Tunisia

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What does it mean to be a modern explorer?  To wade through this sea of misinformation and report back home what we find.  This is the age of fake information, an overabundance of truth and deception alike.  The rise of ego over god.  The age where we think we know the world but we really don’t.  And we are encouraged to find mastery, but the mastery is masochistic, where the conscious mind becomes buried in illusions, and the blind think they can see.
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We got off the boat in Tunis somewhat in a state of tribulation.  We hadn’t seen it ourselves but apparently Tunisia had been in the news lately.  The country apparently was a little “unstable”. or “in a state of transition”.  Somewhere in the back of our minds, we both new that our agitated state was due only to the perfunctory reaction of hearing several people tell us to be careful.
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But it is a great paradox that to carry fear and act afraid is a less furtive way of attracting danger than to go blundering and smiley faced into a difficult situation.
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At customs we had to dismantle our bike and send it part by part through an enormous machine, gasoline canister and all.  A young Tunisian man on the boat with a maturing beard and and friendly smile kept us up until 2 in the morning asking us questions in the slotted shadows beneath the staircase where we were sleeping.  He invited us to stay with him and we had to negotiate our five day invitation down to two days, which was extremely difficult.  He didn’t speak any English but discovering Rasham’s Philistine ancestry elected to speak to us in Arabic.  And Rasham dutifully translating what she knew spent most of the night glued to her Arabic dictionary trying to decipher what he said.  However it turned out that the universe had other plans for us and we never ended up staying with him.
A woman shopping in the medina in Sousse

A woman shopping in the medina in Sousse

His older friend who stopped by, a balding man from Sousse explained to us in sweeping hand gestures and bulging eyes how Rasham needed to teach me about what the Jews were doing to the Palestinians as if I had married one with no inkling of where her family had come from.  Allegedly the Jews (Israelis) recently captured a Palestinian woman who was pregnant, cut out her child from her belly and shot it in the street.
In Tunisia the heads of animals are often hung outside of butchers shops, most cows but also camels and sheep.

In Tunisia the heads of animals are often hung outside of butchers shops, most cows but also camels and sheep.

Americans don’t know about these things he explained, because the American government supports the Jews and Americans only watch American news.  Slipping our way out of the political conversation I showed them my Iranian visa as if to explain that I wasn’t completely ignorant of what is happening.  It was only later in Tunis his disposition became clearer as we learned that in Tunisia news stations from all over the world are available.  Perhaps watching stations from the Arab world, the US and Europe side by side would certainly illuminate a serious misunderstanding for the situation of the Palestinians on behalf of the American news.
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But as I have learned over and over again, to discuss politics is a futile practice.  Why illuminate our differences when discussing matters that affect life and death?  All people believe in love and kindness or are moving towards it.  We make our decisions on how to move forward based on our understandings gained so far, which necessarily, are all different.
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‘I always said, life is like an exam, the only difference is you don’t know when the exam will end.   What you are doing,’ she said, ‘is the real tourism.  But to do what you are doing you have to have the health, the time, the courage, and a little bit of money,’ she laughed.

‘Traveling is good,’ she said.  ‘I travel,’ she said, ‘not like you, but in the garden, in my head.’  

‘It is good to see,’ she said, ‘many people see but they don’t really see.  But to really see that everything, from the smallest to the biggest, we have to understand that things show as the power of God’

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Emna’s mother left us with these parting words and some fruit from her garden; oranges, mandarins and bergamots.  We met Emna by running into her friend Arafat, and he had found us cloaked in darkness, confused and lacking strength, on a dusty street corner in Tunis the day we arrived.
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With a smile he handed us his book. one of only a few possessions he had with him, a tale of his journey by bike from Istanbul, through Iran and Afghanistan to Beijing written in French.  Arafat has 33,000 followers on his Facebook page Tabba3ni.
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From there he found us a place to sleep with Emna’s parents and took us, weaving through the evening traffic to meet her.
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And it was yet another gift from the universe, that, debarking the boat on the Tunisian shore we, possibly the only bike tourists in Tunisia had run into Arafat in an obscure part of the city, possibly one of the only Tunisians to have cycled across Asia.  It is with this divine providence that I, an atheist by traditional thought, continue to become familiar with by way of traveling.
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And so we are out here deconditioning our minds, reconditioning our bodies, sleeping outside, eating food that people grew in their gardens, accepting kindness and following the sometimes illusory hand that has guided us here today.
A praying mantis surfaces from the depths of my handlebar bag.

A praying mantis surfaces from the depths of my handlebar bag.

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Tunisia is a country in North Africa.  It is home to approximately 11 million people, and recently had a generally non-violent revolution.  Tunisians we have met have described the state of affairs as ‘a lot of waiting’, ‘a humorous revolution’, and unanimously a confirmation that no matter who is in charge, not that much really changes.  Yet upon further investigation, there have been some changes.  Although the economy is suffering and the country lacks steady leadership, the ability to congregate and talk about politics has improved.
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Our second night in Tunis, Arafat and Emna took us to an unmarked door.  In small letters “Private Club” was written in French near the doorframe.  A security guard outside let us in and took Emna and Arafat’s IDs from us.  Upstairs several bleak rooms were filled with smoke and groups of Tunisians sat around tables drinking beer.  A stressed waitress ran around taking orders and delivering beers.  There was no pretension as the beers were set on the bare table.  It was just a place to sit and drink alcohol.
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We talked mostly with Arafat for some time.  Few words were said.  The real war is in class struggles.  Burning man, true anarchy, to create a society without law for a brief period,the human need to follow, to be led, following the heart.  Gifts and coincidence from the universe.  Death.  It is strange to find the same sort of people as ourselves but from a different part of the world.  As if there are the same roles to play in each society no matter how a culture manifests itself.
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How should one live?

‘For instance,’ Arafat said, ‘about a month ago I took a bottle of water from the fridge and took a sip.  It had a very toxic chemical in it and I almost died and spent two weeks in the in the hospital recovering.  So danger is all around us.  when we are called back we will go.  I actually do not recommend biking through Afghanistan for you.  But if you want to, then do it!
We went over the map of Tunisia; “When you get to this area,” he said, pointing to the south western part of Tunisia bordering Algeria, “Beware of strange invitations.”
“By strange invitations what do you mean?”  I asked
“When the strange comes to you, you will know.”  He said
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The next day, Emna dropped us off in town and we got to wander around Tunis without our bicycle.  The food in Tunisia is delicious.  Fresh fruit juice is a specialty, sweetened with dates.  Dates, dates and more dates, bread, veges and all varieties of sandwiches and wraps.
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We begin our trip in Tunisia by cycling around this large proboscis south of Tunis.

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Our second evening we push our bike far up a gully.    There was semblance of a road of cracked and worn stone and hoof printed dirt.  It seemed remote but there were still a few shepherds herding goats sheep and cattle in the surrounding hills.  In North Africa it seems there is always someone somewhere watching from amongst the trees.   They don’t move so you can’t see them.
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We set up camp amongst the distant noises of animals from the surrounding hills, sheep and dogs.  Rasham has bought several bunches of Fennel and is washing them with one of our water bottles.  After a few hours we have eaten and it’s grown dark.  It seems that the dogs around the valley are barking exceptionally loud.
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It was then that we heard a number of voices, at first we tried to remain still but as they grew louder it became clear they were coming for us.  I got ready to come out of the tent, but before I could get out, one of the men was inside.  There must have been at least ten of them.  I wasn’t sure what they were or what they wanted at first but there was an agitation in their voices and the air felt a little tense.  Although they didn’t speak any English the first thing we learned was that the one inside our tent wanted to find out who we were and we had to go with them somewhere.  While Rasham got out our passports and tried to talk with them I managed to call Arafat and put him on the line with man in our tent.
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It turned out he was a police officer and Arafat must have done a good job at explaining to them the situation because the mood became lighter and when he opened our passports and saw we were American he began to chuckle and called to the other men outside the tent that we were American.  There was a clamor of laughter and talking.  After he took our information he indicated we could stay there until morning and 45 minutes after they had arrived they were gone.
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After we were discovered by the police, camping became a little bit more of a concern and we haven’t camped since, in part due to what happened.  We never felt in danger, but the process of having to deal with whoever might discover us is a daunting thought.  So far we haven’t ridden through any areas that are seeing sparse human populations and so I think we will wait until we can either get someone’s permission to camp or until we can be more certain that we won’t be discovered.  It was only later in the trip that we heard from a Swiss traveler that camping outside of campgrounds is forbidden here in Tunisia, although all the locals we have met seem only to suggest that since the revolution it just isn’t safe.
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We ride on to a town called Kelibia.  It is a friendly little town on the end of this peninsula called Cap Bon.  The sea is calm, and a large fort overlooks the town from a small isthmus.  We find several hotels that seem too expensive but finally give in and agree to pay 50 Dinars for a room.  It seems to be a lot but we are glad to rest, and there is a beautiful balcony and large bathtub.
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Almost a week later, the chill from riding through a dark rainstorm in Rome still hasn’t left me and I resolve to use the bathtub to warm up.
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The next day we decide to stay another day.  It is incredibly peaceful, large glass doors open to a large balcony overlooking the Mediterranean not twenty feet away.
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 The sunlight reflects off the water and dances across the walls of our room silently taking a million forms in an overlapping aqueous silhouette.
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We seem to be the only guests in the hotel.  Only one person seems to be on duty and it feels as if we staying in an old mansion alone.
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I take the opportunity to mend my rain pants which split down the middle.
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We cycle down to Nabeul there we find a cheaper place to sleep called  a “Pension” a term used to describe a class of accommodation just under that of hotels.  Its a small room with not much of a window but it’s all ours.  The next night in Hammamet we stumble into an amazing room for 40 Dinars (20 euro).
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 The hotel rooms are nice but they come at a price, both literally and figuratively.  Many times we find ourselves camping in beautiful locations, amongst a grove of trees or on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  I truly believe that everyone man and woman has the right to wake up to something beautiful,  being one of the many wondrous creations of nature.
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Camping is the essence of our trip. It is the lifeblood of this humble operation, this process of undoing.  In rain or in sunshine we learn things in this small tent, sleeping and cooking meals amongst trees and plants. It holds a very simple lesson that we continue to learn, as long as we stay outside, like water running over a log, we remain in contact with it:  In nature, everything you need will be provided, every tool is around to be discovered, every substance has so many uses and everything is given.
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Rasham says this is the process of undoing.  The bicycle trip is not about gaining merit or experience or learning through undergoing difficulties.  The bicycle trip merely keeps us away from the conditioning we were undergoing before we left.  It keeps our bones from needing a soft bed, it keeps our eyes from the television, it keeps our work an expression of ourselves.  It keeps our hearts healthy, it keeps our skin outdoors.  It keeps our lives simple.  Our motives basic.
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I want everyone to know that if I die out here on the road or through some other means, that I am happy to die in this way.  There is no better way to die than while following ones heart.  As the past is only as real as our memories and the future is best not to be thought of, it does not matter how long I have lived.  What time I have spent following my heart is of infinite value and it’s integrity resides in perpetuity throughout the universe, transcending space and time.  I believe all good action has this quality.
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But as winter enters its harshest months we are welcoming these hotel rooms and glad of their affordable price and the comforts they provide.  To be buffeted by the wind, drenched by the rain.  To have the tops of my feet cold from a persistent chill.  To not be able to accumulate warmth.  When cycling we are often moving only because we cannot stay anywhere for too long.  The cafe will close or the street will grow dark, someone will walk around the corner, we must find a safe place to sleep, a calm place to cook, a flat enough trail to push the bike or an affordable room.  
The next day the wind blows stronger and the blue sky once again disappears in dark clouds.  I see a hardware store and we stop.  I manage to get some zip ties and they give me a small coil of wire I find on a shelf and ask if I can buy.  Despite photos like the one below, it is a little cold, and is raining on us more frequently now.
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In Tunisia there are a lot of Cafés who’s customers are only men.  They sit around and smoke hukas and cigarettes and drink coffee and watch manly things like football.  The places are mercilessly smoky and although there is no rule against women they are never around and sometimes the bathrooms have only a urinal.  It sometimes makes it a little awkward for us to stop and have coffee but we do none the less.  But we have also discovered that the magic to making a good cup of coffee while touring lies in Turkish Coffee which is good quality and doesn’t require a filter.
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In our first day of serious cycling, we make it down to Sousse the next day.  There a friend of Arafat’s named Hamza has agreed to host us and came out to meet us on a tall bike he welded himself.
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Hamza lives with his family and is currently an Engineering student.  After his mother fed us dinner he took us out to the marina.
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And then to a hooka lounge to meet his friends.
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There some of his other friends brought some German girls who were couchsurfing.
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The next day, Hamza showed us around the Medina of Sousse.
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Old men collect and trade birds.
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Bulk spices are bought and sold
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And many cats prowl the streets.
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After we got a sandwich served with lebne (a fermented milk drink)
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During our time in the north I got the chance to do a little sketching.
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So I will leave what happens after Sousse until the next post.  Until then, here are some parting words, thank you for following our adventure.
This is the path of anger.  
It moves from person to person like the common cold.  
Like a smile it passes from one face to another.  
Like an idea it moves from one mind to another.  
Don’t make a home for these pests.  
Don’t accept this gift of anger.  
Leave it where it is.
This is the path of hate.  
It moves from person to person like the common cold.  
Like a smile it passes from one face to another.  
Like an idea it moves from one mind to another.  
Don’t make a home for these pests.  
Don’t accept this gift of hate.  
Leave it where it is.
This is the path of fear.  
It moves from person to person like the common cold.  
Like a smile it passes from one face to another.  
Like an idea it moves from one mind to another.  
Don’t make a home for these pests.  
Don’t accept this gift of fear.  
Leave it where it is.

23 responses to “Tunisia

  1. I love your post. There is something about bicycle touring that simplifies the outlook on life. And when you travel in very unfamiliar places and unknown tongues, your being becomes fully alive.

    I completed a cross USA ride this summer and was moved by the experiences shared with total strangers…the innumerable acts of kindness. I’d be pleased that you check it out and let me know any common experiences with your travels. See at robbie41.blogspot.com

    • Hey Robbie,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s been very difficult to find internet here in Italy. I did get a chance to check out your blog though. It makes me want to cross America again! It will be hard to go back to regular life!

      Trent and Rasham http://www.freelifebybike.com

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  2. Love you guys!! Wishing you a safe and wondrous journey. I knew an agnostic once (who happened to have the exact same name as me). It was suggested to this person that if they didn’t believe, they could pray for proof. Obviously, if this person was right, it wouldn’t make any difference at all so this person prayed for proof of something……anything that might change his mind. I recommend you give it a shot. For so many different reasons. Truly, when you look for signs, they are easier to see. But what will they mean to you. Do it, don’t do it. Just don’t forget to Breathe. Can’t wait to see you guys again!

    • Thanks for the support Chad! I will try your suggestion. Rasham and I have just gotten out from another ten day meditation and are feeling super fine in the quickly emerging spring! I’ve been behind on the blog posts as Italy isn’t big on wifi but they will be coming soon. We think of you often! Be well my friend. We meet again some day soon I’m sure!

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  3. Hi,
    I really enjoyed your post and your story. It’s great to travel around and see different places :)
    But be carefull when you are sleeping in outdoors in Tunisia esspecially in this time period, things are not very stable, it’s better to sleep in hotels, also don’t trust anyone you meet (obviously as in any other place in the world).

  4. you’re living my dream dudes =) enjoy the ride and if ever you pass again by Tunis you are so welcome to stay at my place :D I’d love to be inspired by you and chat with you
    Godspeed ^^

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