In central Tunisia this morning, it felt like spring was in the air. Tara was excited, snapping photos of the delicate little buds in celebration of the coming season. Here is her first "flower hour" of 2010.
Shortly after 2PM, the outstanding weather we'd enjoyed for the first half of the day rapidly devolved into the most horrendous wind storm we've seen since the nearly unridable gusts we encountered in southern Italy a few months ago. In a matter of minutes we'd gone from casually cycling at a steady pace of 20kph, to fighting with all of our strength just to stay upright and moving forward.
As the windy onslaught increased in intensity, it began to carry with it a healthy dose of sand from the fields nearby. It wasn't long before it felt like we were riding into the business end of a bead blaster. Though it rendered us nearly incapable of cycling, it was, in relative terms, a very minor sandstorm. I cringe to think what a real one must be like in the desert!
Unwilling to quit so early in the day, we struggled through the invisible wall before us. Stoically pedaling for over an hour in gears usually reserved for climbing mountains, we surrendered at the 50 kilometer mark. Just off the road we took what we thought was refuge behind the outer walls of an abandoned building.
I set up camp while Tara made lablabi for dinner. With the tent up, I retreated inside so I could get to work on some unfinished programming projects. As I started, I felt a dry sprinkle blow across my face. Confused, I looked around and noticed there was a light dusting of super-fine sand on everything. Unsure exactly how this happened, I blew the laptop off and wiped down the surrounding area. Immediately after, I felt another wave hit my face. Somehow, the whirlwind outside was blowing sand under our rain fly and through the mesh roof of our tent!
Very annoyed, and worried we'd be all but buried alive by morning, I threw our sand-covered belongings out of the tent so I could pitch it on some firmer, less sandy ground. This proved to be a truly terrible idea. Soon the wind incomprehensibly picked up even more, blowing fiercer gusts all around us. Now we were standing in a cyclone of sand, barely able to hold on to the tent at all, much less stake it down.
Overcome by a sense of urgency to have our tent pitched NOW, I tried in vain to hurry when the tent poles popped apart. This ultimate slap in the face somehow occurs every time we have a difficult camp-making session.
Orange and gray nylon flapping in the gales, I went briefly insane. I threw down our now collapsed tent and ran away hysterically into the nearby field, waving my hands in the air, blowing off steam like a crazy person. After a few seconds, I regained the ability to form a coherent thought and returned to our disaster area of a home.
Working together, we continued hopelessly trying to erect our tent. Every time we got two or three corners secure we'd discover at least one of the stakes was unsinkable. The ground was too hard, the sand was too loose, the rocks were too many, or we were actually standing on a piece of concrete. At one point, one of our stakes broke in half, which we didn't even think was possible given their hefty nature. When this happened, I cursed the skies and vowed never to camp in Tunisia again.
We did finally manage to get our tent set up, and the new location was blessedly, sand-blowing-in-the-tent free. Safely in the sleeping bag, nerves deadened, we recounted the two or three terrible camps we've had in nearly 300 days on the road. Laughing at the memory of former hardships, we tried valiantly to do the same about the one we'd just overcome.