Week 1

Day 1

After all the months of preparation the big day finally dawned. Actually the ferry doesn''t leave Genoa until tomorrow afternoon but leaving at the last minute wouldn''t be the ideal way to start on an adventure. Once the children had left for school we did the final packing and then after coffee and a haircut (for Neill) at some friends we hit the road.

The first stop was directly after the Austrian border where we filled up with the cheaper Austrian petrol before crossing the Fernpass. Reading this later I have to laugh at "cheaper". In Libya we paid €5 for 70 litres of petrol. In the northern Alps it was most definitely winter with deep snow left and right of the road. Once we dropped down into Innsbruck most of the snow had melted and once we were over the Brenner Pass there was little trace of winter left.</p> <p>Lunch was a stand up buffet in a motorway service station that sold everything from lottery tickets to coffee and toys to videos.

16:59 We are now out of the Alps and cruising at a constant 100 kph along a long straight motorway. Alison is driving so I have a chance to test all the toys. The inverter is delivering 230V and the Garmin is working well with Oziexplorer and the NASA satellite pictures to allow us to "watch ourselves from Space." Only about another 150 kilometres to Genoa - hopefully we can find some one who knows that we are meant to be able to sleep there.

The rest of the drive to Genoa was uneventful if you exclude manic Italian drivers and, once we were in Genoa, suicidal scooter pilots. Once we reached the town we unsuccessfully tried following the signs but eventually rang Achim and asked for the GPS coordinates of where he was. These he supplied but unfortunately in the wrong format (seconds instead of decimal minutes). They led us to the middle of a park full of trucks. A helpful Italian explained that we were at the wrong port and how we should reach the correct one. We followed his directions to the letter and 10 minutes later we were once again stood in front of him. This time he escorted us in his car and, having zipped past a bemused police man and equally surprised customs personnel, he left us at the International port. After further frantic telephoning and exchange of GPS coordinates we eventually found the rest of the LDC team and could settle down to a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

Once the roof tent was up we found a pizzeria for an evening meal.

Alison: Walked down to school with Max, Daniel and Rhiannon this morning and said fond farewells. Seems strange I won''t be seeing them for over 2 weeks. Neill and I are about to embark on the first holiday we''ve had since before Maximilian was born.

Left home at 9.30am and drove to Jon and Gertrud as Gertrud had asked us to call by and say cheerie O. Neill had a last minute haircut after a cuppa and they gave us some reserve chocolate to take. Thanks Jon for your "supplies" you handed over to me, but they weren''t used (!). Left at 10.30am in deep snow.

Drove over Brenner Pass into sunshine. Filled up with petrol. Autogrill lunch at 14.00 - toasted bread roll and water. Blue sky and no snow to be seen - lovely to see sun again. Reached Genoa at 20.30 - couldn''t find ferry. Rang Thomas who gave us Achim''s no. - he was at port and gave us GPS coordinates. After a lot of driving around found him - welcomed us with a cup of coffee. Camped overnight at port after eating out at a pizzeria.

Day 2

The plan today was to enjoy the sun in Genoa and take the chance to repack all our equipment properly and securely. To start with everything went according to plan. After waking up we got some water on the boil for a cup of tea and strolled around talking to the other participants who arrived during the night or early in the morning. However a little later it turned cold and began raining. It then proceeded to rain all day. We enjoyed variations between light drizzle, chucking it down, thunder and hail. Needless to say all the good plans went out of the window and we spent the day with two more Land Rover owners, John and Pam in a coffee shop, café or hiding under shelter. A high point of the whole day was folding the roof tent up during a hail storm.

Yesterday Achim, the leader of the Adventure Class, had given us a LDC flag so we enjoyed the challenge of trying to find a suitable flag pole. Eventually Alison found a Chinese shop selling fishing rods so we bought a cheap fishing rod which has the advantage of being of variable length and already having eyes installed. It will be interesting to see how it stands up to the challenge ahead.

The ferry arrived punctually at 14:00 at which point things really started to go down hill. There were lots of very important Italians with uniforms and guns directing the unloading and loading. It was all being "organised" by the top idiot who had a whistle and measuring stick as well. Despite the freezing cold rain lots of us stood outside for the full five hours just to watch how badly organised people could be.

Once we finally got on to the ferry it was a case of entering a different world. We had been assigned an outboard two man cabin with shower and hot water. After that there was a warm meal and then drinks in the bar while filling out the customs and immigration papers for Tunisia. Only 12 hours after freezing on the roof of the Land Rover I was sat in a warm bar with a whisky and coke in my hand. Very strange!

Alison: Woke up several times with various people arriving. Italian customs police shouting, engines running, etc. Eventually got up at 7.45am. Neill made us a hot tea and we ate some of our ration pack for breakfast. Went with another English couple (John and Pam) into town and bought a fishing rod (&#8364;8) to use as a flag pole. Pouring with rain. Tent soaked. Am now sitting in Larry (our Land Rover) writing this. Ferry goes sometime this afternoon. Neill thinks 2pm; others think 5pm. Warmed up in a nearby restaurant with Spaghetti lunch. I walked back and took picture of large galleon that was used in Roman Polanski''s film "Pirate" - thought Max would like to see a picture of it. Also took a picture of our ferry "Carthage" which had docked. LDC vehicles all crammed together in dock. Nobody really knows when the ferry is due to sail. Supposedly around 17.00. After picking up our orange boarding cards and passports we eventually got on board shivering at 18.15.

After a beautifully hot shower we gathered in restaurant for dinner - soup, omelette-type quiche, kebab and veg, cheese, éclair, wine and water. After dinner we met in bar for a meeting and filling in more documents. A couple of drinks later went to bed at about 23.15. Nice, comfortable 2 berth cabin with large porthole to look out to sea. Woke up a few times in the night to various bumps and rolling noises but otherwise slept well.

Day 3

The comfortable beds and gently rocking ship assured that we both had a very good nights sleep which was followed by an enjoyable breakfast spent with two men who are coming with us in a 2 wheel drive VW "Kuebelwagen" (bucket car).

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/b_03_065.jpgAfter breakfast there was the official welcome and briefing by Thomas Holzknecht. We were introduced to all the organisation team and told who was doing what. There was a shorter meeting for all those travelling in the adventure class. There are the two organizers trucks (a Unimog and an L60), two Land Rovers, an X5, a Jeep Cherokee, a motorbike, a Hyundai, a Nissan and the Kübelwagen mentioned earlier.

After the briefing I took my GPS up on deck and measured the speed of the ferry - 45kmh! There must have been some huge engines to push such a huge ship along at that speed.

When we returned to our vehicles I found a pool of liquid under the engine. It turned out to be cooling fluid leaking where the sensor for the new Kenmore fans had been inserted. I repaired the leak with a new jubilee clip while photographers and film people recorded the first "breakdown" in Africa.

Once we had landed in Tripoli and disembarked we were faced with passport control and customs. The only thing that they had in common was that they were all idiots. They even managed to make the Italian load master appear intelligent.

Alison's immigration card had been lost on the ship so we needed a new stamp. Sounds easy enough but not for a Tunisian immigration official. Eventually we got Achim Langer on the case and he browbeat the chief official into filling out and stamping a new card.

Customs were obviously bored so spent there time looking at everything, even the contents of an American ration pack that we had along. Eventually everyone had cleared customs and in a light drizzle we stuck our rally numbers onto the vehicles and set off in the dark for the three hundred kilometres to our overnight stop at Bir Ali. 300 kilometres of Tunisia and all we saw were the road and the darkness on the left and right. We followed the two Organisation trucks and also had a road book and GPS coordinates so would have had to try very hard to get lost.

We spent the night in the grounds of a hotel so on arrival it was up with the roof tents and then straight in for something to eat. We were in bed for 01:00 and asleep shortly after.

Alison: Got up at 8am. Sun shining and view of Sardinia from breakfast table. Breakfast - croissant, roll, butter, jam, cheese triangle and tea. Ship seems to be going fast. We have another meeting at 11am. Not much discussed then lunch at 12 noon - salad, couscous and meat followed by cheese and fruit. After lunch turned out customs on board had lost my immigration pass. Filled out another which has to be stamped at Tunis customs. Docked about 15.30. Long process to get through customs. My immigration pass was teken off us by one official so another pass was filled and stamped by his boss. We are now waiting in a car park (5pm) for the rest to get through customs.

Eventually set off about 18.30 and drove as convoy through the night to Bir Ali (north of Gabes) where we camped at about midnight after a cold meal (had been waiting a long time for us). Got to bed about 1am.

Day 4

We were woken at 05:30 by the morning call to prayers but managed to get back to sleep until 07:00. Breakfast was once again in the hotel. It wasn''t inspiring but filled a hole. By 09:00 we were all ready to leave and set off to the fuel station. Once again everything was paid for by the LDC. With fuel and tolls all being paid by Tom it is great fun driving a 3.5 litre V8 engined Land Rover.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i5_3.jpgUnlike yesterday we can actually see what is on the left and right of the road but it isn''t a lot more inspiring then the darkness we saw yesterday, lots of dried out earth, donkeys and sheep. Shepherd must be one of the all time boring jobs on this earth.

Shortly before the Libyan border one of the Adventure Class trucks broke down and needed to be taken in tow. A vital part in the engine had broken and it was going to be a long night for the mechanic.

After crossing the length of Tunisia we reached the border with Libya and once again got involved in border formalities. First we had to have our passes stamped and give in the bits of paper that we received yesterday. Then the vehicle owners had to have their passes stamped and give in other bits of paper from yesterday. Finally we all drove through into Libya. At the Libyan border there was a representative from the LDC to collect our passports and then about an hour later we received them back with Libyan number plates for the cars and very impressive looking carnets for the car. The work done by Thomas Holzknecht and crew had paid off.

While waiting for the border formalities the two Land Rovers mounted their LDC flags on the fishing poles that we bought in Genua. Flying these green flags with Libya emblazoned on them in Arabic ensured much waving and flashing of horns from all those that we met

I have never seen such crazy driving as here. The huge amount of burnt out wrecks on both sides of the road showed that such driving is just as dangerous as it looks. Luckily we all escaped harm in the various near misses.

The overnight camp was at Zwara football stadium where, after setting up our tents, there was a warm meal waiting for us with alcohol free beer or wine. After the drivers briefing we collected up any wood we could find and lit a fire near the vehicles

All day a loose exhaust clamp had been rattling so this evening I cut it off and replaced it with a jubilee clip

Alison: Was woken up at 5.30am by praying/chanting. Nice. Dozed off again but got up at 6.50am as breakfast is until 8am. Bread, egg, marg., jam, tea/coffee. We''re due to set off at 9am but it''s that time now, so am writing this whilst waiting. Plan today is to reach Zuara, over the border in Libya.

Left at 9.30am. Drove all road in convoy to border. Main truck had technical problems and had to be towed over border and repaired at our camp base in Zuara. Lunch stop at 1pm for a quick bite of ration pack before 30 km to border. Arrived at football stadium in Zuara at about 7.30pm. Evening meal cooked by caterers of soup, chicken, potato salad, pear and cream.

Got to bed at 12.15am.

Day 5

This morning we all overslept but at least the two Land Rovers were ready on time at 09:30. While waiting for the others I discovered that now the rattling from the exhaust clamp had gone you really noticed another rattle from underneath the Land Rover. Further investigation showed it to be a worn universal joint on the front prop shaft. Another job for tonight.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/b_04_130.jpgThe truck wasn''t quite fixed despite two mechanics having worked nearly all night so we left them to follow later and set off for Ghadamis. As soon as we left the coastal strip, burnt earth and sand became the dominating features of the landscape. We drove across miles of sparsely vegetated country before climbing into an upland plain about 500 meters above sea level. This was nothing but rocks, sand, stunted bushes and the occasional trees. The ladies needed to make use of a stunted bush or tree so we stopped for lunch in a small grove. The noise from the prop shaft wasn''t getting better so I took it off with much swearing and cursing. One of our group was surprised to see me come out from under the vehicle with such a large piece and then, having engaged diff lock, drive forwards.

After the lunch stop the scenery slowly got more and more barren with cases where small dunes had grown across the road partially blocking it. Later in the day it looked like there was snow lying but as we got closer we saw that it was fine white sand blowing across the countryside a few centimetres above the ground. It looked like the fog they make on stages but over square kilometres.

Our destination was a hotel in Ghadamis which we reached at sunset. First stop was the fuel station to fill the tank and all the spare canisters. We now have 150 litres on board. It is a great feeling to fill up and know that it costs nothing. The rally organisers are paying!</p> <p>Once back in the hotel grounds we had something to eat and then began our jobs. Alison went off to wash so that we would have some clean clothes again while I got started on the prop shaft. We had all the required spares and John knew exactly what to hit and when. Without him it would have taken much longer. Once we had the universal joints in I mounted it back underneath the Land Rover and then drove to the service truck to grease it. Disaster! The grease nipples wouldn''t let any grease through and we couldn''t get them off. It was now one in the morning and Alison couldn''t sleep as the roof tent was on the vehicle which still needed to be mended and test driven. Some one needed to sleep so we booked Alison a room in the hotel while I took the prop shaft off again, got grease into the joints and put it on again. At three it was finished and test driven so I fell into bed in the roof tent.

Alison: Woken up by catering truck driving past and other truck. Then chanting/praying. Dozed back to sleep until we heard Tom (Beckett) shouting "Morning campers! - Not awake yet?!" Looked at watch to see it was 7.30am and we were planning to leave at 8am! Jumped up and looked to see if any breakfast was left - rolls and cheese and sausage. Grabbed an extra one each for later (lunch) too. Quickly packed together as race teams had left by the time we woke up. Tanked up with petrol and we are now waiting for the rest to do the same (9.10am). Apparantly another late night for Achim, Joss and Co. as mechanics worked through the night to try to repair truck and gave up when too tired. They are going to finish repairing it this morning and catch us up. Goal is to reach Ghadamis - 520 km drive.

Left about 9.45am. Drove in convoy again to Ghadamis. Long straight road. (Idrove from 1pm to 3pm). Desert-looking terrain; sand on roads some of the way. Stopped in nice grove for lunch - ration pack and cheese roll from breakfast. Reached Ghadamis about 7pm. Tanked full with petrol. Larry problem underneath - Neill spent till 2.30am repairing so I eventually got a room in hotel complex and got to bed at 1.45am.

Day 6

After getting up late and setting of later we set off into the desert. We had agreed to run in groups of two vehicles and we were paired with John and Pam. By the second GPS point we had lost the X5, the motorbike, the bucket wagon and the group from LDC. We waited half an hour but no one turned up so we continued to the second point. Here we found a note from the BMW saying that they had gone on but no mention of Peter on his motorbike. At the third point we waited and were caught up by the LDC group. After lunch we all continued with the two Land Rovers, Katherina, Dietmar and Ebi in our own group.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/b_05_060.jpg0At various points we were caught up by the escorts from the Adventure Class but ran as two separate groups each at best speed. The scenery was changeable with tricky rocky sections giving was to large flat plains and then changing to light sand. One long flat stretch had a trench at the end which launched us into to the air. I really thought that after that landing the rally was finished for us.

At seven it was dusk so we camped in the desert after the LDC trucks had caught us up.

Alison: Woke up after a good sleep at 6.40am. Got up and woke others camping as breakfast is until 8am. We are meant to be leaving at 9.30am for a difficult crossing apparently across dunes (later in day). But it''s now gone 9.30am and doesn''t look like we''re going yet. Have been given safety orders from Joss: keep lights on; only turn off if in trouble. Seat belt on. Always keep man behind in view. Overtake upwind of sand side. Keep well apart.

There was a race in the dark last night to establish the starting order of today''s race.

Noticeable how quickly it gets dark/light here and how much warmer it suddenly gets when the sun is up.

Left as usual late - at 10.30am. I drove first as Neill had a later night than I. Too many stops on way started to annoy us as a group. Lots of rough terrain up and down, lots of stones and sand

We aren''t able to reach Camp Aania tonight as we are behind schedule and have a difficult area of dunes to travel. It is now 6.45pm and we are waiting at GPS checkpoint for the organising team.

Met up and decided to overnight in the desert just off the main track. Really nice and quiet and open but cold as soon as sun went down. Ulli cooked us dinner - hard packed rice and tuna and tomato sauce and parmesan. Followed by chocolate brownie cake. Made campfire. We said to Achim we wanted to leave earlier to try and catch up lost route time,

Day 7

We were all up early and on our way before sunrise. Once again Ali and I were leading the way and we got on much faster than yesterday except when Katharina''s roof tent fell off and had to be re-secured. Once off the Hamada we dropped down into a Wadi and followed it to camp Aania. Here Tom was waiting in panic as the news that we had decided to camp in the desert had not reached him. After the mechanics had borrowed our wrench all the petrol vehicles were refuelled. There was no diesel left for us so we had to try and reach the next refuelling point 200 kilometres further on. The helicopter and micro light also landed having been called forward to search for us. Once again they borrowed our tools and then Tom used the helicopter to jump forward to Al Alawant.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i1_8.jpgHaving refuelled we were about to leave when the GPS system died on us. No one had any reception so we asked for and were given a guide. Just after we set off the system came back up so the guides continued on without us.

For reasons that no one explained we had to take a supposed policeman on board from this point onwards. His name was Hasoom and he claimed to be a bodyguard of Colonel Ghaddafi. He was certainly built like a bodyguard but I don''t know what his real job was.

The dunes turned into a real fight. The sand had been churned up by the hundred vehicles that had gone before us and we had a lot to learn. Drive as fast as you can. Never lose momentum, keep out of old tracks and drive as fast as you can. After passing two stuck trucks and a rolling hotel we eventually had to give up before a, for us, impassable dune range.

We turned round and returned to the stuck trucks where we spent a fantastic night camped in the dunes and sat round our guide, Bilal''s, camp fire. During the evening Hasoom explained that a vehicle had left Al Awaynat carrying a driver, a guide and plenty of fuel.

Alison: Katharina woke us up at 6am banging a saucepan. Neill was up too. After an MRE breakfast, left at 7.30am in convoy towards camp Aania. Arrived there after a lot of sand driving (hard and fast though) at about 10am. I drove. Thomas Holzknecht was there and we tanked up (no diesel drums though for 3 cars). They had waited extra for us. The 2 microlites flew in as they had come from Ghadamis and they had apparently been asked to look for us on the way as we had been reported as missing because we hadn''t turned up at Camp Aania the day before. Set off about 11am into the sand dunes. Difficult driving (Neill drove) through deep sand up the dunes. Most got stuck several times. John''s LR (Land Rover) was overheating and eventually we reached an area that none of us could get up. After some time Achim caught us up with one of the trucks. We decided to turn round and go back to Camp Aania as the terrain after us was apparently just as difficult, if not more. The race vehicles we heard were stuck - only 13 had got through and all the transport lorries except 1 are stuck. We turned back (a tyre fell off Larry on way) and, after meeting up with the rally breakdown truck towing a car, reached a place we decided to camp in the middle of some sand dunes. Lovely evening. Very warm. After eating (noodles, tomato sauce, milkshake - milk and strawberry jam) made a fire and then Bilal, our guide, invited us to sit with him round his fire and drink tea. Bilal very interesting to listen to. Told a few jokes and played a few games. Really nice. Went to bed about 1am.

Neill Hogarth | neill@hogarth.de | www.hogarth.de