The original idea had been to meet Hyeonseok (HS) about 10-15km outside of Tunis to avoid a detour to his place, but as he had no way of getting in touch that seemed a terrible idea. While in Tunis I had picked up a SIM, my only time travelling with a phone other than Peter’s in Mexico and C’s in the US. It was mainly to hopefully continue to make some money while I travel, but also meant I could actually call people! Revolutionary. So, with HS having confirmed that he wanted to ride together, I decided to spend the night at Adel’s place before we left. When I arrived, I found that the Brazilian guy, Ricardo (R), had decided to come along too. He had been backpacking before, but Adel was very kind and would let him borrow not only his bike but everything he needed to bike tour. I tried to have a conversaiton with R (who speaks OK English when he’s not trying to overcomplicate things) about his hopes for the trip but he had no answers for any of the questions I asked trying to work out the logistics a little. HS, having been on the road for a year, could easily explain his travel style to me and so the two of us came up with some ideas. The plan got as far as that we would head south, avoid the coast and thanks to Adel we had a destination for the next day as his friend, Dr Chaker, lived about 70km south.
Leaving didn’t go as quickly as I’d have liked. I was all packed other than my laptop, and using it while waiting for R to get ready. Maybe he thought that with my laptop out that I wasn’t ready or he was just dawdling, but things did seem to speed up when I put it away. I fiddled with my bags, and found I had a 2nd Tunisian flag, after Yassine had given me one during the tour, and so I gave it to HS. He asked me to pin it on the back of his jacket, a perfect example of his light-hearted nature that I’d see as we rode together for the next couple of weeks.
Leaving Tunis was pretty uninspiring riding, no surprise as it mainly involved riding through the sprawl south of the city, for what felt like ages. Thankfully however after that we ended up on small roads, with almost no traffic mainly going past olive groves. Our first stop was in a small village, where R went to buy some fruit and got overcharged – but still seemed happy with the oranges he got. We then noticed the orange tree, and so R helped HS climb up to pick some. It wasn’t until peeling one, and taking a first bite, that the deception was realised. It turned out that they were mock oranges, used for perfume and not food – not so delicious.
One highlight on the route was the archeological site of Uthina. It involved a detour but R wanted to go, so we followed. 3km later, when it turned out that it was free for me (thanks UNAM student card) but $4-5 for him R decided to sit around while I walked around. The most impressive part being a ampitheatre, which HS & R got to nip in briefly as the guard wandered off to go to the toilet and they made the most of his absence.
On the outskirts of Zaghouan, I got my phone out and called Dr Chaker. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. Being 3, I thought it seemed a bit much to hope to be hosted, but a chat and a cuppa sounded good to me. 10 minutes later, Dr Chaker turned up in his car and we followed him up the hill to his house. Upon arriving, we had the chat and a cuppa, and then were told that it would be better for us to put our bikes inside. We had an invitation! His daughter and wife spoke the best English, but they were struggling with R’s accent so it was down to me to do the talking. There was mention of a bike ride the next day to visit a local area, and after mentioning it to HS & R we accepted. The details weren’t clear, but it would involve us getting up around 5am to get there on time. Dr Chaker and his elder daughter would be going, but they’d drive with their bikes on the back of the car.
Up at 5am, 107km riding without bags with a bunch of local cyclists, a police escort and special couscous. A fine day, but in no way the rest day I had been expecting!
The next day we got to visit Zriba which used to be a Berber village, but was abandoned about 30 years ago as the government ‘persuaded’ people to move to the nearby town instead to have a better life. A fascinating little place.