North Africa – Salt Pans, Sand Storms and Sleeplessness

January 24, 2013 / Tunisia / 0 Comments /

Today we waved goodbye to our friends and Tozeur and rocked onto the vast endorheic salt pans known locally as Chott el Djerid.  Famous for it’s acid-red waters, crusted salt mounds and also the filming of Star Wars where Luke Skywalker bolts across the arid landscape on his land speeder, it was something we were eager to see.  With the wind gusting in on our right, we rode sideways into a landscape like no other.  After half an hours ride the sheer vastness and arid views were phenomenal.  In every direction we turned the empty horizons engulfed us.  Had it not been for the singular road and the infrequent trucks carrying camels and carrots passing by it would have left us feeling quite isolated.

Having to fight and grapple against the winds we were relieved when we spotted an abandoned hut on the road  and took pleasure in stopping in its shelter for a snack of baguette and soft cheese with halva to finish.  We contemplated taking the bikes for a spin on the dried lake surface but after a mini trek on foot the surrounding land seemed to part collapsed and then sink rapidly under our weighty Sidi Crossfire boots!  The sensation was comparable to stomping down on a couple of foot of prawn crackers!  This caused me much amusement and jaunting along I spent ages having a huge crispy stomping session :D With our bikes fully loaded we realised the chances of them getting stuck would probably be quite high and considering we had another 350km to cover due to time pressures of our Libya visas it wouldn’t be the wisest of choices!

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After miles more of clinging onto the road we finally left the salt pans behind us and entered into the small village of Qibili.  It is through these areas we began to understand how much of an impact they must of had on George Lucas and his depiction of set designs, characters and communities in Star Wars.  With curved stone buildings, constant bartering, stalls, the colossal deserts rolling out beyond with dusty mountains in the distance and even sign posts for a place named “Jeddi”, when you saw a bustling crowd of Berber jackets wondering towards you we kind of expected one of them to whip out a light saber!  Or at least for a distant silhouette of a line of Banthas being ridden over a dune along to an angry outcry from the sand people!  Disappointingly this did not happen!

For the next few hundred kilometers the villages we rode through were barren due to an  impending sand storm on the horizons.  We ended up hitting it straight on.  Despite being better prepared than our last encounter with these storms, it took it out of us after riding for a good few hours against gusts of winds.

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Eventually we entered into Gabes and after chasing through the streets after excited local kiddies they directed us to what we think was a sports ground where we set up camp for the night.  We had read up about this campsite a few nights before and were quite looking forward to its “haven of beauty” and a “night under palm trees and stars” but in reality it was a playground for hundreds of mangy cats and mud with a group of disconcerting men lingering around.  We thus retreated to the safety of our tent and sleeping bags and snuggled down.

Despite being completely exhausted from our exhilarating and yet muscular aching days ride Sam and I laid there quietly, eyes wide open, listening to the uncomfortably close activities of the cats fighting or mating, caterwauling in to the night and pondered the next days ride…. crossing the Libyan border.

We couldn’t sleep.  We had done everything we could possibly do to prepare for Libya and remain safe when entering the war-torn country.   Although we were in contact with a fellow travel who was currently comfortably making his way across it did little to calm our conscious.  The current hostage situation in Algeria would be less than 200km away from the border – that was less than what we had travelled earlier that day.  Having heard that militants a few days prior had taken a dislike for a local Tunisian killing him and his partner and taking his vehicle… we were feeling a lot of pressure.

It was about two hours later of staring into the dark, questioning each other whether we were doing the right thing and whether should we just get me up the duff so we had a good excuse to return home when Sam’s phone suddenly began to ring.  After fumbling around in the dark he answered it only to hear panic:  “Don’t go to Libya…. *static*… all *static static* bad… *static* hostage…. *static*…. Benghazi major outbreaks and *static*… News flash just *static* don’t *static* Libya… *static* people evacuated…”.

It was Sam’s family.  After a few more phonecalls and repositioning of ourselves to gain better reception we learned of how within the past hour all hell had broken loose in Benghazi.  British and Westerners had been evacuated due to the imminent threat of Al-Qaeda attacks and hostage situations.  It was all over the news.  Needless to say, Sam and I cacked ourselves.  After a few prolonged silences, some discussions and confusion, more awful reception phonecalls, we managed to contact Sam’s family friend in Tripoli who we asked for advice.  We were reassured by Mohammed that we would be absolutely fine up to Tripoli and to come but to drive straight from the border, do not pass go, do not collect £200… we would only get unwanted attention if we stopped.  From there on in he said he had devised a plan… to load our bikes onto a Libyan truck and travel us across to Egypt.  With this in mind we made the decision to continue to Tripoli.  If all was to go to pot we could always fly out to Egypt from there or turn back.

Minds spinning and feeling slightly frenzied we did all we could to return to the night and grab some zee’s in preparation for a break of dawn start… it was a looong looong night indeed!

 

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North Africa – Tozeur – Mos Espa Star Wars Set!

January 24, 2013 / Tunisia / 0 Comments /

Today we took a road trip out into the middle of nowhere to find hidden amidst dunes and camels this amazing, still standing, Mos Espa Star Wars Set:

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AWEEESOooMoomomoemeeee BEYOND BELIEF!  It was seriously unbelievably wickedly STUPENDOUS!  Some dude came walking out of one building too (there’s a mini stall set up for tourists there) and he was all dressed in a berber making him look like a Jedi Knight…. it was so sweet I nearly cried!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Unfortunately though, we could not stay long as we were waved manically at and then pointed in the direction of North where we saw a most enormous sand storm heading our way… and pronto!  So smiling and jumping for joy we chased our way out of the desert with sand kicking at our heels!

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Definite definite must see!!

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North Africa – Tunisia – Stars Wars and Sand People

January 23, 2013 / Tunisia / 0 Comments /

Today our aims were to travel to film sets for the wastelands and Luke Skywalkers home in Star Wars!  Unloaded, we were able to glide through the local villages with ease although this newly found freedom of no gear made for a completely different ride!  Pull off power = doubled meaning a few “wheeeee”s and unintentional skids to entertain passerbys! ;)

The ride to the wastelands saw us through a number of villages where we had our first odd reactions off locals.  Where we were getting used to all the waving and cheering it was now changing to the odd finger, fist shakes and also kids pretending to shoot us!  Niiiiice!  The road was being resurfaced (or dug up? We couldn’t figure) meaning another encounter of sand for me.  Being sleepy and still adjusting to the lightness of our unloaded bikes I was a bit narky at myself for being all over the shot on the sand and nearly catapulting myself off a few times.  My ansy-ness was all resolved though with a mahoosive chicken kebab bap with cold fries which is an in thing here (all for absolute pennies too)!

When we arrived at the wastelands it was quite literally what it says on the box… wastelands!  With our bikes being kitted out for off roading (big thank you KTM Basel for our awesome KTM 690 Enduro R 2012 Quest bike kits!) we managed to scoot around the rocky and sandy climbs to see more, something we feel would only be achievable on foot otherwise or perhaps in a well equipped landy!  Quite weirdly we were in the middle of no where and these kiddies appeared, initially asking for money, then sweets and then for Sam and I to kiss!  The little buggers even asked Sam if they could kiss me!  So funny and strange!  We pelted up a really steep hill in hope to get some photos of the bikes and scenery but once we reached the top we stopped and turned… only to see the kids next to us!??! How the bloody hell they managed to get up so quickly I have no idea!

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Realising they were not planning on leaving our sides we decided to head towards Luke house and as carefully as possible made our way down the slope.  This scared the living daylights out of me because the kiddies wouldn’t leave my side and I was petrified of squashing the little muppets!  After they witnessed me hitting a patch of sand and going sideways (saying a few choice words) they hung back a bit though ;)

Back on the road we notice that the wind was picking up.  After a while we noticed that the palm trees were starting to lean sideways and upon taking a cursory glance behind us we double took a massive glow of orange heading our way… sandstorm time!  Being 20clicks off our campsite we opened up a bit in hope to escape through the now ghost town villages where locals had locked up and retreated for protection.  Nipping at our heels, we ended up being caught in the start of it and were sand blasted to bits, grains beating their way into all orifices, prickling away like hot oil spitting despite the neck scarfs and goggles.

Back on the campsite we took shelter in our tent and then without realising it awoke a few hours later… we had been sleepy!  As the night drew in we ventured again to our new found friends Julie, Jason and Charlie to spend an evening of chinwagging, consumption of ginormous berber pizzes and plotting routes!  Good times!

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North Africa – Trip to Tozeur

January 22, 2013 / Tunisia / 0 Comments /

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We arrived in Touzer as the sun set and as usual we followed the GPS which navigated us to some wee village on the outskirts surrounded by desert.  Slightly confused as this did not look like the palm tree campsite we were in search of we stopped and asked for directions.  Within minutes the local villager had leapt in his car and had us following him through the sands back to the main city!  The hospitality and desire to help people here is just overwhelming!

Sandy Swimming!…

This was my first time riding in sand.  Weighed down with all our gear I could feel my lovely bike sinking and slithering as I wobbled with giggles and shrieks along the soft sand.   It wasn’t far to go but in the dark and having never experienced a swimming sensation on the bike I was a bundle of nerves and laughter!  It’s so weird… I cannot wait to try it again but perhaps within daylight hours and not whilst lost at nightfall ;)

After a few roads we arrive at our destination, Camping Les Beauxreves (33° 32′ 15,25 N – 8° 49′ 23,48 E) and are waved off by our local friend!  So kind of him!  The campsite owner appears and proceeds to show us an area to set up camp just beyond some shower blocks under some palms… this is a lap of luxury camping wise!  As soon as we dismount we are immediately greeted by a rather excited Jason, a fellow British traveller in his camper van (affectionately named Dave) accompanied by his wife Julie and pooch Charlie!  Parked up just the otherside of the shower block, we are invited over for some grub so with that in mind we bosh up the tent and join them!  Before long we are telling tales, drinking wine and enjoying some delicious grub including left over Italian Christmas Cake! Om tastic!

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OURTOUR.CO.UK …

Jason, Julie and Charlie are just an awesome trio!  They have been travelling now for nearly 14months around Europe and just happened to stumble their way into North Africa on their tour!  Just listening to their trip up to now we were laughing away!  They both have a very relaxed and chilled out persona which managed to brush off on us that evening, making us reconsider our mad run around over the next few days and adapt it to chillax a bit and see the local sites!  Thanks guys!  Their method of travel is very dreamy too… Sam and I have since been discussing about getting a camper van upon our return to do some tours and trips in when we have kiddies and pooches about!  It just all looks wicked! They are also making loads of notes on where they’re heading to and plonking helpful hints on their website – for all eager travellers be it camper vanners or whatever form of transport we can only encourage you to visit their site and get a copy of their book! www.ourtour.co.uk!

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North Africa – Sfax – Family Fun and Chickens the size of Children

January 20, 2013 / Tunisia / 0 Comments /

Sam woke up feeling a bit more fresh this morning and less land leggy – always a good thing!  Whilst waking up we made a conscious decision to try and sort out how to cross Libya and get up to date with the on goings.  At breakky and during packing up the bike we made a few calls and manage to speak to a family friend based in Tripoli.  The news seemed fairly grim from Benghazi onwards but they were confident that we could easily enter Tripoli without any issues and then perhaps conceive a plan from there.  We also discovered that our friend has a cousin (Nabil) based in Sfax and we were told to hang fire as he would come meet with us.

We meet with Nabil (an incredibly jolly taxi driver) and a few hours later find ourselves in his home with his wife (Hazar) and family, in their traditional arabic seating room eating arabic and tunisian sweets and fresh fruit from their garden.  Nabil speaks limited English but is fluent in both Arabic and French, meaning Sam and I managed to communicate with not too much problem!  Nabil’s family live on the outskirts of the main city within a beautiful one story Mediterranean home.  We were shown outside their garden full of fruit trees, jasmine bushes, chickens (all the way from Germany… they were GIGANTIC and came up to my waist! No joking!), canaries and a stunning American Mastiff guard dog.  With the sun beaming it was absolutely gorgeous. Next door is his Brother and family, a pet shop owner in town, and within half a mile is his other immediate family (Sister and Mother).  As the afternoon drew in and the schools emptied we met more and more of his family (nieces, nephews, Brothers and sons) until the house was bustling with family all chatting, joking and eating!

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Come evening time we were kindly taken to a restaurant in town where we were treated to a traditional beef tomato dish and mutton chops as well as a Tunisian beer or two!  It was all delicious!  We chatted and laughed all evening, particularly cracking up when it was explained to us in a rather hilarious form of charades that Nabil’s niece (Fatma) and her husband (Saleem) wanted me to have a white baby for them! Haha!  The funny thing too is that Saleem has seen us the day before riding around with the police and had wondered who we were and what we were doing!  It seems we made quite an impact!

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The next day Sam and I prepared ourselves for a trip to Tozeur.   Sam filled up the bikes and to do so took one of Nabil’s motorbike crazy sons (Monji) on the back of the bike as a personal guide to the bank and petrol station. Naturally, this meant a detour round the whole city to many of Monji’s friends who all had rides and also his Uncles pet shop!  Comically, we dressed Monji in all my motorbike gear so he was safe but he looked like a mini incredible hulk!  So sweet!  Hazar kindly gave me a beautiful headscarf for Libya and Nabil took me on a mini tour of Sfax when going to pick up his son!  Such a loving and generous family!

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Eventually though we had to get on our way and after many thanks and a wonderful lunch we hopped on our bikes and made our way.

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We would like to thank Nabil, Hazar and family for being such wonderful generous people!  We really hope they can one day visit us so we can repay their kindness but understand that a visa to UK for Tunisian people is almost impossible to get.  Still, we have our fingers crossed and hope to see them in England on our return!

 

 

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