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Published: October 9th 2006
Ready to go for our ride through the Sahara sands.
In February this year I was sitting in a lecture room on a big red boat crossing the Drake passage and one of the first questions we were asked was this... "How many people here are visiting Antarctica because it is your seventh continent?"
Well, I suddenly realised that during all my previous trips it was something I had never actually considered, and later that evening in our cabin, myself and new cabin mate Sally spent some time trying to figure out just exactly how many continents we had both travelled and what was left.
Even so , this year was not the year I had picked to finish off the list, until it was Chris' turn to book a trip and he said "Hey, how about we all go to Tunisia?" "Is that in Africa?" "Yes"
So before I repack my pack yet again and head east for home it has been time for a slight detour on the way.
...............................so are the days of our lives.
Days 1 & 2: Left Heathrow to head for the capital Tunis then onto Djerba which is on the south east coast of the country. We
were a little surprised that we couldn't book our bags straight through on the plane and when we arrived in Tunis we found out why. We were lucky to get our stuff off the carousel first and for the first time ever we all had to run through the airport with bags in tow to get to the checkin desk. Very funny when you can't read directions in arabic. We got the last three seats on the plane, much to the annoyance of the people that arrived at the same checkin desk less than a minute after us!! Seems the airline know that the plane is always late (has run late for the last 8 years apparently, ours by just over an hour) and they have a system of giving away the seats to standby people, leaving everyone that misses out to stay in what turned out to be a horrible flea pit of a hotel. We spent the next day in Tunis relaxing by the pool before meeting the rest of our little trekking group - 9 of us in total - and hearing all about the crappy hotel from the night before!!
Day 3: This
morning we met early with our packs to board the two landcruisers that will be our transport for the next few days. Our drivers, Ramadan and Amor, were waiting for us along with our guide Hedi, who if he had white hair would be exactly like Santa, a very jolly fella!! He was the most amazing man. He knew absolutely everything about his country, hardly taking a breath through the whole trip as he talked so much on any subject. And the moments he wasn't talking he was feeding us up with the most amazing amount of local food. Luckily our driver Amor, could also speak spanish very well which helped with communication as well as him acting as arabic teacher for the week.
A very full first day started with a drive over the causeway (made by hand over time from piling up rocks in the water, good thing it's not that deep) from Djerba to the mainland, through the first of many olive plantations to a stop at some relic tanks and jeeps left over from WW2. Here we had a bit of a chat about history, religion- as today was the first day of Ramadan, and
Tataouine dead ahead.
For some of the Star Wars fans on the trip who were excited to see a sign to Tataouine- even if it is spelt a little different
, coincidentally I thought, St Augustine of all people ( Nov 13, 354 - Aug 28, 430 he is an Algerian who wrote one of my favourite travel quotes )
Very exciting next for the few Star Wars nuts amongst us when we stopped for lunch in Tataouine. I know it's spelt different and has nothing really to do with the movie but for some reason it got the guys making weird light sabre noises!! From here it was onto the fortified granary, an old storage building constructed by the Berber people to protect their crops from raiding nomads. To the markets to get shesh's, to Douiret to see the tombs of some ancient christian giants, then to the old town of Chenini to have a look at the houses. Here it was interesting to meet an old lady living very traditionally in a mud brick building but with a modern fridge in her back room.
Day 4: We left the mountain area of the Sahara for the sand today on our way to Ksar Ghilane which is a beautiful oasis in the desert. To get there was a long drive ''off piste'' through the sand
Next time we're taking nose plugs.
So nice to find conveniences in the middle of nowhere.
only stopping at an extremely
smelly toilet block which surprisingly popped up in the middle of nowhere. The sand here is amazingly fine and feels really velvety but riding in the very back of the landcruiser is a little like the roller-coasters we were on two weeks ago.
When we arrived at the oasis we were amazed to see our accommodation for the night which was bedouin tents. And not just basic bedouin tents either. They all included shower, toilet and an aircon., the best tents in the world!!!! I wonder if the idea could be used at tent city Murray Bridge??? With a little time to take in our surroundings we then headed off into the desert on camels to see the remains of a Roman fort (the Romans were everywhere weren't they?) and we were all glad to have our shesh's to keep out the sand from an unexpected small sandstorm. The evening was even more interesting for one of our group, Sarah, who found a scorpion in her tent at 3am...
Day 5: Today was a long drive day west from the oasis first stopping at Douz, then a hotel at Debabcha for
Who would have thought there was a bathroom and aircon included!
lunch. Here we got an amazing view of the surrounding salt plains from the tower at the hotel. Although not nearly as spectacular as the plains in Bolivia, it was still pretty big and we got to walk out onto the salt. Tozeur was our stop for the evening and here we took a walk through the local meat market (camels that is not the local nightclub). Here the butchers hang the heads of camels (dead ones) on the front of the store to prove they are selling the meat of young camels not the old cronies. Eeeewww. Was another situation where a nose plug would have been a very good idea!!
Day 6: From Tozeur it was further west to Nefta first where our driver Amor is from, then back into the dunes to have a peek at the old Star Wars set still left behind. All polystyrene and wood with some still covered by sand, it is today inhabited by one local man who is employed to keep away the vipers!! Not sure how exactly he was supposed to do that so we were pretty careful looking in the buildings anyway. We then took another
ride ''off piste'' for a bit of a hoon through the dunes and stopped to take some photos. The funniest thing was when we had stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere again, we could see a small bike in the distance. As it got closer we could see there were two kids on board and someone joked they might be the local souvenir sellers...Well folks, turned out they were!! How they found us is a mystery.
Near the set is the old town of Chebika which is also in an oasis. Here we took a walk through the old town and found on the other side a fantastic natural spring with waterfalls in an unexpected tropical setting. Also near is the canyon at Mides for an encounter with some live snakes and scorpions - all in jars of course - and some cute salamanders. At Tamerza we were the only people staying in the entire hotel and so all had fantastic views over the oasis and the lit up ruins at the bottom of the hill.
Day 7: Our last day driving through the country and we sadly had to head back towards Djerba. Along
the way more amazing views and some interesting markets where we just missed the camel sales. Chris was also very disappointed to have missed the donkey sale as that was one of the things on his list to buy. Don't know why, he just thought it would have been a good idea to own a donkey!!! A visit to a cave dwelling and lunch at Matmata, which was the only really 'touristy' place on the whole trip to date, then on the ferry and back to Djerba. Here we had dinner with Hedi our guide to say goodbye and thank him for an amazingly wonderful trip.
Days 8,9,10: Unfortunately we had to leave our fellow travellers this morning and we headed to the capital of Tunisia, Tunis for the next two and a half days. Our guide Hedi happened to be on the same plane and gave us an interesting tour through the airport explaining the pictures and mosaics in the building. We stayed in the area of Sidi Bou Said which was a really pretty area, all painted blue and white by law, and with a great view of the city. The restaurants had great food,
Anyone for a brew??
Another convenient cafe in the middle of nowhere
and we had a day sightseeing the ruins of Carthage which cover a lot of the area. Some random local offered Shani and I 150,000 camels. We didn't think we'd be able to pay the excess baggage charge!!
Such a fantastic country, very friendly people, beautiful scenery, amazing guides, I could go on for hours.. The world is a book, and those that don't travel read only one page. St. Augustine
Things I find disturbing chapter 8:
Stuff here not only runs on 'island time' but when you ask people questions, for example directions in an airport from staff, they tend to just give you the answer they think you want to hear, regardless of whether it is correct or not.
A Tunisian tour guide at the Carthage museum who spoke english so fast and with such a strong accent that we had no idea what she was talking about for the whole 50 minutes she spoke to us. Her history timeline was pretty jumbled and everytime we asked a question we got the standard "I'll get to that in a minute" answer. I tried very, very hard to pay attention, really I did.
So where's the set??
Near the old set buildings left behind near the Algerian border.
Hair gel - everywhere- and not just a little bit. Some people look like they've emptied an enitre bottle on ther heads and it's mostly the guys who are the culprits.
To go with the gel situation it also seems that the mullet is alive and well in this part of the world.
With French being one of the official languages there were waaaaaay too many conversations in the landcruiser that went something like this.
"So how do you say 'cuisine' in French?"
"I don't know, how do you say 'faux pas' in French?"
"I don't know, how do you say 'hors d'oeuvre' in French?"
"I don't know, how do you say 'en route' in French?" etc.etc.
As well as this after finding out that a 'Wadi' is a dry riverbed, there were too many weird conversations containing "wadi say?", "wadi do?", "wadi mean?" etc. Hmmm, we were a strange group weren't we?
First night in Sidi Bou Said we headed off to a local restaurant. The hotel wrote down the name for us, but then the taxi driver had no idea where it was, stopped a few times to ask directions, got a bit
And onto the obligatory fighting shots
stressed when he still couldn't find it, started driving a bit faster, hit and killed a cat on the road which stressed him out a bit more and he had to stop for a smoke, more directions, then finally found the hotel which ended up having a completely different name than what we had written down! We tipped him well and I hope the poor guy feels better now.
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