One of the most stimulating experiences on my travels is encountering people and their culture. How do they live where they live, culturally and naturally?
TV gave me a good idea of what to anticipate, but in reality, I never know what to expect. I don’t have expectations but faith in fate. I don’t mean tourist traps either, but people you meet with random precision. This is the difference between a tourist and a traveler. That’s what I am. And that’s how I met Mohammed.
Not having that local interaction was something I missed on our voyage through Tunisia. It was my first time in an Arabic Country and I was as curious as always.
We didn’t stop to smell the desert roses off the Sahara, which took so much effort to get to. Get the cameras out, the drones, the boogie boards, build a sandcastle or watch flying carpets.
I was a little frustrated this particular afternoon, as I hoped to fly the drone over the Kebili Mountains. Claudio mentioned them a day earlier and said we would halt there.
I had my batteries and hopes fully charged and was looking forward to this opportunity. Anything outstanding in a sea of sand adds to a dramatic landscape.
We passed a mountain range a few days earlier, but I didn’t get a good look at them.
It was still early morning when we left camp, we didn’t have to trek far to Douz.
As we approached the Mountain Range, I asked if we stop for lunch. ‘I need a shower and want to get back to Douz’. He replied. Bummer!
There goes another perfect drone and photo opportunity flying out the window.
Instead, we stopped later at ‘Cafe du Tente’ for lunch, 10 km southwest of Douz. One of the drivers lost his mobile phone at the last gathering place and returned for a search. Fair enough.
We spent 3 hours waiting for him to return, even though we could have all assembled back in Douz. We all knew where we would stay overnight. The good traveler hotel/campground ‘Le Bon Voayager’ is still in the same place where we stayed a week ago. All cars have UHF/HF radios, maps, and mobile phones, how hard can it be? It was hard for me to sit still, but had no other choice.
The evening sun looked amazing as we headed back to Douz eventually. I just kept staring at the colours over the horizon, wondering.
This is my last day and night in the Sahara desert, I need to do something else, rather than going back to the hotel. I had to take my camera and frame this moment in time. It’s an urge I can’t suppress and can’t explain.
We passed the touristy sunset camel safari area on the outskirts of Douz. ‘Stop the car, please! I need to get out.’ ‘Here? But the hotel is still very far!’ Claudio replied.
‘That’s okay, I manage. I need to take my camera and some water’. I still remember the look on his surprised face. Crazy? Not the first, not the last time. The other cars hooted their horn as I made my barefoot way over to the camels.
No wonder I didn’t see any camels in the desert. They are all here. And this one rides through burning skies.
It was the perfect sun setting for a camel photo shoot around sand dunes. I was surprised, actually, no I wasn’t, that no one else stopped for this golden photo opportunity.
It was touristy, yes it was. Many visitors took the opportunity for a sunset camelback ride.
I took the opportunity to capture silhouettes in fiery skies. Wow, I was the only one with a camera in hand capturing flaming sunsets.
Caravan by caravan passed my lens. Arabian stallions raced the track. Fine dust filled the air like fog and mingled with sun rays.
Poor donkey was all alone, he is the ass. A mosque prayed Muslim faith in the distance. Arabian nights.
This was the opportunity I yearned for and would have missed if I didn’t get out of the car. I was in my adventure element and happy, just like that. I should have followed the main road to get to our accommodations, but what’s the fun in that?
A mosque and praying tower are located nearby our campground, easy peasy. Instead, I followed narrow, dusty tracks through local communities. Kids played football on dusty grounds as others had fun on their bicycles. Women gathered together, dressed in traditional clothing. Men sat in cafes and smoked traditional shish pipes as I made my way toward the praying tower in the distance. Only to realize, that this isn’t the tower near our campground. But there is another one over there. Nope! It wasn’t the right one either. By now, I had lost my orientation and sense of direction. I kept my cool and kept walking along a tar road and hoped to get to the city center and regather orientation. No one speaks English, communication was tricky. I am lost, that’s a fact. Mohammed stopped on his moped and offered me a ride. He was in his mid-twenties and looked to most people as someone who would take advantage of this unfortunate situation. He knew where the campground was and offered me a ride. I jumped on without hesitation. We even changed the moped, as the first one had no footrests for passengers. Off we went and took a few shortcuts throughout the date-palm forest on dark and dusty tracks. Mohammed could have taken advantage of me at any time, but I trusted him. We arrived at the campground, which wasn’t the one, I needed to go to. I tried to explain that there was a mosque nearby our location, which didn’t exactly help. There are soo many mosques here in Douz. I certainly underestimated the mosque situation. We drove back into the city center to regather directions. It was actually really cool to hoon around busy streets on a local’s bike. I could have done that all night. Eventually, we passed the mosque I remembered and proudly drove onto the property. ‘Hey everyone’, I thought. ‘Look at me. I am back’. But there weren’t any cars I recognized. Mohammed asked if this is the right place. Meanwhile, the manager comes running towards us, arms up in the air, thinking we are some local thugs. Ha ha, it was all happening. I was as surprised as he was and asked where the Italians are. I couldn’t quite understand why they aren’t here at this previously arranged meeting place, but he knew where they went instead. Mohammed knew the place and will take me there. Off we scooted again.
We passed a posh-looking hotel when I recognized the Landrovers and Landcruisers parked out front. ‘There they are, Mohammed. We found them.’ A slight sense of relief passed our thoughts as we drove onto the carpark. Security woke up and Loredana just smiled as we passed her. She may be used to my daily escapades by now. I walked barefoot into the hotel with a big smile on my face. I had cuts and bruises on my legs and blisters on my feet. I was sweaty, thirsty, dusty, and dirty.
But most of all, I was as happy as a camel in the desert. The hotel Portier surely wasn’t impressed by my non-tourist improper appearance. ‘I need to find Claudio’ I said. ‘We travel together’ ‘He’s in room 49! I show you where it is.’ Maybe he didn’t trust me after all. Claudio didn’t seem overly surprised to see me back, at a different location as planned. The Italian convoy only arrived half an hour before I did. I got the Ben-efit of doubt that this adventure took me back to reunite. ‘Tutto Ben’ I said as I requested some money. Mohammed was waiting outside as I asked him to. I gave him approximately 10 euros, which is a lot of money in Tunisia. But no money in the world will take away the memories of my Arabian Night. In hindsight, I should have asked him to return later for a night out in town.