Thursday, January 21, 2010

Road trip around Tunisia

Business at the camel station is slow now, so Mounir and I went on a road trip. It was such an amazing time.

First we spent a day in the small Bedouin village of Sabria, about 30 minutes from Douz. Stopped at a French fort - about 100 years old. The setting around the fort and Sabria is stunning. White dunes of sand all around.

The village of Sabria itself is now my favourite village around South Tunisia. It is like going back in time, camels and goats resting around stone houses and pens, amidst beautiful date palms. There are two marabouts beside the village as well.

Just before leaving, we met some boys who each had a desert fox for a pet. I stopped and held one of them - wow - the problem is that now I want one!!!

We spent most of the week in Tunis - I shopped at the large 'superstores', Carrefour and Giant, so I could get some much needed food supplies for my house, ate at some great restaurants, and enjoyed the city. I am getting to know Tunis better and now know of some nice restaurants, and am better able to drive in the city.

We took another route back - some of the smaller highways, in order to see the Roman ruins at Sbeitla. Amazing still intact temples. So worth stopping. We didn't stay long though, because it was SO incredibly cold!

There are two photos of the 'illegal' "gas stations"; people selling Libyan gas. Although it is technically illegal, the government closes its eyes, because these families survive on this income. In some places on the highways there are miles of these stands of brightly coloured plastic cans - sometimes lit up from behind, like a carnival!

On the way back home, we stopped at "THE" best barbeque roadside cafe for barbequed lamb. From the photos you can see that you get VERY personal with the lambs! There are many roadside cafes like this. The first time I ate at one, I was shocked, but the animals here are treated way better than the west...

Just before getting back to Douz, we were on one of the back highways in an incredibly beautiful part of Tunisia - red rock mountains - I could imagine dinosaurs roaming at one time. We were just in time for a beautiful sunset. A wonderful way to end a wonderful vacation. Enjoy the photos. Remember you can click on them to enlarge.
Love Juanita

Friday, January 1, 2010

Festival of the Sahara and potpouri

I was all prepared to ride in the 42 kilometer marathon in the Douz festival. But as the days neared the festival it became clear that I wouldn't be able to this year.

When I bought Mabrouk, my Algerian Toureg racing camel a week before the festival last year, he was quite thin. So, for the past year, I have increased his diet, and he became plumper and stronger. One of the signs of a healthy camel is the size of their hump, where they store fat.

In November, I went into the desert for five days to practice racing Mabrouk for the festival. But several times, the saddle slipped off and I almost fell off. This was very scary for me, as your butt is over 6 feet off the ground. A fall could cause a lot of injury, especially riding fast. My confidence in my saddle, and my riding ability was fading. I couldn't figure it out, and neither could the guys. So, I stopped riding him, and was very discouraged.

When I got back, my friend, Fathe, a professional racer, tried racing Mabrouk, and the saddle fell off for him too! Well, we finally figured it out. When most camels gain weight, their hump looks like an upside down "U". But Mabrouk's hump looked more like an upside down wide "V". There was not enough room in front of the hump (where racing saddles sit) for my saddle anymore. We tried a training saddle, which is a bit smaller, but it was so uncomfortable. It is homemade, and the wood post pressed very hard on my crotch, and hurt in a few minutes - I couldn't imagine sitting on this for 42 kilometers - around 5 hours!

So the good news was that I understood what the problem was, and that it wasn't me. The bad news was that I couldn't ride in the much awaited marathon. Although extremely disappointed, at least I know it is not me... I will get a special saddle made for me and Mabrouk in the next month or two. Inshallah, I will ride next year.

So, in the festival, a young boy named Osama rode Mabrouk in the short race - 7 kilometers, just to give him some practice. It was the first race for both Osama and for Mabrouk! Osama is very small, so the training saddle was okay for him. Mabrouk didn't do very well. He didn't know Osama, and it was his first time. After a great start, Mabrouk got confused and ran in another direction! (he is trained for camel dancing) But I am proud of him anyway!!!

Enjoy the photos. They are of Osama and Mabrouk, and of Fathe racing his camel Casper (Mabrouks friend) in the race! I couldn't get any of Mabrouk in the race as he never did complete it! There are also other photos of the festival.

Then, there are photos of my friends (notice how the baby, Sabah's legs are "swaddled" - babysitters are non-existent and the women work very hard and babies can't be tended to all the time). The last photos are of the henna I had done the other day! It is the traditional pattern that women here do before weddings, or 'just because'! Enjoy, and happy new year!

Love, Juanita