here we are, made it to Africa! Back to yesterday and some details about how we
were up bright and early on Saturday, at 6:30am. I was surprised to find so many
other people at the campsite up and about. Who only knows what they were doing.
arrived at the port and were amazed at the other vehicles. Regular sedans were
loaded so much that they were higher than us. In fact, some appeared to be more
load than car! We did have a brief drama passing passport control out of France.
The guy examined our passports minutely and after about 10min of this the army
arrived. Three soldiers with guns were posted behind us. He then demanded to
know where our French visas were. We tried to explain that we were Spanish
residents (our cards were in his possession) and as such didn’t need visas. He
was not convinced and examined all our documents under a UV light – I
don’t know what this proves but he didn’t like what he saw. Eventually
another guy came over and while we were not part of their conversation, his
attitude was clearly – ‘What’s the problem? No big deal.’ And we were
allowed to leave France. I can’t say that I like this kind of treatment but I
am not unused to it. I think that in Europe, non ‘first-world’ passport
holders routinely get this type of treatment. It irritates me no end,
particularly when I see non-Europeans (blacks, Indians, Arabs etc.) get far
worse treatment than what I do. There seems to be some kind of universal belief
that us ‘deprived’ citizens would do anything to get to live in their rich
countries. Yeah right.
boarding process was great – we ended up in front (boding well for our
eventual exit) and next to the trucks transporting livestock. We had reserved
the cheapest seats – chairs only, no cabin. A brave move for a 24hr trip. Time
passed slowly but we wandered around, read and napped. We also met some
interesting people, well one anyway who gave me a new definition of a serious
drinker. Here it is => Someone who opens a one litre bottle of rum and throws
away the lid! It goes without saying that this someone is alone and has no help.
Wow! I personally witnessed this process by the way.
and about seven others, were the only ones toughing out the trip without a cabin
and what do you know, for once I was having trouble falling asleep on a method
of transport! We hadn’t really thought it through properly – Scott always
struggles to sleep under these circumstances. Anyway, I fell asleep but at that
time Scott decided to investigate getting a cabin. I didn’t argue especially
when it cost us only 50FFr a head. This is the price for a 4-sleeper single-sex
dorm, but the boat was so quiet that we got it as a family room. Great move that
was, well done Scott.
morning we were 2nd off the boat – can you believe it. All passed
smoothly and in less than 20min we were out of there. After hearing stories
about 5-hour delays, sleeping in the port etc., we were very chuffed. This
elation wore off as we looked for our campsite. I can see that this is going to
be a hard job in Tunisia. We drove, literally, backwards and forwards for over
an hour. We did eventually find it, a little primitive but we are the only
ones here, what an experience.
wanted to move our schedule up a bit and explore Tunis today, heading North
tomorrow. We did get to the city but it was all shut for the day so we’ll have
to back tomorrow. I was surprised, I thought Friday, not Sunday, was the Muslim day of rest.
Anyway, we bought some stuff at a local stall and came back here. We strolled
along the beach, did a brief car check-up and then had an early dinner. Probably
finish that off with an early night!
has been a long day full of new experiences. The first one was the car breaking
down just as we reached town this morning. Scott managed to fix it though. It
was a bit odd. He says that somehow fuel was not getting through. He fiddled
with the fuel pump etc. and miraculously got it going again. Brief moment of
with that behind us, we went off to a bank to change $100 and then off to send
our first update fax home. After a breakfast of croissant and OJ (for
comparison, 10TD for the fax and 1,7TD for breakfast for two) we headed off to
the Medina for a stroll around. Really great, a totally different place to
yesterday. There was quite a bit of hard sell but we effectively resisted. We
did take up one offer – a walk up through a carpet shop to get a rooftop view
of the city. It was well worthwhile, we knew we would be pressured to buy
afterwards and we were but when I gave the old doorman a 5TD tip the shopkeeper
was literally overwhelmed. No more pressure and he even gave Scott the postcards
I had chosen – a gift for his ‘madam’. Next we got lost south of the
Medina in the residential part of Tunis. This part was not intentional but fun
stop Carthage. Expensive entry but well, well worth it. Excellent mosaics and
views. I’m glad we went.
a quick lunch we headed North to Bizerte and Cap Blanc. Cap Blanc took some
finding, nothing is signposted except for the towns themselves. It was a brief
stop, obligatory photo and sticking of fingers into the Med. We decided to start
the southern leg and headed down to Beja through lovely green rolling hills,
what a surprise. We are splashing out on a hotel, no campsite here, but what the
hell. We’re still coming in under budget.
weather has been wet/cloudy – I hope it improves tomorrow.
just come back from supper – spaghetti and tomato sauce. It contained some
meat (something we have decided that we will have to live with) and was hot,
basically done with the events part of the diary – just some personal
observations now. It is only our second day in Tunisia so I can’t make any
judgements but I find a few things a little uncomfortable. For example, all the
small coffee shops and restaurants only have men in them. I have not seen one
woman in one and this is a little intimidating to me, making me reluctant to
enter. It is made worse by the way they stare at me, I am following all the
dress rules but obviously still stick out like a sore thumb. I suppose I am a
little over-sensitive about it all, and Scott too, but it is only our second day
here so I guess we will settle down and improve or rather relax. I hope so
because I am keen to get some couscous and mint tea. Tonight’s meal was in the
hotel restaurant – Italian flavour so no couscous on offer.
hotel is interesting. It is new, only a year old and clean. The floor is tiled
in white but the room has bright purple curtains, emerald green bedside
mats and a blue and pink floral bedspread. To top it off, the walls are light
green and the cupboard doors a slightly darker green fake-wood plastic. Nice it
is not! Oh yes, the radiators are also bright green and the mirror is pink.
am very pleased with what we did today. We got a lot done but without feeling
rushed. Tomorrow we head south to the desert!
a change of scenery in one day and little over 400km. We started off in lovely
hillsides with green fields of wheat and lots of bright red and yellow flowers.
This gave way to some pretty good mountain scenery – rocky slopes, through
Karoo-like shrub and grass to flat almost gravel plains right into the heart of
an oasis of 2 million, that’s right, 2 million palm trees.
was also a day of police stops, five in all. All were friendly but our route
down south was on a road that runs kind of parallel to the Algerian border
approx. 30km away. Every time there was a turn off to Algeria there was a
policeman and we were stopped by 5 of them. I get nervous every time but as I
said, all of them were very friendly. Our passports get the same response every
time – Nelson Mandela!
are getting into a rhythm already. For breakfast we buy pastries, lunch is
something from the market, today fruit and bread from Gafsa, and dinner we cook
up or eat out.
will be spending two nights here at Tozeur so I used the opportunity to wash
some clothes. The campsite is interesting, there are lots of Germans here, 3
groups on motorbikes and others in cars. Also we had an exhibition of Bedouin
horsemanship. This wasn’t done for us but for two busloads of tourists who are
now eating what I guess is being billed as a traditional Bedouin meal and being
entertained by music and dancing. We met some of the Germans, 2 guys spending 2
weeks in Tunisia on bikes. Nice to chat.
I’m going to try to persuade Scott to get up early tomorrow, maybe not in time for sunrise (5:30am) but pretty close to it. I love the morning light in the desert – the clarity of everything before the heat takes over. We visited an oasis which was really lovely. One disappointment is that you can’t wander freely through most of the oases. Makes sense really, they are in a sense farms and a source of income for these people – tourists don’t generally have free reign on other farms either!
day here but in contrast to last night we are the only ones here tonight. It’s
always a good feeling. Well, let me qualify that, we are the only campers here.
Last night there was a festival with 2 busloads of tourists and tonight there is
a soiree. Don’t know how many tourists but I have seen plenty of people in
shorts. I’m also not sure of the difference between the 2 events – both have
the same drumming rhythm. It gets a bit much after a while.
I didn’t get Scott up at 5:30 this morning, closer to 6:30 and we were on the
road by 7. Today’s aim was a tour of the mountain oases near Algeria. Weird,
we were 3km from the border and in contrast to yesterday we didn’t have one
police stop. We were however on the tourist track. The best spot was Mides,
closest to the border. The landcruisers with 6 tourists apiece were pulling in,
constant stream, easily 50 of them in the approx. 1 hour we were there. This has
some pros – the local sharks correctly identify them as more likely prey than
us and tend to leave us alone. This is great but we will have to get used to the
idea that for the next four months we will be seen as a source of easy money –
a bit tiring that. Egypt will be way worse.
consists of 2 sights – a canyon and a deserted old village. All the tour
groups ‘do’ only the canyon so a 5 minute walk gets you totally away from
them with, ironically better views of the canyon! Next town, Tamerza was nice
too – an incredible village on a hill that had been destroyed in a flood. We
got to walk in an oasis – finally. Actually out of the sun it is not too hot.
There is also a small waterfall nearby, the fact of its existence is more
surprising than anything else. We bought mint tea there – you get normal tea
and dried mint which you are supposed to boil together for 15 minutes. What a
total disaster -–it is way too strong to drink and I now think that he must
have meant ‘add boiling water and leave to stand for 15 minutes’!
that we headed back to Tozeur, crossing a chott (dried salt pan) en route.
Tomorrow we cross a far bigger one but I can tell you one thing already – it
sure makes you believe that the world is flat!
was at a local restaurant – couscous and mint tea for me! Next, back here for
a brief siesta and then a walk through the back of our campsite. It really is
our own little oasis so I finally got my true oasis experience complete with
palms, olives and pomegranates.
we ended up with a surprisingly good meal. We bought some tomatoes and what we
thought was a baby marrow which ended up being a cucumber! So we had pasta with
a tomato-based sauce plus a fresh tomato and cucumber salad. Like home! So far I
am achieving my aim of at least one fresh fruit or veg a day but it is still
early days and in a well-stocked country.
am looking for a Tunisian souvenir but not having any luck. Clearly the carpets
don’t appeal – they are very nice but too big. Everything else is junk
though – various quartzes, desert roses and fluffy camels. Jeez! I was hoping
for a picture for our gallery or maybe jewellery – a silver bracelet or so but
thing – one week on the road today and still doing well!
new experiences for us today were getting stuck in the sand and having to dig
ourselves out and using an internet café to send news home. Exciting day in
drove from Tozeur to Kebili across another dried salt lake – this time the
Chott Jerid. Definitely to be done if you believe the earth is flat! Will confirm it for you
and convert any doubting Thomases too. We then went on a drive to some oasis
towns South of Douz. The southern-most is El Faouar but before that you get to
Zafaar. Here the guidebook says that the abandoned old village is slowly being
overrun by the dunes. Well, we rode through the town dump to get there and while
it is true, it is certainly no Kolmanskop. I try not to compare one experience
with another but I was a little disappointed!
El Faouar, the guidebook says there is a desert track to Douz. We think we found
it but after getting stuck 4 times we gave up and turned back. It was a
stressful experience because I was driving and Scott was digging. We both
decided to turn back feeling that we would be faced with many times in the
future when turning back wasn’t an option. Back at Douz we found a great
campsite not listed anywhere called Desert Club. It was great because it has
good facilities – H and C showers, dish and clothes washing facilities. A week
on the road and already hot water is a bonus. We drove out to the desert to see
the dunes. They’re not great, I’m sure Libya will be better but the heat was
awesome. High 40’s is not an exaggeration.
thing I forgot to talk about was lunch – we found an oasis on the above
mentioned dirt track before we turned back and it was deserted! We had a whole
oasis to ourselves!
after our sand dune experience which included a desert walk, not only a drive,
we went off to send email. 3TD for 30minutes was pretty good I thought. So far I
feel pretty good about our communication home – 2 times so far and only 9 days
away. Better than most holidays!
are starting to notice the heat and dryness – we go through about 6 or 7
litres of water between us in a day. I suppose at least we are drinking lots. The irony
is that in all this dryness we are both suffering from itchy mosquito bites.
This is because all the villages and therefore all the campsites are based
around an oasis. Mossie heaven. At least we’re giving the first aid kit some
use – we’re using insect repellent, insect spray and histamine cream. Plus
suntan lotion too of course.
also found a little supermarket today which is much easier for shopping so we
bought some honey and couscous. Our daily food box just gets heavier though at
least our spare food box is losing stuff out of it. Not much but at least a
little. We did not find one place selling fresh fruit or veg today – this
surprised me – it’s a big town with a huge tourist trade. Seeing the camel
rides was quite an experience, wave upon wave of tour group heading out on
camel. I’m quite keen to try it out but Scott says that we’ll get so much
pressure in Egypt that we may as well wait until then to do it. I guess he’s
far, I think that being from Africa is a bit of a bonus. The attitude is that
we’re all Africans together. It seems to make saying no to touts easier.
just heard a loud call to prayer. Another 4am wake-up call coming up. An
experience unique to travel in a Muslim country is being woken at 4am by the
first call to prayer. Not only does each town have a minaret (or two), each
minaret has a megaphone!
7 May, turned out excellent – the best day we’ve had so far. We left Douz
early and headed straight out to the Troglodyte village of Matmata. We decided
to splash out and hire a guide to show us around. This was worth every penny –
even though he spoke Italian! He told us all sorts of interesting stuff, like
the village was used to shoot the original Star Wars! He also took us into a
private home where we could look around at our leisure. It was fascinating, the
first impact was the temperature – wonderfully cool. Apparently they maintain
a temperature of 18-20deg winter and summer. Air-conditioning laid on by nature.
All food storage etc. is done in large earthenware jars and shelves are simply
carved into the rock. The inner rooms are whitewashed but have no other
decoration. We were then given soured camels milk to drink – it tasted like
drinking yoghurt really. We also got to see the traditional wheat grinding
process using a flat rock in 2 halves. All in all, really great.
then headed South to Medenine and Tataouine to the see the Ksars or fortified
hill villages. The first part was via a 4WD track which was a pretty bad road
and took us longer than expected. The upside was the incredible scenery –
Karoo-like stuff but forever and ever with no change. Also a good thing was
testing the roof loading over some really bumpy stuff – I expect a lot more of
this. Able to report that nothing fell off! We also found our own Ksar by doing
this. It was in ruins and accessible to 4WD only but we had it all to ourselves.
We drove to Ksar Ouled Soltane which is described as one of the best preserved,
least visited Ksars. It was wonderful, more so than we expected. It was not only
incredibly well preserved but we made a friend there too – the local café
owner was so friendly, after we had our drinks, he brought out mint tea, water
and biscuits for his account. All free, just for us to enjoy. What makes this
even more incredible is that he speaks no English – we were struggling by
stretching our Spanish to the limits because he obviously spoke French. It was
far more hospitality than I ever expected – we could probably still be there
now if we wanted to! This all happened because we were fellow Africans – he
thought this was really the best!
only left there at 4pm but because there are no camping facilities around and
not too many hotels listed, we decided to head up to Zarzis 100km away and spend
2 nights there. We arrived in Zarzis OK only to find out that the camping is
shut at the moment so we had to sleep in a hotel anyway! By sheer fluke we found
a lovely place at TD15 per person per night including breakfast. We have views
over the Mediterranean with some palm trees to enhance things. It also has a
lovely courtyard – all white walls with blue doors and shutters which is where
I am writing this.
was actually nice to wake up with nothing planned for the day. We’ll make a
point of doing it every now and then. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast of
bread, butter, jam and coffee and then went for a walk to town. We called the
travel agent in Germany to confirm our arrival and mom to report that all is well. It worked very well
using the taxiphone and cost less than I expected. We were lucky because it was
market day and I finally got to see stalls with buckets of spices and bags of
beans, lentils and chickpeas. We met two friendly stall owners who invited me to
stand behind their stall as Scott photographed it! After that we drove to the
main town to fill up, change money and buy stamps. I hope all the postcards make
it to South Africa.
then came back to the hotel where Scott worked on the car a bit and I did some
general tidying. We took lunch to the beach, had a real swim in the
Mediterranean and came back to the hotel for a siesta. Yesterday was a real
milestone for us, we were on the road to Tripoli and Cairo and saw a sign
telling us that Cairo is 2604km away. It is only 2 x Joburg – Cape Town so
feels very reachable. I was for a moment grabbed by the urge to head straight