Tunisia October 2010

Written by ralph on 25/10/2010. Posted in Trips and journeys

In October 2010 we travelled to the Tunisian Sahara with Atlas Overland.  The plan was to travel down through France, meet up with the rest of the group in Avignon, then catch the ferry from Marseilles to Tunis and spend 2 weeks in Tunisia.

We tried to maintain a blog where we could and we used the ‘spot tracker’ so that others could plot our progress.  Internet access was sketchy (to say the least) and so we were unable to post as much as we wanted.  This is the full report including some of the posts we did manage to make.

Sunday 3rd
End location : Folkstone
Mileage : 190

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Our plan for the day was to leave early, catch a lunchtime Chunnel and get well into France before stopping.

Unfortunately, when we came downstairs for breakfast the amount of stuff that was left to pack meant that it was eventually 4 o’clock when we left but we are finally on our way. The packing of the car seemed to take forever. The main boxes were fine, it was all the little bits that we had to find space for which took the time.

Rather than put pressure on to cross the channel at a specific time we decided to book an early morning crossing (08:50) and stay at the Premier inn in Folkstone which is only 10 minutes from the terminal.

Apart from an unwelcome appearance from the airbag warning light (this was to stay on for the rest of the trip), the car performed perfectly.

Monday 4th
End location : Dijon, Etap Hotel
Mileage : 508

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After a nice breakfast, we arrived early at the terminal and so caught the 08:20 Chunnel which gained us 30 minutes.

The weather was a bit showery but for the most part beautifully sunny all through France.

The toll roads we wonderfully empty (although fairly costly, full details below).  After 23 games of “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘R’…..er Road?, Correct”  we got bored and started to count the lovely birds of prey that were sitting at regular intervals on the fence post by the side of the road.

Now I’m not complaining, the A26 is a fantastic road, but it’s just so boring.

The views were impressive, the weather was good the car was running well although it did start to pour down with rain just as we arrived in Dijon and we got soaked trying to find a restaurant.

Toll costs:

Calais – Riems : €20.20
Riems – Dijon : €34.00
Dijon – Lyon : €13.30
Lyon – Rochefort €16.60
Total :
€84.10

 

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Etap hotels are reasonable, clean, widespread and close to the road but they are not all near restaurants.  It was a bit of a walk to the nearest.

Tuesday 5th
End location : Avignon, Camping Bagatelle
Mileage :  740

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Today started a bit slow but got better.

It was 9 o’clock when we finally felt like leaving.  The Etap hotels are very basic so there was no breakfast.

We decided to travel for about an hour and stop in an Aire to make our own.  Unfortunately it was pouring down with rain for the first few hours so breakfast didn’t happen until 12.

Going all that while without a cup of tea was giving Belinda withdrawal symptoms so we stopped at a garage to get a (remotely) tea flavoured drink from 3 different vending machines (Belinda kept breaking them). This poor attempt a brown warm water didn’t last long so at 12 we broke out the ‘Janet Mugs’.  Which kept our tea so warm it was quarter past 3 before we could drink it!

Belinda then spotted a Macdonalds (yes 600 miles without seeing one, amazing!).  This stopped the tummy rumbles until we arrived at the campsite at about 4 o’clock and made ourselves at home.  We are not the first to arrive with a Pajero, a Disco 2 and 2 110s here.  They all introduced themselves but (as normal) I promptly forgot all their names.  Still, there’s plenty of time.

Later Peter (our guide) and 2 others arrived (a camel 110 and a 110csw).  There is still one more to join us and I have been (disappointingly) told that it is a TangiersOrange Disco.  Typical I travel to another continent only to bump into an identical car.  So much for being unique!

The car has performed well and we have arrived with quarter of a tank of fuel left (not bad for over 700 miles).  Tunisian diesel is 45p per litre so we are told so we will wait to fill up there.

It has not been totally without worries though, just as we drove from the campsite reception to our pitch the car developed a rattle from ‘down below’.  It sounds like something has worked loose and I will check it out in the morning.

The windscreen has, typically, received a small stone chip right in front of the camcorder lens (the same thing happened to Alan in Morocco).  So I now have to re-jiggle the mount.

As we finished the day it was a pleasant 17 degrees.

Wednesday 6th
End location : Avignon, Camping Bagatelle
Mileage :  740

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The day started well after a good nights sleep in the rooftent.  The tupperware toilet facilities had coped admirably in the night and we awoke refreshed.

After breakfast the first job was to investigate the rattle from the front of the car.  This turned out to be a loose inner lock nut on the drivers front wheel bearing.  Something which was not major and simple to tighten.

It is embarrassing to admit that after 300+ days of planning the number of times I have said “I meant to pack that” or “that was on my list as well” has been all too many.  In the first instance it was a torque wrench, laterly it was something far more important (but more of that later).

As you would expect there were any number of keen onlookers willing to provide advice, lend a hand and let me use the tools that THEY remembered to pack.  Nick Lent me his 52mm socket (something that is now ion my shopping list rather than the basic hub spanner I brought) and his circlip pliers.

The job was dispatched quickly along with fitting a new EGT gauge (the other had developed a fault).  Unfortunately the airbag light was not so successful.  Removing the fuse did not seem to phase the light which sat there belligerently shining at me.  So it looks like I will have this for the whole trip.

Routine checks of oil, water and other fluids threw up no issues so all was well in the orange world.

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After lunch we wandered over the bridge to the beautiful, walled town of Avignon.  This really was a treat as the town has some wonderful architecture and a very french feel about it.

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I, of course, couldn’t keep Belinda away from the vino so we stopped in the main square and had a lovely lunch listening to a busker playing the most fabulous classical guitar.

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We wandered through the streets for an hour stopping to buy some fresh fruit and bread for tomorrow as we will need a packed lunch while we wait to board the ferry.

As you can see the weather was hot and sunny.

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In the evening, Peter (our guide) gave us our first briefing about tomorrow and we all had to fill in the documentation for entry into Tunisia.

This is where things took an embarrassing and worrying turn.  Remember that comment earlier about things I meant to pack.  Well it would appear that I had left our vehicle log book on the scanner at home.  I had a lovely colour photocopy, a digital copy on the netbook  I was using and a copy I can download from the Internet, just not the original.

This could be a major problem as without it they may not let me take the car onto the country.

Peter seems to think that we can get away with the photocopy and a few packets of cigarettes but it would be an uncomfortable few hours until we know for certain.

We will get the car on the ferry before any documents are inspected so it is unlikely they will prevent access but as followers of our earlier exploits will know; with us anything can happen.

Thursday 7th
End location : MV Carthage
Mileage : 798

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We broke camp early so that we could all be on the road at 09:00.

The trip to Marseilles was fairly uneventful apart from one major hill climb which saw many of my temp gauges reach their highest yet and made Belinda very queasey on the way down.

Although the boat was due to sail at 14:00, this could be French time, Tunisian time or some other time dreamed up by the crew.  As such we arrived earlier to get through the formalities.

In addition we had to find a discreet place to pull over so that we could remove our radios and GPSs as these are not allowed in Tunisia.  However once you are through the Tunisian port they are perfectly accepted throughout the rest of the country.

In the end there was only one one document check point and they weren’t interested in our colour copy of the V5.  However we were not sure how many checks there would be, so it was a fairly uncomfortable time until we were actually on the boat.

The ferry was reasonably comfortable although the boarding procedure was long and chaotic.  Our papers were not checked again and we entered the vessel along with dozens of heavily modified land cruisers, G wagons and assorted other 4x4s.

The biggest issue with the ferry was smoking, which was prevalent throughout the ship and difficult to escape from other than in your cabins.  These were small but clean and comfortable.

The boat left 40 minutes late but after an hour sailing and just as we thought we were on our way and safe we were informed that the vessel was turning around and returning to Marseilles because of a medical emergency.  Someone had slipped and broken their foot.

Fortunately we only steamed some of the way back as an ambulance boat came out and retrieved the casualty.  This still caused a 3 hour delay to the crossing.

Peter collected all of the documentation including our passports and (photocopied) log book to hand in to the customs.

He was summoned later due to some inconsistencies found!

After 2 hours of skillful negotiation he managed to get our copy accepted and we were okay for the trip.  We all breathed a sigh of relief.  We were not the only problem with Robert and Phillipa’s Pajero causing issues due to a chassis number being too short.  The customs insisted that it must be a motorcycle!  This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that they had accidental ordered a welsh version of the log book.

The overnight crossing was smooth and we slept well.  The meals were a bit hit and miss.  although they were of good quality it was difficult to find something without cous-cous, pastry, bread or thickening all thing Belinda can’t eat. Breakfast was particularly difficult being bread and croissants.  She mainly survived on salad and fruit.  She is definitely hoping to come home a few pounds lighter 🙂

Friday 8th
End location : Hotel Le Kasbah, Kaiaroun
Mileage : 895

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Getting off the boat was carnage, 16 lanes of traffic all going into one.  Uninterested customs officials, money to change, insurance (120 dinars= £54 for 1 months cover) to arrange and dozens of locals causing chaos withsmall cars loaded withfridge freezers, baths, and (literally) the kitchen sink pushing in.  It took 2 hours to travel 200 yds.

Still it’s all part of the adventure and got sorted in the end and we we were on our way.

Due to the late arrival of the ferry we have had to change the plans a bit and we missed out the visit to the roman ruins.  However we may be able to fit them in later but none of the group were too bothered.

We stopped for lunch in the shadow of a Roman viaduct (or at least the remains of one)

The journey to Kairouan was interesting with dogs, cats, chickens, donkeys, small children .and all sorts of other wildlife throwing itself in our path.  We haven’t managed to match ‘live cows on a roofrack’ but we did see a donkey standing in the back of a pickup!

The first thing we did upon leaving the port was top up with fuel 100 litres was 80 dinars which is less than £40.  Big smiles all around.

The car performed well although the auto gearbox has been getting exceptionally hot.  This is something we will be keeping a close eye on.

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That night we stayed at the 5 star ‘La Kasbah’ Hotel which has been built into a medieval fort and is fantastic.  The outer fort walls still remain but the interior has been extensively modified.

Belinda ooh’d and aah’d her way from the stunning reception, past the pool to our room.  She had the ornate bath running in 30 seconds flat and stated that she was staying here for the next 2 weeks while I go play in the sand.

The evening meal was a comprehensive buffet so Belinda was able to choose plenty.

Before the meal I helped Nick change the wheels around on his 110 because of a wheel wobble.  Unfortunately the bottle jack slipped leaving his car in a dodgy position.  At this point Richard’s (my other brother) Jackall came into play for the first time in anger and saved the day by supporting the car whilst we relocated the bottle jack.  It wasn’t exactly life and death but it tested us for half an hour.  We were both dripping wet when we finished.

The temperature once we landed was 30 degrees and it didn’t drop much even after dark.

The original plan was to have a tour of the Medina when we arrived.  Unfortunately due to the lateness of the ferry this was put off until the next morning and then we will be heading to Kebili for our first night camping in Tunisia.

During the voyage and the drive to Kairouan we had got to know our travelling companions a bit better.

Peter, our guide, in a Toyota troop carrier

Carrick, in a 1998 genuine Camel Trophy 110 station wagon, acting as support for Peter and providing regular tit bits of information over the radio as we drove.

Nick and Karen (N&K) in a 110 Td5 hardtop, who I had helped change his wheels over.

Brian, in a Td5 Discovery II, who had forgotten to pack a chair but had managed to buy a high quality collapsible camping seat in Avignon (more of this later)

Simon, in a Td5 110 hardtop, whose ‘radio amateur’ friend had modified his radio specifically for this trip.  Unfortunately this meant he could hear everything but not transmit.  A blessing to us all, as we would tell him most nights 😉

Ian and Terry (I&T), in a Td5 110 CSW.  Both, well into their senior years had travelled extensively with Peter on other tours.

Harry and Loraine (H&L), in a Td5 Discovery II, who were planning a drive across Africa at sometime in the next few years.

Robert and Phillipa (R&P), in a SWB Mitsubishi Pajero, who bought the car to get up a tricky driveway and then realised they could drive across Africa.

Saturday 9th
End location : Kebili, campsite
Mileage : 1067

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After and excellent evening and comfortable night at the hotel we needed to head off to Kebili.  Unfortunately, because the ferry was late arriving we didn’t have the chance to visit much in Kairouan when we arrived.

Peter organised a guide and, supervised by Carrick, we toured the mosque and medina before we left in the morning.  The mosque is the 4th most holy place in the Muslim faith and considered an essential part of any pilgrimage.

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The guide, Nasser, spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable.  The most notable features of the mosque were pointed out to us including some intricate carvings.

When asked what they reminded us of the best answer that Nick could muster was “cup holders”!

Pointing out that the mosque was many hundreds of years old and cup holders had not been invented then, Nasser politely pointed out the camel, sheep, goat and other hoof prints interwoven in the design.

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We then moved into the Medina where we visited a museum which was dedicated to showing how a Tunisian house looked.  We were shown the kitchens, courtyards and bedrooms.

Finally finishing with a refreshing cup of mint tea.  It was a lovely insight into how some Tunisians live.

Although we were aware that this represented a wealthier family home, as we drove through the country we saw that most people lived in much more basic conditions.

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From here we moved about 30 yards down the road to the boullangerie to buy some bread.  Upon leaving here we all realised the we had somehow lost Carrick.

Despite wandering the maze-like street shouting his name, he was not to be found.

Nasser returned us safely to the hotel where we were all re-united.  This superb demonstration of navigational skills was the source of much amusement at the time.  We didn’t realise that it was sign of things to come……

We left the hotel at 11:30 after a bit of last minute fettling.  I was still getting debris in the small inline fuel filter, so I took the opportunity to fit a new one before we left.

Problems with fuel were to dog our progress throughout the trip.

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The trip to Kebilli was without incident and consisted of a fairly long slog along Tunisian roads.  It was tarmac all the way.

I started to encounter, what we thought, were overheating problems with the gearbox.  At one point it was impossible to touch parts of the centre console as it was too hot.  The high temperature warning light was not on, but it did have us worried.

We progressed  and as the outside temperature started to cool down so did the gearbox.  We drove a fair way with the gears ‘locked’ in 3rd to try and prevent the gearbox hunting and changing up and down.  This seemed to help as well.

At one point the heat did get to us a bit and I tried the air-con.  bearing in mind the soldered, glued and duct taped pipework holding it together it was refreshing to feel it bring the cabin temperature down.  We only ran it for about 10 minutes but it was enough.

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We arrived at the campsite to a warm welcome from Arrafat, the owner, and we parked beneath the date trees and set up camp.

It was a pleasant evening and we sat under the awning chatting until, about 21:30 when we retired to our respective beds.

Sunday  10th
End location : Kebili, campsite
Mileage : 1235

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The plan for the next day was to explore the Chott el Jerid, a huge expanse of dry salt flats.   Before leaving I relocated the number plate from in front of the winch to gain maximum airflow to the gearbox oil cooler.

We started on tarmac and drove along a long, long causeway to a small cafe (literally) in the middle of nowhere.  The fanta and coke was mildly refreshing but the whole experience was marred by the number of flies crawling everywhere.  This was to be recurring theme during the daytime.

As is typical of our luck, having driven to one of the driest places on the planet we were hit by torrential rain, lightning and thunder.  This was something which had been happening for a few days earlier so some areas of the Chott were more like a lake that a dry salt flat.  However, despite the rain and the shear lack of anything the scenery was fascinating.

We made our way, as a group until H&L and R&P decided to follow a different route.  This meant Peter was busy giving them assistance, leaving the rest of the group in the hands of Carrick to take us to the Star Wars village (Anorak moment: the village in the film where Luke and Obi Wan enter the bar to hire Han Solo.  This is the original set which is still here from 1973).

Obi-wan and Luke obviously had the force and much better navigational luck than us.  Carrick took us on a lovely roundabout route through the dunes hoping that we wouldn’t notice that he was lost until he finally had to admit defeat and take us right back to the road and start again (secretly we all enjoyed the drive, but we didn’t want to let Carrick off the hook).

Unfortunately this took us through a group of children that insisted on chasing the cars shouting for bon-bons.  One boy hung onto the driver’s door even while we were moving, trying to force us to stop.  This was not pleasant and, fortunately, only happened once during the whole trip.

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The trip out to the film set took us past a nomad village near a deep well and over our first dose, of corrugations.  Several rattly, clancky miles later we arrived at the film set.

Despite being in the middle of a barren expanse of desert, parking cost 1 dinar!  There was a wooden built shelter, roofed with palm fronds which we became very grateful for as the rains came down again whilst we had lunch.

For star wars fans a visit to the set is probably a must, for anyone else it’s probably not.  Several ‘misery wagons’ (4x4s from hotel full of tourists) arrived whilst we having lunch and had left again before Brian could even finish saying “Bloody hell, all this way and we meet up with loads of tourists”.

To be honest our visit to the actual set wasn’t much longer.  5 minutes and you have seen everything and told the touts to leave you alone several times.  However it does mean that I will have to watch the movie again just to see if I can recognise it.

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From there we headed back to the Nomads and then off on another piste to Camel Back Rock.

So called because it resembled the head and back of a camel (surprisingly).  Unfortunately over the years erosion had set in and the camel’s head had disappeared so now it more closely resembled ….well a rock actually.

I got out of the car to take pictures which was something I immediately regretted.  Due to the rain the sand had turned into a glutinous mud which stuck to my sandals giving me 2” platforms.

Looking like a refugee from a 70’s glam rock concert I waddled to and from the car, much to Karen’s amusement.

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From there we moved to the top of another high rock for a short break.

En route a squeak from the radio caused us to stop. Unfortunately Nick & Karens spare wheel had detached itself from the roofrack and planted itself on their windscreen.  Even willing to help I grabbed my camera and rushed to the scene.  I knew that they would want the moment saved for prosperity, I was only thinking of them as I stood there laughing (honest).

We stopped for a while admiring the view before Peter announced that we were leaving the rock via a rather steep route.  Always looking for a good photo/video opportunity I dispatched Belinda out into the rain to climb down and film everyone driving down.

Needless to say that once she saw the slope, she decided to film it from the top.  Some interesting controlled, and not so controlled, descents were filmed and Carrick brought Belinda down by a different route in the camel.

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Once at the bottom donuts were the order of the day.  Not the sugar coated type but the diff testing type.  Many wheel spins and much flying mud later Carrick arrived with a stern look on his face with us all shouting, like little schoolboys, “Peter started it!”.

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From here it was via piste and tarmac to the ‘Star Wars canyon’.  We arrived at the same time as a group of 20-30 girls and women on the back of pickup trucks.  They were all singing and playing drums celebrating a ‘marriage’.

Wandering, on foot, into the canyon we could see where marks had been cut with an angle grinder to show camera locations.  The canyon was also used in the scene where Indiana Jones threatens to destroy the Ark in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.  Yet another anorak moment sigh!

I spoke with some of the girls who wandered into the canyon but they, unfortunately, didn’t want their picture taken.  Strangely one of them wanted to have their picture taken with me on their phone.  How that picture will be described to others, who knows…..”here I am with a strange, fat, unshaven Englishman we met in a canyon, he thought we were interested in talking to him, it was very funny”.

They were friendly and in very broken French we chatted for about 10 minutes as we walked back out of the canyon to the cars.  It was a lovely moment.

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From there it was via tarmac back to the campsite.

That evening we had Tunisian pizza and Belinda had an omelet at Arafats house by the campsite.  Again it was a nice end to the day.

Monday 11th
End location : Chott el Jerid, wild camp
Mileage : 1301

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Vehicle checks done and dog guard resecured, we left the campsite at 09:45.  Topping our tanks up at the fuel station in Kebili, we were heading for our first wild camp.

Belinda stopped at the, now, world famous Kebili Melon Man to buy, surprisingly 2 fresh melons.  There were too many references to my wife’s melons at that point for me to type, but I’m sure you get the idea.

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This was our first real experience of sand dune driving.  Vehicles were getting stuck left right and centre.  Although I must point out that it was Karen driving the 110 that got stuck first, only because I know this will really annoy her and make Nick smile (I would like to add that Nick more than made up for this later).

The going (so it seemed) got tougher and the dunes got higher as the day progressed.  At times the need for momentum and the zizzagging route through the dunes meant that it felt like a high speed rally section.

My jaw was hurting from the ear to ear grin permanently fixed in place.

PA125717 We didn’t make our intended camping spot and as the sun was going down we stopped and set up camp either side of the piste.

We found a nice valley between the dunes suitable for 3 cars and Simon, Nick & Karen and us positioned our cars well for a comfortable camp.  Unfortunately Brian, who had been evicted from another spot decided to add a 4th vehicle and park beneath our ladder.

Still we did have the added entertainment that night of watching him holding his ‘quality chair’ together as it was slowly giving way beneath his weight.

It was a quiet night, once again sitting beneath the overcast sky chatting.  One theme that was emerging was the “is it nearly bedtime yet?” question.  This question was asked every night at a progressively earlier time each day.  The earliest recorded throughout the holiday was 18:20!

It was a good indication of how much we had crammed into the day.

Tuesday 12th
End location : Chott el Jerid, wild camp
Mileage : 1323

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During the night there had been another storm and we had to go in search of some of the bits we had left out overnight where they had been blown by the wind.  Unfortunately for Brian his chair was not one of them.

After washing, checking the vehicle, having a top notch fried breakfast and stowing the tent we were ready to leave.  However before all of this there was the part of the holiday that several of us were not looking forward to; the long walk with the spade.  We had bought a carrimor toilet stool (later christened the stool-stool) as had Simon.  Simon found a dune first and returned to the camp with a big smile declaring that he was very pleased as his ‘aim had been true’.

We can now confirm that the Stool-stool was a very sound investment and we would recommend them to any wild camper.  They certainly make the activity concerned much more comfortable and relaxing.

We ‘hit the road’ (or sand in our case) at 08:45.  As I pulled away the car started to judder significantly.  Even Belinda remarked that it didn’t feel right.

We stopped after a short distance and, along with Peter, I inspected the bottom of the car (it felt like a propshaft problem).  Nothing was apparent and Peter asked to drive the car to see if he could diagnose the problem.

Alas, like a tv repair man the problem had fixed itself (probably a clump of caked sand causing an imbalance).  So imagine my embarrassment to have him return to inform me that there wasn’t a problem in front of the whole group.  Then to add salt to the wound, Belinda announces that it was much smoother when Peter was driving.  She really knows how to hurt a man when he’s down.

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The day progressed with plenty of stoppages due to vehicle getting stuck.  Brian’s winch was called into play on several occasions and the ‘Maxtracs’ really showed their worth time and time again.  Despite the slow-ish progress we were having far too much fun for men of our age.

H&L managed to get stuck on a particularly tricky side slope and I was called to action to provide safety support to their rollbar with my winch (to prevent them toppling).

Imaging my annoyance to find that it was after pulling out the cable, connecting up the controller and fixing it to the top of their rollbar, the winch was dead.  There was no power to it at all and yet I had only used it the day before to loosen the fairleadso that I could move my number plate.

Still I can feel happy that I provided a small amount of comfort for a few minutes while they thought they had a winch in place.

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As we progressed I could hear a load ticking noise from under the bonnet.  Upon stopping it was obviously cavitation in the fuel injection pump.  It was obviously not getting enough fuel.  The dreaded fungus had struck again.  I had already changed the inline filters a few times and the main car filter once.  Using my last spare filter the noise stopped, all seemed well and we continued on.  However I have only changed the car filter yesterday so at this rate they were only lasting 24 hours and I had no more spares.

As we progressed the dunes grew higher and higher and at lunch time, after a recce, Peter informed us that the way ahead was impassable and we would have to turn back.

We backtracked past where we had camped the night before and it was measure of how our sand driving had improved that we all sailed through the parts that had caused us so much trouble the day before.

At one point we felt in need of a cooling blast from the air-con but unfortunately the Heath Robinson repair that the guys at Kwik-Fit helped me with before we left had given up the ghost and only warm air was to be had.  Still it had served us well a couple of times.

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We stopped by the side of the piste again, but this time with well over an hour of daylight to go.

After putting up the tent and setting camp we watched the sunset over the desert and enjoyed a  very peaceful tea.  The colour of the light was unique and makes the photos look very strange.

We parked alongside Nick and Karen.  Belinda and Karen clearly marked out the territory with specific men’s and ladies dunes identified for the unmentionables.

As the sky drew darker much merriment was had by us all especially when I invited Karen into the ‘Men’s loos’ to see a satellite.  It was a chat up line that I’m sure many women would never have heard before or after.

The stars were amazing and despite trying to using the planesphere that Alan had given me before we left we were laughing too much to seriously identify anything.

Simon and Brian joined us beneath the awning and with some seriously bad red wine we had yet another riotous night disturbing the peace and tranquillity far too long into the night.

Brian was now sitting much closer to the ground with several of the plastic fittings of his ‘quality chair’ completely giving way.

We stayed up far too late for children of our age (which in real terms was probably about 10-ish)

Wednesday 13th
Mileage : 1395
End location: Kebili, Campsite

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Packing up camp was now becoming a well oiled machine and we left at 08:45 after watching another unique sunrise over the sand.

Belinda’s breakfast of bacon rolls in gluten free bread went down a storm and we were fit for anything.

Today was to be a short day, aiming to get back to Kebili for lunch time so we could fettle the vehicles, shower, re-provision and chill out a bit.

En route we past the all important ’48 hours in difflock and low range’ point.  Well it was important to me.  The less then interested “oh” I got from Belinda made me think it was not high on her agenda of important things.

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Watching the dunes ‘dry out’ from the rain gave some staggering views as we drove.

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The car performed well and stuck vehicles were become a rarity rather than the norm.

Brians car radio became the soundtrack to the Sahara with the sounds of the 60s drifting across the dunes.  One particular stoppage resulted in 3 of us taking our recovery duties less seriously than normal once the gently sound of ‘Hang on Sloopy’ by the McCoys was heard emanating from his car.

Our digging skills were now so finely honed that the music made us consider forming a group and going on tour.  Much to Simon’s amusement who, unfortunately, was the only one digging the stuck vehicle out

Unfortunately Carrick was not having such a good time with the camel, which seemed to inexplicably lose forward and then reverse drive intermittently.  He coaxed it home but worse was to come……….

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On the way back we went via a site were we could prospect ‘sand roses’.  These are natural, crystalline formations of gypsum which can range from an inch across to a foot or more.

Spades were deployed and several holes dug in the hope of find them.  All of us found something and although much larger ones can be bought at the local tourist shops, picking your own makes it far more interesting.

We finished the route back via the chott road, travelling fast across the great flat expanse is an experience.  Unfortunately tiredness was creeping in and it was hard to concentrate when driving in a dead straight line for so long.  Nick’s unique ‘side peacock’ hairstyle was a testament to the fact that he had slept with his head against the seat belt for much of the way while Karen drove.

We arrived back at the campsite at around 13:00 and decided to go shopping in town for provisions before setting up camp.

The dialogue in the various shops as we tried to buy bread and meat would have been worthy of a fawlty tower sketch.  My language skills left me in the butchers where I had to resort to chicken and sheep impersonations to find out what we were buying.  The stern faced girl behind the counter finally had to crack a smile as I started bah-ing and flapping my arms like a chicken.

In one shop we were convinced that we had bought another woman’s bread which was bagged up on the counter.

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Once we were back at the campsite I managed to trace the fault on the winch to a faulty earth lead, I refixed the dog guard (again) and I did intend to clean out the sedimenter in case it was part of the fueling problem.  Unfortunately, on the way back from town, I brimed the fueltank in readiness for our desert excursion.  This meant that, due to the new tanks, the fuellevel was higher than the sedimenterwhich meant I couldn’t undo it without wasting a lot of fuel.

Arafat had managed to find 3 replacement fuel filters for my disco and they only cost 45 dinar (£22).  Cheaper than Halfords.  not bad for a village in the desert.  As you will now expect, having sourced new filters, the fuel bug didn’t cause any further problems, typical!

Peter and Carrick worked flat out to install a new overdrive unit in the camel.  It was finally dark when, after a lot of strange adult language they manged to get the job finished.

With the shopping bought that afternoon, Karen and Belinda cooked a mean BBQ and a great night was had by all.  Nick was awarded a cup for being the only driver not to get stuck (this is a title he was soon to lose).

My party went with a bang.  I decided to stand on a raised manhole cover to take a picture when it gave way beneath me.  Fortunately the drain was only 4 foot deep.  I badly cut my arm and twisted my leg but otherwise I was okay.  Most people only heard a squark as I disappeared like the vicar of dibley into the hole.  Most of them demonstrating their concern by immediately bursting into laughter.  This was demonstration of the tight bond that had grown between us all.

We were all willing to laugh at each others misfortune at a moments notice….nice!

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The next morning the true scale of the damage could be seen.

To my arm, the manhole cover and Nicks eyes.

Thursday 14th
Mileage : 1421
End location : Sahara, Wild camp

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Today was a sad day.  despite all the work on the camel the night before it was a non-runner.  Something more serious had gone wrong in the gearbox and the car was undrivable.

Carrickhad to organise recovery of his car and he had to stay behind while we continued with the tour.  For Belinda and I this was a bad time as we knew exactly how Carrick felt watching us all leave.  The same thing had happened to us in Morocco last year.

We all said our goodbyes knowing that we would meet up with him, and the camel, again in Port El Kantaoui.

 

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Giving peter the chance to help Carrick we eventually left at 10 via tarmac towards our ultimate goal of Ksar Ghilane.

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The terrain varied throughout the day from hard piste to soft sand and dunes.

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Sometimes the complete lack of anything made you stop.

No photographs can convey the imensity of the space.

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Not your everyday rush hour traffic.

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Tyre pressures were dropped several times down to 22.5 psi (1.5 bar) to get over the softer sections.

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Once again the terrain beat us and we didn’t make our planned camping spot so we pitched either side of the piste.

The sunset and night sky were stunning.

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Unfortunately the moon was too full to get a good view of many of the stars but it did give a fantastic light for night photography while everyone slept

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The regular party nights meant that nearly everyone went to bed early leaving the evening deadly quiet.

It is difficult to explain how this place feels and how it can affect you.  The only advice I can give is; you haven’t seen it all, until you’ve seen a desert night sky.

Friday 15th
Mileage : 1492
End location : Sahara, Wild camp

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After watching another sunrise over the dunes we broke camp at left at 08:45.  The constant practice at pitching and striking camp now meant that we were getting ready to move earlier and earlier.

The plan for the day was to head towards the ‘unfit climber’ friendly Mount Tembain, climb to the top to see the views and then drive, via piste and trail, to a camping spot on the way to Ksar Ghilane.

The going was a mixture of firm and not so firm dunes and gravel.

It was difficult to select the correct tyre pressures because of the changing surface.  As such there were plenty of times when people got stuck and I managed to salvage the reputation of my winch by using it on several occasions.  In addition my rear recovery point was christened for the first time to allow Brian to winch himself out of a sticky patch.

I must remember to tell Belinda if I am going to do this again who dived out of the car rather sharpish when she felt it moving.  She thought we had just parked up for a break.

We parked at the bottom and scrambled to the top of the mount.  As expected the views were stunning.  From here you could really get a sense of how desolate this area really is..

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Once we left the mount we stopped at a remote solar powered, pumped water well.  The water is drawn from 25m below and is pure, cool and fresh.  Although it is drinkable, only the guide refilled their supplies as eveyone else had enouh water on board.

However most of us were happy to rinse our faces in the cooling flow.

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Having won the award ealier for the only one not to get stuck.  Nick decided to enter in a different category.  That of ‘most stuck’.

Somehow he managed to get completely cross-axled against an inocuous looking clump of grass and despite his best efforts was unable to move.  we were both right at the back of the convoy.

4 waffles were deployed, much digging was done, we even considered the hi-lift to ‘cast’ the car sideways.  In the end Peter returned to the rear and, using his car as an anchor, Nick winched himself out.

I would just like to say that I did not make any humurous or demeaning comments during this period and that the subject was never discussed again for the rest of the holiday.

Unfortunately that would be a lie.

Belinda was immediatly deployed with the camera to ensure every painful moment was recorded for prosterity and the subject was mentioned at almost every available time from then on.

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Camp that night was pitched in another boring location with no interesting features.

Apart from the endless views…….

and the silence…….

and the stunning sunset…..

etc. etc……

However, in the night we were hit by yet another storm, which, when you are in a rooftent, can be quiet unerving.  At one point I honestly thought that we were going to be blown from the car.

Brian decided that tonight of all nights he would sleep in the open on his roofrack.  He soon changed his mind….

Saturday 16th
Mileage : 1526
End location : Ksar Ghilane

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Today was to be a special day for me, as it was my 50th Brithday.

We broke camp at 08:45 and via some easy, and not so easy dunes and gravel piste we made our way to the oasis at Ksar Ghilane.

With people wishing me Happy birthday over the radio we made steady progress.  At one point we were stopped as someone moved over tricky section ahead and Nick leaned out of his window.  He said “Is there anywhere else you would rather be on your birthday?”.  Right then I couldn’t think of anywhere.

We past tourist riding on camels and carried out a few recoveries of stuck vehicles.

If I were to describe my perfect birthday; ‘Waking up to see the sunrise over the desert, drive through dunes, passing camels en route to a desert oasis with Belinda, in the Discovery’ would definately be high on the list.

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En route to the oasis we stopped at the nearby Roman Fort.  Which was built on a hill nearby.

In order to make Nick feel better after his recent cross-axle I deliberately failed to make the climb Peter and he did, up to the top of the hill ( To make sure he felt better I deliberately failed it 3 timesEmbarassed).

I of course then took a more difficult route just to maintain some credibilityWink.

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We arrived at Ksar Ghilane at 13:00.

It is a stange site as you approach it.  It looks as if someone has dropped a forest in the middle of the desert.  There is no gradual build up of vegitation, just an island of trees.

The oasis itself has been spoiled by the commercialisation.

Camel and quad bike rides, cafes, bars and souvenier shops all detract from its origins.

We were sheperded into a smallish area next to the toilet block of the campsite.  This was giving off an unpleasant smell because the elcetricity and water had been cut off for a few hours.

This was resolved after while and was not a problem later.

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The actual oasis pool was quite small and despite the unsightly weed floating  around the edge and on the top (it looks like poo) Peter assured us that it was okay to swim in.

Some of the group gave it a go and reported that it was quite cooling.  Due to the cuts on my arm I decided to play safe and just use the showers.

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That night turned into a very socialble affair.

I was brought birthday cake and in rememberance of my lost brother I drank, not only, Scotch whiskey but Irish whiskey as well.

Belinda had brought a bottle of champagne and we sat and talked and laughed into the night.

It was lovely evening and I thank eveyone from the group for making it so.

Ian and terry had decided to sleep in one of the Berber style tents and not wishing to face another night in a tin coffin Simon decided to do the same (much to our ridicule).

Sunday 17th
Mileage : 1620
End location : Zarat, wild camp on the beach

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The next morning was a leisurely affair.  Whilst he was still asleep I decided to carry out some emergency surgery on Brian’s quality chair.  Using as much duct tape as I could, I attempted to make it secure.  Another night of watching him hold it together as his bum grew closer to the floor was too much to take.

Listening to the sounds of an oasis awakening should have been a memorable moment.  However all we could hear was the strange sounds emanating from Simons tent.  Somewhere between a non-vibrato sheep and a soprano cow was the best way to describe it.

We left at 09:15 and, after a small photo shoot where Nick ‘pretended’ to get stuck (yeah, rightWink) for some maxtrax promotional material, we headed for the coast.

We started on tarmac and then moved onto pistes.  These became progressively rougher as we headed towards the mountains.

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The roads became progressively higher and twistier.

This was something we were not expecting and it became increasingly uncomfortable for Belinda.

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Eventually we arrived at Matmata the home of some underground homes which originally housed Berbers.

One of them had been used for another Star Wars film set (the home of Owen Lars, Luke Skywalkers guardian at the beginning of the film).

Alongside was an original home which had been made into a museum.

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From here we progressed on even higher roads to see Rommels bunker and the Mareth line museum.

The Mareth line was a pivitol bridgehead in the desert war.

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Peter did a superb job translating the  french presentation tour given by the Tunisian Army Soldier.  The museum is small but very informative.

Although the Tunisians were not directly involved they obviously have pride in maintaining the museum.

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For me it was particularly interesting because my father fought here as part of the 8th Army.  He was a Sergeant in the Royal Artilliary and commanded an anti-aircraft bofer gun.

The museum had an original example  of one of these guns out the back and I had the chance to sit on it as well as look at some of the orignal bunkers.

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From here we travelled by road to Zarat where we planned to camp on the beach.

As we entered town Peter came over the radio to tell us to be discrete.

8 4x4s, mine bright orange, were not going to be discrete.  The local police felt the same way and pulled us all over to check our passports and V5s.  After a 15 minute stop we were back on our way with the policeman saying he would check on us later to see that we were okay.

When we arrived at the beach it was windy and raining.  It was touch and go whether to go ahead with the plan.

In the spirit of true gentlemeness we decided to let the girls decide if we camped or not (of course if it went horrible in the night, the fact that we could blame them never entered our minds)

Within half an hour the camp was set and the wind and rain had stopped and a magnificant full rainbow followed by a stunning sunset  proved that they had made the right decision to stay.

As the sky drew darker clouds off in the distance lit up with an amazing electrical storm.  We all stood and watched this for ages.  Later, at 2:30 when I left the tent for a ‘p’ break the entire seaboard sky was alight with flashes from a widespread storm.  Fortunately it never headed our way.

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Driftwood was collected and the mood drew somber as the night closed in.  The time had come for a solumn event.

Brian’s chair had just provided him with some support for the last 13 days but the time had finally come to send it to the great ‘quality chair repository’ in the sky.

It was given a ritual viking burial and provided much entertainment as it slowly melted and dripped into the fire.

It was our last night wild camping and we made the most of it, once again talking and laughing into the night.

Monday 18th
Mileage : 1814
End location : Port el Kantaoui

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The sun rose and the weather looked grim so we struck camp and left at 07:45 before the rain hit.

We were making our way to Port El Kantaoui along the main roads.

En route we stopped and Belinda bought some pomegranets from a roadside seller.

 

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For lunch we stopped at a cafe in El jem for chicken and chips (a typical tunisian meal) and we spent 2 hour walking around the outstanding coliseum.  One of the best preserved in the world, there is more intact here than at the one in Rome.

The location was used in Gladiator and Life of Brian.  Unfortunately someone happened to mention this and so crys of “welease bwian” were heard throughout the collusium.  The acoustics were remarkable.  Brian just bowed his head…

Beneath the main arena all the rooms were still intact where the animals were kept.

It was truly memorable hour.

Leaving El gem was a logistical puzzle because of the way were all parked.

Peter asked me to lead the way.  All I had to do was take the correct left turn……

….20 minutes and a minor detour through the miniscule backstreets we finally met up with Peter who HAD taken the correct turn.

Navigation never was one of my strong points.

 

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We eventually arrived at the hotel in Port El Kantaoui, our home for the next two days to chill out before the ferry.

Much as we all loved the desert we were all looking forward to the rest days.

The hotel was lovely and we both enjoyed lazing in the bath and sitting on some comfy seats.

It was good to see the camel as we drove in and to meet up with Carrick again.

Tuesday 19th
Mileage : 1817
End location : Port el Kantaoui

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The next day was a rest day but unfortunately the annoying rattle from the front end had returned and so I had to tighten both front wheel bearings on the front forecourt.  Much to the amusement of the other guests and the annoyance of the staff.

We wandered down into the port for a bit of souvenier shopping and I treated myself to haircut.

We filled up with fuel ready for the return journey and on our return to the hotel we found Nick and Karen frantically emptying and refilling all their kit in and out of their 110.

Apartently Karen had lost the room key and despite going through the car several times in was not to be found.

Having given up the search they decided to pay for a new key and returned to their room only for Karen to sit on the bed and find she had stuck the key in her waistband!  We all had a good laugh and it gave plenty of ammunition for later ridicule.

That night we sat in the upper lounge beneath the spectacular chandelier and talked and laughed until bed.

Wednesday 20th
Mileage : 1892
End location : MV Carthage

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We set off at 07:00, with fuel tanks full, for the hour and half long drive to the port at Tunis.

Carrick had left with the camel on the back of a recovery truck at 04:00.  He later told us tales of punctures and the deployment of his hi-lift to continue.  But they both arrived safely.

The ferry was due to leave at 11:00 (although, again, this could be french, tunisan or martian time).

We brimed our tanks again in Tunis and parked near the port where we rendezvoused with Carrick so that Peter could attach the camel for its tow onto the ferry.

It didn’t take long for the touts to spot us and soon we were embroiled in strange negotiations for a tunisian drum.  Leaving us with the drum AND our money they dissapeared off to get some euros.  Eventually chasing us through the port we finally aquired it for 15 dinar (£7.50).

The port formalities were protracted and our passports were checked 4 times and our car thoroughly inspected, inside and out, before we finally boarded.

Soon we were back on the ferry.

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It was an hour late but we were finally on our way.

By now we had heard about the disruption in France with widespread fuel shortages and blockades.

Thursday 21st
Mileage : 1990
End location : Aire, NW of Avignon

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Rumours of port blockades, detouring the vessel to Genoa as well as road blockages dominated most of the converstaions throughout the voyage.  Unfortunately we were not party to most of them as we were both ill.

After lunch we both felt uncomfortable.  The sea was rough and a combination of vessel motion, vibration and a generally dickie tummy meant that we both went to bed in the late afternoon and stayed there for the next 13 hours straight.

Others were affected too with a low turnout for the evening meal.

We were due to dock at 09:00 but it was eventually 16:00 when we passed by the 21 tankers subject to the blockade (it would seem that the news reports were a bit too general, it was only the fuel port that was blocked).

We all said our goodbyes on the car deck. Simon, Ian and Brian had all decided to drive through Italy, Switzerland and Germany to avoid the fuel blockade. But Nick & Karen and us had decided to risk the French motorways.

Getting off the ferry was straightforward but slow, with all the cars funnelled into 2 customs channels.  The passport officials were cheary as we headed into the gridlock of Marseilles rush hour.

We managed good time and decided to stop and sleep under canvas at the Aire de Montellimar just north of Avignon.

We had a meal at the road side resturant and retired to our tents.  We moved down into the caravan area because it was further away from the road and would be quieter.  Unfortunately we hadn’t taken into account the local flight path and railway line that ran right past us.  This was later added to by a nearby donkey.

All in all not the quietest spot.

Friday 22nd
Mileage : 2506
End location : Premier Inn, Ashford

We broke the ice from the tents and set off at 07:30 (it had dropped to 3 degrees in the night).

Apart from a minor hold up at Lyon we encountered no problems and most of the petrol stations seemed to have cars at the pumps.

Toll costs:

Avignon – Lyon : €20.50
Villefrance – Taissy : €37.30
DeConvey – Calais : €20.20
Total :
€78.20

We stuck to the toll roads and made very good time.  In the end Calais was in sight and we decided to go for a crossing that night.  Belinda made the phonecalls as we drove along and a 21:50 crossing was booked.  In the end we arrived early and we were set for a 20:43 train.  Nick nearly made us late by insisting on going to the duty free shop with 3 minutes to spare but we made it in the end.

On the train we chatted with a couple of guys driving a disco 3 that was dirtier than ours.  Which was a bit upsetting considering where we had been.

Once we were back in Blighty we said our goodbyes as Nick and Karen headed home and we went to the Premier Inn in Ashford (Belinda booked this from France).

We sat down at 21:00 and enjoyed and lovely steak meal and relaxed.

Saturday 23rd
Mileage : 2689
End location : Home

After a lovely, proper full English breakfast (no more croisants and cheese) we set off (via Ikea of course) for the final leg of the journey home.

Stopping off at my sisters in Norwich we finally arrived home at 16:00, tired and ready to relax.

The car had performed well, 2689 miles with only minor, easily fixable, problems and no breakdowns.  The internal storage system, water tanks and nets had served us well, although we have identified several areas for improvement.  The long range fuel tank was a brilliant asset.  Avoiding the need for jerry cans, it made filling up for the desert very easy and although it wasn’t necessary in the end it meant that we drove all the way from Tunis to home on one tank without having to worry about the problems in France.

The trip was fantastic, Peter did an excellent job and apart from the mountain roads we loved it all.  Most of all we have to say thanks to the rest of the group.  The holiday would have been good on its own but was made so much better by the people we were with.

Simon, Brian, Ian & Terry and Nick & Karen all made the holiday that much better by their humour and ability to hand out as many insults as they recieved.  Hopefully I have managed to amuse and insult them all equally in this report.  I’m sure they will be along with comments if not.

A good indication of how we all got on and how we felt about Atlas Overland is the fact that we have nearly all booked for a reunion tour to Morocco in March 2012.

The countdown has begun….

Total trip summary

Fuel costs:

Initial fill up (UK) : 162 litres : £198

Avignon : 23.1 litres : Euro 30 (£26)

Tunis : 83.3 litres : Dinar 80 (£36)

Kebili : 112 litres : Dinar 130 (£58.50)

Kebili : 83.3 litres : Dinar 80 (£36)

Port el kantaoui : 100 litre : Dinar 98 (£44.10)

Tunis : 17 litres : Dinar 20 (£9)

Total 580 = 127 gallons = 21 mpg = £407.10

Other costs:

French road tolls = £72.90 southbound, £67.80 northbound = £140.70

Tunisian road tolls were minimal.

Insurance : Dinar 120 = £54

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