So we headed back from a buffet dinner at the Corinthia, Tripoli's best known, and oldest, five star establishment. And till the arrival of the Raddisson, the only one. As we arrived back at the hotel some of the party decided it was time for some coffee. Now, it being close to 11 at night, we were a bit concerned about transport back towards the inner city, but no fear, taxi's were lined up infront of the Raddisson to take us there. We were about 9 or 10, so we squeezed into 3 taxi's. As fate would have it, our taxi was called on the radio and the others went ahead so long to the cafe. We were tipped of at the Corinthia of a really nice coffee joint and where the smokers could get shisha (fruit molasses smoked in a hubbly bubbly).
Our taxi driver arrived and we started what was to become a very long 3 km trip to the centre of Tripoli. Our taxi driver obviously works most nights, and has not heard of this establishment. Later, after having arrived, it was hard to see how a Tripoli native could've missed the coffee shop right next to the Green Square, but hey, many Cape Tonians have never been on the mountain. We drove past the coffee shop at least three times, the taxi driver phoning his colleagues from his cell phone, but getting none the wiser. It was hard not to start having some bizarre thoughts as we started heading for and entering the more slummy part of town, then going back towards the city, and then finding even more obscure back alleys back to slumland. At one point, one of the passengers suggested in Afrikaans that maybe we should simply get out somewhere and as these situations go, started giggling and everyone burst out laughing. All sorts of kidnapping jokes starting flying around. We wondered if we looked American. The taxi driver couldn't speak much English and simply kept on driving and arguing into the phone.
At the hotel I put my camera bag in the boot and at one point during out trip, the boot kept on popping open, exposing the valuable cargo to all who edged past the car in the street, busy crossings and various points of phone call-getting-Arabic-directions-that-makes-no-sense-to-an-Arab-speaker. I tried to explain to the driver that I needed to get out, but not being from South Africa, my request seemed very absurd. Who would want to steal a R100k camera bag?
Eventually he stopped infront of a very dodgy looking cafe, and we decided that we'd just get out regardless of the accuracy of our rendezvous. As we were about to exit another call came through and we were ushered, reluctantly, back into the car. I had quickly jumped out and retrieved my camera bag that was now sitting on my lap. Gratefully, the taxi driver only drove for another two minutes before dropping us of, better late than never, at the cafe.
Coffee, as I've mentioned before, and social coffee drinking, is practiced at levels know mostly to Seattlians, Italians, Arabians and addicts. However, due to our delayed ETA, we missed the last round of orders and were reduced to sitting watching the others drink creamy, rich, fragrant and amazingly aromatic coffee and others smoking shisha. One member of our group who is a regular smoker of...., hmmm, grass, was wise enough not to try and smuggle any into the country, but was now after 2 days of abstinence sucking on the shisha like it was life-support. But due to the absence of nicotine, tar or any drug, I think it was to no avail. He sucked excitedly nonetheless.
This particular coffee establishment resembles a big garden with white garden chairs, a couple of tents and shisha waiters (they light your LD 5 shisha, keep it burning, make sure everything is fine, and are generally light headed from seeing to 100 shisha's all night long). Palm trees shoot out of the middle of it and although it was basically closing time, the place was still jam packed. Various different Middle Eastern, Arabic and North-African ethnicities were represented among the patrons, creating a Islamic cosmopolitan collage of cultures. Umbrellas with Coca-Cola branding were standing around, more evidence that things are changing. The soft-drink itself is still not very popular here, but till recent years, only Pepsi was allowed in Libya. (Maybe American spies preferred Coke.)
I joined a table with Nash, who has taken a table with a Tripoli native, I'm certain his name was Muhammed, smoking a shisha. Although the red Indians gave birth to the practice of smoking a peace pipe, I couldn't but help and speculate whether the shisha was maybe the original incarnation of this practice. At our small table was represented myself, white Afrikaner, a Durbanite Indian Muslim, an Irishman and a Libyan (who works as an engineer in Abu Dabi but was back on holiday). Even as recent as five years ago, this would be unheard of, or at least very scarce, in Tripoli. Read "A mad world, My Masters" by John Simpson, and you'll understand.
Well, as luck would have it, shortly after arriving, we had to go back again. This time our taxi driver got us back to the hotel in the expected 2.5 minutes. After going through all the security checks, X-ray machines and luggage checking, I was able to enter the hotel, head up to my floor, shower and fall over into be, looking out over the awesome night view of Tripoli. The next day would be our last in Libya.