Week 2

Day 8

It was lovely to sleep out in the dunes although the cloud cover obscured the millions of stars that we had hoped for. After a leisurely start we all set off back to Camp Aania.We have definitely learnt a lot about dune driving and no one got stuck anywhere except in a hole where we met the recovery truck and Unimog trying to get the broken Communication truck through and all had to go round them.</p> <p>At one point the deflated front tyre fell off the rim and chewed the inner tube so we had to change to the spare.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i1_14.jpgOnce back in Camp Aania we set up Johns awning and our tables and made camp. Once the LDC team turned up with our "special policeman" he told us that there was a recovery vehicle coming from Ghadamis to pick up the broken Communication truck and bring fuel. A guide was coming by helicopter.

Later when no helicopter turned up he blamed it on the head wind but it was "on its way" as was the recovery vehicle.

Later the story was that neither recovery truck or helicopter had left but that a guide and 600 litres of fuel had left Al Awaynat at 03:00. He would be here by 13:00 and knew an easy route through the dunes.

One O''clock came and went and the guide was still "on his way" At two I asked Hasoom to use his amazing "special policeman" powers to find out what was really happening and tell me the truth. He explained that the guide was really on his way but he was being escorted not only by the driver but also by a security policeman and 800 litres of fuel. Eventually it was admitted that no one was going to be here by evening so we could set up camp.

Some time in the night Hasoom received a satellite phone call asking us to fire distress flares so the guide could find us. We did so and he saw them 15 kilometres away. We climbed the highest dune and used our distress strobe to guide him in but saw nothing of any lights anywhere. Later he was 20 kilometres away and even later 40. Eventually we could make out lights intermittently to the south coming through the dunes.

When the vehicle eventually arrived there was only the guide and a driver on board with two drums one of diesel and one of petrol. I quizzed the guide via our translator and he explained that he knew an easy route across the dunes with a very good pipeline road after it.

And so we all went to bed the second night in the dunes.

Alison: Woke up at 7.45am. Had breakfast (Kellogg''s Fruit Loops, müsli bar, raisins) and left for Camp Aania at 10am. Drove the 30 km route with trucks pretty quickly as there were only a few dunes and the rest was flat. One truck has been completely damaged and must be towed back to Ghadamis. We are now waiting at Camp Aania for the next move. We are expecting a guide who is being flown in by microlite from Al Awynat in 1 - 2 hours. We are also waiting for petrol to come. It is now 14.30 and we have set up a nice camp in the dunes sheltered from the strong wind which was blowing sand strongly across Camp Aania. Waiting and waiting for the petrol lorry which apparently didn''t leave last night or this morning but has left this afternoon with a guide, a driver and 1 other.

Microlite left. Apparantly it only came to pick up radio communications from broken down lorry at Camp Aania. Radio communications broken at Al Awynat.

Set up camp for the night and then after tea (Ulli cooked us potato, egg and marjoram all mixed together) went and sat on a high dune to look out for the light of the petrol vehicle. Sat and sat in the full moonlight on top of the highest dune with Bilal and Neill. Really nice. One side of dune warm sand which had been protected from the wind during the day. The other side cold sand. The security commander came up after Bilal ran down to talk to him about contacting the petrol driver on his CB and us sending another rocket up (we''d already sent 3 up and Achim had driven 15 kms on his quad to meet them but not found them). At about 10.45pm we saw a light faintly glimmering on the distant horizon. After several more minutes of waiting we saw another flicker and again until suddenly there was a strong headlight coming nearer. They were arriving! When they reached us we filled up the diesel canisters then went to bed (those of us who weren''t already in bed) - about 12.30am.

Day 9

We had agreed to leave before sun rise at 07:30 but when the time arrived our "escorts" weren''t ready once again. Eventually we left 40 minutes late. The "easy route" that the guide showed us turned out to be the rally route that we had tried and failed on two days before. Luckily the damage done by the trucks was largely repaired by the wind and the guide "Ali" knew how to drive. We had also gained lots of experience and fairly romped through the stages that had caused so much trouble only days before.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i1_13.jpgOnce we reached the point where we had had to give up it got very difficult so the guide first let even more air out of the tyres and then hammered up in first gear with his foot to the floor. Even then we had to push the last few meters. Once we were over the dunes we set off along a stony track heading south towards the "very good pipeline road". It was during this stage that the Hyundai hit a rock and broke the front differential cover. After a "desert repair" we could continue on our way. The GPS showed that we were still following the rally route and of the easy road there was no sign. A few punctures later and it started to get dark. Our lying policeman explained that we were going to follow the main piste which was in 20 kilometres. The GPS and map said 5 but we agreed to carry on into the night. It was actually about 10 kilometres to the point where, even in the dark, we could make out the heavy tracks crossing but the vehicle with policeman and guide continued west. After a few more kilometres I stopped and discussed our position with our navigator who agreed that we had missed the tracks. When confronted the policeman explained that he had "forgot" to tell us that we were going to cut a very good pipeline road in only a few kilometres. I didn''t believe him but our intrepid leader decided to carry on following him in second gear through the night.

Many kilometres later and the second time I stopped the policeman immediately said that we were making camp because it was too dangerous to continue, that he had to go but would be back tomorrow. I quizzed the guide via our interpreter about the direction he had intended to take and he told me he was going to take the "French Road". Before the guide left we decided to empty his drums of fuel only to find them already empty. The 600 litres of fuel had been another figment of the imagination.

So there we were, running out of fuel, running out of water, nothing but field rations for four days and alone in the desert. Pam had a bad eye from sand she got in it yesterday and most people had hacking coughs from the dry air and sand.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i7_2.jpgAchim explained that everything was Thomas Holzknecht''s ("incompetent and overstressed) fault and that he, Achim, would get everything sorted out. He got on his mobile phone and said that he had organised a doctor to come to us with food and water and a truck to bring fuel. It would all be there in the morning. And when we reached camp we would receive a red carpet reception and all the fuel we needed! Achim also promised to pay for a lawyer if we wanted to sue Tom!

Alison: After agreeing to leave at 7.30am we eventually left at 8.15am with Bilal and new guide Ali and petrol driver. Achim sat and drank coffee with Ali so the diesel tanked up. The guide Ali and his driver and Bilal led us back through the route we''d tried (with only a slight detour) following the rally track. They are amazing. They helped us when any of us got stuck - drove our car out or let some more air out of our tires. Sometimes Ulli had to pull Joss'' truck out or up if it got stuck but that wasn''t often. John''s LR overheating a bit as fan belt fell off, but only in the dunes. On the straight flat bits it''s of course fine. We are planning to reach Al Awynat - 300 kms approx. We''re still on the road. It''s 11.45am.

Having been amazing helping us through the dunes, Ali turned out not to be such a good navigator and Sumar, the security officer, an even bigger liar. He told us he knew of an easy, even road that was fast to drive. We drove over dusty, stoney, bumpy and sandy uneven track until 10.45pm, with promises of we''ll get there, but we didn''t. Seemed Ali missed the main track we were meant to join and then we were lost. Lots of angry frustrated feelings - we had to camp again out in the middle of nowhere and it was now dark, despite the fullish moon. Sumar obviously felt guilty and ran off. We tried to get the guide and Bilal to fill us all up with petrol from the 2 drums so they wouldn''t run off with it in the night, but it turned out they were empty!!</p> <p>In the end Sumar, Ali and the driver drove off into the night, leaving us.

Achim rang and arranged for Siegler (works with Andrea Mayer - Paris-Dakar rally, etc) to come with his lorry from Al Awynat and bring us petrol, water and food and a doctor to look at Pam''s eye which is sore. Then change of plan (!) - apparently he rang up and said we had enough petrol so he needn''t bother coming as it wasn''t an emergency!

Day 10

Morning dawned. The doctor had been, left an eye cream without seeing the patient. He had also left the remains of the previous day''s breakfast and four bottles of water (for 15 people).

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i1_15.jpgAfter breakfast we set off following the track which turned out to follow the old French Foreign Legion Road. There was plenty of difficult sand and it would have been impossible the night before. Of the supposed pipeline road there was no sign. The route remained rough and difficult all the way and Dietmar''s roof rack finally broke off his roof denting and bending the car.

The foreign Legion road was a stone made road going straight through the dunes. It was amazing to think of the people and logistics that had been necessary to build something like this through the middle of the desert.

My oil lamp which had started glowing the previous night was now always on at low revs but the engine sounded smooth and we are neither gaining nor losing oil.

When we finally reached camp no one showed any interest in us except the cook who made us a meal. The petrol people refused to fill the spare canisters which we had exhausted trying to reach the camp. Achim slept on his quad and we had to organise our own trip into the village to see "the sights". The Libya Desert Challenge was up to the normal high organisational standards. Later Joss gave us the coordinates to get to the Mandara lakes the next day.

Alison: Heard talking and car engine in night at about 2.30am. Dr. had arrived, talked with Achim and left some Bepanthen eye cream for Pam and gone back. Also left some hard stale bread, curled up sweaty cheese for breakfast and 4 litres of water between all of us. Got up early and set off across "Planet Mars" terrain. Dietmar''s roof rack fell off at one stage as he hit the French Legionnaires'' road at right angles and we stopped to put his and Geli''s things in our cars.

Achim let me have a drive on his quad - really super - felt easy and comfortable.</p> <p>Drove and drove for, it seemed, ages across this terrain until about 2pm. We suddenly hit tarmac (could see bushes and trees again before this) and we were in Al Awynat! Not the big welcome we were promised but Pit the cook cooked us some scrambled ess and there was some stale bread. It was wonderful to have a wash and shower again and I did lots of washing.

After promises of a talk with Thomas Holzknecht in the evening we wandered down "town" (the main street) with Bilal and looked at the market. Came back, ate and waited and waited for the meeting which took place late and was only a few bits of apologising. Went to bed after I talked to Thomas H. about hiring a Toyota at the Mandara lakes tomorrow (an offer he''d made to us). Neill thought it a good idea that he and John could drive Larry up dunes towards the lakes and see how far they got while Pam and I took a taxi to definitely get to the lakes and take photos. Thomas gave me a few beer tokens to pass on to the group as gesture of good will. Went to bed at 12.15am (?).

Day 11

We were up and on our way at 06:30 having left our escorts sleeping in camp. After 230 kilometres of road we reached Awbai where there was a petrol station. A race car pushed in front of us as he felt he was more important than us "tourists". I told him exactly what I thought of such arrogance and expressed the hope his car should blow up during the race. Later I learnt that he had a massive problem with his motor and dropped right back from first place. I couldn''t have wished it on a nicer person.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/b_10020.jpgOnce we reached Camp Africa we let the tyres on our vehicles down to about 0.8 bar. Pam and Alison decided to travel in the guide''s vehicle so that they would be able to see the lakes even if the Land Rover didn''t make it. Such faith! John and I took our Land Rover. Pam and Alison went off to get in the guides vehicle while we were getting things sorted out. We came out of the camp gate and followed the guide into the dunes. The dunes were really fun and we got a chance to show off our dune driving. The guide kept slowing down to try and get us to slow and bog in but we had all learnt our lessons and either kept slowly moving forward or turned circles.

After a few kilometres of up and down we reached the wreck of a Land Rover. I went to the guide''s vehicle to get the camera off Alison and there was no Alison and no Pam in it. Much later we found out that they had been waiting at the camp bar and we had left without them. We hoped they would get a lift of someone else and continued.

On a long flat climb Katherina''s car finally gave up the ghost. The front differential was making horrible noises and sounded very unhealthy. Rear wheel drive would work but that wasn''t going to get them out of these dunes. While everyone else waited I had the guide return to camp to get help. On our way back we met my friend "Hasoom" and his friends. One of them told me I couldn''t take the guide back as they needed him. We argued a bit and finally he said that he could take me back but not wait. On our way back we met the group with Alison and Pam on their leisurely way having found a new vehicle. The English motor bike rider who had broken his leg a few days before was also with them. In camp the large trucks were just arriving so no one was interested in a group stranded in the desert. The camp leader told me to wait 10 minutes in the bar and disappeared never to be seen again. After a long wait our escorts turned up and with a Unimog and Quad we set off o the correct position.

Meanwhile in the dunes Dietmar had been having a fry up of various foods he had in his car. We arrived to hot spam and toast.

With Katharina disappearing in tow behind the Unimog the rest of us continued on our way to the Mandara Lakes. There were some huge dunes with one descent being one stage away from free fall. The first lake had dried up so we continued to the second one and enjoyed the stunning sight of this oasis amongst the dunes. Words can never describe the beauty of this place.

There were some locals selling jewellery so the ladies in the group did some shopping while we enjoyed the shade of the palm trees.

John drove back and I tried to video him. The attempt wasn''t very successful as it was totally impossible to keep the camera steady. Ebi''s Jeep Cherokee had been playing up for a few days but now it was getting hot after every dune. Unlike our Land Rovers the Cherokee decided that it knew best and cut out each time it was too hot. Electrickery!

Eventually we reached Camp Africa again and after our evening meal and refuelling fell into bed.

Alison: Got up at 5.30am, breakfast at 6am, left at 6.40am. Drove to Camp Africa. Tarmac road, but bumpy. John got a flat tire. Reached garage before Camp Africa just as some of the racers were turning up. One pushed in queue so Neill argued. Got to Camp Africa at 11.30am (Pam and my Toyota had been booked for 11am), but no worry - until our driver drove off empty with Katharina, Neill and John (in Larry) and Dietmar following - we saw them driving off up the sand dunes out of camp.

Later (about 1pm), Pam, Tom (Beckett with leg in bandage and splint after accident day before) and me in one car and Peter in another with security guard (yes, Sumar) and Libyans. 40 km trip and in deep dunes to Mandara Lakes - 1st one dried up, 2nd one small - men selling jewellery spread out on mats and then further on to 3rd and larger lake where Pam, I and Peter went swimming. Rally racers going past on way up. Water salty so we floated. Cool but very warm underneath. Libyans went swimming too. Afterwards Pam and I had a cold "shower". Fresh water well by café; man put in bucket and poured it over us one at a time. Very cold, but refreshing! Bought 2 necklaces, a bracelet for Rhiannon and 4 postcards. After a coffee we left at 17.15. The driver was very good and drove as if on a normal road. When we got back. others had visited second lake and had a good time so Pam and I didn''t feel so guilty at having had so much fun. In the evening discussed next day''s plans and looked at some scorpions with Bilal and Katharina that were in a glass cage on camp. Achim had promised us a free phone call with the satellite phone so I rang home and spoke to Daniel, Max and wished Rhiannon a happy birthday for tomorrow.

Day 12

This was the big one. Because we had lost so many days at the beginning of the tour we had 1000 kilometres of road to travel back across the desert. Katharina''s car was no longer capable of Pistes and we had had enough of off roading. Our aim was just to reach Ghadamis so that we could do a town tour the next day.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/i_009.jpgOnce again we left at 06:30 and headed east to the city of Sebha where we stopped to buy some provisions. We were immediately asked where we were going by the locals who suggested the Pistes across the desert were the way to go. Luckily we were able to point to the damage on Katharina''s car as a good excuse for going round. From Sebha we headed north for hundreds of kilometres straight into a massive sand storm. A howling wind was driving the sand straight at us. The visibility was at times down to the end of the bonnet and the Land Rovers were labouring under their aerodynamic roof racks and roof boxes. At one point we came upon a local vehicle parked with no lights in the middle of the blowing sand. It was good that the brakes worked. At times it was guess work which way to turn.

We stopped for lunch in a settlement called Schwayrif. This wind blown place looked like every ghost town in every cowboy film but more so. In the middle of town was a "Pizzeria" serving as the motorway service station of the Sahara. The food was good, there was lots of it and it cost 30 Euros for eight people. A bit hard to reach but recommended anyway.

One of our aims on this trip had been to visit a confluence where a line of latitude meets a line of longitude. Amongst all the disasters we had forgotten about this but Alison now reminded me. We found one only 10 kilometres from our route so thought we could take a look at that. We now however decided that in this storm even a kilometre was not an option. Luckily the map turned out to be wrong and the confluence was only about 100 meters from the road. In the middle of a raging sand storm I took the GPS and ran the 100 meters. Having photographed the GPS display and sand storm I had to use the GPS to find the road again. Back at the car I was out of breath with sanded skin but glad to have achieved another of our aims.

Once back at the vehicles we turned west and headed straight into the storm. By this point LDC seemed to have completely given up paying for petrol so we were paying ourselves and filling up at every opportunity. For the 400 kilometres we had 130 litres of fuel on board and uses 110 fighting the head winds and blowing sand. Nice engine the V8 but thirsty.

We carried on into the dark although I was worried about the other drivers. Gali and Pam didn''t want to drive and Katharina was by now too ill so the three men had the driving to themselves. I offered to spell each of them but only John took me up on the offer. Whether in our Land Rover or Johns, we were always out front and I was very relieved to reach Ghadamis with no accidents or further break downs.

1000 kilometres through a sand storm in 17 hours.

Alison: A hard day. Got up at 5.30am. breakfast at 6am and left eventually at 6.45am (planned was 6.30am). Tarmac road but first stretch was very uneven and full of bumps. Drove and drove the long way first to Sebha, then north to Brak; then started windy and sandstorm. Very strong when we reached Schwarif (stopped for lunch in "Pizzeria"). Very nice meal - big and cheap and recluse from the stormy sand. Schwarif like a desert town you see in the American cowboy westerns. Dust and sand blowing everywhere. Visibility next to non. Owner of Pizzeria told us this type of strong wind only happens in March and then only about 3 times a year.

After about 1 hour''s stop (2-3pm?) set off again in the storm. Neill jumped out into sandstorm to take a picture of the Confluence point (Latitude 30° Longitude 14°) as we were so near. Map showed it was 8 kms away, but GPS showed only 200 metres. I explained to the others what he was doing then we waited for him before setting off again. Filled up with petrol in Gariyat. Seemed to go on forever - road and wind. Some people just stopped in cars to wait until storm/wind subsided - nearly bumped into them because visibility so bad! After what seemed like an eternity we reached Darj and noticed the wind had died down. Reached Ghadamis about 12.30am (?). Only 3 rooms available in camp hotel so Neill and I slept in roof tent after showering in Dietmar and Geli''s room and eating a small snack.

Day 13

Today we did the tourist bit. We were met by a guide named Taip at 09:00 in the hotel and went with him to Ghadamis. First we looked at the museum. Today was a bank holiday but they opened specially for us. The museum wasn’t very inspiring really but had a map offering an overview of the old town. In one corner was an old Land Rover 109 that was rusting away so John and I got a photo of that.

GhadamisKatherina had been ill for a few days now and finally reached the stage where she couldn''t go on. Our guide organised some one to take her to hospital. The diagnosis at the hospital and later from the rally medics seemed to revolve around exhaustion. Both she and Wolfgang had missed the Akakus Mountains because of the problems at the beginning, missed Mandara Lakes because their differential had broken and now missed Ghadamis because of her illness.

Between the museum and the old town was a selection of shops obviously placed to catch tourists and offering the normal touristy objects. A variation on the theme was a shop selling assorted spare parts for cars. Obviously we were not the first to pass through after crossing the Sahara.</p> <p>The old town can only be described as amazing. The town is no longer lived in, the people having been moved into the new town in 1983. The houses are all built together and cover the rabbit warren of streets and alleys. In the town is a spring which is the reason that the town exists. From this spring five canals carry the water to the mosques and various other points in the city. Here the people could collect water and wash. The water then continues to the gardens where it is used for irrigation. Set into a nook in the central square is a place where a man sat and filled a pot with water. This pot had a small hole and took about 3 minutes to run dry after which he filled it again and made a mark in a leaf. After 9 marks he took a new leaf. Thus the time since sunset could be told in "leaves" and "marks". The measuring of the time intervals was necessary to regulate how long each person could allow water to run into their garden and thus regulate the water usage.

After the tour around town we visited Taip''s family house. This has been renovated to its original condition and allowed us to see how the people lived. On the bottom floor was the entrance hall and store room for devices needed in the garden. On the next floor was the main living room and bedrooms. On the third floor was the kitchen which led on to the roof. The men used to use the streets which were forbidden to the women except in the morning while the men were at work in the gardens. The women used the roofs which were forbidden for the men. Makes you wonder how any one ever met each other. While in the house we ate a traditional Ghadamis meal including camel meat

Once we were back at the hotel we met up with our escorts and all set off for Darj. There was the whole rally milling round not knowing what to do so the "Adventure Class" set off on our own for Zwara. It was a long drive of some 500 kilometers and once it got dark was no fun at all. One very frightening experience was when an oncoming truck changed lane at the last minute forcing us off the road. It turned out he was avoiding a small dune on his side of the road</p><p>Eventually we reached Zwara Stadium and of course there was no one there. Within half an hour we had hot drinks and hot food of various sorts ready and our tents up. We really are getting good at this camping.

Alison: Got up and had breakfast in the hotel (Breakfast included for those overnight except campers, but they let Neill and I eat). Then at 9am guide (Taib) came to show us round Ghadamis. Actually left at 9.30am - first to museum, then change money at shop (we didn''t, bank closed - bank holiday). Bought belt and leather hearts at shoe shop (shoes famous in Ghadamis, but none my size and cost Dinar 45). Then tour of underground in old Ghadamis. Very interesting and lasted about 3 hours. Also included lunch - soup, couscous, camel meat (!), salad and bananas. At 14.30 we said we had to get back to camp as Joss and Co. (who''d arrived about 4am) were waiting for us. Left at 4pm after saying goodbye to Bilal and Taib. Drove to Zuara - got there about 11.30pm and were the first to camp. Between us we cooked up some leberkäse (spam) with cheese and bread and soup and went to bed.

Various vehicles arriving in night and terrible screeching of car tyres.

Day 14

Yesterday the only information anyone would give us is that we would be leaving at 09:00. Predictably nothing happened so at 09:45 the adventure class left and went shopping. We then continued to the Tunisian border where there was still no one. The tourist police wanted our group list but this we didn''t have it as it was with the LDC chief guide. Eventually the police found their own copy and took our passports and Libyan registration plates. By the time Masoun (the guide) arrived we already had the wheels of burocracy working but needed his help in smoothing it along. First the tourist police ticked all our names off their list and then they sent the passports to the border guards who had to stamp them. Then the y brought the passports back then we drove forward to the border and they looked at the passports then they sent us into a huge garage to be searched. At this point the guides from the travel company said "no way" so they changed their mind. Now we were officially out of Libya and had to get in to Tunisia. Driver''s passports and green cards to the officials. No not the green cards, the vehicle papers. Drive out of hanger and up to first post. Passports to the official. More stamps. Drive to next booth. Check that all the stamps are there. Drive to first control point. Ensure they are still there. Finished! Total time for border crossing - about 5 hours! The rest of the LDC were holding a prize giving on the side of the road and hadn''t even started yet. Who knows when they will be finished. <i>Next day we heard that some of the LDC had taken 10 hours for the border crossing.</i>

From the border we set off northwards. The only event of any significance was shortly after we had fuelled up. Suddenly the engine sounded like a tin of bolts and started belching black smoke. Damn! At last the motor had given up. Then I thought back to the fuel stop and realised I had just put 12 litres of diesel into the tank. I filled the tank up with petrol from the spare canisters and thus diluted the diesel. The engine lacked power but sounded much better. Apart from a stop for coffee we drove straight through to a hotel an hour from Tunis where I fell in to bed and slept. Alison had to first organise a pillow case, sheets and some one to turn the water on to the toilet so she took somewhat longer.

Alison: Got up at 7.45am and had breakfast cooked by Pit. Meant to be leaving at 9am, actually left at 9.45am (Katharina had to see Dr., Ebi had to get air in tyres and Dietmar and Geli went to get stamps). Now waiting at border (11am) to sort out passes and number plates before going over to Tunisia. Saw Bilal at border for last time. He was dressed in a suit and had "married" a sister of Taib. Was taking her over the border to Tunisia where she was going to be met by Tain''s german friend who had become a Muslem on 31 July last year and wanted to marry Taib''s sister. She wasn''t allowed to leave Libya single and he wasn''t allowed to marry her in Libya. So she was going to go and live in Germany where they would marry and be together.

Still waiting at border (3pm) - now in search building because apparently all tourists aren''t being trusted because a tourist 2 days ago tried to smuggle some Tuareg stones (with drawings on) out of Libya. We saw the quad drivers we''d observed at the restaurant in Shwayrif. Katharina and I spoke to the girl and man who''d been here for 2 days. They''d bought the Tuareg stones with a guide apparently. The guide had contacted the customs but they now don''t know anything about it. She''s trying to contact their travel agency they''ve used for several years. She''s Tunisian/lives in Tunisia. Her father is French and lives in France.

15.10 and we''ve been let out of the search building into the fresh air. Maybe things are moving forwards. We''ve shown them our driving licences and car documents.

At 4pm we were allowed to go, leaving the rest of the LDC rally back in Libya the other side of the border, celebrating their race championship presentation. Drove northwards towards Gabes, then Katharina wanted to drive on alone so just the 3 of us continued in convoy (us, John/Pam and Dietmar/Geli). Dieter and Gudrun (BMW X5) had gone on ahead to book rooms in a hotel in Nebul that Dietmar knew about from previous camping holiday. Bought some dates for Otto by roadside on the way. Passed through Kairouhan then arrived at Nebul at about midnight. Dieter had found hotel shut so found another pension for 30 dinars. Very damp (bedding as well!), unclean and toilet didn''t flush at first (it dripped all night when cistern was switched on). Got to bed at 12.45am.

Day 15

The hotel we were in didn''t do breakfast so we went to a very posh one down the road and had a huge breakfast before setting off. Dietmar had phoned Achim to ask when we needed to be in Tunis. He had said 10:00 so we turned up at 11:00 which was still too early. After waiting we reversed the border formalities of yesterday we rolled on to the ship and went to our cabin where we lay on the lovely soft beds and used the steaming hot shower before going for dinner.

At the harbour we heard that Thomas Holzknecht had smashed into the back of a truck. His vehicle is completely crumpled at the front end and he and his co driver are lucky to be alive. I photographed the various vehicles that had given up during the rally and then the two Land Rovers side by side and still going strong.

Alison: Got up at 7.45am and as breakfast wasn''t included we all drove to a hotel and treated ourselves there. 8 dinars per person - buffet breakfast. Very nice. After that we 4 cars drove to Tunis and met Katharina and Wolfgang at the docks. They''d found the hotel Dietmar had recommended open (Hotel Jasmin) and waited for us. Wondered why we hadn''t turned up. Bought a drum for each of the children as well as 2 necklaces and a scorpion (in a glass box!). Got on board about 2.30pm and are now waiting to set sail.

Set sail about 17.00. Looked at some of our''s and Susi''s pictures in Neill''s laptop in bar before dinner at 7pm. Had a nice shower too and washed some socks!

Am missing the nights in the dunes already. Somehow noone can ever take that experience away from you. Being "stranded" had its advantages after all - looking back on it, the nicest moments of the whole trip - round the campfire with Bilal and the others drinking his tea, playing games. The solitude in the dunes. Sitting on top of one of the highest dunes in the light of the moon, searching the distance for hours for a flicker of light, then the joy at eventually seeing it. The lightning flashes in the far distance. The rockets going up. The wind. The sand - cold and warm on each side of a dune.</p> <p>After dinner went to bed as so tired (about 9pm).

Driving home

Alison: Got up at 7.45am after a nice night''s sleep (woken up 3 times only by Neill going to loo).

After breakfast sat in bar waiting to arrange some sort of meeting with Achim to get our money back for petrol, etc. (it''s now 10.15am).

Nobody seemed to know where Achim was / couldn''t get him up. Lunch was at 11am and after that there was a meeting in the ship''s bar and a talk from Thomas Holzknecht. Short chat to Joss, Neill summed up his views to the video people on film and we said cheerie-bye to Tony Palermo, Tako and Spider. Met Ulli on the way down to car and said cheerie-bye to him. Also said goodbye to Dietmar, Katharina and Wolfgang. Said we''d come and see them in May when the Bad Kissinger exhibition is on. After going through customs we went into Genoa to look for an internet café for Pam. Raining again in Genoa.

After this I stopped writing. We drove with John and Pam to Lake Garda and stayed the night in a small Italian hotel. Ate dinner in the hotel Pizzeria.

After breakfast I rang home from the hotel and said we should be back about 3pm as Neill had reckoned it would take about 4 hours. Headed northwards. Weather noticeably colder and snow in Austria. In fact it''s freezing compared to the warmth we''ve been used to the past couple of weeks. Actually reached home at 5pm. Children had been sent to Gremels with Chris to watch a video as Karin said they''d waited for over an hour at the bottom of the road for us (poor things, I''ll never say a definite time like that again!). Karin had made our house nice and warm and clean - lovely!

Thanks Karin and Chris for letting us have such a fantastic holiday!

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