Enduro Tue 13 February 2018

Ride Desert Tunisia 2017

5-star trip through the dunes of the Sahara Desert with a group composed of 9 motorcycles and 4 ATVs … One word: SAND and again SAND.

Four years later, Estremo confine is back riding along new trails in the Sahara Desert. With a group of 9 motorcycles we leave Vicenza assisted by two veterans in their pick-ups loaded with what we will need during our journey, i.e. anything and everything. Tuesday evening, October 24th, we load the motorcycles on the trailer and our two veterans, Maurizio aged 68 and Riccardo aged 49, head for Genova to board GNV’s ferry for Tunisia, which they will reach 24 hours later, while the group of 9 motorcyclists leave Saturday morning, October 28th, from Venice’s airport; after landing, we take a minibus to Douz, starting point of our adventure. During the seven, I repeat seven, hours of travel, we stop in El Jem to visit the well- preserved remains of an amphitheater where a few scenes of “The Gladiator” were shot. 

First day
We wake up early and after a hearty breakfast, we meet with our guides, captained by the expert Tunisian guide Lac Douz Quad, in front of the Sun Palm hotel. We load the four pick-ups with what we need for the journey, especially beverages and 600 liters of gas, and we go! At first, we get accustomed to the sand by riding on dirt-sand trails which, however, quickly become only sand. The bikes start dancing and we open the throttle to tame them while the adrenaline begins to rise. The dunes get closer and higher and even our concentration grows since the sand is particularly soft due to slight rains. Sandro, equipped with a GPS, leads the group while Raffaele and I are the tail gunners. We duet with the dunes for a few hours and sometimes one of us falls but without any damage. We rejoin the guides to drink and eat something, a cold beer, an energy drink and off we go. Around 4 pm we stop to set up our first camp; we look for a flat area between all the dunes, where to mount the gazebo to eat. We place our tents apart from one another so as not to disturb each other. While our companions remove their suits and set up the tents, Sandro and I prepare … pizza for dinner! Yes, pizza prepared and vacuum-packed by our friend of the Pizzeria Umberto in Malo. We open it, put it in a pan and … fantastic, seems fresh out of the oven, the boys are dumbfounded; paired with a cold beer, how can you ask for more? Something sweet and prosecco and then to bed. But before I go to bed I look at the sky and what I see is amazing: countless stars which don’t look real. I’d like to sleep under them, but the temperature doesn’t allow it, so I enter the tent and goodnight!

Second day: Sabria-Tembain
The waking up is feverish, we long to ride our bikes, so after a quick breakfast, coffee and croissant, off we go. One, two curves and Sandro falls, nothing serious but … it’s not like him, the dunes aren’t high, we are riding fast. On soft sand the bikes tend to dig down, but this is a playground for adults, a lot of fun. As the km go by, the dunes become higher and more challenging, and the first problems occur. Walter’s bike, a KTM 530, often dies and has trouble starting, the same for Sandro’s Yamaha 450 that has problems with the starter, but we keep going pumped up on adrenaline. We reach Tembian, characteristic location in the desert and landmark for our trips.
We stop to drink waiting for our guides who arrive 2 hours later; after a few kilometers we setup camp. While Lorenzo, Enrico and I cook dinner, Sandro takes apart the bike and finds the starter broke.
Even Trita and Andrea’s bikes made some weird noise, but we hope it’s nothing serious. For dinner we have nothing less than stuffed olives fried in the deep fryer, mozzarella cheese with ham covered in grits, also fried, veal with tuna sauce, accompanied by prosecco and spritz. After dinner, we sit around the fire prepared by the guides, keeping warm while we talk about our day without looking at our watches, it feels like time has stopped.

Third day: Tembian - Ain Ouadette lake   
In the morning, Sandro gives up, he doesn’t feel like embarking on this challenging part of the tour, so he joins the guides together with Walter and Trita. The rest of the group is led by the other veteran, Raffaele, who knows the place well. Rows and rows of high and dangerous dunes of soft sand await us. We always look for the less steep point to drive over a dune, but we don’t seem to find it, the engines run with high rpms and we often see smoke coming from the bikes … a few falls but we keep going; we have been riding for two hours but only covered 8 of the scheduled 35 km, I can’t describe the faces we pull. We hold a short briefing to decide whether to go on or move towards the trail. We decide to go straight on.
Shortly after, Lorenzo with his Beta 400 gets stuck, pulls his bike out and gets stuck again, he pushes it out once again, but he’s exhausted. I tell him to get off and rest while I climb the dune with his bike and we are off again with the rest of the group. The landscape is breath-taking, the sand is beautifully red, powdery if touched; this is why it’s important to make the bike float on sand, so as to avoid getting stuck while looking for the hard-packed ridge of the dune. We are almost there, a few more dunes and the Ain Ouadette lake is ours. The last set of dunes; we see green in the distance. The lake was borne when a hot water vein was found while drilling for oil; it is a great point of arrival for who goes into the desert and then heads back north to go back. We get off the bikes, undress and in we go to relax; it’s more like a pool than a lake size-wise. Wonderful. After a couple of hours, the guides and Walter arrive with the bikes while Sandro and Trita’s are loaded on the pick-ups. We relax drinking beer and snacking, while our guide makes cous cous for dinner. Delicious. We go to bed when it’s dark, without checking the time, it feels like 11 pm but instead it’s only 7.30 pm, incredible!

Fourth day
A full day relaxing at the lake, fixing our bikes and swimming in the hot water. We realize that there are more tourists than in the past years; we are told that tourism has increased by 70%.

Fifth day: Ain Ouadette-Dekenis
Today we head for Dekenis, other landmark for visitors. We reach it easily for the trail has ruts made by other passing vehicles and is rather fast. We stop to wait for the others; due to a misunderstanding with our guides, when we separate again we take the wrong route which is a wide track where our bikes fly at high speed.
After a few kilometers, we realize that we are going the wrong way, so Raffaele decides to backtrack to where we were when we separated, but our guides already left. We try phoning, but no one answers; without panicking we decide to take the trail for the Kasar Ghilane oasis, the destination for our following day, and after 15 km we rejoin them. It’s almost sunset so we immediately setup camp. The morning after we proceed for the oasis. After deciding to meet at Zmela Labrissa, a little well-kept hotel, we motorcyclist leave first, as always. The trail is like a motocross race; jumps, berms, wow …real fun. Upon our arrival, the owner, who’s very nice and funny, brings us something to drink; we stay for about one hour before heading for the oasis. In the distance we see a wide green blur, but as soon as we reach one of the entrances the illusion vanishes … tarmac, yes tarmac to bring tourists. For who, like us, experienced a “natural” oasis with sand all around, it’s a disappointment, but we understand that tourism is a source of income. We take a dip in a hot water pond and relax until the others join us. At the restaurant we eat local food, which is always slightly hot but tasty and then move to the campsite where some of us choose a room over the tent.  

Last section: Ksarghilane-Douz
Last day with the dunes. The guide is in front of us for a few kilometers until we hit the famous “straight on” i.e. a straight line to Douz over rows of dunes, while Walter, on his bike which is not in perfect condition, follows the guide along the trail. Last hours of freedom and then … back to every day’s harsh reality. Our guide booked dinner at the best restaurant of Douz, Il Elbay, where we eat meat and vegetables cooked in a tagine, a conical pot made of clay, placed on embers inside a hole. Everything is delicious, the only little problem, for us, is the lack of alcohol, but, despite this, the evening turns out very well because all of us share impressions on our adventure. One single question from all: When are we coming back?
We are already working on the next trip.

Goodbye from Estremo Confine and thank you Sandro, Franco, Walter, Lorenzo, Sandro P., Andrea, Enrico, Raffaele, Carlo, Riccardo, Maurizio.

Text and photos: Franco Turato

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