Tunis to Southern Algeria and back

Day 1 – 11.3.01 – Ferry from Italy to Carthage Tunisia

We leave Genoa, Italy en route to North Africa. Thankfully the ferry crossing was calm meaning we could make the most of the spectacular buffet lunch spread. We discover that, contrary to information, there is no translation in our passports, which we need to obtain our Libyan visa. Eventually the Tunisia main land appears full of single story white-washed houses interspersed with mosques, minarets and palm trees. In the boats hold amongst our very old Unimog and brand new, out the box ML there are a variety of Germans, Swiss and Austrians with an impressive selection of overland bikes and vehicles. I notice there are a lot of rather big women and well dressed men. Our apparel is a lot more basic, and we hope, ultimately a lot more practical. Our attempts to find the recommended campsite near Carthage fail, we discover the land is now being used as a theatre. A nearby campsite was full of beach bums, loud music and dubious ablutions so we decide to give it a miss. Returning to town we pass the presidents house and find a nearby posh hotel with a yard that they are happy for us to camp in. It reminds me of camping near the Kampala Sheraton and popping in for buffet breakfasts in the old days. We sleep outside the gates and am happy to discover that I was completely mistaken about the lecherous guard, he was only trying to be friendly and pre-conceived ideas generated by previously experienced Egyptian sleazy characters were ill-founded. No ablutions however so I learn the knack of climbing in and out of the roof tent and popping into the nearby quarry.

Day 2 – 12.3.01 – Carthage to Gabes – 429kms

Day 2 - Gabes shopIn the morning we drive to the beach next to the Anasdor Hotel, which is in close proximity to the presidents house to have breakfast. Later Tunis’ one way system beats us as we struggle to find the Medina based British Embassy, eventually we give up and hire a motorbike taxi. Happily our passports are stamped in five minutes and we head out to start our real adventure and head towards the Libyan border. We pass olive and orange groves, Day 2 lunchvineyards, sheep farmers and old gypsies with hard bodies and wrinkled faces portraying years of manual work. At Belouner we stop for a baguette and cooked lamb takeaway with coke from a strange butcher / cafe outlet and have very sweet Turkish tea. Lunch is in an olive grove, a nice combination and is accompanied with Swiss Cheese, baguette and yoghurt. A police motorbike towing another police motorbike passes by and the Day 2 - Gabes shop 2.TIFsite of a man riding a moped with side saddle with welding glasses on is a new one for me. Dusk finds us arriving at Gabes where we drive the wrong way down a one way street to a campsite full of date palms. We share the campsite with the fist of many German overlanders. On the edge of the market, in town, we have a a great dinner of chick peas in spicy tomato sauce, rotisserie chicken, chips, salad, huge chillies, rice and water for just 10 dinar. Back at camp we have what is to become our pre-bed drinks of coffee and mint tea. Michael realises that he’d made a mistake with the border opening times so we need an early start tomorrow.

 Day 3 – 13.3.01 – Gabes, Matmata, Gabes – 448km

Day 3  - Matmata entrance.TIFFor some reason we’re all dressed up as if it’s the middle of winter although it’s 15 degrees! Apparently we’ve already slipped into that cold desert morning mindstate. Theirs dates everywhere in the campsite, on the tyres, on our shoes, on the floors of the toilets. I smile as I realise that Mum would be so excited by the ‘pick your own’ opportunities everywhere. As we’re not sure what awaits us in Libya we stock up on supplies so walk into town, past white washed buildings and I indulge in the fresh bread smells emanating from faded blued doorways. We return with a weeks worth of fresh vegetables as well as fennel and loads of fresh coriander.

Day 3 Matmata.TIFYou know your heading towards the border when touts jump out from the roadside and start waving the new currencies cash in front of you. Sniffer dogs have ample time to do their job in the long queue at the Libyan border but just four cars from the front of the queue we get a phone call from our ‘helper’ to say that our Libyan visa has been rejected, we’re all devastated. Michael and Barbara have there’s in there passports but the Libyans will only issue visas in your country of citizenship and it wasn’t feasible for us to spend 6 weeks in Britain and New Zealand just to get our visas. We’d heard that we could short track the process in Tunisia but obviously this was not the case.  We return to Gabes via Matmata on a stunning mountain road with fantastic views. Villages perch on mountain sides and we see goats, shepherds and scarf clad men. TV aerials and solar panels stick out from the ground and are the only evidence of the under ground villages, made famous in Star Trek. Rounding a corner the commercial tourist end of Matmata comes into view with its flash hotels, camel rides and desert roses. We don’t stop.  We will now spend our holiday in Algeria, which is a shame for Michael as he has driven through it many times in the days he delivered cars to Niger. The evening is spent having more drinks than conversation as we all reassess our trips options.

 Day 4 – 14.3.01 – Gabes – Douz – La Goche – 300km

Day 4 - Tozeur souvy marketIn the morning the man who had tried to sell us sheep skins returns to try and make another sell. He doesn’t realise we have a News Zealand sheep farmer in our midst and consequently doesn’t make the sale. Back in Gabes we buy frying pans and olives in the medina (market) and continue onto Duez, which is apparently the ‘ultimate palm oasis’ and the gateway to the Sahara sand dunes. It is also Tunisia’s premier desert destination and a tourist equivaleDay 4 - Tozeur local house.TIFnt of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls or NZ’s Queenstown with quad bikes, 4x4s, camels rides and all the tourist paraphernalia that goes with it. Not wanting to start or get involved we drive past and pull over under some palm trees at the edge of a dune for lunch. Lunchtimes sites today include a horse and a donkey being transported in the back of a pick up, palm frond fences disappear over sand dunes to designate palmeries and files and roadside mosaic tile inlaid benches. The nights camp spot is further south on the edge of La Gache. Venture into town and we find spicy sausages to accompany our dinner.

Day 5 - Tozeur mosqueDay 5 – 15.3.01 – La Goche – Algeria border – Square Bresson

It’s 13 degrees and the shower is cold but I get to wash hair this morning, I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be. In the town of Tozeaur we find crispy bread rolls and spicy tomato sauce as well as Tunisian potato and carrot salad, aubergine salad, olive oil, salami and tuna. I could get to really love the north African food. We drive past palm trees being watered by a tractor and bowser as they slowly attempt to reclaim the desert. The road sits high on the edge of the currently dried up Chott el Jarid, the largest salt pan in the Day 5 - Spud peelingSahara. Today is the Algerian border and after yesterdays failure we are slightly apprehensive but both sides are easy and we stop in the town of Dibela to get money, insurance and deal with other boring formalities. Everything is completely unrecognisable from the Algeria I remember of 12 years ago, it’s clean and modern with new apartments. We camp one km in from the main road but can still here the traffic and see the distant lights from town and various settlements. From now on toilets will involve disappearing into the desert with a spade and water for washing is limited to a couple of litres.

 Day 6 – 16.3.01 – Square Breson to El Borma – 351kms

Today wDay 6 - Warning sand sign on roade have a relatively big day driving south. The desert is warming up, it’s 26 degrees at 9am and we feed scarab beetles stale pieces of baguette at breakfast. Sand blows across the road and camels squint and snort in disgust. The sand rips through gaps in the car and cuts into our faces. Truck drivers eyes can just be seen through the slits made in their shesh (an indigo blue veil wrapped around a head like a turban and called a Tagelmust by the Day 6 - DrinksTuarag). The sand has taken over the road and is burying signposts. Today it’s warm enough to wear shorts for the first time. The car is stiflingly hot behind the windscreen but it is to windy to open the windows. At least the ML has air conditioning unlike the Unimog. The sand mats are used for the first time for the Unimog, we all know it won’t be the last. Tonight we camp in amongst the dunes with hundreds of moths and beetles. I’m locked up in the back of the Mog to cook dinner as wind the is so fierce it would end up getting into all the food.

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Day 7 – El Borma – Hauld el Belbel – Deb Deb – 169km

Day 7 - FortBeautiful drives through the solitude of the desert. We all get to wash in a well at Bir Tangueur before the start of the Grand Erg Oriental, which is Algeria’s largest erg. This massive sea of sand dune is 600km by 200km in size. The ML gets stuck this time going into our first fort at Saffatima, which was difficult to locate, even with a GPS. Lunch in a road side quarry whilst temporarily lost trying to locate the elusive fort. We deflate our tyres for the Day 7 camp amonst Barchan dunessand and inflate them again for the tarmac. Driving the road is like being on a roller coaster where the dunes are taking over the tarmac. Camp is in amongst the dunes with the old tree, shrub and hundreds of moths and green praying mantis’. Watch the sunset from the top of a dune and virtually inhale dinner.

Day 8 – Deb Deb – In Amenas – 273km

Day 8 - Side roadToday is dry. Paper is so brittle if feels as if it will break, carrots bend like plasticine and the tyres swell above normal. The road is only half drivable so we leave and drive on the sand, which feels like your in a speedboat or on a snowboard. The sand dunes are flatter than yesterday and it looks like we are nearing the end of the Erg. We drive over a dune so high that all we can see is sky out the windscreen. We get stuck just meters from the top Day 8 - north of Debdeband spend half an hour digging and trying to reverse. Today we learn to turn the 4×4 automatic car computer off and driving becomes a lot easier. The Mog gets bogged to, as does a variety of other German overland vehicles. The motorbikes have no such problems. A Landcruiser flies past us only to stop so all the occupants can get out and pray. Today’s police checkpoint is supposedly the last before the town of Djanet in the south of the country. We get given free bread from the bakery thanks to the policeman that we have given a lift to from the last road block. We end up taking him to the next road block. Camp is behind a quarry with three storks for company.

Day 9 – In Amenas – Illiza -27 – 339km

Day 9 - lunch and sandstone plugOne solitary bird sings first thing in the morning, which is a bizarre sound in the desert. The stalks give us a walk by, a yellow chested wagtail appears at breakfast, and there are purple and yellow flowers. We descend 60 meters down the Taouratine plateau into In Amenia for supplies. It used to be a small dirty village but is now a large dirty town with an airport thanks to the arrival of oil. We leave with fresh bread and seven cream cakes, wDay 9 - Illiza cream cake supplyhich Michael insisted were a necessity. I manage to stop him buying one of each type as we’d have enough cream cakes for a week if he had. Lunch is by a sandstone pillar at the bottom of the plateau full of sediment and lots of fossilized coral. We are now near Erg Bouarhary, which is interspersed with flat gravel plains and oil rigs with vents ablaze. Camp behind a small black cliff but possibly still visible from road.

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Day 10 – Illizi- 27 – Illizi + 212 – 245km

IllizDay 10   Oued Tadjeradjerii is a big down and we stock up with food and take a visit to the patisserie. Their are Tuaregs and tea houses everywhere. The road south past the old fort is excellent new tarmac and we start a journey across the Fadnoun Plateau accompanied by dunes and big trees. We find water at Oued Tadjeradjeri and get to have a well needed wash and get some laundry done. Their is a lot of black sandstone caused by erosion and heat and camel dung, acacia trees and Day 10 - Canyon south of Illizi campyellow flowers around the spring. Lunch consists of fresh goodies from Illizi, squishy tomatoes and tinned tuna on top of the plateau with awesome views and strong winds. After lunch we drop down off the plateau. At the junction with the road to Djanet a Tuarag man ppears begging for water. A bushcamp is hard to find but eventually find a suitable place in amongst black sandstone near a canyon with minimal water.

Day 11 – Illizi + 212 – Djanet – 230km

Day 11 - Tinterhert's antelopeWe take a morning walk down the canyon and leave late and find shepherds caves, camel and goat dung, pools of water, birds and plam trees. We stop to have a look at the Tinterhert engravings. Ostrich, giraffe, lion, rhino, antelope, cows and leaping men are engraved in the rock depicting a much greener more fertile Sahara from centuries ago. Fort Gadel used to be on the main road but the road has changed direction anDay 11 - Old Djanet town.TIFd now goes through the town of Bourg El Haouard. The road from the Fort to D’janet is supposedly the most scenic in the Sahara. Today the MLs sump guard falls off on one side so we unscrew the other side and leave it behind, it’s very heavy and hopefully we won’t need it for the rest of the drive. We have eventually made it to the town of Djanet, which on first impressions is a little disappointing, ugly and industrialised. But having set up camp at the old Zaribas hotel, which has seen much better days we take a wonder around the old town and find pretty with houses built onto the hill. Tonight we have ablutions and showers.

 Day 12 – Djanet

IDay 12 - Old Djanet town wake up early to walk around the old part of town, which hasn’t really started waking up yet. White clad Tuaregs amble around, school children run out of blue doors late for school, people walk down to the new town for work. I buy bread on the way home and arrive in time for breakfast. Today we have a rest day in Djanet to organise Tassili National Park excursion, but everything seems to be closed on a Thursday. After visiting the National Day 12 - DjanetParks office and finding a car and driver we visit the excellent museum and learn lots about Tassili, National park, the paintings, art, culture and the very old cyprus trees. We have a dubious dinner in town of cold chicken and chips with salad but thankfully without any repercussions afterwards.

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  Day 13 – Djanet – Tassili National Park – Djanet

ODay 13 - TASSILI NAJJER NP - PLATEAU.TIFur excursion to the Tassili National Park means we need at early start so wake at 4.10am and leave at five, I manage to leave the breakfast at camp! Our manic local driver takes us to the base of the Plateau in 20 minutes, a second driver takes us back to town in a more sedate and safe 40 minutes. We start walking at 6am before it gets to hot and are rewarded with stunning and dramatic scenery. OnceDay 13 - Rock art - Tassili painting at the summit we walk another hour and a half to get to the first paintings which depict round headed men. Our guide, Achmed, says the depictions aren’t of Tuerag people. I’m amazed by how very different the rock art is to those in southern Africa. Erosion has destroyed a lot of the paintings but at one stage their was a whole corridor that would have been an ancient art gallery. We see five of the 233 cyprus trees that wereDay 13 -  TASSILI NAJJER NP - VIEW FROM THE PLATEAU.TIF identified and numbered in 1971. It is a hot walk down the canyon looking straight into the sun. Four Italians are camping up on the plateau completely self sufficient. It feels a bit surreal having three shesh turban clad Tuaregs sitting in the front seat of our cruiser as we head back to town. The vehicle is remarkably similar to the one that shot at us in the early nineties.

Day 14 – Djanet – Djanet + 11 – 63km

Again I happily takDay 14 - 4 METRE WIDE ANCIENT GRAVES.TIFe a pre sunrise early morning walk into town to find warm bread and Algerian bitter lemon for our gin and vegetables. Barbara and I go Tuarag cross shopping at an old mans shop and see a hedgehog sleeping in a pile of charcoal. His son picks the artisan up at lunchtime in a top of the range Landcruiser. The temperature at midday is 39 degrees. Two camel heads are disconcertingly stuck on sticks in tDay 14 - Djanet + 10 camp  & carshe market, we decided not to use that particular butcher. Leaving town we head for a massive stone grave on the side of a hill, it’s very impressive. We are joined by an Austrian couple who are also heading north and have asked if they can join us for a while. We are happy for some extra company and safety in numbers. Tonight’s camp is just 11 kms out of Djanet in amongst some sandstone outcrops. The Algerian bitter lemon works wonderfully with the gin.

Day 15 – Djanet = 11 – Below Mt Tazat (2165m) – 206km

TDay 15 - TOUISTS & MT TAZAT-.TIFoday we finish driving down the plateau and as we do so the temperature drops from 25 degrees to 23. Their is an entrepreneurial mobile green grocer loaded with pumpkin, potatoes and oranges and we buy some of his goods to lessen the load. Later on we get lost in a village and ask an old Tuareg for directions out. The only shade in the whole village is being used up by 3 camels. As we drive of, hopefully in the right direction we quite amazingly see three antelope pronking there way acrossDay 15 -  Mt Tazat & Dunes the horizon. Lunch is in the shade of one of the few acacia tree. Two Tuaregs an camels approach us and after a conversation with abstract sign language we give them two disprin as we think that is what they were asking for. They look very happy and meander of into the vast space of nothing. At bushcamp finding time we split up to find camp and end up taking a huge detour around the edge of the Djebal Adrar Soula and Mount Tazar. I’m not sure how we located each other again, but in the end we camp by small sand dunes on the side of an old piste (road).  Strangely there are vultures near by similar to our ‘palm nut’, the German literal translation is ‘dirty’.

Day 16 – Mt Tazat – Granite Rocks – 184km

Day 16 - Granite rock campIn the morning our vultures return to perch on top of the nearby dunes. With the use of GPS we arrive at our turn off mark 1km short of the village which we are all super impressed with as the way-point was calculated from a 1 in 1 million map. What did people do before GPS, battle with the stars, sun, compasses, or perhaps just ask a passing Tuareg, which is what we had to do yesterday. As we sit having tea and inputting GPS information we watch Day 16 - Granite rock camp 2a mirage develop. Later on in the day the two GPS’ weren’t as accurate as before and we zigzag across the desert skirting around each other and catch up with each other near three huge tombs at the end of the Toukamaline plateau. The afternoon’s piste was much better than this mornings, we reach reasonable speeds and don’t get lost. Camp is in amongst granite rocks with antelope footprints, a solitary dragonfly and bird.

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Day 17 – Granite rocks – Amguid -80 – 181km

Day 18 - Erg Amguid Camp  (2)Today’s piste changes firstly to narrow tracks through rocks, where we see dorkas gazelle before opening up onto a huge amount of nothingness. We temporarily loose the Austrians and meet with them again before the end of the day. We have tea in the Iguelmamene river under Acacia trees and find a nice graded road at the tip of Mount Gara Tindi (1677m) where we stop for lunch. The fort has great views of the mountain and the surrounding vast plains of nothing. Sadly the afternoon’s piste deteriorates and has lots of corrugations and dust. We bump into yet more German speaking Swiss people who are also exploring the Sahara, they are definitely the predominant tourists in the desert at the moment. We opt to take the old piste as driving on the rocks is a bit like being in Namibia in the old days, our speed drops down to 30km/hr. Camp is near small dunes next to a pretty river bed with dorkas gazelle footprints.

Day 18 – Amguid – 80 – Pass north of Erg Amguid – 144km

  Day 18 - Erg Amguid Camp  (3)Today’s start is slow and we drive though area that looks like an old grave yard with lots of small circles of piled up stones. We see yet another abandoned fort on route where we stop for tea where we watch a sand dust devil sweep across the savannah. We bump our way over rocky terrain at 15 to 20 kms per hour but later in the day get very excited when we actually manage to get into fourth gear and decide to treat ourselves by using cruise Day 18 -  Erg Anguid camp & carscontrol, it didn’t last for long. We struggle to find a bush camp out of the wind and with any cover and end up on a vast flat plain. After we’ve eatedn we see car lights coming out of the gorge a long way of in the distance and turn all our lights of and pretend that we’re invisible. It is therefore a bit of a shock when two soldiers come round the side of the vehicles with torches blazing into our faces. It was so windy we hadn’t heard them approaching and they’d obviously dimmed their lights the same time as we had. Four other soldiers with AK47s to join them. We all sat not really sure what to do or say. Eventually after some strained attempts at a French description of whey we are there they leave. None of us move for ages as we realise how vulnerable we are in this vast area that we know little about.

Day 19 – Pass north of Erg Amguid – Bordj Omar Driss -40 – 219km

Day 18 - Erg Amguid Camp  (1)In the morning I climb up a rocky type dune for amazing views across our campsite and the vast gravel plains. We drive off and stop at the end of the gorge to look for old settlements and are lucky to find pottery, flint tools and hollowed out sand areas which could be ancient hearths but today there are yellow flowers in amongst the depression. At the junction of the In Salah road there is a very flat and wide piste and we manage to get some good Day 19 - Bordj Omar Driss rock layersspeeds. In the afternoon a nasty sand storm blows in. Windows go up and the air conditioning gets turned on and we are unable to stop for lunch because of the severity of the wind. The sound of the sand on the windows is louder than the car engine. The temperature before we enter the storm is 40 degrees but drops to eight degrees once inside. Eventually we climb out of the reg (rocky desert) and the worst part of the storm onto another plateau. There is so much sand and wind that we eat inside the Unimog, the temperatures could possibly be described as cool.

Day 20 – Bordj Omar Driss -40 – Habbi Bel Guebbour + 15 – 153km

Day 20 -  Hassi Bel Guebbour star dune camp Before breakfast we all go looking around the camp for fossilised shells which seem to be abundant. It’s hard to believe that this area was once an ocean. Thankfully today the wind doesn’t pick up until 9am. We hit the Bordj Omar Driss tarmac, go through the police road block and arrive in town. There are shops, a hypermarket and a Tuareg sales man with two spectacular silver teethin town. Having stocked up with supplies an overly friendly policemaDay 20 - Star dune @ Hassi Bel Guerbbourn wants to take us to see an old fort, the military look like they are using a newer one. In the afternoon we stop near some hot springs for a lovely wash and the first laundry since Djanet. We discover that the tension bracket for the compressor on the Unimog is broken and Algerians working for BHP fix it for us. The vehicles get filled with fuel and suddenly I realise how shabby we look after 3 weeks in the desert when four Landcruisers pull up and out comes a fashion parade of clean people in matching camouflage and go-faster sunglasses. We camp amongst star dunes and find fossilised wood on an evening walk happy in our communal grubbiness.

Day 21 – Habbi Bel Guebbour + 15 – Hassi Messaoud – 60 – 153km

Day 21 - Dune camp E of Hassi MessaoudAfter a lazy morning we leave at 11:00am as we need to kill time so that we can do bank and fuel at Hassi Messaoud and aim for the 1:00pm armed convoy from Hibbi Bel Guebbour. Somehow we manage to get our times wrong and don’t arrive till 1:10 and consequently miss the convoy and have to wait for the 3:30pm one. There is so much sand flying around in the air that we can’t feel the sun even though it is 24 degrees. As we kill time waiting for the next convoy swallows scoop within feet of our heads. At 1;45 five Landcruisers come flying down towards us from the road camp up ahead. One comes to a screeching stop just in front of us and and army man with a big moustache asks if we want to leave now, which obviously we do. Our little group hits the road as the army man drives at speed past us never to be seen again. The convoy finishes after 80km and we see electricity, centre point irrigation and a Total garage on the outskirts of town, which is all very bizarre for us after weeks of quiet desert travel. We can’t drive of into the desert on the east side of the road as there is a massive oil pipe running up the side of tit. As we drive of into the sand on the right the MOG gets stuck and we have to let down her tyres again. It’s very strange, and not particularly pleasant, to be so near to civilisation again.

Day 22 – Hassi Messaoud -60 – Touggourt +45 – 292km

Day 22 - TOUGGOURT - ARCHEITECTURE.TIFWe re-inflate the tyres after we get back on the tarmac and head for Fort Belhirane, which was used by the Algerians as a prison up until 1998, pictures weren’t allowed. Hassi Messaoud was very busy compared the time we visited on our southbound leg of the trip. Thankfully the female bank teller speaks fluent English. Shopping treats involve lots of vegetables, baguettes, olives, spices, very expensive coffee and shot glasses to drink tea out of. We have an over indulgent visit to the patisserie and lunch out of town on olives, tomatoes, baguettes and lots of cake, again. There’s bushes with small purple flowers everywhere, such a change to our normal eternal sand-scapes. A man selling desert roses from the back of a post Landcruiser and Day 22 - TOUGGOURT - WATER WELLS.TIFthere’s lots of grass huts, shepherds and children who we give water to. They use old truck inner tubes as water bladders. Just outside the town of Touggart rather bizarrely everyone seems to have a stuffed lizard for sale and there are lots of large plastic animals, palm trees and camels everywhere. Crystal finds desert roses on a toilet break out of town, maybe we should go back and tell the Landcruiser salesman of our find.

Day 23 – Touggourt +45 – Enter Tunisia – De Gache – 214km

Day 23 - TOUGGOURT - CHILDREN.TIFToday we need to sand mat the vehicles out of camp much to the interest of four local children and other observers. Even though out camp is in the middle of nowhere people still seem to find us, which makes going to the toilet in the morning rather tricky. There are lots of palm groves around, palm fronds are stuck into the sand to try and stop erosion. En route we stop for very strong, sweet tea Day 26 - KAIROUAN - Butcher).TIFserved in our newly acquired port glasses, which we decide to accompany with a box of shortbread. The café is opposite a school and soon get overwhelmed by inquisitive children. The proprietor try s to deter there interesting by throwing lots of sand at them. Lunch is again near a palmery and this time round we see a much more touristy side of Tozeur. We look at a possible campsite in town to stay at but it looks more like a German caravan park and is surrounded by loud restaurants. Return to Gache we don’t fare much better, although we’d rather have the tourists and children than the distorted restaurant music.

Day 24 – De Gache – Matmata – Gabes – 317km

ToDay 24 - MATMATA - BERBER LADY -  (1).TIFday we need to restock with Tunisian money, baguettes, olive and beer and tp pay a visit to the ‘Magazin General’. Lots of tea is consumed in a cafe amongst lots of brick buildings, tiles, horse drawn carts and tourists on bikes. The tarmac road back to Matmata is now finished. At Matmata we visit the Sidi Driss Hotel, made famous in one of the Star Wars films. The original set remains in the bar and restaurant area. After a few beers in the famous bar, and having watched the tourists come and go, we succumb to tourist inquisitiveness and stop at an underground dwelling and take a tour. The home is supposedly 300 years old and has a 20 meter long corridor, where there is a bread baking area. The electric and gas stoves are for some strange reason housed in a bedDay 24 - MATMATA - BERBER LADY -  (2).TIFroom. Returning to Gabes we are this time shocked to discover that there are street lights, railway lines, roundabouts, clock towers, big shops and sharp dressed men. Even though the modern town is a bit of a shock to the system the hot showers are pure indulgent luxury. The restaurant from our previous visit serves up an equally spectacular meal as it did three weeks ago.

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Day 25 – Gabes – El Jem – Kairouan + 8 – 300km

Day 25 -  EL JEM - AMPITHEATRE FROM THE DUNGEONS - 3.0.TIF  Last nights local disco went on till 2am, which reminded me yet again that ear plugs are such a wonderful invention. I take my normal early stroll around looking for fresh bread for breakfast. Afterwards we all head into town to shop for halva, rugs and vegetables. The market is abuzz with Berber women and is full of henna, fruit and vegetables, butchers, live chickens, sheep and stDay 25 - EL JEM - AMPITHEATRE, INSIDE VIEW OF ALL LAY.TIFuffed camel parts. There are horse drawn carts carrying palm wine and pick-ups full of olives, sheep and cows. We stop at a beach with stalls of bizarre art work, colourful fishing boats and poor housing with posh hotels next door. There’s a pizzeria’s next door to a butchers with full sheep carcasses hanging up outside. The flys and sites from the butchery put us off the idea of having a Day 25 -  EL JEM - AMPITHEATRE WITH MOON THORUGH ARCH.TIFpizza. Eventually we get through town and have lunch in an the quietness of an olive grove. At El Jem we all visit the ancient Roman amphitheatre complete with dungeons, terraces, stairs, arches, seats for the poor. I manage to ignore the annoying touts by watching a beautiful full moon rise through one of the forts arches. After our historical update at El Jem we head to Kairouan to look for a campsite but fail fail. Instead we head out of town and find an excellent bush camp in a very friendly mans olive grove.

Day 26 – Kairouan + 8 – Hammin Lif – Tunis -23 – 300km

  The noDay 26 - KAIROUAN - HOUSE DOOR (1).TIFise of working tractors wake us up. Today’s fresh baked bread rolls come courtesy of the Austrians, how could they have kept these pre baked packages of perfection from us for so long? Returning to Kairouan to look around and park in the grounds of the Continental hotel, which is full of very flash tourists. The security guard appeared to feel very sorry for us in our month old clothes and dust filled cars, we didn’t look like the normal tourists that popped in for refreshments that’s for sure. The souk which was fantastically diverse and I could of spent all day there. You could buy absolutely anything there. Numerous women wore cream veils, and men had red fez’s perched on their heads. We bought artichokes, strawberries, fruit and the obDay 26 - KAIROUAN - Arab ladies.TIFligatory olives. There was a huge diversity of treats for a Saharan chick that’s been eating tins and packets for weeks. On the way out I indulge in chips and freshly squeezed juice. We drive to Hamnet Lef and amazingly find a campsite still functioning in amongst the chaos. It’s just a 100 meters to the beach and across the bay we can the white buildings of Tunis in the distance. The smell of pine needles reminds me of home, which sadly we are nearly at. The afternoon is spent getting the vehicles ready for Europe, relaxing and catching up. We have 2 bottles of wine, Austrian chocolate biscuits and Tunisian sweet cakes amongst other novelties for dinner. The adventure is sadly nearly over.

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