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  Adventure in Tunisia  

Tunisia Odyssey: Eden to Oasis
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

Dispatch 13 - Korbous

Click to enlarge Having turned the corner and heading primary southwest, the road on the north side of the peninsula provides a lot more views of the sea and a more rugged coastline. When the sun is out, overall, this is the prettiest day of riding so far.

For the first hour, all was green fields a flower or under active management. We saw a tractor plowing a field and again saw a man plowing with a horse pulling a disc.. We must be on the new side of spring here because the greens are intense.  It reminded one member of the group of a certain Easter weekends in rural Indiana. In fact, except for some obvious differences in vegetation, on first look, the countryside could be middle-America even to the setting of rural towns in the distance. Though, on closer inspection, those steepled churches turn out to be minarets of mosques.

An impressive addition to Cap Bon is the installation of a wind power generating scheme that marches along the ridge southwest of El Houaria, and gracefully spin slowly in unison.  I first saw it in 2002 and it doubled in size by 2005.  Over the years we have encountered no shortage of wind in this area so the developers are probably getting a good return on their investments.

Click to enlarge Five kilometers along is a sign to Port Daoud (Daoud being the Arabic for David) - and a nice little store -- that we would regret passing up shortly. The map showed a good road to the port and a track that could take us back to the main road down range. I was in need of a little adventure (and my bike was getting a little pavement weary) so we tried the side trip. Of course, getting there was no problem, except it was a much smaller settlement than we expected and we couldn’t buy the kind of food for lunch that we anticipated – it probably didn’t help that it was Sunday. Our route out and back to the highway could aptly be described as a "track." For the first several kilometers it rounded a lagoon, almost on the tide flats. At times the road was smooth, packed and damp. At times it was rough and rocky as passed over hard ribs. The worst was when it got soft and sandy. The frustration built-up when we came to the next major side road we headed uphill and inland back to the paved highway.  Every option turn away from our intended destination or petered out.  After zigzagging around for a while we eventually made it back to the highway -- still hungry, but at least again make better forward progress to some expected subsidence.

The specialty of the villages in this area is the manufacturing of cane umbrellas (roofs for picnic tables).  The tall stiff grass that is used seems to grow wild along the roadside and edges of fields.

After wind along at least near the coast for 40 kilometers, the highway headed inland, up a valleys. The gently rolling hills in the first hour became a bit less gentle as we continued, and the fields were replaced by forest, the first substantial tree cover we’ve seen except for the palmeraies. While at first we could see the Mediterranean off in the distance, most of the ride now was too far into the peninsula and a ridge away from the sea.  This was nice in part because it gave us a bit of a reprieve from the northwesterly wind that seemed to be in our face to one degree or another for most of the morning. The valley was also gorgeous. But being inland and needing to work our way down the coast, it meant the road climbed over the ridges between the valleys instead of traversing around the seaside end of them.

Alongside the road were maybe twenty stations selling honey. They were all exactly the same: a square plastic milk carton carrier was turned upside down on the side of the road and three or four quart-sized jars of honey were placed atop. The honey looked dark and rich, except one jar that was significantly lighter that might have been spun honey. For many of these stations, placed maybe fifty yards apart, we could not see the sellers. They seemed to be back under a tree or behind a hillock alee of the wind. However, we had no doubt that had we stopped, one would have materialized posthaste.  The price is five dinars per jar – a good price by US standards. We had no way of telling if each of the vendors produces their own honey, or maybe they purchased the honey for resale, or maybe they were all under one overseer. The uniformity of presentation made us wonder how a buyer would choose among them. They were lining that steep grade from the bottom to the top and gave us something sweet to think about as we labored up.

Also on the list of new additions to this part of Cap Bon is extensive new grape fields. The base of the peninsula has been know for its wine for some time. Investors must think the climate is conducive further out the peninsula because a lot of land and irrigation infrastructure are being dedicated to vineyards.  A large new dam probably reduces the risk.

When we stopped for lunch the bikes attracted a crowd of school bus drivers as an intent audience. The bus drivers were a rowdy lot and were very interested in our bikes. Some of us tried to show and explain different things to them while others labored with adjustments on the bikes. There was lots of loud talk and laughter and sometimes at jokes at our expense, especially with respect to the purpose for the hole in the middle a seat. We realized these guys were school bus drivers when a school down the street let out and we were suddenly flooded with kids who found their way into the eight or ten taxi vans parked near our little café. The drivers jumped in after counting heads and whisked them off in all directions. Most of these kids must live in the country since this town just isn’t big enough to house them all.

By that time of the day the lunch helped the spirits a lot but we still had a significant climb up the hill between the valley and the sea.  The fatigue completely melted away as we crested the last mountain. Laid out before us was a spectacular rocky coastline, a beautiful sea and a long winding down hill riding with new vistas from every corner. The panoramic view was the hot fudge sundae of a great day.  With all of the stops for photographs and just to soak up the views, it took longer to go down the mountain than it had to climb the other side.

Even before we reached the summit of the last hill it was apparent that we were nearing some place special. Most of the cars that were coming towards us were packed to the gills with families. Off on the hillsides we could see groups enjoying a picnic and throwing balls for recreation. This is one place where the people of Tunis come for weekend and holiday outing.

Click to enlargeAfter a long, joyous and beautiful glide down we reached the bottom, where the surf crashed into the rocks, you meet the creme de la creme de vie, a hot spring (Ain Atrous) gushing into the sea.  People come from all over Tunisia and Europe come here to soak in this and other medicinal natural mineral springs in this area.  Along with people, the place is packed with the Tunisian counterparts of hotdog and soda vendors. It was party time in the hills and at the hot springs.

Click to enlargeKorbous is a quaint two-block town tucked into an canyon between two hills along the coast.  It has three hotels, one restaurant, one store, one cafe, a couple curio shops and a few snack bars.  A lot of guest in town have come for treatment and are decidedly past their youthful years.  The various springs in the area, each with a different chemical composition, are said to be good for arthritis, rheumatism, kidney and liver conditions, skin problems and assorted other maladies. By all appearance the other guests at the hotel were not likely candidates for a Bicycle Africa bike tour.

Addendum

This store rack caught the eye of one of the women in the group.  Each jug is labeled with the name of a well known perfume.  The story, as I understand it, is many of the bases for French perfumes come from Tunisia. If you know how to mix perfume, you can by these bases and create your own perfume for a fraction of the price of the commercial product.

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