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Out of the Orange Grove

by Tara

I lay awake on "high alert" for most of the night, listening to the surprisingly busy traffic, and keeping my ears perked for any sounds of the gate creaking open. When the alarm went off at 5:00 AM, I immediately sat up and began rousing Tyler so we could begin a swift packing job. I was more than ready to be out of Mohammed's orange grove.

It was dark when we left our tent, pitch black but for a sparkling spray of brilliant stars and the passing yellow beams of fast-moving semi trucks. Everything was wet with dew and condensation, our panniers covered in tiny reflective beads of water. Tyler wheeled our bikes through the dirt over to a pole for them to lean on, and we ferried our belongings over, stowing them in our panniers as quickly as possible. It didn't seem likely that Mohammed would pay a visit so early when it was still completely dark, but we didn't want to take any chances.

Finally we were ready. We opened the gate and slipped through unnoticed, crossing the busy road and hugging the gravel shoulder. And we began to walk. The further we got from the orange grove, the better I felt, and when we decided we were safely "out of range" we leaned our bikes up at an abandoned roadside restaurant and sat down for some breakfast of leftover crepes to wait for sunrise. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the eastern skies brightened, illuminating olive groves, closed restaurants, and dilapidated homes. When it was bright enough to ride safely, we hit the road and didn't look back.

5:30 AM First Light

For only having had about two hours of sleep, I felt surprisingly alert. It was good to have the crisp early morning air blowing in my face. We passed through the nearby town of Enfida, where men were already beginning to congregate at cafes (we wonder what they do for a living?) and children began running around (do they go to school?). We passed a train station which was engulfed by a giant field completely covered with garbage. Workers swept the sea of litter into several crackling fires, the smoke from which combined with their frozen breath creating a surreal misty scene against the hazy pink backdrop of morning sky.

Bikes & Tunisian Landscape Tunisian Landscape

Out of Enfida, we had only one road to follow all the way to Kairouan. We listened to music and enjoyed being able to quickly cover ground on such flat terrain. We passed the occasional village, and roadside vendors selling tacky, glitter covered, air-brushed pottery. Biblical-looking families tended to their sheep. Women and children climbed olive trees to pick the fruit by hand (unlike in Italy where the fruit was collected in nets). Our ride passed quickly, and before we knew it we had covered the 67 kilometers to Kairouan. It was only 11:30.

Tacky Pottery

Riding into the fourth most holy town in the Islamic world, we were feeling distinctly un-spiritual. No sooner had we rolled up to a hotel to ask about prices, than a man on an ancient scooter followed us to the parking lot and began to tell us that we were going to wrong way to get to the medina and the great mosque. He could guide us there—for a fee, of course. But we knew exactly where we were. We didn't want to see the medina or the great mosque and we certainly didn't want to give the man our money. We just wanted to be left alone. Raw from our creepy experience with Mohammed, frustrated with many people's seeming agenda to eek money from us, and running on very few hours of sleep, we were not polite with our response, to say the least.

Finally the man left us and we went inside to ask about prices. We hadn't been free-camping for days and days on end, we weren't feeling particularly dirty, and we hadn't been assaulted by rain—all of our usual reasons for checking into a hotel. We simply wanted to be left alone, safe from any run-ins or uncomfortable experiences. It's sad, but we felt like we couldn't trust anyone. We steered clear of anyone who looked like they were coming towards us, and we ignored anyone who tried to talk to us, doubtful they'd be interested in any conversation more meaningful than a hard sell. And I ignored the kisses, hissing noises, shouts, and hand gestures from Tunisian men.

We just wanted to be alone.

We paid our money, opting for a nice hotel where our bikes would be secure, rather than a run-down looking hotel where a sheep market was in full swing in the parking lot. We pushed the two twin beds together (though we had asked for a double), cringed at the broken toilet and lack of hot water in the shower, and tried to decide what to do.

Finding food trumped any irrational plan to "hop the first ferry out of Tunisia" so we set out in Kairouan to get a late lunch/early dinner. What we found just down the road was a huge relief for us—it was a typical Tunisian restaurant serving pizza and sandwiches, only this one was good. It was clean, the waitstaff was friendly and competent and not overbearing. Most importantly, there was no one harassing us outside to come in and eat there.

Tyler's four cheese pizza didn't automatically get sprinkled with tuna (they sprinkle it on everything) but instead started as dough, rolled by hand, covered in cheese, and then baked in a wood fired oven. My chawarma sandwich was a home-made bun filled with freshly grilled meat seasoned with rosemary, and a dazzling array of freshly prepared vegetables. The fries were recently-sliced potatoes delicately fried in oil and flavored with spice. It was so good! We both realized how much we've missed good food since being here!

Chwarma & Frites Four Cheese Pizza

After dinner, we wandered around town for a bit looking at the metal workshops and bloody butcher shops, glad we had eaten where we did.

Hanging at the Butcher Shop Butcher Shop Cow's Head Metalwork

Feeling much better, we walked back to our hotel and worked on journals until I literally fell asleep mid-sentence at the early hour of 6:30. Tomorrow we plan to go for a walk around town before heading to the coastal city of Sousse.

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"Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the eastern skies brightened, illuminating olive groves, closed restaurants, and dilapidated homes. When it was bright enough to ride safely, we hit the road and didn't look back." or book? Absolutely beautiful. For a moment I was there :)
Posted by Naomi on November 25th, 2009 at 9:33 AM
Last year when Rebecca and I went to India for the first time, there was one day in particular when the high-pressure sales culture go so bad that I completely exploded.

I can deal with sickness, bad weather, being lost, hungry, stared at and all the rest of the normal travel inconvieniences... but that point when you can't trust anybody anymore... when all the locals just treat you like big walking moneybags. That is the only thing I've ever faced that has almost ruined an otherwise awesome trip for me.

Here is our post about a similar day: (my name for this comment links to this page)

The thing I feel worst about is that the only way I know how to deal with that particular cultural difference is to make myself very callous, and I really hate being callous. So I feel like the only options I have are be myself and be miserable, or be a meany-head and deal with a little bit of guilt every night as I'm drifting off to sleep. :-)
Posted by Kirby on November 25th, 2009 at 3:59 PM
Naomi - Thank you! Some parts of the trip are so easy to write about because they were incredibly intense-- that was one of those times :-)

Kirby - We're getting better at dealing with it everyday. And surprisingly we've been getting fewer and fewer people treating us like walking wallets! Maybe it just takes practice? But yeah, it sucks being mean to people :-(
Posted by Tara on November 27th, 2009 at 10:03 AM
Ran into your parents in Mexico the other day, so dicided to look at your page.. Execelent Photos!!! Reed and Ellen Knackstedt Alaska
Posted by Reed on November 29th, 2009 at 7:57 PM