Battle stations were drawn just 10 minutes into the trip between those on the minibus who smoked and those who didn't. The latter sat up front and demanded that the driver turn off the music and put on the (non-existent) air-conditioning. Our UK representative dealt with all this by painting her toenails and sharing Cosmopolitan magazine's guide to good sex with the two Libyan guides.
However, on our arrival in Tripoli, nothing could prepare us for our rep getting lost on an archaeological site with a 70-year-old Polish widow, who had come equipped with golden mules and a lace mantilla, for over an hour. The widow had twisted her ankle and the rep, suffering from a lack of adequate clothing in the hot sun, looked decidedly peaky. So began a trip which revolved around us looking after her as she lay in the back of the minibus throwing up into a plastic bag and complaining about the lack of cheese omelettes.
Despite ever earlier departures from our hotels, we got to the sites later and later as our rep had to make numerous roadside loo stops. One stop, late at night, brought the unwelcome attentions of two armed guards and their dogs. And as for the specialist guides to explain the magnificent ancient cities we had come especially to see, forget it.
The only respite was when she became so ill in the town of Albeida, that first she had to be taken to hospital by one of the group and then despatched the next day to Benghazi to recover. It was like being set free.
We gambolled over the ancient Greek city of Cyrene, and I grabbed the opportunity of throwing myself into the clear waters of its nearby port of Apollonia and, floating on my back, watched a goatherd watching his flock munch their way through the vegetation pushing its way through the ruins, and then rolled over to make out the parts of the city that were now beneath the sea.
But this glimpse of paradise couldn't last. When we returned to Benghazi our rep reappeared, dined with us, stayed up late and was back to square one in the morning. I won't bore you with how we had to help her off the bus at the Tunisian border as she was incapable of standing on her own, or how our last night in Djerba ended in us taking her to hospital, or how we were asked who was paying for her treatment and when I found her medical insurance form, it hadn't been filled in.
Our last day meant getting up at 4am so we could pick her up from the hospital and take her to the airport. When we got there, British Airways refused to let her fly. The relief on everyone's face said it all.
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