Back from Tunisia

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Just back from a 10-day tour with my brother in the south of Tunisia. All in all, a surprisingly good cycling destination – super friendly locals, tasty food at every pit stop, freshly squeezed OJ in the morning, spick ‘n span places to lay your head at night, carpet smooth roads (or tapis, as the local roadies call them) and funky music piping out of all the cafes.

Of course, we had our taste of bumpy, corrogated tracks, gale force headwinds, tour bus convoys and heavy rain… But still, a great tour and one I’d very much recommend for anyone in search of accessible desert adventure. Full blog report to follow, when I work my way through the pics… A few posted below in the meantime.

Other news. Cara’s back from her road riding in the Vercors tomorrow. We’re now fully booked for Spiti, with a place left on Sach Pass, and a few on Manali-Leh. All the details are here. If anyone is planning to meet up at the Howies Difi Enduro ride in Wales, ring them and talk your way onto the last few spots!

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Camping out by the pistes between Tatouine (of Star Wars fame) and the oasis of Ksar Gilane.

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The next morning, we came across this little establishment at a crossroads marked only by an old tyre and a pile of rocks. A cafe! Serving mint tea from grubby glasses. Didn’t take long for the flies to find us.

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Occasionally polished hills rose from the vast flatness of the desert. We debated whether they were caused by seismic shifts, or perhaps this area was once a river valley.

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In Kibili, we met a local roadie, M’hamed (aka Zig Zag) who invited us to stay in his home and eat couscous with his family. His wooly cycling jersey was what we’d now call ‘old school’. To him I guess it was just old…

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Parked up, ready for our coffee break. Every cafe has an ancient expresso machine that’s always on the go.

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March is a good time to visit. We had a few days of rain to start off, then skies like this.

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But battling into the wind and the sand is part of the Saharan right of passage. At this point, Nick was questioning the definition of ‘holiday’.

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One stretch of corrogation was bad enough to warrant a rest in the oasis of Ksar Gilane, marked by a swathe of date trees in an otherwise inhospitable landscape.

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Tunisia is no stranger to the 6WD and scrambler bike fraternity. These goliaths thunder across Europe for fun in the dunes.

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And at Ksar Gilane, the dunes roll out far into the distance like waves. Occasionally, a motorbike appears and disappears on the horizon, like a boat in a choppy sea.

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A recently tarmaced road heads north, following a gas pipeline that leads all the way, eventually, to Italy. The road was bolt straight, with kilometre markers slowly ticking off the distance.

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Troups of seemingly wild camels crossed in front of us, pottering off into the distance as they munched on the shrubs.

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In the village of Douiret, an NGO is slowly renovating and conserving the old houses that cling to ridges, offering sustainable tourism for the future.

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Like the muezzin’s call to prayer, there’s nothing like the Arabic signs to remind you of where you are. The elegance and sheer mystery of the script adds to the aura of adventure.

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Especially old rusty, weather beaten ones out in the desert, pointing you off into nowhere.

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I was riding the Surly LHT, set up with WTB Dirt Drops, bar end shifters, Paul Hewitt built wheels and Marathon XR 700×35 rubber. A perfect tool for the job. Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers completed the picture. We’d breathed back some life into the old Specialized Rockhopper for Nick, fitted with dependable XT thumbies, some tough Alesa wheels from Spa Cycles and Pasela Tourguard 1.75 tyres from SJS Cycles.

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Market day in Douz, a town on the edge of the desert, where locals tout their tours for the ‘desert experience’.

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Produce was piled high, bursts of colour against the muted surroundings. In the square, old men played noisy games of backgammon in the shade of date trees.

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Spices galore… The food in Tunisie blends North African and Mediterranean influences.

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We kept mainly to tarmac, which is good quality. Traffic levels are pretty low too, especially away from the bigger linking roads. But it’s always nice to get away from things, and there are desert pistes all over Tunisia. Some had a bit of corrogation. I could only get my hands on 35c Marathon XR tyres – they’re tough, roll well and aren’t ridiculously heavy. A 40c tyre might have been a little better for comfort on the tracks. If the frame can fit it, I’d like to have tried a Marathon XR 29er.

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So, Zig Zag was the Tunisian who invited us to stay the night, in a village between Douz and Tozeur. A rocky outcrop rose steeply up behind his house. We clambered up to take in the late afternoon views over the oasis.

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Exploring the backstreets in the old quarter of Tozeur, a warren of narrow corridors and low tunnels shield you from the outside heat.

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Alleyways dead end in impressive doorways. Following tradition, many have a few knockers at different heights- the ‘ring’ tells them who needs to come to the door. Great idea

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Minarets from the many mosques spike into the sky above the rooftops and treetops. At dusk, the call to prayer from the muezzins ricochets around town.

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Taking a break as we cross the Chott al Jarid, a parched and cracked salt plain.

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And another…

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Yep, there’s really not too much out there.

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Not for those with an aversion to bullet-straight roads.

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Sometimes, they just never seem to end…

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A wind that’s strong enough to sculpt shapes in the rocks… Luckily, it was behind us most of the time.

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Watch out for the camels…

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Towards the end of the ride, as we headed north, the road climbed steeply away from the desert into rose-hued mountains.

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The humble gargotte, where a platter of roast chicken, a helping of chips, a Tunisian salad, half a baguette and a dish of olives, washed down with a bottle of fizzy Boga, can be had for a few of pounds…

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8 Responses to “Back from Tunisia”


  1. 1 JT March 21, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Brilliant photographs! They almost make me want to try something like that (even though I’d probably hate it!).

  2. 2 otbiking March 21, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Thanks! You know, you could work out a fantastic road loop round the south. When the tarmac is smooth, there’s nothing like it. Roadie heaven (-: In fact, there’s a Tour de Tunisie each year. Be cool to check out the route. A Tunisian Cyclosportif maybe?!

  3. 3 Simon G March 21, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Hey Cass

    Looks like you had a great trip. The pictures are great looking forward to hearing all about it.

    I am heading back to the UK this evening and may be around on Friday for a ride if you’re interested (although I suspect you have a lot of writing on your plate). I’ll drop you a line tomorrow to catch up.

    S

  4. 4 Jarrod March 23, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Nice photos, sounds like a great trip. I noticed that you are using the Surly with panniers for this trip. Is this going to be the bike of choice for future trips?

  5. 5 otbiking March 31, 2007 at 12:20 am

    Thanks Jarrod.

    Although I’m a big fan of Bobs for mtb touring, I do like the compactness of panniers, the position of drop handlebars and the feel of bar end shifters, at least for more road based tours. I have a Thorn too, with a Rohloff hub which we take away on our trips to India. But what I like about the Surly is its versatility. With a change of wheelset, it can feel really quite lively, and with those big clearances, its got a cyclocross-style vibe to it too, which I really enjoy.

  6. 6 mania January 4, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    very nice pictures thanks a lot

  7. 7 Barb April 9, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Do you know. Of places that rent bikes in Tunisia? We would like to cycle in some spots not as ambiously as you but would like spin while there. Thanks


  1. 1 A homage to the Dirt Drop « out there biking: the blog Trackback on March 30, 2007 at 3:07 pm

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