Maciej

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We left the hotel around 9am, grabbed some pastries on the street, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, and headed back to our car. Marie drove for the section up to El Jem. It took us about 30 minutes to figure out how to get out of Sfax. Street signs really are bad there! We finally did it though and got on the road to El Jem. In El Jem we stopped at the Coliseum, went inside and looked around for a while. There was an American guy with two girls, one of them American and the other one probably not. Both of the girls were Asian. It was like this strange parallel universe similar to the one that Xiyun and I had been in at Monastir when we saw a tall white guy and a short Asian girl walk by. This time though the guy had two girls with him.

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At a roadside grilled sheep stand.

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Roasting marshmallows over the fire. The guys running the stand thought we were nuts.

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Back on the road and with Maciej at the helm we drove north to Tunis. We discovered that it was now impossible to take the car above 110 kmph. It appears that we royally fucked that poor Peugeot over. We were a bit worried that the rental company might find out and charge us for it as they had a blank credit card imprint with my signature on it as a deposit. It took us a bit longer to get to Tunis than we had expected but we finally got there. Just as we were getting to Tunis it got cloudy and started raining. It was so appropriate for Tunis to be cold and rainy! We pulled off at a gas station to get the car cleaned. It really needed a bath to make sure the rental company didn’t inspect it too much. I also pulled off a few dangling plastic pieces from under the gar that I was concerned might peak their interest.

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We all trucked up to my place to download the photos onto Maciej’s computer. We looked at all of the photos and the videos I took of the trip. Some of them are pretty amazing.

Back in the car, we went out to the airport to return the car a few hours early. We didn’t want to be hassled with having to return it the next day or store it somewhere so we decided to return it at night. It was nice and dark and rainy when we got to the airport. We had called ahead to make sure the rental agent would be there. He was staying late just for us. We parked it in the parking lot, walked into the airport, found our man, and went back out to the car for the inspection. He looked for any obvious body damage, peaked through the window, and walked back inside! He didn’t even bother to open it up and go inside to see all of the sand all over the place! We were very lucky in that regard. I got my blank credit card imprint back, ripped it up, and we were on our way. Marie went back to Carthage to her place and the other three of us went downtown to Avenue Bourguiba. Maciej went to his place and Xiyun and I went out to eat at Restaurant Sfax. We had some couscous and lamb. After that I hopped a taxi back up to my place. It was only 830 but I was so tired I immediately passed out and went to sleep without even taking a shower. It had been a monumental trip.

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My hair in the mirror after a weekend free from washing. People pay good money to look like this!

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Finally, after several hours of off-road driving, we reached pavement. We found the correct road and headed off toward Ksar Haddada and the Starwars Hotel built in an old Ksar. We had a lot of fun exploring it while Xiyun slept in the car. She was feeling pretty sick and miserable. I was sick too but I wasn’t letting on. I still am not sure if I’m actually sick or if this horrible rattling cough and all of the snot coming out of my nose is due to the sand lodged in every orifice of my body. I think that it’s due to all of the sand I breathed in at Ksar Ghilane.

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Chenini.

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Douriet.

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Blown shock absorber.

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We decided to continue on up to Sfax for the night to give us a jump on getting home the next day and give us a chance to go to El Jem. We bought a few gazelle’s horn pastries, went into a seedy man bar for a coffee, and then headed north toward Sfax.

The whole region of Tataouine had been cloudy as we drove through it. It even rained on us a little bit. The weather really started getting crazy as we went through Gabes. I could swear it was snowing! It was certainly cold outside and the way the precipitation was falling it certainly resembled snow. Even the splatters on the windshield looked like snow! It just seemed so crazy though! Finally we decided it was snow and put the thought that it was snowing in the desert out of our heads. We experienced every single type of weather on our trip to the south. Sun, rain, wind, snow, sand, fog, everything!

In Sfax we parked outside the medina and went into the medina to a hotel that Maciej knew about. It was a pretty decent hotel, much better than the one that Xiyun and I had stayed in before. We settled into our rooms and quickly fell asleep. I was pretty tired from waking up at 530 and never taking a nap or anything until about 11pm! I slept right through until about 8am when I finally woke up and got up. My shoes were still full of sand. I poured some of it out into a plastic bag that I’ll take home with me. Sand from my shoes from the Sahara!

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We jumped on the road heading toward Benni Kadech and blasted down the gravel road. It was a much less sandy road for the most part. We tootled along happily, not passing a single land rover or for that matter any other vehicle. We encountered several patches of sand which we easily traversed but finally came to one that did us in. This time there wasn’t any Tunisian military around to help us. Remembering my sand training from previous trips to the desert, I pulled out my leather gloves and started grabbing handfuls of a small shrub growing all over the desert. It was woody and made a good roadbed for the car to drive on. We made about 10 feet worth of track for the car to drive on to get up speed and get out of the sand. Marie jumped in the car and floored it while the other three of us pushed from behind. Once up on our roadbed, the car took off and shot through the remaining 100 feet of sand and to safety. That was the last real bad patch of sand we encountered.

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Maybe another 30 minutes beyond our sand encounter we started smelling something like gasoline and felt an odd feeling from the rear left of the car. I got out and took a look under the car. The shock absorber was completely blown out, leaking fluid everywhere that smelled like gasoline. Good thing shock absorbers aren’t critical pieces of cars! We hopped back in and continued on toward the Tataouine district of the country.

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