Wed 12 Mar 2008
Hammamet - Sfax - Gabes
Had a really good morning at the campsite today. Gave the landy a good check over, made a temporary repair to a small hole in the exhaust to the rear of the silencer and sorted all our cash and documents out.Only left the campsite at 12 but it was good to get all that sorted. It was a really hot morning too, the first time we have felt the African sun on this trip. Headed down to El Jem and stopped on the way at a roadside sheep braai. You know your meat is fresh when your sheep is tied up to the braai and his mate is all skins next to the braai. You select the piece of meat you want, we had leg, they cut it up for you, cook it on the fire and serve it with chips and bread, deliscious. There are loads of these sheep braais with most having tomorrows supply tied to it. El Jem was awesome- a huge coliseum rising out of the desert. It's not as big as the one in Rome but equally as impressive. From El Jem we headed into Sfax. Crazy city. Traffic was hectic but managed to stop at an auto parts shop and bought some gun gum to repair the hole in the exhaust. Ever tried to explain gun gum to an Arab? Booked into our hotel and had dinner of pizza and beers!! Going to go to Gabes tomorrow and take it from there. Hope to get off the tar too.
Thurs 13 Mar 2008
Can't say that I enjoyed being in the hotel last night. I really missed the quiet of the campsite and being in our roof top tent. Had a basic breakfast of bread and jam, croissant and coffee and after packing the landy headed for the medina. This has definitely been one of the highlights so far. The medina is the old walled city, with walls still 100% intact. The houses are crammed in along narrow little lanes, all buildings are at least 3 storeys high and the lanes are only about 2-3m wide. The place smells of spice and sweat and rubbish but they all mix into the bustling atmosphere of the place. Having been on the underground tours of Edinburgh you can imagine that this is exactly what tat must have been like.
We were the only tourists that we saw in the medina and the fact that Sfax is not a tourist town was borne out by the fact that we were largely ignored as the sellers cried out their prices and sales pitches.It seems that trades are grouped together with carpenters, cobblers, butchers, and veggie growers all keeping shop shoulder to shoulder. Almost every tool for sale is handmade from axes to spades and shoes and we saw tradesmen making sieves for couscous and olives and making drums and tamberines. Se bought kgs of veggies and we bought a beautiful berber woollen carpet. At the end of the tour we found a shisha man and after much uming and arhing, and about 2 hours in his shop, I bought a really beautiful pipe. Then it was back to the car, past the pastry shop and off towards Gabes.
Stopped for lunch, a homemade zarm with bread from the medina, under a tree on the road. Went passed loads more sheep braais and also some juice and olive oil sellers. Also passed some overlanders so we are heading in the right direction. Found the campsite easily using the GPS and it is a great little oasis complete with palm trees. Fixed the holein the exhaust with a tin of peas, gun gum and some cable ties. Should hold this time. Hopefull it will hold till Cairo or Tripoli. Smoked my shisha which works well. Had a great veggie soup with the veggies Se bought. Decided that tomorrow we should head to Douz in the desert and found some tracks on T4A which we'll use. Almost given up in the search for beers.
DIESEL & DUST
Fri 14 Mar 2008
Gabes to Douz
Pottered around the campsite this morning and did not leave until about 10am. Headed to El Hamma where our first piste started. The action started straight away with a big snake shooting across the piste in front of the landy. I thought I'd ridden over it but on reversing we could not find it. The piste was great, a little sandy and rutted in places but not hectic. A good test for all the things we built which I'm glad to say held up well. Went off the main piste for a trip through the dune/hills along a little track. Good fun. Stopped for lunch on the piste and the temp got up to 39.9deg. At about 2pm we stopped at the Kebili campsite but it looked really barren and uninviting so we desided to find the piste to Douz. Very disappointing to discover that this has now been tarred! So it was a U-turn and a short cut tar road to Douz. Found the 'Desert Club' campsite and it was great. All sand in amongst palms in the oasis. Set up camp and Andy and Noeleen arrived just as we were finishing our chilly and mushroom pasta. Sounds like they had a hellova day getting lost in the desert, smoke out the engine and getting a local unstuck. Did some GPS stuff and decided to head to Ksar Ghilane and desert camp.
LOST IN THE DESERT DUNES!
Sat 15 Mar 2008
Douz - Ksar Ghilane
197km (off road)
BRUCE: Whew! Well what an awesome day. Had another slow start to the day and met Andy and Noeleen at the markets in Douz after they had their flat tire fixed. Bought some beers from the campsite too which went down seriously well later on. After a brief conference we decided not to do the T2 track to Ksar Ghilane as the last 40km are just dunes and we aren't experienced enough to take that on. We decided to do an easier route and avoid the dunes since we have no experience. Had lunch on the piste in the wind but the view was awesome. Had our first taste of dunes just before lunch with some small ones on the piste. After lunch Se drove for a while and we started to go through some seriously sandy sections. Shortly after that we hit the main pipeline piste to Ksar Ghilane but decided not to take it as it has been tarred and we were enjoying our rough track with sandy patches. We changed over drivers near a windmill and a well in the desert and it was just after that that things got interesting! We lost the track in some small dunes and had to double back on ourselves to find the track. What we didn't know was that the track would soon disappear altogether into kms of small dunes. It was really awesome, changed into low range, locked the diffs and bumbled trough the dunes and crawled over rocks in the riverbed. Things got really interesting at one point when we ran into a dead end, our track/river bed just ended in a wall of sand dunes. Se and Noeleen were feeling very nervous at this stage as it had been 2 solid hours of crawling through sand dunes. I climbed a hill to check the lie of the land and Andy scouted ahead (after trying an unsuccessful crossing) and between us we managed to plot a route through the wall of dunes to the riverbed. This entailed punching over some low dunes to hard patches where we could take a run up to punch through the rest. Andy led me through and then I got some great photos of him coming through. After that it was about another 15km of riverbed and small dunes and it made really great driving. It was really awesome to get a feel for what Ubhejane could do and you get the feeling that he can do a whole lot more!
Made it to our campsite at Ksar Ghilane just as it was getting dark and enjoyed a well earned ice cold beer. It was really really great driving in the desert today and all the equipment held up really well.Bring on Libya!
SARAH: We set off for Ksar Ghilane following tracks that Bruce had downloaded onto his GPS. To be honest I did not know what to expect. I knew that we were going off the beaten track but thought we'd at lest follow some track. The first half of the day went well following a rutted track and small bits of sand here and there but we could see the dunes ahead of us and stopping for lunch we realised just how much sand was blowing around us. Something I had not considered for some reason. I'm not a big fan of sandy sandwiches! Noeleen and I did a bit of driving and I'm learning how to rev the landy and accelerate through the sandy bits but feel far from competent for big dunes. Bruce and Andy then took over again. Thank god they did because what followed for the next 50km had my blood and adrenalin pumping. The track completely disappeared and navigating on the GPS was more challenging then I expected, partly because the dunes keep on moving! Although we were roughly following the riverbed the GPS tracks just weren't possible to follow at times as they took us straight into huge sand dunes. My respect for the desert is rapidly growing. After several U-turns and regular stopping and checking the GPS we hit a wall of sand dunes what looked completely impossible for novices to pass over. Mountains surrounded us with dunes between them and us. I was feeling very nervous at this stage as we were so remote, it was getting late afternoon and I had visions fo us having to retrace our paths back. In the end we ditched the GPS and followed our instincts. Bruce walked up a hill to navigate and Andy then directed us through the dunes. It was hair raising stuff but Ubhejane did fantastically. We're learning the hard way what our vehicle is capable of doing. We eventually emerged from the dunes and made it to Ksar Ghilane just as it was getting dark. With an adrenalin packed day we were all shattered so had an early night and crashed into bed.