Crossing over illegally into Libya was the aim. Armed with a multiple entry visa to Egypt and Tunisia Shiv Aroor and I boarded the Etihad flight from Delhi to Abu Dhabi and then to Cairo.
Within an hour of landing in Cairo we left for Sallum – the border between Egypt and Libya. The 800 kilometre long journey through the changing landscape and the famous second world war battlefield Al Alamien took almost a lifetime – despite our car zipping across at 140 kmph. The drive to the border was cold and tense. The border was cold and windy. There were thousands of people – Indians, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, Egyptians desperately waiting to cross over to safety into Egypt.
Shiv and I were the only two trying to cross over into Libya. In harm’s way. The border security personnel could not believe with no back up, no fixers and no local help – two journalists who did not even speak Arabic and had no idea about what to expect across the fence in cold desert – were desperate to cross over.
The Egyptians were friendly. They turned a blind eye as Shiv and I began interviewing the evacuees at the border post and then quietly had exit stamped on our passports and slipped across the barbed wire fence well past midnight.
As we walked along the no man’s land we almost expected a shout or a burst of AK fire. Or were we being too dramatic. Across the Libyan border – armed civilians – some in battle fatigues stopped us. Checked our passports. ``Welcome to the peoples’ Democratic Republic of Libya free of Gaddafi,’’ said one. We instantly felt at home. One of them offered us a cigarette. I declined Shiv accepted. We had some pictures taken before they waved an oncoming car – that had dropped some evacuees to Egypt – to take us to Tubruk, a magical tourist town on the Mediterranian sea coast some 150 kilometres inside east Libya.
``Into fate’s hands,’’ said Shiv. We had absolutely no idea who the driver was. He did not speak English and we did not speak Arabic. At night we had absolutely no idea where he was taking us. There were burnt cars all along the highway. Lights were lit in every house but there was not a soul in sight for miles. We were too scared to even doze off. After flying from India to Egypt for 12 hours and driving non stop for another 12, we were tired, hungry and sleepy. But dared not sleep. But our fears were totally unfounded.
The driver took us into Masera hotel in Tubruk. It was a surreal experience. From crossing over into Libya illegally here we were in a swanky five star deluxe hotel. Except for two other journalists the hotel was empty. The hotel staff did not even ask where we came from and why. They saw our passports and gave us the room keys. But kept our passports with them. That was scary. In a strange land with passports not with us. A very scary thought but the hotel manager showed us the passports of other journalists too. Both of us were too tired to argue. We walked into our rooms and even before the door shut we crashed out.
(to be continued…)