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Motorized: Part 3

by Tara

Purchasing a scooter in Tunisia is easily the best decision we've made here. Having a rusting, rattling Mobylette of our own has created a genuine trust not normally found between tourists and locals. Suddenly the fact that we are white and obviously foreign doesn't stand out so much.

Instead, the first thing people notice is that we ride and love our ancient rickety scooter just as much as they do. We fuel up just like everyone else, waiting for a man to pump the ubiquitous pre-mixed red gas into our scooter's fuel reservoir, one liter at a time. We too wheel our broken machine up to the mechanic's shop, joining in with men young and old as they take apart their motorized dinosaurs and put them back together again.

On our final morning at Hotel Pansea, this situation is unchanged. Many staff members come to introduce themselves and talk to us, having heard through the grapevine that we arrived on a mobylette. Not only did we drive it all the way from Douz, but the scooter is ours. For some reason the fact that we didn't rent one, but rather purchased it outright, garners even more respect. They come almost shyly at first and then open up, telling us a bit about themselves and their lives. "Are you the ones with the scooter?" they ask with a what seems like a little awe reflected in their voices.

Tyler and I both cherish these encounters. While other guests know these men only as waitstaff who bring them their overly-priced bottles of wine, we get to know them as people. One of the sous-chefs in the restaurant tells us fondly about his own Motobecane, and then upon hearing we were American, tells us a story about a friend who visited the US.

Hotel Pansea Chefs

One of the waiters proudly shows us his black scooter, and the head chef tells us that he has "the exact same one" as us. "I had to search for three months to find mine" he excitedly shares. "They don't make them like they used to. The newer models just don't compare, with all of their plastic parts. People are starting to realize that and are coming back to Mobylettes like ours!" Everyone we speak with tells us we've gotten a good price and should have no trouble selling it.

Hotel Pansea Staff

Leaving Hotel Pansea, we wave goodbye to all of the friendly staff and hop on Habib for the ride through the oasis. Tyler pushes through the bits of rock and deep sand, but we ride most of the way back out of the palms and into the tiny desert village. Needing to refuel with gas for two-stroke engines (a mix of gasoline and oil), we are dismayed to find that the first place we stop doesn't sell any. The next station we pass, just a few hundred meters further, normally sells it but they are completely sold out and won't receive another supply until 4:00 in the afternoon.

Station Essence

We can't wait until four since we aren't willing to ride at night, but we also can't afford another night's stay at Hotel Pansea. Feeling hopeful, we return to the hotel to see if we can buy/siphon gas from one of its scooter-loving employees. Instead they direct us down the road to a cafe by the hot spring.

The man who greets us is a really nice guy named Mohammed. We tell him our plight and though he has reserves of regular gas only, his friend who runs one of the 4x4 rental agencies enthusiastically agrees to help. He quickly hops on a 4-wheeler and drives off while we sit with Mohammed who loves practicing his English and French with us.

Gas-Getting Guys

A half an hour later, Mohammed's friend returns with a water bottle full of motor oil. He mixes it with their reserves in the proper proportions and within minutes we are presented with three 1.5 liter bottles of two-stroke friendly fuel! We fill Habib's tank and strap the extra bottles to the back, grateful we now have enough fuel to reach Douz. We try to pay them for going out of their way to help us out, but they refuse to take any more than the fair going rate as they wish us a good journey. Amazing. Mohammed and friend, thank you so much for your help!!

Desert Road Desert Sky Clouds & Camels

Well fueled, we hit the road around noon. Tyler drives for about forty kilometers and then we stop to rest, giving Habib's motor a chance to cool off. When we are all ready to go again, Tyler lingers behind, indicating I should straddle Habib, and then saying "Scoot up! It's your turn to drive!" Tyler tried this once before while riding his very large, very heavy, very fast motorcycle and I was not a fan. I screamed and protested during the entire perilous ride (but did very well, according to Tyler).

The thought of driving Habib is a different story. There is no clutch to worry about, basically no speed (a good thing, because there are also basically no brakes!), and of course it's a much smaller machine. Tyler shows me how to run with the scooter, my thumb flicking the starter lever until it sputters to life. While the machine is idling, I hop on and grab ahold of the handlebars. I rotate my right wrist back towards me, giving it some gas.

Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride Tara Learning to Ride

Habib awakens from his listless idling, and oh so slowly begins to move forward. Finally, he picks up speed and though I am only going about 35 kph it feels AMAZING to be riding something motorized. Immediately loving the experience, I am quickly frustrated that I cannot flick my wrist even further to make it go faster! I can now easily see how it would be REALLY fun to go REALLY fast. It's not exactly "going slowly" but I can't wait to learn to ride motorcycles when we get home!

Tara Learning to Ride

I drive with Tyler as my passenger for the next 40 kilometers until we reach the end of the pipeline road. The rest of the ride passes uneventfully, save for a very strong headwind that cuts Habib's normal speed down to half. Inching along at 20 kph instead of 35 or 40, we think at first that there is something wrong with the motor. We both have a good laugh when we realize it's just the wind.


After leaving so late and going so slowly, we arrive in Douz just as the sun is setting. Before checking in at Hotel de la Tente, we stop to see Ahmed, the man who sold us our scooter. Once again he is baffled that we went all the way to Ksar Ghilane and back on his former mobylette. Tyler and I joke that he stays up at night kicking himself saying "I could have traveled!" but we hope he is happy.

Ahmed & Friend Cool Sunset