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Motorized: Part 1

by Tyler

Yesterday, as we boarded our louage to Douz, it occurred to me that the used, run-down scooters we've seen everywhere in Tunisia couldn't be very expensive. As we sat down for the two hour journey, I jokingly mentioned to Tara that we should buy one. We laughed and talked about the "crazy" idea for the entire ride, smiling broadly at the prospect of owning our own each time we passed a scooter slowly tootling along the shoulder of the road.

During our ride we met Giovanni and Lorenzo, two really sweet Italian guys who decided to vacation in Tunisia only five days ago. Fresh off the plane, we helped them secure a room in our hotel, as the others were either completely booked, or filling fast for the festival. They didn't know there was anything going on in their intended destination of Douz, so the news came as a pleasant surprise!

Lorenzo & Giovanni

Halfway there we stopped at a small rest area to stretch our legs and buy snacks. Tara took a picture of this cat sitting in a sunny spot on a chair by the window.

Rest Stop Cat

By the time we arrived in Douz it was practically decided. Come hell or high water, we were going to buy a scooter and ride it around Tunisia for the next few weeks. Before we went to the festival we did a cursory check, asking around about where we might find a used "mobylette" and how much they generally cost. The answers came mostly in the form of useless, disbelieving looks or assurances that it would be difficult or impossible to find one. There are literally hundreds of these things laying around in every village and city center. I was certain there was one, no, several for sale somewhere in Douz!

Sure enough, after about twenty minutes we managed to find a shop willing to talk with us. First, they tried to convince us that buying a new scooter for 1,600 TND was our only option. Tara (who translated all of the communication for this endeavor) firmly insisted we wanted a used scooter, an old scooter, one more like this (pointing to a nearby scooter that was falling apart).

Realizing we were serious, they offered the very machine Tara had pointed out. I took the abused Motobecane for a test ride and it died three times in three blocks. The throttle stuck, the front end was falling apart, the brakes barely worked, the rear tire was bald, the tail light was missing and the glass for the headlight was gone. Their asking price: 300 TND. When we balked and requested to see something else they went back to their tack of trying to sell us a new one. We declined and left for the festival, happy in the knowledge that a scooter existed in our price range (albeit in terrible condition).

Tyler Riding Scooter Tyler Inspecting Scooter

On our way home from the festival it was getting dark but we decided to try again, hoping to find something a little less rickety. After being sent away from several repair shops we asked a man sitting near a hardware store if he knew anywhere we could purchase a used mobylette. For a moment he hemmed and hawed and then led us down the road to where his own scooter was parked.

It was the same make and model as the one I'd ridden earlier but in much better condition. He would sell it to us for 400 dinar, no less. We tried several bargaining tactics but his price was firm; he hadn't been intending to sell it until two crazy Americans showed up asking to buy it.

I gave it a cursory inspection and when he consented to a test ride I zipped up and down the block on the sturdy (relatively speaking) machine. To the man's seeming surprise, we agreed to purchase it if he would fix the completely broken front brake and assist us in getting a seat for Tara. He was willing.

Tyler Trying Motobecane Mobylette 88

Suddenly my stomach was full of butterflies. My crazy plan was fun to imagine but just like the moment before we purchased our tickets to Scotland, I was having major second thoughts. Was this a good idea? Would I be able to navigate the crazy traffic, keeping Tara safe? Would the scooter fall apart, overheating or failing 40km down the road?

As a thousand what-ifs raced through my mind, I realized we should ask at least one more important question: Was this even legal? What would happen if we were pulled over? There was no license plate, no title, no registration; nothing whatsoever linking us to the mobylette in any way.

The man was unsure but after consulting a few friends they concluded we needed to get insurance. We weren't sure if that was possible, and the assurance company was closed for the day so we all agreed to rendezvous the following morning to finalize the details.