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Borj el-Hissar

by Tara

Since Tyler has been busy working for basically every free moment of every day while we wait for my replacement wheel (more on that soon), I've decided to plan little excursions for us so we don't tire of the same routine. I love reading our guide book and planning each day's route. For today, I thought it would be fun to cycle to the Roman fort of Borj el-Hissar and back; only about 30 kilometers round trip.

First we cycled to Sidi Fredj, the only "resort town" on Kerkennah. It is too sleepy to really be called a resort but we didn't mind at all. We stopped at the pier to admire the beautiful views, riding all the way to the very end just for the fun of it.

Tyler & Bikes
Sidi Fredj Dock
Colorful Fishing Boat

When we reached the end of the pier we met a really nice guy named Abdallah who was helping a friend with his boat. After a bit of conversation, we asked him about going on a boat ride, and he agreed to take us! With plans set to meet up with him the next morning, we continued on to the fort along a rocky, sandy dirt track for another two kilometers.

Tyler at Borj el-Hissar

Arriving at the fort, we set our bikes down and climbed the ancient steps. We knew (from Abdellah and our guidebook) that there was a "guardien" or keeper of the fort, but we didn't know he would be so outgoing! We had just climbed the steps when we heard "Hello!! Come here! Come on, over here! Hello! Hello!!! I just made tea!! Come have tea with me!!" Whoa. And so we walked over and met the "guardien."

Tyler and the "Guardien" of the Fort

In a tiny hovel smaller than some American walk-in closets, lived the man who looked after the fort. Two mattresses (no sheets or covers) took up most of the room. In what little space remained was a small table for making tea and a bench for visitors to sit on. There were some dried herbs hanging on the wall along with and an old calendar.

We never did get the guardien's name for some reason, but we definitely got to know him quickly. Within the first few minutes we heard about his sex life (always a give away for the crazies) and learned that he had lived in this place for seventeen years working as the guard.

The man has a wife and family that live in the nearby village, but he doesn't see them that often except for when his wife pays him what, by his description, sounded like conjugal visits. Like Ali Baba and the men of Re del Po, there was something a little nutty about this guy, maybe due to a life of solitude guarding a small Roman Fort?

Despite his weirdness, he was kind. Immediately as we arrived he treated us to homemade tea which he had brewed in a silver teapot heated over a gas burner. It was fun watching him pour the tea from a great height, the stream of liquid entering the glasses perfectly without any spillage at all. He explained that the tea was not mint (unlike most tea around here) but was instead some herb that grew wild nearby. He stirred spoonfuls of sugar from an ancient crusty jar into each glass before handing them over to us and another young man who was also visiting.

Heating the Kettle Pouring Tea Tara Drinking Tea at Borj el-Hissar

The tea was surprisingly good! The man told us the name of the herb in Arabic (which I promptly forgot) but I have no idea what the plant was. It tasted slightly like Chamomile. Any ideas anyone?

Herb for Tea

Tyler actually liked it (he hates tea) and so we stayed for another round before wandering around to explore the ruins. As far as Roman ruins go, they weren't the most impressive, but we were mostly there to "get out of the house" and have a cool experience. Success!

Borj el-Hissar Steps

The way home was another trek across sand and gravel. It was really good practice for me, as I don't generally like going "off road." By the end of our excursion, I was getting pretty good at it. Armed with many tips from Tyler, mainly "DON'T STOP PEDALLING!" I didn't fall once in the many patches of deep, soft sand. I was riding unloaded but it was a good confidence booster nonetheless.

Tara Riding on Rocky Sand Tara on a Rocky Road Tyler Riding Across Kerkennah Tyler Riding through the Palms

Before making it back to Remla, we passed tiny little villages, donkey carts, and sheepskins being cured with salt drying in the sun. Women chatted in the street and men worked on repairs for their ancient scooters. Another great day in paradise!

Dream House Salted Sheep Skins Kerkennah Tractor Village Women Kerkennah Villager Remla Home

Here's our cat of the day:

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I'm sure they have the same tea in the desert in Morocco. You have to be a bit careful with it. It can make you want to run to the toilet if you have too much or if your body just isn't used to it. I forget the name but I remember also thinking it tasted a bit like chamomile and it looked the same as your picture.
Posted by Friedel on December 9th, 2009 at 11:29 PM
12/10 How good to talk with you this a.m. Will try again now that I get the knack. Love ya both GM
Posted by Anonymous on December 10th, 2009 at 7:10 AM
The quality of the chai is the biggest thing I miss about Iraq. Nobody in the States, ie Starbuck types, makes it the same as those guys. Their chai doesn't have the same spices (way too much vanilla), plus they make it too sugary sweet.

I know when I asked my Iraqi counterpart where they got their tea from, they said India. All the tea came from India. Unfortunately that doesn't answer your question, but I did find this info about chai that I hope you can use to help answer your question! =)
Posted by Mike on December 10th, 2009 at 7:20 PM
Thanks for the info, guys! We still can't figure out what it is, but the ideas are appreciated!

Grandma - It was nice to talk to you, too! We love you!
Posted by Tara on December 11th, 2009 at 6:36 AM
the plant is thyme (Zaatar in arabic) :)
Posted by Wided on September 2nd, 2013 at 8:08 AM
Wided - Thank you for solving this mystery for me! :D
Posted by Tara on September 12th, 2013 at 10:19 AM