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Olive Grove Angels

by Tara

Somehow, after nine and a half months on the road, we still wake up excited about a new day of adventuring—even when just the night before, we cursed the skies and wondered why the hell we were out here at all. We just want to ride our bikes, eat, and sleep safely at the end of the night! Today, we got our wish. Nothing broke, there weren't any fierce, sandy headwinds to keep us down, and we were able to cycle just shy of 100 kilometers without any difficulties.

Tyler Working

This particularly long day (for us) was inspired by something Tyler said last night as we struggled with the wind, the sand, our tent, our emotions, and our attitudes. In frustration, he declared that he would "never free-camp in Tunisia again!" but I knew that unless we made it 96 kilometers to Kairouan in one day, we would be forced to set up our tent regardless of how much we desired the tiny twin bed and lukewarm shower we'd find in a hotel. In the countryside among the boundless fields of olive trees, there are hardly towns big enough for a stall of fruit, let alone a hotel or youth hostel.

The first 25 kilometers flew by. When we stopped for our first break in the shade of an abandoned building's porch, I refueled on my favorite snack: JUICE! I used to drink small boxes of this highly sugared, tropical fruit cocktail but I've upped the dosage in what Tyler now jokingly refers to as my "juice fix".

Tara the Juice Obsessed Tara the Juice Obsessed

We both greatly enjoyed the easy road and sunny skies today, finally feeling as though we were really moving after our month "off". We even had a tailwind! As kilometer markers flew by and I noticed Kairouan was only 71 kilometers away, I thought why not go all the way today? At the rate we were going we would get there in the early afternoon, successfully avoiding a repeat of the night before! Always motivated by the promise of a known destination and indoor bed for the night, I was excited and explained my idea to Tyler.

Tyler, who is usually the one to propose a 100ish kilometer day, enthusiastically agreed. Regaining faith in our legs and our bicycles, we pedaled at our fastest maintained speeds ever—close to 30kph all day. I listened to my iPod, strictly playing cheesy fast-paced dance songs as we flew past olive groves, wide empty fields, and stall after stall after stall selling chilies and homemade harissa. Unfortunately I had just purchased a jar so we had no need to stop and buy any more; I'm sure they would have been much better than my store-bought supply.

Roadside Chili & Harissa Vendors

Just outside Kairouan we were taking a break under the shady branches of some roadside trees when Tyler had an inspired thought. If we were able to get to Tunis in two days, we would be able to take this Saturday's ferry to Sicily instead of waiting another week! This would mean another two really, really long days. Knowing how much Tyler wanted to move on, and curious to see if we could actually manage this marathon race to Tunis, I warily agreed.

Tara in the Shade

Leaving our rest break, I was having some severe second thoughts about this plan. It would be great to move on so quickly, but oof. Two more 90+ kilometer days, one of which involved picking up a package my parents sent to La Marsa AND making our way to the ferry port the same night to sail off to Sicily? What if we ran into brutal headwinds again? Aren't those squiggly lines on the map mountains crisscrossing our intended path?

The whole idea was beginning to sound pretty awful, but I was inspired by the thought of ripping open the package my parents sent us sooner rather than later. There would be a new jacket to replace my old one (the zipper is busted so it won't close), a bottle of MAPLE SYRUP, precious vials of vanilla and almond extract, and a wifi finder! With these thoughts in mind, I convinced myself we could do it, even though I really prefer to go at a snail's pace.


During another required snack break, two women emerged from a field of olive trees and came over to talk to us! Lately, when we see a man approaching, we cringe a little, hoping he won't try to sell us something, beg for money, hit on us, or use any number of other unwanted conversation starters. Seeing them making their way across the street to where we were sitting was a sight for sore eyes. We haven't connected with many Tunisian women!

The smiling, outgoing ladies invited us to eat our snack near them, and were very excited about the possibility of getting their pictures taken. Hurriedly finishing crumbly bites of crackers, we pushed our bikes over to meet the rest of their group. They didn't speak French and we didn't speak Arabic, but we had a great conversation by enacting elaborate charades with one another.

Joyous Olive Pickers

Meeting these woman (and the one, very quiet man who was with them) lifted our spirits immeasurably. We learned that they had practically no possessions, that they sleep in the olive grove together, and that they were scavenging for the fruits overlooked in the harvest in order to make their own olive oil. The women were so joyful that their lifestyle seemed like a veritable slumber party amongst best friends rather than the difficult struggle that I would imagine it to be.

Joyous Olive Pickers Tara & Olive Pickers Olive Pickers Olive Pickers

When we started snapping photos (as they had requested!) they were simultaneously excited and shy, giggling as they dragged their friends into the picture. They were self-conscious for a moment about their tattered attire, but we thought they were beautiful. We were pretty dirty ourselves and acted out funny scenarios about our own smelly clothes. Eventually one woman warmed up to modeling so much that she began to dance for us!

Olive Picker Dancing Olive Picker Dancing Olive Picker Dancing

The pride, joy, and sense of community these women exuded was inspiring. With our hearts brimming over, we hit the road again, finishing our 96 kilometer ride to Kairouan. As we climbed the steps to our hotel room our legs felt like jello, but we gave each other a high five, laughing and saying proudly "Oh yeah, we stiiiill got it!"

Tara & Olive Pickers Tara & Olive Picker Hug

It feels like it has been a long time since we had a cat of the day. Here she is!

Tiny Kairouan Kitty
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I am sad to report that your journal has become unreadable. Although you have done more than many - in terms of your brief travel in the majority world - your increasing negatitivty and lack of compassion for the situation of others who lack your privileged background makes me cringe. You write above, "Normally when we see a man approaching, we cringe a little, hoping he won't try to sell us something, beg for money, hit on us, or use any number of other unwanted conversation starters." Our job on the road is to work to dispel how Westerners (and U.S. citizens in particular) are perceived, not perpetuate the stereotype. Why not examine where the desperation you encounter comes from instead of only focusing on the end result? You are far away from home, strangers in a strange land. We get it. For help on locating your place in this world, try reading anything written by Simon Reeve for the BBC or get ahold of Micheal Palin's "Around the World in 80 Days". Both offer decent travel specific perspective. With all do respect.

I wish you luck on your future travels.
Posted by Anonymous on January 30th, 2010 at 12:26 PM
Dear Anonymous,

It is unfortunate that you no longer feel our journal is worth your time. Since you've clearly made a concerted effort in informing us that you'll no longer be reading, we feel compelled to share with you that we are not writing to please an audience.

We are well aware of and deeply thankful for our privilege in the world. This journal recounts one of the hundreds of overwhelmingly positive, inspiring, and humbling interactions we'€™ve had with people during our travels.

It is not your place to dictate what our, or any other person'€™s, "job" is on the road. If we were interested in "locating our place in the world" by reading books, we would be sitting in a library.

This trip is ceaselessly a challenging and rewarding experience for us. Our worldviews are constantly evolving as we travel—we are always questioning who are, what we believe, and most importantly why.

You've made several suggestions, so please allow us to make one as well. Please focus your concern on the millions of Westerners who are completely oblivious to the world around them, not on those who are earnestly exploring it.
Posted by Going Slowly on January 30th, 2010 at 4:32 PM