn’t seem to pay too much attention to my passport. He has no interest in a closer examination of my stamps from Jordan and Egypt to make sure I have never been to Israel. His only objection is the number of stamps in my passport which means he have to go through a number of pages before he finds one which is blank. I thought he should just put his stamp on top of one of the US stamps like they did in Syria – I think that would be kind of ironic if two of USAs main adversaries would put their stamp on a US entry stamp – but he did not and found a page not previously used.

I also get through customs without any problems and get to the arrival hall where a driver is waiting to pick me up. I never tried something like this before but I was recommended to pay for the pickup because I would get quickly through immigration and customs if I did – and this was really quick. I don’t think I ever have gotten through a none European boarder this quickly before.

The old chatedral in Tripoli – now mosque.

After leaving the arrival hall I walk across the parking lot in front of the airport and here is something really strange – the sky looks all wrong. The sky got a wrong colour – it is blue – back home it is a darkish grey colour. And there is something on the sky – it is warm and I think I have seen it before somewhere I just can’t remember where and when. What is it? It doesn’t look like a plane or a satellite, it is not clouds – I know what clouds look like for sure. Oh yeah now I know what it is. It is the sun something you don’t see this time of year in Copenhagen.

We start the drive to the centre of Tripoli. It is a fairly easy drive – it is in fact a public holiday because it is the pilgrimage time and they celebrate the sheep festival. We drive by a large building which belongs to the leader an almost divine person when you listen to the way many Libyans talk about him. The rest of us probably know him under the name colonel Gaddafi. But in Libya they always seem to talk about the Leader.

After I get my room at the hotel I walk to the main square in town. The Green Square in Libya the main colour is green the colour of the revolution and Islam. Behind the Green Square are the old Medina of Tripoli and I walk in there. It is almost dead – everything is closed because of the holidays. Hence there is not a lot to see this evening. 


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