Libya-trip February 2000

For Stefan

Selbstgemachter Sandsturm auf einer DŁne

" What is that "? asks the Libyan soldier at the Tunisian/Libyan border at Rass Ajdir, as he discovered one of the cartons in the truck - full with indisputable Bavarian hop-beverage. " That is a Energy-Drink ", explains our tour-organizer and trip-leader Martin Haehle. With a wide grin in the face i must turn around in order not to attract attention. But Martin´s answer is not so far away from the truth. Because to enjoy a beer in the evening in the desert, after foughting the whole day in the sand with the Enduro, is even better than a Energydrink!
The border solder gives his superior informations about our goods and we must into the clearance-foyer for a more exact inspection of our freight. " Now we get problems ", I say to Reinhard, one of the other trip-mates. But at this time, no one suspects which really big problems will come to us later on...
In order to shorten the laborious approaches to Libya, we take this year a flight from Munich to Djerba, the
Unser Lastesel, Foto von Reinhard Maierpopular vacation-island in the south of Tunisia. From here, it is only approximately 120 km to the Libyan border, that we put back in two taxis. We, that are 10 motorcyclists, all equipped with sport-motorcycles and full of anticipation about the 3 weeks of Offroad-Vacation in Libya, which awaits us. The service-truck, a tuned-up MAN L2000 with 4x4 WD and a 400 PS strong engine, transports our 10 motorcycles and two passengers in the meantime. As we arrive at the border, the stamp - and paperwork begins. However, the procedure starts to go faster, after we must hand over the Libyan custom agents three of our " energydrink"- kartons as " tip " -in literal sense! And suddenly all at once everything is finished within a few minutes and we are away from the customs-yard. Nevertheless, the whole formalities lasted for our 10 persons more than 5 hours. That is caused by the frequent tea breaks of the Customs officers, which are kept exactly, - in the meantime stands no redemption to the treatment of the visas and vehicle-papers to the disposal of course. With the now somewhat easier loaded truck, we leave the arena and rent us two taxis again, in order to drive the remaining 550km to Darj. That costs only approximately 45DM per person and is much cheaper than driving by ourself, each one with his bike and ruining our motorcross tyres. Not to talk about the saved gas of ten bikes plus ten frozen drivers, because after the sunset it becomes quickly cold and uncomfortable. However, also the heater of our car only works very badly. In the morning about half past one, we finally reach Darj after some police-controls, the starting point of the first offroadtrack-route of our tour. After unloading of the truck, the motorcycles are started at this late hour. My 98´model Husqvarna TE610 aweaks as the first bike to life with its agreeable, dull sound from the two aluminium mufflers. In the meantime one of the E-start KTM's is still beiing processed with the kick-starter, because the battery was already sucked out by the electric starter with no success. We build our tents after this engine-sound-party and fall asleep very quickly. Everyone is hot for the endless Enduro-fun here in the Libyan desert. Der Sonnenuntergang stimmt uns ein auf 3 Wochen Enduro Abenteuer
The quite fresh morning (barely over the zero degrees mark) has lasted our rising up somewhat longer, until the sun stands higher and warms us something better. After a short security check of the motorcycles and removing our tags, we leave the campsite and start heading up Idri. But first we fill up our fuel tanks of the bikes an the truck in the near village of Darji, as well as water and bread is bunkered. Vegetable was unfortunately not available in the whole place.
The first kilometers of the track are ideally after the winter-break as a slowly "season-starter". Long plain levels alternate with some cross-groovings, that has originated through "wash-outs", the so-called Queds. The first Brezels (so we call it, if somebody crashes with his bike) are taking place here, but all however still proceeds leniently.
However already after approximately two hours trip we must build up our night-camp, because the drinking water-tank jumped a bit in the TRUCK through the taut driving-style out of the bracing and some below stored sleeping bags became soaked wet at this opportunity. However, the sun and the wind dryed the sleeping bags up to the evening again. Also my GPS denies a service because of a loose vibrated storage-battery. The husky engine shakes so great, that sensitive electronics like GPS. But i take my solder-iron and solder the pins of the storage-battery again to the board and fix it with many hot-plastic-glue. I can recover the lost data from Reinhard's GPS with the help of my homebrewed GPS datacable. A day previously I had fed his GPS with all my data fortunately.

At the next day, we proceed along the long grit-level again and against midday, I collect the first flat-tyre. With a too high speed I has driven over a bigger scrap, that I had probably overlooked. Well, good luck, that the truck is only about 1 kilometer behind us, so that the hose can be pulled out of the tyre at the defective position to stick the two finger-big "snake bite" with patches. We proceed in direction ldri. In the afternoon, we find a left behind toilet-bowl in the middle of the desert. Should that be an omen? - anyway, Reinhard´s XR quits its service shortly after. Diagnosis: Ignition or ignition coil defective or dead.
In the evening, we reach the first sand-dunes and all drivers race around in the relatively low dunes. I am taking some measurements with my electronic multimeter at Reinhards XR600R. The Ignition part of his dynamo has an almost double as high resistance like the dynamo of Georg´s XR. This could be an upcoming total interruption of the ignitioncoil inside the dynamo.
The XR first starts in the following morning again bravely, however it only runs for a short time. We measure the dynamo again at hot motor temperature and determine: The value is much higher than yesterday evening: Through the heat a crack in the coil causes the interruption of the spool and the restistance becomes bigger.
Nothing can be done at this moment, the XR must, together with the driver, loaded up on the TRUCK. Against midday Stefan´s KTM begins to stutter as well . We must load up also this motorcycle. We will face up the problem in the evening. Shortly after this, the TRUCK sinks in a malicious small dune-grove. About one meter deeply are the wheels stucked solidly in the wet sand . But with ten guys and two sand-shovels, the wheels are digged out in shift work in a short time. With put underneath the wheels sand-grip-planks and beer-tables, until the L2000 frees itself out from its sunken situation.
Respectable dunes in a with palms overgrown valley offer us a good overnight stay-possibility with wind-protected camping spots and with fronds as firewood. After the extended dig work and the necessary service works at the motorcycles, all are glad anyway to base the camp here.
Now, the technical service begins at Reinhard´s XR. After taking apart of the dynamo is clear: The Ignitionpart of the alternator is irreparable. Because Georg has a complete spareparts-motor in his box, he gives Reinhard the dynamocoil. Shortly after this "operation at open heart", the XR sounds with the accustomed sound. Lucky guy, our Reinhard. Otherwise he would have to take the rest of the trip as passenger on the TRUCK after this third day of driving. Also the KTM is examined, and already after the exchange of the spark-plug and cleaning of the air-filter the engine runs perfectly again. Should that has been everything? We are a little bit skeptical, but we reassemble the KTM again. Also my husky requires an air-filter-exchange and a new wheel bearing in the rear-wheel. Since I recognized the somewhat bigger freeplay of the bearing already at home, a new pair of bearings was certainly in the spare part-crate at the truck. After half an hour the rear-wheel again runs round again. So, all motorcycles can start for the " race " again tomorrow morning.
Lichtmaschinentausch an der XR, Foto von Reinhard Maier
In the next morning, we already leave before 10Uhr, because the route after Idri is still far and our water supply has shrunk sensitively through the leakage. But already after two hours we load up again Stefan´s KTM onto the TRUCK, because the motor under load assumes no more throttle. Also Reinhards Honda XR joins the Truck a little later. But this time an absurd air-filter-exchange inside the dune-field during strong winds is the reason for this breakdown. The carburetor got sand with it and the carburetor piston now stucks at full-throttle. Therefore, Reinhard rides today again in the truck. So, at least we don't run out of work in the evening. The route leads us across a dried up salt-lake and further through a dune-belt out to the oil-pipeline. We follow this up to the turn-off after Idri. A true joy: To sense the even sand-terrain under the tyres and to rustle with well 120 km/h over this pot-even track. The continuous filling up of the small gas tanks and smaller repairs delay the trip however, so that we are forced once again later in the dunes to set up our camp. In the evening, I put apart Reinhard's carburetor and clean everything from the penetrated sand. Early in the morning, we look surprised out of our tents. Two shepherds pass with a camel-herd. The animals linger curiously between the motorcycles and tents. One of the camels is not satisfied with the design of Georgs Honda XR so that it places a big ton of camel-shit beside the bike without any shame. 11 people grin and one looks grimly. One of the two shepherds shows us his sore foot and is then treated by Martin with salve and an association as a result. The two shepherds and also we say goodbye an then we have to make tracks to come further on our trip... At the late morning, after bypassing a moist Chott a big dune comes in view. Of course, we must drive up there with the motorcycles. The dune has a height of well 150 meters, as our altimeter proves. Only the two XR drivers remain below, which reminds me about last year as I had such a powerless and brakeless XR. The dune is something too steeply for the one XR rider and the other has problems with his motor-performance once again (As he explains us). This dune would be not rideable with a stock-XR anyway after my last year's experiences. The motor simply has too little steam for this. The husky (TE610) shines here with uncompromising handling and sovereign motor-performance and this with the long transmission. I have to be careful, not to shoot over the dune´s end at the peak. Finally, we arrive in Idri and show up at the police like stipulated and at the immigration-authority. Here, stamps are stucked into the passports. That, of course, like everything in Libya, costs money again . This time however only approximately eight marks per person. ln comparison to the 400 marks, that everyone must pay at the entry for Carnet and insurance as well for a license plate, this is only a small gift! Unfortunately the official requires well one and a half hours for our 12 passports, so that it is already dark again, before we drive out of Idri. In the darkness, we are searching for a suitable campsite.

After an icy night, a sunny morning follows and quickly we dismantle our camp, because now dunes are coming, dunes and again dunes! Again and again, new sand-formations appear: An approximately 200 meters in the radius measuring funnel-shaped crater opens itself before us and we have much fun with driving the funnel-crater on the diagonally falling steep-circling around. But we finally must further, in direction to south. Shortly on it, as we drive from a higher dune-belt downhill, Stefan and Rainer are remaining behind a little bit. Noone of the two is to see, as we wait on a rise for them. There, Rainer appears waving wildly with both hands on a sand-hill. Something bad must have happened! We turn back and return to Rainer. What we see then, lets us hesitate our breath: Stefan has crashed with the downhill drive of an approximately 8 meters high edge and lays motionless in the sand. Jürgen immediately begins to feel the pulse. Nothing! Also I try to feel Stefan's pulse, but also without success. Carefully, we take the helmet of his head and Jürgen begins with the "kiss of life" respiration. In the meantime, I send a motorcycle-driver to catch up with Martin with the TRUCK away and to bring them here. Rainer tells us under tears, how the accident happened: Stefan drove behind him. Three shallow hollows followed consecutively, as this 8 meters deep furrow opened suddenly behind the subsequent hill. From some distance, not recognizeable! Rainer braked at the last second and as he came into this pit to stand, he turned around for his mate Stefan. He saw precisely in this moment Stefan taking off of the upper edge and hit in the even part of the ditch at the very bottom. The motorcycle somersaulted and Stefan layed under it... presumably Stefan had not seen the furrow. He was blinded by the sun or he had turned around shortly, whoever knows.
Jürgen still gives respiration to Stefan, but until now without success. Franz and Rainer, Stefan's friends, are under shock. They are beeing brought into the shadow of the meanwhile arrived truck and we take care of them as good as we can. After a quarter of an hour, Jürgen stops with the respiration and I continue with it. But Stefan's body feels very cold and it is still no pulse to sense. Deeply involved we put him into his sleeping bag and then into the TRUCK. We suspect a neck-break. The accident-position is photographed and the position is grasped per GPS. We must pick up the three motorcycles later, now Franz and Rainer are not in the situation to drive motorcycle. We still require 2 1/2 hours to the town of Ubari. This time feels to me like an eternity. Each driving over a dune-edge, that was still fun a half hour ago, is now a nightmare. I must concentrate very much in order to look at my "track" instead of constantly thinking about the accident. Finally, we reach Ubari. We pass an old Italian Police building, a sort of small castle, that is now a simple tourist-hotel with the flair of a prison. The owner was already in telephone-contact with our tour-organizer a few months ago. Hesitantly, Martin now discusses the incident and the furthermore procedure with the owner of the "hotel". A few minutes later Martin and Rainer as well as a libyan helper are driving with truck to report about the accident at the police. We remain in the housing in the meantime and speculate over the accident-cause. In the evening, Martin comes back and reports us that also the doctor has determined a neck-break at Stefan´s examination. The vacation-fun is finished for me with this accident. After such an incident, we cannot simply proceed and play so, as if nothing would have happened. Anyway, I lost the desire for driving motorcycle here and now in desert. In the evening, we discuss over the pro and contra of a vacation-end here therefore. Only one of the drivers wants still to proceed.
However already in the next morning also Georg wants to proceed. Martin, our guide, must enforce the trip, otherwise he would have to pay back money those participants which doesn't want to break off the trip. Later during the day, Martin and Rainer drive back again to the accident-position in order to pick up the motorcycles. Also the police is with them with a decrepit jeep to see "more about the circumstances". As they arrived at the place, the police is much more interested in a perished stub, that is taken as firewood for the making of tea. The formalities are finshed with this visit here. It remains to mention that the police officials got stucked two times with their car , beeing pulled out from the TRUCK, the radiator of the Police-jeep so it old, that it must be provided constantly with water from the TRUCK. But the most important thing is, in the police-building is firewood again for the daily tea...
After several telephone calls with the German embassy in Tripolis, we start driving back the 1200km to Djerba to the airporta a day later as a sixpack in a small taxi. But we get back our Passports not before the Libyan officials knew, who is paying for the costs of the hospital, police, etc. Everybody down here wants to earn as much money as possible, even from a misforune like this. Before we can drive off with our "taxi-limousine", we must pay 800 German marks for our " luxury-rooms ", in which we were allowed to sleep two nights. The dinner for 15 marks per person and meal not included, that money normaly gets you through a whole week down here... Also the ordered taxi is with 800 Libyan Dinars (approximately 860 marks) more than expensive, because the car is probably not worth more than 300DM. The gas-tank licks, if the "hell-driver" fills up more than 33 liters and then he smokes cigarettes comfortably on his time-bomb. "We´re on a high way to hell..."

But the price for the taxi was fixed by our " host ", the "landlord of the luxury-housing", and finally he wants to earn also something on it. Now, we sit the six of us plus drivers in an old Peugeot taxi. They have promised us to change the car against a faster and newer vehicle in the 200 kilometer, remote town of Sebha. After a few hours trip we get another passenger, a friend of the taxi-driver, instead of a faster an bigger car. Now we ar totlly packed. After all, we are eight plus the most necessary luggage and food, that we have taken from the TRUCK in an more than 20 years old Peugeot van. The flights back to munich are rebooked to a week earlier and now we only must make it to be at Monday evening in Djerba. Today is Wednesday.
Until midnight, we sit in this sardine-can of a taxi. At intervals, we stop a few times, to fill up altogether 10 liters of water into the leaking radiator. Because in Libya you can´t get "cooler-leaking-stop-liquid", the driver uses a paprika-seasoning-mixture, that should seal the leak and fills it into the radiator. After a few minutes, the radiator stops to leak. Finally, we put out the tents. But already about seven o´clock in the morning the taxi-driver stands in front the tent and honks us from the sleep. He is in a hurry, as he gives us to understand with gestures. Since we speak no French or Arabic and he neither German nor English, a communication is very difficult. But this is good, so he could not understand all the sworewords that we gave him yesterday...No matter, only approximately 600 kilometers are left to Djerba. Foolishly, the gear unit quits the service during the morning. Our friendly taxi-driver tells the drivers of the busses, which are passing by, that no one should give us a ride, because we have not yet given him his money. But how should we do this?? Only blessed with DM that we want only to change outside Liby on the basis of the black market on the Tunesian side in Libyan Dinars, we are insolvent. Another taxi, that brings us into the next village, is being organized. There, our driver deals about the fare with another taxi driver and somewhat later we drive towards the coast in a " new " old taxi. This car will drive us directly to Djerba, as the driver gives us to understand. At the village border, we are stopped from a police officer and our passports ar checked again and we must into the local immigration-authority for picking up our datas. They ask about the reason of our taxi-trip and the whereabouts of the motorcycles. In order to be not detained even longer, we don't declare the true reason of our return trip. Because to explain the officials here the whole matter, would last too long. Finally we may proceed, after I mention that we must catch a flight to Germany. We drive a whole while in direction coast, even if not very quick. (At home, the driver could start in a "fuel-saving-race"....) But the most important thing is: We drive at all. However in Zuawara, a city at the coast, we are faced with a new problem: Our chauffeur opens us suddenly that he cannot bring us over the border by somehow reasons. And we tell him that we can only pay him at the Tunesian side of the border. Again, the language-barrier does make a sensible negotiating impossible. By chance, two older reigns visit however. The first speaks perfectly English, the other asks us in perfect German, whether he can help us. With the help of this men, we finally come on a denominator: The taxi-driver takes our D-Mark in the end and drives us exactly up to the border crossing point. Because he doesn't drive us until Djerba, he receives also only 650 DM instead of 800 Dinars. After well one and a half days of nonstop trip in narrow taxis finally we reach against evening the border and have taken the formalities. We are asked, whether we have no vehicles with us. But we indicate no and say, that we are only with the backpack on the way. After a night in a grubby hotel in Ben Guerdane, we finally reach against Friday midday Djerba. Three days later we climb up the airplane, that brings back us to Munich. A week earlier than it was planned we are back at home again admitteldly, however our thoughts are still with Stefan in the libyan Sahara.

Christian Frankl