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Tunisia by motorbike: from Greece to the African continent

December 2022, 5,000 km in 14 days, solo.


A trip to Tunisia can exceed all expectations.


Any biker should visit places like Morocco, Algeria, or Tunisia. This travel blog tells about my solo road trip from Greece to Tunisia, made up of local people, friends, north African history and traditions.



Alberobello, Italy

Leaving from Thessaloniki (near the Turkish border), I reach home, in Italy, precisely in Puglia after the night crossing of the Igoumenitsa - Bari ferry.


After a brief visit to Bari, I head straight to Alberobello.

It is always exciting to walk through its narrow streets and visit the trulli.

Alberobello and its hilly neighborhood Rione Monti has hundreds of these conical stone buildings which are part of the Spontaneous Architecture and declared a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Some of these trulli have remained as they originally were, turning into real museums to visit, such as the Trullo Sovrano which was originally only a country Trullo but which later became the court of Pope Cataldo, and the Casa Rossa which during the Second War was turned into an internment camp.


This enchanted village which is based on the economy of craftsmanship, hosts many festivals during the summer but the best time to visit it is always spring.



Matera

Ranked as one of the oldest cities in the world (Travel 365) its Sassi is also a World Heritage Site and it was Capital of Culture 2019, where Federica and I were present with our old Honda (read Southern Italy).


Here too the stop was short but I had time to revisit the Sassi (Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso), which served as a drainage channel in case of heavy rains. Here too there are museum houses where their story tells of the removal of its citizens from their homes due to the shameful image they gave to post-war Italy but then recognized as masterpieces of building engineering and eco-sustainable life.

The central square overlooks the Murgia Materana Regional Park where you can eat a delicious hot focaccia with ham or the famous Matera bread.


Furthermore, you can visit the rupestrian churches on the edge of the city (to date 155 ascertained), dug into the tuff.



Sila National Park, Catania, Enna and Palermo

The following morning, after breakfast at the hotel, I leave for Villa San Giovanni to take the ferry to Messina. The weather, as throughout the journey, remains beautiful, mild during the day and cold at night.


The Sila National Park is imposed as a point of interest, which remains comfortably off the road and I sling through the curves of this immense wonder that I have wanted to do for some time, unfortunately, the season is not the best as the trees are bare, but the fun and the landscape are insured!

The ferry to Messina takes 20 minutes and can be purchased online through the Caronte app at the cost of 13 euros for 1 passenger and 1 motorcycle.

Before arrival, remember to check in and download the barcode that an employee will check before boarding the ferry.


I'm surprised that Sicily is so close, I imagined it further away, the impossibility of building a connecting bridge almost seems like a joke to me.



Sicily: Messina, Catania, Enna

Arrived in Messina I take the Messina-Catania motorway (cost 3.70), a fascinating stretch that offers the sea on the left and maritime pines that divide the directions of travel, and snow-capped Etna on the right in all its splendor!!


Catania is chaotic but beautiful and it's the Sicily I expected, people in short sleeves, heavy traffic, packed bars and plenty of sunshine.

After the coffee and the Sicilian nutella croissant, I leave Catania passing through narrow streets, markets and small shops where people scream, run and move quickly, and without helmets!


With the overheated motorbike I leave Catania in the direction of Enna, cutting through the hinterland.

In this stretch there are many beautiful roads, curves and greenery, Sicily is slowly making itself known, leading me to my destination after a series of curves that take you to 950 meters above sea level up to Enna Alta.


From here you can choose different panoramic points such as the Belvedere Marconi, which opens to the north including the entire landscape from Etna to the Madonie and also called the living room of the city, the Tower of Federico II, from whose top Enna and the valleys below, in the ancient summer residence of Emperor Frederick.



Palermo, last stop before Tunisia

Arriving in Palermo about two hours later, I go straight to the Hotel Porta Aragonese where I find one of the best rooms of the whole trip, large, clean, with a coffee machine and fresh biscuits. Furthermore, with 10 euros I have a private box for the motorbike under the building.


Palermo did not give me a feeling of tranquility and if I hadn't had a garage I would have looked for a private covered parking. Since the room is in a very central area and 200 meters from the port, I decided to spend the evening in the center and stroll in Via Roma, which is a show especially in the evening. I've only toured this area of the city but it was enough to make me fall in love with this place!


The following morning I finally take the ferry to Tunis, where luckily for me they no longer ask for the obligatory hotel voucher until a few days before.



Tunis

Local hospitality


The Palermo-Tunis ferry takes about 15 hours but the Superfast Ferry went much faster than expected and arrived two hours early. I made the unfortunate mistake of taking a shared cabin and nothing could be more wrong than that! When I arrived, three Tunisians were already asleep, the smell too strong for me and in the bathroom they were hiding about twenty goldfinch birds, perhaps illegally imported. So I left my trunk in the closet and slept on the uncomfortable and cold sofa. Regretful as never before, I promised myself that if I ever go back to Africa on my motorbike, I will either take the seat on the deck or the private room, never the shared room on these types of routes.


Arrived at the port of La Goulette I find the first men who works illegally asking for money to help you but they don't tell you first, they approach you as if they were employees and then ask you for money later. A 20-minute queue for a useless passport and entry visa for a motorbike (not to be missed!) and away with the tarantella thrown around by different operators who checked my passport dozens of times (they have to eat too) and when I they say I'm done with the checks, I put everything away and get on the bike, but before leaving the port I get re-signed for another passport check! What a waste of time and stress! They say Morocco is more efficient at these things.


Finally, after half an hour I manage to go out and reach the house of the family of my Tunisian colleague who will host me for the night. The roads in Tunis are beautiful but smooth as oil and therefore very dangerous if you brake even slightly.


I skirt the sea and enter one of the most exclusive areas of Tunis, "Berges du lac" with its luxury white villas, fancy neighborhoods overlooking Lake Tunis and which houses many embassies, so the security of the area is high .

Arriving home, I find dinner ready on the table which consisted of an excellent homemade couscous with shrimps (the best I've ever eaten) accompanied by the typical spicy sauce called Harissa.



Tunis - Mahadia

230km


The following morning I have the house keys of their second apartment in Mahadia, on the road to go south, overlooking the sea and not very far from Djerba, my third destination.

So I get on the motorbike and leave in the direction of Mahadia. Here too the roads are slippery because they are worn out by traffic and on the street people recognize the Italian license plate and wave to me.

I continue following the GPS on internal streets and alleys, plastic reigns in every corner like a bad disease of society, the smell that reigns throughout Tunisia is precisely that of burnt plastic, day and night.


After about an hour of motion I find myself in the middle of a village market: fresh fruit and vegetables on every corner, live animals for sale, cows' heads hanging here and there and children everywhere. At walking pace, filming with the video camera I can slowly get out of the market and continue on my way. Once I arrived in Hammamet I preferred to continue to relax by the sea.



National Forest of Tunisia

About halfway from Mahadia, I find the entrance to this natural park, which is nothing more than a spit of land that separates a lake from the sea and is famous for its white beaches and crystalline sea, as well as the place where the turtle eggs.

I leave the main road which turns into dirt and follow the track that leads straight to the sea, gradually turning into sandy ground which makes me become familiar with this type of road surface, even if occasionally I have to accelerate due to the presence of dogs strays that will prove to be harmless.


After about 1.5km the road closes because a cactus vegetation with 15cm long thorns has covered the whole area.

Unfortunately I don't have time to find another passage to the sea because in December the days are not very long and therefore I head towards a structure similar to a cathedral, whizzing standing up with the sun on my face and the dust I leave behind.



Mahadia - Djerba

Mahadia, El Jem Amphitheater, Sfax

380km


Mahadia is a super touristic place in the summer, the sea is crystal clear and has colors with incomparable shades, it was a real surprise even if the sun was still low and didn't give the perfect light for beautiful photos.

After a stroll through the colorful alleys I continue to the white cemetery by the sea thinking that I too would gladly rest in this place.

I also go for a tour of the medina (the medina is the historic center so every city has its own medina) and I stop at the Vitamin Bar for a coffee and a crepe. After breakfast I get back in the saddle in the direction of El Jem reluctantly leaving this beautiful place.



El Jem amphitheater

El Jem is not far away, imposed the navigator even if all the signs lead directly there. After about half an hour I arrive at the town which is densely populated and with heavy traffic, as well as children and animals roaming the street.

I park the bike in the shade in front of a bar full of local people, safer than leaving it in the middle of the street for everyone to see, I don't trust it much, this is still my feeling, not for the adults who smile at the tourists but for the many children who out of curiosity can get their hands into the soft side bags.

The day here in the hinterland is sunny and warm, I buy some water and put on short sleeves, I pay the entrance fee 10 Dinars (1 Euro=3.25 Dinars) and I admire this imposing Roman structure called the Colosseum, well preserved and restored. Here you can freely enter everywhere admiring every corner. They have kept this place almost as it was at the time and for them, it is an excellent business card, which also supports the local economy. Before leaving for Tunisia, I knew I shouldn't miss this place, and it was a good thing that I came here.


A bit of history:

"The El Jem amphitheater was built by the Romans under the control of the proconsul Gordian I, who has acclaimed Emperor in Thysdrus, around 238 and was probably used for gladiatorial shows and chariot races (as in the film Ben-Hur) There is also the possibility that construction of the building was never completed.

Until the seventeenth century, it remained more or less intact. From that moment its stones were used for the construction of the neighboring village of El Jem and the Great Mosque of Qayrawan and, in a period of tension during the conflict with the Ottomans, the Turks used cannons to flush out the rebels hidden in the inside it. The ruins were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.

In 1996 the amphitheater was the location of the video of a famous Nike advertisement, entitled "Good vs Evil", in which ten footballers sponsored by the multinational were seen - including Eric Cantona, Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini, Luís Figo, Patrick Kluivert, and Jorge Campos - face and defeat an evil team, commanded by Satan, who intended to cancel the game of football" Wikipedia



Leaving the huge amphitheater, I head towards Sfax, an industrial city on the sea where Youssef, a childhood friend of a work colleague, is waiting for me, who hosts me at his fast food restaurant.

Once the motorbike is parked on the sidewalk, there are always many curious looks, among them there is that of Youssef and his wife, 30, who immediately prepare the table for me. While I'm talking to Youssef and his wife, we decide to deliver sandwiches together to the Sfax stadium, whose famous team wears the Juventus colors.



I'm missing the last 2-3 hours for Djerba and as long as there's light I want to take advantage of it, so I drive fast toward my destination. Coming from the north I choose to get on the ferry while tomorrow I will go south where a paved road built on the sea connects the island with the mainland.

Along the way, when you arrive at any village, a series of high bumps begin which, if taken at high speed, really risk flying. For this reason, I chose the highway, fast, and cheap and the asphalt is perfect. Safety is never too much here, in fact it happens to come across cars on the wrong way, children crossing or playing on the side of the road, and entire bazaars made of wooden or sheet metal huts along the roadside. Service stations or service areas are to be forgotten so I was forced to leave after a hundred km.

Arrived at the port of Jorf, I skip the line and rush in front to buy the ticket, an SUV with 4 guys lets me pass and while we chat I pay for both and jump on the ferry (60 cents in total!). On the ferry, I meet an Italian-Tunisian couple who will keep me company for the whole 20 minutes.


Arrived in the evening at the Hotel Menzel Caja of Michela, a nice Italian lady from Padua who moved to Tunisia many years, in the company of her three dogs.

She tells me that she has a guest from Riccione but unfortunately she had already gone to sleep (in fact I arrived when it was dark). After chatting for a good hour we take our leave. But I spend ten minutes under the bougainvillea reviewing some photos, I have a chat with a French girl and then straight to my room.

The next day I wake up at 7.30, prepare all the luggage on the bike and have breakfast under the usual fuchsia bougainvillea which is a sight during the day! The day is sunny again today and the weather promises this climate until my return home.

While I'm having breakfast, two Parisian girls arrive, and a French lady with whom I make friends and have breakfast together. It's time to say goodbye to Michele and the other guests, today the real Africa begins.



Djerba-Ksar Ghilane

Tatouine and the Sahara desert

285km

After breakfast at Michela's I leave for Tatouine going out to the south of the island, where I have the opportunity to use the paved road that crosses the sea for the first time (it is not a bridge) and then met Lukas, a Polish boy who left from Krakow with his now destroyed Suzuki 650 Vstrom.


We meet in a bar in Tataouine where we eat mini sandwiches filled with anything. Lukas and I are lucky enough to share the same interests and want to visit the same places so we plan today's route which includes a visit to the old troglodyte village, also famous for some Star Wars scenes. The city of Tatouine is known for its Berber architecture. Even the name is Berber and means "the sources".

We actually don't find the old troglodyte village in Tatouine as we thought, it's the whole area of the Governorate that houses more than 150 ruins! In the end, we decide to leave the city and the navigator takes us to the surrounding mountains where, once here, we choose to have fun doing the heavy off-road on the rocks, difficult for me given the size of the bike, but which gave us a beautiful panorama with city view.

Since time was running out, we decided to continue towards the oasis of Ksar Ghilane passing through Ghomrassen and Bani Kheddache.



Leaving Tatooine we come across a first ruin on top of the rocky mountain called Ksar Beni Barka, a ruined fortified village that was built by North African Berber communities to repel attacks by Bedouin tribes. The building consists of a group of rooms used for housing and storage of grain and crops. We read on the internet that evening parties with music and colors often take place here. It was also the location of other scenes from the Star Wars movie.

Once you reach the top of the village, you can visit the well-restored old houses or warehouses and take a tour around the whole village, free of charge. Along the perimeter wall, the surrounding landscape can be observed for km and the other ruins present in the area can also be glimpsed. In fact, in addition to Ksar Beni Barka, you can find dozens and dozens of villages like this, such as Ksar Tounket, Chinini Tataouine, Ksar ElMourabitine, Hafsa (Maisons Troglodytes), Marshal Erwin Rommel (yes, that Rommel!).



After the tour we continue to Ksar Ghilane, passing from Ghomrassen to Bani Kheddache where we find one of the best panoramic roads in Tunisia that wind through the rocky mountains We did it from South to North, and the whole landscape around us was pure desert rocky, full of curves but with a good altitude. The road is paved but this type of asphalt is too rough and makes the road less safe especially when cornering.

Along the way you can see a life-size silhouette of a dinosaur scanning the horizon. It is not marked on the map but it is located on this stretch of road. I later read that the University of Bologna together with the Tunisian team have found entire skeletons of dinosaurs dating back to 110 million years ago as well as other various finds in the Tatouine area.

I wanted to stop and ride my motorbike to the dinosaur but when I rang Lukas didn't hear me at all, so we continued until we stopped at the Café la vague de sable D'or to stock up on muffins and croissants, where I then played the whole time with a tiny red kitten.



From Bani Kheddache to the oasis of Ksar Ghilane the road is all paved but with several stretches covered in sand that is easy to cross (or at least in our case there was no wind), also because they are not sand dunes but a carpet of about 10- 15cm.

The best part was the spectacle of nature in which we were immersed. It is thrilling to drive and be surrounded by an endless void, an infinite flat space as far as the eye can see, sand and rock that would have turned into sand dunes and camels grazing everywhere.



The last 30km from the oasis I had to do it quickly on my feet and with a dark visor because the sun was setting right in front of me, blinding me (I recommend not trying the experience).

After yet another police checkpoint (they are friendly and just want to have a chat), we arrive at the oasis where the campsites can accommodate hundreds of people. We enter the oasis surrounded by thousands of towering palm trees, manicured gardens, grass, vegetable gardens and huge steaming pools of water, a real oasis!


Our campsite was called the l'Oasis and I was the one overlooking the Sahara desert, allowing us to admire endless sand dunes and numerous camels.

Once the motorbikes are parked at the Reception, they assign me the booked room (inside there were 3 single beds attached with never washed blankets, in fact, I slept dressed) and a private bathroom. To reach the Oasis campsite there is a small stretch of sand that can be crossed with any motorbike. Nothing is missing from these oases, they have bars, restaurants, Toyota 4x4 off-road vehicles, and hundreds of quads to entertain tourists, in fact the first thing you notice upon arrival are the tourists whizzing by on the quads.



While Lukas was setting up the tent (he followed me but without having any reservations) we opted for dinner at the campsite, at the cost of 10 euros each, which included the show of this gentleman preparing a sort of enormous bread in the shape of a pizza, placed on a piece of wood, and then cooked under the boiling sand previously heated by the fire, moving the ashes before hiding it underneath.

Wow, the show leaves you speechless also because within 20 minutes it is ready, even if the faces of the people hinted that we would also eat the sand. But no, the sand of the Sahara is so fine that it looks like flour, so with two or three handfuls the cooked dough was totally clean.

This is the food of the Bedouins, which they originally prepared while crossing the desert, and it was very good!

Once the bread is ready, they make us sit inside the restaurant, bringing pieces of the still warm bread to each table, then following a waiter who has brought a stone-cooked vase, turning the whole inside in a pyrophile, i.e. mutton/lamb stewed with vegetables, good and tasty. Finally, they bring us the dates picked from the palm trees outside. Highly recommended as an experience.



In the evening Lukas has the tent ready but the temperature is dropping considerably so I lend him a heavy blanket and a pillow for the night borrowed from one of the beds I had in the room. In fact, the temperature drops below zero at night, Lukas is almost frozen and I too had a nice ice cold despite having the air conditioner at 32 degrees in the room. In the morning I photographed the ice on the bike due to the temperature difference.



Ksar Ghilane-Tozeur

Sahara door, Chott el-Jèrid, il Magic Bus, Route transversale tunisienne

290km

The next day we have no breakfast, but we don't worry about it, I have protein bars and juices behind me so we'll manage. Last walk on the dunes, some usual photos and a quick stroll around the oasis. The tour takes a couple of hours, we walked among marvelous palm groves, with lots of grass on the ground, and then followed these concrete canals which are nothing more than sewage that is filtered and boiled so as to be reused for services, for water the fields and the palm trees, that's why everything shines here! The same black water that is boiled was found by Lukas in the form of a small lake where bathing is possible, and he, no less than that, undressed and dived in while I drank a coffee.




Once ready we take the motorbikes, we get out of the sand with less ease and we take the asphalt again in the direction of Douz.

As a first stop, we want to visit the "Door of the Sahara" where the Tunisian Sahara begins. Here you can also take your own vehicle to take a ride on the sand where shortly after I planted myself with the motorbike, but in the end, I got out.

Historically Douz has always been an important stop for caravans passing between the Sahara and northern Tunisia and every year in November and December the "Sahara Festival" takes place which attracts the nomadic tribes of Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt. filling the city with tourists from all over the world.

To get here, you take a road surrounded by palm trees, and often in Tunisia, you come across such roads, which are spectacular.



We head towards Tozeur, so we go back on the main road accompanied by a few camels, we still notice many beautiful colorful huts that serve as cafes or restaurants (I would have gladly stopped but we were late), we also pass next to a super oil refinery guarded and we take the road that cuts Chott el-Jèrid in half, a huge salt lake where we can frolic and look at a flat landscape without end.


We ride standing on the motorbikes and before the salt lake ends in the north, we enter with the motorbikes (the earth was super beaten) and we follow the track that leads to the abandoned Bus.

Sunset is coming, and the photos and videos we take of each other while we ride the bikes are perfect, I would have camped here if I had a tent, but it's really cold at night. I would also have liked to bring the drone but here it is illegal as is binoculars as they are classified as military equipment.

The story of this bus is that it was abandoned after shooting scenes for a film, but there is not much news about it on the internet. But we had fun reaching it and getting on it, but soon it was time to say goodbye to reach Tozeur before dark.



Before definitively leaving the salt lake, we see on the map this point of interest called Route transversale tunisienne (which we think was the name of the road that cuts through the lake), but which instead turns out to be a pool of water surrounded by lots of salt, surrounded by small boats sailboat of a thousand colors. Here too, on the other side of the road, there are stalls and kids trying to sell you everything.

If you buy something then a friend arrives too, and a friend's friend so they all become a bit annoying.



The last km to reach Tozeur was easy but chilly as the sun was already low. As always we get petrol the night before to be ready the following morning, then I reached my accommodation which turns out to be a beautiful villa of a wealthy and very kind Tunisian man, located in the city center.

In Italy, he had called me to propose dinner where his wife would prepare typical Tunisian dishes. Dinner was delicious even though I was very little hungry.

I paid 58 euros for this b&b and 16 for dinner, which is not cheap to be in Tunisia, but I needed a clean room where I could rest normally.

The only rip-off is that they asked me for another 10 Dinars because the Tunisian non-alcoholic beer was not included (but how with 16 euros it is not included??)



Tozeur-Sbeitla