Adventure in Tunisia

Tunisia Odyssey: Eden to Oasis
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 9 - Souk Lahad



I have ridden from Douz to Tozeur a half dozen times; some were calm and sunny, some features spiffy tailwinds and some trips were dogged by persistent headwinds.  But on a particularly memorable journey we left at 1 p.m. with a good tailwind and the temperature was ten degrees lower than the day before. By 1:30 it had picked up speed and was picking up grains of sand. By 2:00, the weather had spun itself up to a sand storm. This sand storms was different than a rain storm in that the sand didn't rain down on us. Most of the sand was within a foot of the road and the density drops off by about half for each additional foot up. So by mouth and eye level it was pretty fine particles. A cloth over the mouth and sunglasses are pretty successful at making the experience survivable. I wonder if the change in temperature had something to do with the rapid shifting of the air.

The road itself is necklace of oases separated by open spaces of chotts, oueds or dunes.  A change year after year is the expansion of the oases and the shrinking of the scrublands in between.  There never seems to be much human action in the oasis.  Maybe it is the season--dates are harvested in November.  Maybe oasis just grow by themselves, but are clearly to manicured for this.

Between towns the traffic is generally very light. Seldom do we see the situation where cars headed in both directions pass right by us on our bikes. This means that drivers passing us almost always give us a wide berth and drivers in both directions sometimes sound a friendly honk and/or wave. In the towns it is a little different: They are often busier with all types of vehicles: lots of motorbikes, often with a passenger or two and lots of taxis.  At the major intersection there is often a round point with a distinctive piece of art work/sculpture/statue decorating their centers.  In smaller towns there are a fair number of horse or donkey carts and wagons, and more trucks than passenger cars.

Once just a narrow, ragged edged, two lane road, though a marginal looking oasis village, the main road in Souk Lahad is now wide and boasts curb, gutters, sidewalks, and street lights. Business looks healthier as well with better stocks, fresher paint jobs, and the presence of several restaurants where there used to be none.

Not in our usual and accustom manner, for the second day in a row I found myself at a three star tourist hotel with a swimming pool and a lush, fragrant (jasmine) gardens in the desert. Laying on my back in the pool I marveled how much energy the palm trees that surrounded the hotel absorbed. The sandstorm was still whistling Dixie outside the oasis, but within the trees the sky was dirty yellow but the atmosphere was a pond of tranquility. We had experienced the same thing as we cycled to the hotel. The road passes in and out of a string of oases. While within the oases, the winds were gentle and the sand wasn’t being shot at my shins.  Outside the oasis we were being buffeted and sandblasted.

It is nice that the hotel is designed so that each block of rooms has a private courtyard.  We have a propensity for setting up Bicycle Africa drying rack wherever we land -- in this case in a tree in the courtyard.  The favorable architecture allows us to be a little more discrete.  But more to the point for bicyclists; the hotel has a large and varied, all-you-can-eat buffet dinner.  The photo to the right only shows the table for soups and salads.  There is another bigger counter for main courses and a third table, almost as big, with desserts.


We stop in to visit a friend. She teaches high school in a town about 50 kilometers away. She was back at the family house for Eid-el-Adha. Click to enlarge
In customary fashion we had mint tea and caught-up on the news of the family. I am suppose to find her a blue eyed, blond husband. She wasn’t clear about whether he need to be Islamic or not.

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