Adventure in Tunisia  
 

Tunisia Odyssey: Historic North
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

 
 

Dispatch 6 - Ain Draham

 
  Tabarka to Ain Draham (33km, 20mi) (elev 830m)  Past playground for French boar hunters.
Program options: Cork oak trees, visit a quaint mountain village, walk in the Khroumirie forest.
 
 

Cork oak bark stacked and curing, TabarkaOur ride today was short on miles, but the altitude gain was significant, something between 730 and 900 meters depending on the source. cork oak forest, TabarkaThe first fourteen kilometers was very slightly inclined as we headed out of town toward theTruck loaded with cork oak bark southwest. We even had a slight tailwind and made good time. We passed a cork factory with row after row of six foot long segments of cork oak bark piled in stacks ten feet tall by about six feet wide, maybe 120 of them. Although we passed a lot of cork trees yesterday and rode through a cork oak forest a good portion of today, we have yet to see any cork oak forest, Tabarkafreshly cut trees, though most trees have had their bark harvested sometime in the distant past.  Theoretically, the bark can be harvested every five or six years.  None of the trees have been numbered to indicate the year of harvest as is common in Spain and Portugal.

Major construction project off Tabarka-Ain Draham roadAfter crossing a river we turned more definitively uphill, the road climbed unrelentingly. This continued for the next sixteen kilometers, with steeper sections requiring a granny Farm, sheep and valley, south of Tabarkagear interspersedValley in northern Tunisia with less steep sections. The views off mountain were of deepening mountain valleys covered primarily in gnarled cork oak trees and the view up mountain was the same only closer to hand. The light, diffused byFarm, sheep and valley, south of TabarkaRiver valley, northern Tunisia, Tabarka the cloud layer and coming from the east, was not good for capturing the grand vistas. At one point you could see all the way back to Tabarka. The weather favored a climb with theFarm and valley, near Babouch, south of Tabarka sun’s head dissipated, reflected, and/orSpring near Babouch, Tabarka-Ain Draham road absorbed by the cloud layer so it was rather cool. A fresh breeze often reached us, sometimes in gusts that, if caught unaware could destabilize you at such low speeds.  On warmer days, the spring along the way offer great opportunities to replenish water bottle with sweet crystal clear water.  We were glad there were so many trees and twists and turns so we weren’t feeling the full impact of the wind which was certainly blowing hard somewhere. As it was, it kept us cool and relatively dry throughout the ride.

Babouch, TunisiaGentleman in Babouch, TunisiaAfter ten kilometers of climbing, our guide had us pull over at a café in Babouch, the only intervening village.  It was a nice rest with good thé and café au lait. Interestingly, the café staff did not speak French and did not understand the term café au lait, a first on our trip. As French is the national language (though often not the local’s first language), I suspect it is required in school. However, our guide told us that urbane Tunisians consider this part of Tunisia their boondocks.  The people here have a reputation for resistance to the government’s intrusions in their lives.

Coffee and mint tea in BabouchTunisian thé, as mentioned before, is very strong, very sweet, and is served in a small glass. Beyond these two dimensions, the local variations are many. However, in the hotels serving primarily tourists where we’ve stayed, tea is almost always a Lipton teabag in a cup with sugar on the side – a very poor substitute for the local brew.

Hills and road near Babouch, TunisiaBabouch is a mere three kilometers from the Algerian border and a long view to the west certainly reaches that country. One of our group noted a news clip on the internet that al Qaeda had attacked there since we’ve been in Tunisia … innocence shattered by the Internet and realty comes barging in. Actually, our guide had suggested that one reason the police might be keeping tabs on foreigners here is because of our proximity to Algeria. Speaking of the police, an escort did pick us up as we left town this morning and followed us to our thé stop.

When we first sat down, the clouds coming our way looked as if they might carry rain, but the sky lightened while we chatted so we set out again. The next five kilometers were a repeat of the last ten and we geared down and cranked them out. The scenery stayed about the same except from a higher perspective. The forests are very open, whether naturally so or because cork oak has been substituted for the natural climax forest I don’t know. Regardless, though it seems wild enough, I have a hard time imagining lion and leopard prowling here, let alone the wild boar which is reportedly still hunted hereabouts (though mostly hunted to extinction in the 1960's and '70's). Perhaps the forest along the road is accessible and has therefore been cleared whereas the deeper woods are thicker. The way the forests seem to go on and on indicates there must certainly be lots of less accessible, wilder forest.

Ain Draham, Khroumirie Mountains, TunisiaPile of sand for contruction, Ain DrahamJust before reaching Ain Draham we passed a guy shoveling fine sand into two large sacks on the back of a donkey, still a major laborer in both the north and south. Though it must have been a heavy load, the donkey seemed unconcerned as it pulled leaves from a nearby bush. The sand itself is worth a remark. We see it piled everywhere. It is very fine and yesterday we saw a man pouring it through a large sieve to make it more so. We’ve seen it used as filler for sidewalk cracks and  used in handmade cement.

Babouch in Khroumirie MountainsMain street, Ain DrahamAin Draham is a hilltop retreat developed by the French ostensively as a summer resort and escape from hotter climates.  The village with its many red roofs has a distinctly French look. It lies on the flank of tStatue in Ain Draham, which is suppose to reflect the cork tree.he Kroumirie Mountain’s highest peak, Jebel Biri, at 1,014 m (3,327 ft). The strange object gracing the roundabout Main street, Ain Drahamof its main intersection took us awhile to decipher. After a sometimes funny debate, we finally decided it was a stylized cork oak winding about itself more like a vine (symbolizes ivy growing on an oak tree) with part of the bark stripped off – it was the oak leaves that tipped us off.                   

Cork oak tree in Khroumirie MountiansAfter lunch, those who were interested took a hike through the forest, but staying on pavedWom.en hauling fire wood that they have collected in the forest surfaces throughout. The forest paths looked wet from the rain and we decided that caution was the better part of valor. It was a pleasant walk; most in forest with occasional vista and homesteads offering a window into local lifestyles.

Woman combing wool, weaving coop, Ain Draham Woman spinning wool, weaving coop, Ain DrahamIn route back to the hotel, with a little detective work, we found the women's weaving cooperative.  The women were active carding and spinning wool into yarn, and weaving

Women weaving knotted carpet Woman weaving carpet, weaving coop, Ain Draham Woman weaving carpet, weaving coop, Ain Draham Woman weaving carpet, weaving coop, Ain Draham Woman weaving carpet, weaving coop, Ain Draham

 

 

several styles of carpet.  They were happy Women's weaving cooperative showroom, Ain Drahamto demonstrate their work for the camera and for those who are interested they have a showroom/boutique, where they are happy to sell the finished product.

Before supper a couple of us walked to the Internet and had yet another instance where the guy at the next computer told us “Americans good! Bush bad!”, with the appropriate inflection and thumbs up/thumbs down gestures.

Fire place in the common room at "hunting lodge" (Beau Sejour Hotel), Ain Draham Couscous Royal, Beau Sejour Hotel, Ain DrahamSupper at the hotel consisted of hot soup, a briq, chicken couscous royal, and strawberries for dessert. In keeping with the area’s sporting history of the area and the hotel, Macassin (wild boar), in the common room at "hunting lodge" (Beau Sejour Hotel), Ain Drahamtwo large boar hides with heads hang on the wall.  Although the tourist literature still mentions boar hunting in the Khroumirie Mountains, a conversations with the lodge keeper would suggest that they are mostly hunted out.  You best chance to see a boar then is in the lobby of the Beau Sejour Hotel.

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