I’m going with bullet points.
- The weather got toasty, leading to HS saying how we were finally in Africa – because Africa is always hot apparently.
- We stopped in a town for lunch, went to a stand and got some small bread things as it was all that was on the menu. The owner did however mention if we wanted, we could go into the market, buy some things and he’d cook them up for us. We weren’t hungry enough, but what a nice man!
- The day ended early because R got a rear puncture. We tried to fix it 3 times but it kept failing again and so as we were right by an easy camping option (so many olive fields, so easy to camp) we just pulled his bike and bags into the field and set up camp.
- HS loves fire. His normal stove failed back around Turkey so since then has been just making regular fires to cook his dinner.
- HS also loves cooking, and makes delicious noodles and pasta.
R had said he’d wake up early to get the puncture fixed, but that didn’t happen and so after another hour of waiting and the puncture still not being fixed we came up with a new plan. Hitch a lift. R seemed to think it’d be best with all of us together, but finding a lift for 3 seemed a terrible idea and so myself and HS continued on by ourselves. R had plenty of hitchhiking experience, that’s how he’d been travelling for the previous few years, and although he didn’t speak any French or Arabic it was only 40km to town and so he’d be able to get a lift in. I set off with HS, half-expecting to see R go past us in the next stage, and especially when we stopped for breakfast. Having not seen him go past by the time we got to Kairouan HS was a little concerned, but I figured things would work out.
The city of Kairouan is usually super touristic, but as in Tunis we found almost nobody who wasn’t a local. We had a series of people trying to sell us carpets, which Kairouan is famous for, and got invited in for tea and local cakes, but unluckily for them we bought no carpets – even though HS was very tempted by the smaller ones. We sat around by the main mosque, where a couple of hours later R eventually met us. He had made it to town, but still hadn’t got his bike sorted out, so after asking for directions we got a group of kids on their way home from school who escorted us to a bike shop where we got a new pair of tyres and tubes and finally R had a functional bike again.
HS normally wild camps, but was happy to try my talking to people method. We got to a town and asked a group of men who were standing round drinking coffee, and they explained a place to us that was a little bit out of town. We thanked them and headed off, but got a bit confused as we didn’t seem to find what they had suggested. Luckily, a few minutes later a scooter turned up with two of them who had come to direct us. We followed, and they turned off down a dirt road, parked 10m away from the road and pointed at the floor. Their idea was literally to camp next to the main road. We thanked them, and they left, but there was no way that was a good option. Even if nothing would happen, it’d be far too noisy.
Thankfully, we were near a house, and so using my broken Arabic to say “We have tents. Can we sleep?” got us a positive reaction and the owner jumped in his car, drove 1km to a nearby lot and let us in. Before he left he asked something about food, and I said yes. I wasn’t sure if that was the right answer, but it definitely was when 30 minutes later he turned up with a big bowl of couscous for us to share with the security guard who shared his floor with us.
The next day involved more of the above. R thought that his spokes needed adjusting, as the wheel wasn’t perfectly straight, even though HS and I told him that it wasn’t important and was causing no problems. We arrived into a small town, and found a bike shop. Well, bike shop meaning a man who had seen a bike in his life before and fiddled with the bikes of the children in town. When we explained he needed to adjust the spokes there was another worrying sign, he didn’t have his own spoke tool and would have to go and borrow one. HS again told R that it was better to not do it, but R had made up his mind and this guy was going to play with his spokes. I disagreed with him, but if he wouldn’t listen to our experience then that was his choice.
30 minutes later, when we were trying to ride out of town, R realised we were right. The ‘fix’ had caused a problem when one hadn’t existed before and the wheel was now rubbing. R wanted to go back to the shop, but there was no reason. The guy hadn’t messed up intentionally, he just hadn’t known what he was doing. At the minute we had a wheel that rubbed. That could be fixed by disconnecting the relatively-unimportant rear brake. If we went back, if we were lucky we’d waste time, if we weren’t we’d end up with a wheel that was not rideable.
That evening when looking for a place to stay, someone standing outside a café greeted us and as is my wont, we stopped. A coffee later, the owner, a man called Mohammed invited us to stay at his place which we of course accepted. Mohammed spoke English, but his family didn’t, so he called ahead to explain and tell his brother to meet us part way – as he lived about a 2km walk down a dirt track. I got to speaking to Mohammed as we walked towards his house, and he said that he was inviting us in because he not only liked to practice English, but also because he wanted to combat people’s negative image of Islam by showing that Muslims weren’t terrorists – something that none of us believed anyway. His family treated us wonderfully, sharing food, tea and their home with us.
The next day, we were riding a little separated. HS was going slower, because the day before, when forced to take evasive action because of R’s cycling, he had hurt his foot. Arriving into a small town I was waved over and for the first time in Tunisia was invited for a coffee from the bicycle. For me it showed the advantage of cycling alone, as I think those kind of experiences happen much more when you are alone. It happened again just after the town, when riding by myself I was waved down by a group of people working in a pumpkin field who wanted to share their food with me. I ate a little, and then HS turned up to eat some more, and finally R – reminding me of the dwarves in The Hobbit. After eating, we gave them a hand by loading manure into their sacks for a fair while – something they were rather surprised by!
That evening we once again asked outside a house about the chance to camp, and after first putting our tents up and eating couscous together we were invited in by the neighbour who gave us more couscous. We were watching TV when there was a knock at the door. The police were outside the house and were telling us we couldn’t stay where we were and had to move to Matmata, about 20km and up a hill, a tourist destination in the area. They weren’t there for a discussion about what we thought, and so when I tried to talk to them about it I was told that it was for our safety and lets go. R tried refusing, and said to them that they were being dictators but they thankfully chose to ignore his comment – something I was unable to do.
Our bikes and bags were put into the back of the truck and we were driven to a hotel. I was in a foul mood, and when we got up to the hotel and had checked in R kept trying to talk to me even though I had no desire to talk to him and let him know so. He spoke about how we had to communicate and wouldn’t shut up until I shouted at him in Portuguese to do so. After a while, I calmed down enough to be willing to speak to R and let fly at him for what he had said to the police and his general attitude which had been annoying me (including his refusal to even learn a single word in French, as he was more bothered about learning German, which meant I had to translate for him all the time). I half-expected us to split up, but he wanted to keep travelling together and so we agreed to.
Outside Mohammed’s house