Did you know that the Sahara is this really big desert in Africa,

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January 31st 2008
Published: January 31st 2008
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the amazing typing skills of: the now-freckled Robin

Well, it's the sandy post you've all been waiting for, and I do believe my keyboard is hopelessly broken, so bear with me here. I'm having spacebar issues on top of the normal 'm' and 'a' changes. Crazy country!

JAN 19th: the adventure begins!

We ended today in the town of Kairouen. Known for it's famous cookies of condensed baklava-like douch, and filled with dates or almonds, we made a required stop at the best patisserie in town. Also, we saw the great mosque, which was beyond impressive with it's simplicity. Makes St Peters look like a peacock with insecurity issues. After, we found our hotel for the night-- a magnificent palace known on the trip as 'that Kasbah we rocked'. No joke, though , cause it really was a ancient Kasbah from the Byzantine era. Carolyn and I tried this foamy dessert thing at dinner that I think might just be whipped carmalized sugar, but definitely one of the best cuisine creations I've tried. For breakfast, we also had these fried dough-sugar things. Whoever says Americans fry the most food is full of it , because I've seen more fried dishes since I've been here. The Kasbah's sheesha cafe was in the dungeon, too , which is pretty ultimate. You just sit there enjoying your apple-y yumminess and imagine how much it had to have sucked for the poor souls imprisoned there back in the day. Bet it made them regret reaching for that clementine in the market. All around cool day.

JAN 20th:

Still feel ing a bit off today, BUT who cares, because we actually walked around in Sbeitla! OH MY GOD! Sbeitla is the site of one of the coolest ruins in the country. With this huge expanse of excavated land, you can actually i,agine how it ,ust have looked thousands of years ago. Built right into an old river bank is a Roman amphitheater. Down the avenue you can still make out and walk along, through blocks of houses and shops, you reach the ancient and still walled forum. Through the arch , you come out into the forum to the incredible view of the tri-temple ruins. Jupiter lording it in the center, with Juno to his right anf Minerva to his left, all thr ee buildings remain in different levels of disrepair. So those of you who are loved enough by the international postal service, the picture on my postage stamp is the scene I'm talking about. It was insane.

After touring around with our art history professor for an hour or so, we piled back onto the bus and headed deeper into the hills. Unlike the deep green northern mountains and hills reminiscent of Ireland or Switzerland, the central-western hills are closer to mimicking central Calofirnia. Among the sand-colored rocks and golden wheat valleys you still see strips of green olive groves and grape vines.

Turning into more sand and less green, the windy roads are pretty scary high up in a coach bus. Around certain bends, you look hundreds of meters down into a valley of date palms and little water. But most of the time, you are just looking at a painful, boulder-filled fall. Around one corner, we came across our hotel for the night: Hotel Tamerza Palace. A bonafide in-the-cliff building across a dried up river bed from an abandoned town crumbling away. Already the end of the day, a few of us dropped everything in our ridiculously cool rooms, complete with a complimentary plate of dates, and ran across the riverbed to explore. It wasnt that big of a place, but probaby housed fifty families. It was up the other side of the river, like our hotel but much lower down, and the other side dropped off a cliff into a date grove. I didn't find out until after dinner that our ancient ruins across the way is called the Sleeping Village, and was destroyed by a flood only TWO YEARS before. So much for well preserved history.

To finish the night, we climbed around our maze of a hotel and found a hidden rooftop to watch the stars. There was a bright moon, but it was amazing nonetheless. Still feeling sick , I called it an early-ish night and went to bed. Thank God, because I really needed my stomach strength for the next day....

JAN 21:

We took a scenic hour train ride into the mountains today. I couldn't stop photographing and filming, and I'm wicked grateful I got to charge both cameras last night. The Red Lizard snaked us through river gorges and mountain tunnels, showing some of the best scenery I've witnessed in Tunisia yet. After the train, our 4 wheel drive picked us up for the ultimate Tunisian rollar-coaster: flooring the 4wheel pedal into the desert dunes. Our drivers were damn funny, too. At one point, winding through the Nevadan-like mountains, mine waved at a mountain half a mile away and said "Say hello to Algeria, everyone!" Seconds later, he pointed to a modern lookout atop a closer mountain, and told us that it was the border control headquarters. Apparently certain Algerians have a different outlook on border laws, so the National Guard camps out to remind them. We made a stop in the mountains to hike up and down to a natural spring. It was breathtakingly beautiful, AND there was ice cream in the giftshop after! Another stop just on the other side of our Tamerza hotel was what I've named the vertigo view of Tunisia . Looking down of this insane drop of a cliff, the stone has diagonal lines that dizzy you out to the point of almost falling to your death. I have pictures, too. And Khalil almost fainted from fright when he saw Carolyn and I scooting towards the edge. We backed off to keep him from a heart attack.

Next, we offcially left the mountains and entered sandy plains. This is proven by the many camel-cross signs warning us and a quick stop to jump out and run up to a he ad of grazing camels before we realized we were trespassing and should probably leave. We made one more stop further into the dunes at the remains of a Star Wars set. It wasnt on the itinerary, so I was not armed against sand people, Conner, but I do have photos. Just after that, we watched the sun start to set in the desert before being whisked to Tozeur and an incredible oasis-town hotel. At this point, the adrenaline from my favorite day so far was wearing off , and I was feeling sick again, so I went to bed.

(p.s. The next morning I woke up in hell and we finally called a doctor. I had developed a wicked intense GI infection, got a shot and two prescriptions, and even considered being flown back to Tunis and skipping the Sahara and Djerba. I have to give a whole-hearted thanks to Mama Marion for pushing me to suck it up and risk going into the unreachable desert as sick as I was, because it made the trip for me. I cannot imagine having missed the next few days.)

JAN 22: Scorpions, Camels, and Unimaginable Sand

Yes, thats right kids, even with my insides exploding, I got right back onto my proverbial AND for once literal camel and rode off into a Saharan sunset. I slept most of this day off, letting the beauty of modern medicine do its magic, and was genuinely feeling b etter by the time we left civilization to meet our herd of camels. In the morning, we went to some kitchy tourist trap of a 'museum', but I declined and hung out on the bus with our wicked-cool bus driver. He found out that I had been sick, and ever time after asked after my health and cracked a few easily-understood jokes in French. And considering we nearly lived on that bus, you gotta understand just how quick he was: that's a lot of joking around. After, we went to a zoo and saw wildcats and peacocks, monkeys and antelope, and very angry lion and a camel literally chugging Coca-Cola, a real African, I-will-kill-you-dead scorpion, and a few I'll-only-kinda-kill-you vipers, among other nifty animals. Smoking kills, kids! Then back to a drowsy sleep until I met my beloved Bertie.

Yes, I named my camel Bertie. Bertha to be exact, and only I can call her Bertie. She is a good camel, taller than most of the others (takes after her mother!) , and a complete fat kid (also like me). I don't think my cute obese baby would go five steps without leaning down to eat some crunchy lookin desert plant. I would have called it cute, if I hadn't been terrified for my life, slipping around on top like I was. Crazy girl. But in the end, she didn't want to let me go, and refused to kneel down to let me off for a good couple minutes. Now look what youve all gone and done, I'm getting all veklempt. Bertie, if you are reading this, I miss you so much!

A few words on the Sahara. It's kinda big. And white. I could imagine it being a bit hot in the summer, too, but we got damn frigid that night. From the top o f the dunes next to our tents, you really could see for miles. That night, we had a bonfire of date palm branches, kept alive by the amazing Fred, Adam, and Ricky. Thanks, guys. Your Survivor-esque talents kept my unprepared ass from freezing! We had entertainment, brought to us by the Tunisian folk music players of the camp. After that, our man in black, Moez, orchestrated the funniest talent competition. First between four boys, and then repeated with four girls. Family and friends back home, fear not, because I have every second of this embaressment on tape.

That night, we were all freezing on our cots, but I think it's safe to say that every single one of us had an unforgettable night. Also, I woke the next morning to hearing Marion laughing somewhere. I just want it recorded that it is the best way to wake up , cause you know it's all good. I'll post the next few days soon. And maybe even some photos??

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just a movie set, though. thanks for littering, george!

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