Mediterranean Cycopaths

Salamma Tunisie!

23rd January 2007

We left Sfax with our eyes firmly set firmly on Gabes, 140kms down the road.  It was a hard slog along a poorly surfaced, single carriageway road (Tunisia’s #1 Highway!) and with a strengthening headwind we had to fight tooth and nail for the last 50 clicks.  The following day we cycled to the Island of Jerba, a 100km journey broken up by a short
ferry ride.  We spent 2 nights here in the main town of Houmt Souk, before cycling a further 133kms to the Tunisa/Libya border at Ras al-Jedir, where we arrived a day early to meet our Libyan contacts, neccessitating a night in the tent, allowing me to reflect on our time in Tunisia…

The reception we have received throughout the country has been remarkable.  From suited man to shepherd, border guard to barbar, every person has acknowledged us with a smile, a wave or a guess at our nationality via a Bonjour, Grazi, Marhaba or Hello.  Virtually every driver that passed by would toot approval and wave through the back windshield. 

We gave plenty back too, with Sean ‘King of the Kids’ Smee leading the way – whether it be waving and/or smiling at them, sticking his tongue out, showing them digital pictures of themselves, nothing was too much trouble.  The youngters absolutely loved it and if they weren’t running or cycling to try to keep up with us, they would stick out there hands for high fives as we rode by.  Cycling past school bus stops was nothing short of hazardous.  The phrase ‘two dicks’ doesn’t
even begin to describe it.

The landscape and architecture (some of which have provided settings for movies such as The English Patient, Star Wars and Life of Brian) is amazing and we have heaps of great pictures.  The diverse scenery from the bike saddle ensured we never got too bored – if there wasn’t camels, flamingoes or oil refineries to marvel at there was never a dog too far away to nip at our heels.

The arid environs and abundance of Eucalypt trees also made us feel quite at home.  In fact, as I write from the tent at Ras al-Jedir, I would almost expect a kangaroo to appear if it wasn’t for the minefield 100 metres to the East.

Salamma Tunisie! All going smoothly, we will return in five and a half months.

Jon

P.S. Until the fully fledged version of the website is up and running, you can view the pictures here www.flickr.com/photos/46593233@N00/

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January 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Olive and Well

19th January 2007

As we continue our journey southwards the visual scenery persists – a reliably blue sky meets golden sun-baked soil with olive groves as far as the eye can see in all directions. It was in one of these that we spent our first night camping.

This site was one of comical contrasts; visually magnificent with the tent nestled under the branches of an olive tree; audibly offensive as our cactus barrier did little to buffer the traffic noise from Tunisia’s primary highway a mere 100m away – a clear underestimation on our behalf.

Tunisia’s sights are delightful and varied – from the white sand beaches of Hammamet, the Islamic fortress of Sousses’ old city to the mighty Roman colleseum of El Jem – everyday provides the opportunity to imagine a life from civilisations past.

With only three days of cycling and near enough 300km covered our muscles are satisfactorily stiffening, our comical tanlines commencing and our bums suffering a continual dull ache…

With 2 more long days ahead before a well deserved rest on the beaches of Jerba I leave you from the labyrythine alleys of Sfax’s untouristed medina (old city) with an entertaining faux pas from the usually culturally sensitive and well spoken big fella:

Jon: “Does breakfast include bacon?”

Hotel Manager (with incredulous expression): “Sir! Do you not know which country you are in?”

Jon: “Oh, oh yeah. How about ham?”

Sean

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Moving Start

18th January 2007 

Our first day on the road and as we departed our Tunis’ hotel, leading our gleaming, full laden bikes to their destiny, Sean sprang a little surprise on me by producing a slip of paper and proceeding to recite a passage he had come across that encapsulated his thoughts in relation to the challenge we were about to commence… and it went a little something like this:

‘So many people live within unhappy circumstances yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. 
The very basic core of a mans living spirit is his passion for
adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun’
(John Krakeur)

It was a special moment (although totally unbefitting the dingy alleyway we were in – surrounded by cats clawing at filthy, stinking food scraps) and I appreciated the sentiments.  I was just about to high five him when I noticed that my front cog gear shifter was bent and hanging perilously.  As soon as I attempted remedial action, it
snapped off completely in my hand, effectively reducing me from 27 gears to 9 in the blink of an eye.  Not a great start. 

Fortunately the 70 odd kilometres, Hammermet, were
pretty flat, so I was able to ride on the biggest cog the whole way.  We made pretty good progress, only stopping once when Sean had a flat tyre (which occurred in front of a military base, officials from which were pretty keen for us to move on, even sending out a mechanic to help in the final stages of the repair).

On arrival I teamed up with some local tinkermen to rig up a new gear shifter. 2 Dinar for the parts(!) and a hefty tip for the boys – Shokran, shokran! (Thank-you, thank-you!).  Let’s see how long it lasts.

Jon

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bar Brawl & Team Tension

17th January 2007


Leaving nothing to chance we decided to spend Day 1 readjusting to the prescence of sunlight. When finally granted reprieve from the merciless golden orb we were left pondering the merits of indulging in some local brew given the near disaster of yesterday’s drinking session. Due to the gravity of the situation we turned to a time honoured method of guidance – whereupon in a complex 2 stage process subsequent flips of the coin not only indicated the seeking of a bar but also the added stipulation of a ‘local’ rather than the westernised options that lined the main avenue.

 

Whilst whetting our palate and surveying the decor (lots of tiles, national football team memrobillia and a photo of a grotesquely obese naked lady) we began to sew the seeds of some friendly Aussie / Tunisian interaction. Alas some small altercations that were being played out on the fringes of the long bar room soon transferred to our environs when one would be friend offered us a view of the pavement by attempting a double armed scrum maneouvre with the aim of rapidly forcing our exit (all of this occurring as we attempted to imbibe brand new bevvies – surely the ultimate international insult !). Quick thinking bar staff rapidly escorted us to a far corner, ensuring any escalation in the fracas would necessitate us fighting our way the length of the room to escape. Other divergent offers by would be friends included a brothel and the chance to save humanity.

 

During some final packing later that evening vastly differing notions of team play were exposed. Whilst one member of team cycopath struggled to fit the tent into his bag it became apparent that the other had violated a pre-departure gentleman’s agreement. Whilst not comprehensive, a list of some of the offending items follows :

 

1. Extra pair of shorts (‘but they’re my favourite’)

2. Extra stripy shirt – soft to the touch (‘but it’s my favourite’)

3. Bottle of aftershave (‘but it’s my favourite’)

4. Tube of moisturiser (No comment required)

 

As if serious doubts about a partner’s personal character were not dilemma enough on Day 1 of a 6 month expedition, I was forced to consider contingencies for an Arabian toileting protocol that did not appear to include provisions for post movement clean up. This was of particular concern given the dubious chances of my stomach holding all the roadside ‘treats’ it had ingested. Thankfully a quick mental scour revealed 2 satisfying alternatives to toilet roll and I was able to re-focus my concern on Jon’s character flaws.

 

1. Joint expense ledger (Sean clearly in arrears)

2. Extra stripy shirt – soft to the touch

 

Ma’Salamma!

Sean

January 26, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Arrival in Tunis

16 January 2007 

After a long time planning and preparing, we finally began our trip on Monday 15th of January, taking a flight from London to Tunis. We arrived at Gatwick with plenty of time to spare and had our first win when we managed to escape any excess baggage charges. A win is a win and we were finally on our way so we decided to slip into the bar for a celebratory drink and a quick bite to eat.  Somewhat predictably, we lost track of time, and it wasn’t long before we were making a mad dash to the gate as our names were called over the public address system – We were literally 30 seconds away from what would have been a very embarrassing and costly delay to proceedings.

On arrival in Tunis there was the inevitable scrummage for our custom from the local taxi fraternity, however we were forced to negotiate with the only bloke who had a taxi van big enough to fit our bike boxes.  A fee was duly agreed but, of course, that didn’t stop the guy trying to pull every scam known to man during the short trip.

After an uneventful night, today we have re assembled our bikes, packed up the paniers, toured the Medina and also made an enjoyable excursion to Sibi Bou Said, a charming seaside town nearby. 

Our fingers are crossed for good luck with the bikes, an inauspicious start for me (Jon) today when I blew a valve simply trying to re inflate a tyre after the journey from London…

We had blue skies today and great cycling temperatures, so hopefully that continues for tomorrow when we hit the road for the first time, aiming to complete a relatively short 70k trip to the resort town of Hammermet to begin with.

Cheers,
Jon

January 26, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Due to technical difficulties with easily.co.uk, I (Frances) have quickly started up and moved the contents of the Cycopaths site over to this wordpress build, kindly hosted by WordPress.com. I will shortly be updating the site with all of the relevant information and the latest news from Jon and Sean!

In the mean time, please do go and visit Fred Hollows Foundation at www.hollows.org, who are our supported charity more details on how to donate will follow.

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment