Visuals - 2006 KTM Tunesia
Day zero: Leaving for Djerba
Well, OK we are not so mono anymore and the maniac part is disappearing too with age but after some years of thinking and talking finally three of us (KTMax, Hunter and Apuch) decided to book an Off-Road vacation trip. We chose the Tunisia Dune Tour from KTM Adventure tours (www.ktmadventuretours.ch
The idea was to somewhat experience a Paris-Dakar feeling although be it with 4 star hotel facilities at the end of the day instead of a bivouac. Since only KTMax had some distant off-road experience to be counted in the form of some trial riding we initially had some concerns about our skillevel. Fortunately they were put to rest after a call with the friendly lady from the booking agency. She assured Hunter that with our on-road experience it would be no problem to do the tour. More on that later.
After hunting down bargains for weeks in order to get our gear complete we came to the conclusion that new and bigger bags had to be bought as well or multiple bags would be the alternative.
So off we went to the airport resulting in an excess baggage fine for six kilo's for me at check in (54 euro thank you very much). The other guys had excess baggage of about three kilo's each but that did not set off the alert. Lucky bastards.
Late in the evening we landed on Djerba airport where we were picked up by Klaus Kinigadner who would be the tour guide in charge for this tour. He told us that the rest of the group was already in the hotel, a group of 11 French speaking Swiss.
He had inquired about their skill level and was also curious about ours. The Swiss claimed initially to be experts but they softened that down a bit when Klaus stated that he did not consider himself to be an expert.
When we stated to have no, as in none not even a little, off-road experience he thought we were taking the piss out of him. We arrived late and went to bed right away since we were to get up early in order to leave for the mainland of Tunisia.
Djerba is an island where for the most part elderly Germans drink, eat, sleep and defecate in large quantities while staying in gigantic hotels so real adventure is to be found elsewhere.
Day one: Transfer from Djerba to Douz.
Things always look better in the morning.
In the morning we looked at the line-up of hardware provided for us. The bikes in question were EXC 400's with a Desert tank of 13 Litre. Front tyre was a Michelin Desert, back tire a Sahara. The latter a bit to our surprise since it is a more road oriented tire. But it was chosen to prevent noobs digging in too fast in the sand and not melting the tires away on some stretches of tarmac. Both front and back were equipped with Bib Mousse inner tyres.
Off-road gear doesn't feel quite natural, yet.
Ferry crossing to the mainland. Where are the swim vests on this boat?
A bit of a tight fit on the ferry.
After the ferry we went of the road and rode along the shore line. First stop was on top of a cliff (we are Dutch remember, so from our perspective every pile of dirt over 10 meters is considered to be a mountain). The pace was already a bit of a challenge for us but doable. The vacation part of the tour would take a bit of a backseat though, so much was clear al ready.
First stop, nice view.
Dude! We're up here!
After this stop we went more and more inland finding ourselves riding in desert terrain before we realised it. In this section the three of us were a bit struggling to get in the rhythm of riding off-road in unfamiliar terrain on unfamiliar bikes with an unfamiliar pace. The Swiss part of the group had no problems whatsoever. Much to our relieve a restaurant of sorts was found to take in lunch.
KTM parking only.
Three Diet Coke, one Happy Meal, a Big Mac, French Fries, Banana McShake large and….
Three of our Tour Guides. Wolfgang, Klaus and Norbert, There were four (Much) in total plus a Doctor, Hannes.
Lounge facilities Desert Style.
Toilets were out back.
After lunch we still had some riding to do in order to get to Douz. The pictures don't show it but the terrain got a bit more demanding. Well, for me anyway. No time to take pictures when you're trying to hang on.
Short stop for the group along the way.
How much water did I pack? Must not lose the group!
After ploughing through the desert for a while we were promised to have a last 30 kilometres or so of easy piste. This turned out to be a hard gravel road of sorts with ruts hidden partially by sand blown in from the desert up to heights of a meter and a half. I think I preferred the desert part. We were glad to reach the hotel and enjoyed the shower.
Every evening we would have a briefing at nine o'clock were Klaus would take us through the events of the day and prepare us for the upcoming day.
In the evening we had the opportunity to measure up the rest of the bunch which turned out to be a group of 11 guys who did this sort of trips together more often. All of them riding off-road bikes for one or two decades. We got some weary looks during the day because the group was wondering about those Dutch guys at the back of the pack but after we seriously stated this to be our first real off-road experience, ever, the consensus changed a bit towards approval. So thank God we made somewhat of an impression. One of the tour guides also stated "that someone ought to have a serious discussion with the woman" after we told them about the phone inquiry Hunter had had about the needed skill level for the tour.
This might sound all a bit like whining from my side but actually the three of us were quite pleased with ourselves being able to keep up to a certain degree with the rest. The experience of the first day was already overwhelming, riding through scenery we only knew from television and brochures. It became clear that we got more then we bargained for but that was OK with us since our learning curve would be the steepest and we would get the most out of the experience. After this first day we felt that making it through the entire event probably would become a challenge. Well, so be it.
After doing some recuperation in and wandering around the hotel we found ourselves to be in a Dakar Stage of some sort because it turned out that the hotel was used by multiple Dutch Dakar contestants preparing them self for the upcoming 2007 edition of the rally and doing tests of man and material.
Hotel parking lot
Half prepped Honda Dakar bikes!
The hotel in question, El Mouradi in Douz, is literally situated at the edge of the Sahara desert and several rally's have been held, and are held, in the vicinity.
Day two : Dune training
The next morning we got some instructions about how to take on dunes of various sizes and, more important, what to do when efforts were less successful and you and your bike end up stranded in various unwanted situations. Turned out we were not the only ones playing in the sandbox behind the hotel.
No it's not Paris-Dakar, it's a vacation.
Go find your own patch of desert!
After this training there was a route set out through dunes to exercise a bit more. No action photo's unfortunately. People were to busy trying not to hit the sand. Camera's got out at lunch again though.
How was your ride sofar?
Obvious tourist trap.
Parasols and sand. But no beach.
Back at the hotel. Don't trip over the camel!
One of our tour guides, Much, who also doubled as the tour mechanic had a KTM Rally bike on loan to practise with. He's also the number 4 motocross guy of Austria if I remember correctly.
Much. Junior tour guide.
He has some Dakar aspirations for 2008 and ran into some of the 2007 Dakar competitors training on Honda's behind the hotel. They somewhat tested each other but that skirmish lasted for about two minutes after which they lost sight of Much. Being Dutch also they asked us later who that guy was in our group. So we told them that he was our youngest tour guide. "Still learning". Always nice to mess with people's minds.
What's this then? Desert rash? Never seen it before.
Day three: Salt Lake Crossing
On today's schedule was a long trip (400+ km) partly around the biggest salt lake in Tunisia Chott El Jerid. At this point we were split up into two groups. One being the Swiss with two tour guides and the other being us Dutch folk with two tour guides and the accompanying doctor who followed at the end of the caravan. Not specifically our group…In this way either group could ride at a pace more befitting their level.
This would remain the modus operandi for the rest of the trip and worked fine. The Swiss group would usually start and we would follow. Sometimes we rode with little distance between us. Sometimes we could only see a cloud of dust at the horizon. On planned stops like lunch we would soon join up again.
Before going into the sand for a long stretch we made a stop to fill up our tanks.
Local petrol station.
You thought we could use the dodgy red pump didn't you! Uh uh, that's for a more important means of local transport. 2-stroke Mopeds.
And since we were stopping anyway we decided to mingle with the locals at the café.
After the fill up of man and machine we did some really nice off-road riding. Amongst which sandy tracks with curves and some bumps so you could slide out of curves on the power and make some jumps. Well if you wanted or dared to anyway.
The sun was out and the riding demanding so special techniques were put in effect by Tour guide Norbert to keep hydrated.
At a certain point we left the sand to make a crossing through/over the salt lake. The top layer is whitish from the salt but right underneath is a layer of very slippery brown mud.
The technique was to stay in a tire track made by a car or truck as much as possible. Or you could make your own track just riding over the lake surface. That we left to tour guide Wolfgang. Who does body painting, flame throwing and tightrope walking as a day job. Therein might lay the reason for him being able to stay upright on the bike longer then most of us.
Small stop on higher ground while crossing the salt lake.
All went well for tenths of kilometres until Norbert decided to take a small shortcut through untouched mud to get out of the lake to an embankment road. He slipped and fell in the mud. As did KTMax trying not to run him over, twisting his knee in the process. The rest of the group came to a sliding halt and managed to get the bikes out of the mud patch only by pushing alongside and gassing the bikes at the same time.
Hard earned lunch.
After the lunch stop we visited the prop village erected for the Star Wars movie. In order to get there you must ride a winding stony washboard road for about 20 kilometres. Norbert buggered off into the distance at a blistering pace in speedway style. Only KTMax made an effort to follow but the rest soon decided to make it there at their own pace.
High tech and fine grained sand. Can't last.
Obligatory pose. Need to have proof we've actually been there.
After the visit we found our way back to tarmac eventually and sprayed off the bikes at a gas station. The rest of the route would be on tarmac, riding over the dam erected through the lake.
What's he pointing at?
The dam through the salt lake.
We made a stop for coffee and tea on the dam at which point Hannes our doctor realised he had left his rucksack at the gas station where we cleaned the bikes. The rucksack contained his medical kit so he and Norbert decided to ride back in an effort to retrieve it. The rest waited.
Killing time by taking pictures of each other.
Fortunately the rucksack was retrieved but it was getting late and losing this much time meant we had to ride the remaining part of the stretch back to the hotel (about 100 kilometres or so) in Douz mostly in the dark. In order to take advantage as much as possible of the remaining daylight we set off full throttle with our tinted visors.
I was a bit apprehensive about riding at night in Africa because I have had some earlier experience with it. People tend to start walking on the roads in the evening and there isn't always that much light to see them. Locals tend to blend in with the dark…
And riding on a bike with enduro lights doesn't help much. In addition, Tunisian youths tend to get exited when they see bikers coming up and they walk towards you on the road. Oh, and lets not forget the habits of local drivers to either use as much light as possible or no light at all. In any case all of the above mentioned kept our adrenalin flowing and our senses sharp. Which added to the night riding experience because when you pass through villages in the evening you notice all kinds of scents like gasoline fumes, burning wood, food, herbs and spices, people, cattle and shit.
After a speedy ride we all arrived at the hotel in one piece but were pretty battered.
Day four :GPS Training
After the strenuous ride of yesterday a more relaxed schedule was planned for today. We started with a GPS instruction at the poolside.
Klaus handing out a GPS. People looking at a map of the area.
Yeah yeah, this GPS stuff is all very nice but how do you get into the game menu?
After having us getting familiar with the workings of the GPS a test ride was set up where you were supposed to find a waypoint, and a tour guide, some 8 kilometres in the sandbox behind the hotel.
After the test ride a bigger route (about 65km) had to be made by way of following a set of waypoints programmed into everyone's GPS.
Hmmm…Could that camel be the waypoint we're looking for?
At this day the toll off off-road riding was beginning to show on us. KTMax twisted knee was swelling up and painful so he sat the day out. He went exploring the Haman (sauna like) facilities of the hotel, giving his knee an additional twist on slippery tiles. I did the GPS test with Hunter but passed on the longer waypoint route since my hands were beginning to suffer from blisters and loss of strength and feeling in my fingers.
Hannes the doctor had said I had overexerted my forearms. Still haven't got a clue about how and why. In my mind and recollection I had no fear about riding off-road at for me personally up till now unbelievable speeds. But maybe my body was controlled by my subconscious and was I actually clinging on to the handlebars for dear life. Who knows.
Hunter did the waypoint route but had an encounter with a dune he intended to go over. The dune had other intentions and tried to swallow him by means of soft floury sand at the base. Resulting in Hunter parking his bike into the dune up until the handlebars and slamming into the sand. He claimed to have heard some cracks in neck and shoulder. Could have been his protective gear though. But he kept some resulting pain nevertheless.
Day five :Desert,Dunes, Oasis and Rain
Today's route was to go south from Douz into the desert and reach the Oasis of Ksar Ghilaine. All off-road and some 250 kilometre long. KTMax had his knee bandaged and rode again. I had taken some rest yesterday with this day in mind and Hunter was also well enough to mount his bike.
Coffee Stop. Notice the left banner on the outside. This is rally country.
Servings on the inside. Swiss guy finds not enough room in the glass to stir his spoon. Hannes puts down his glass. Take a snort through the nose and its empty. Water is scarce in the desert.
And off we go again!
A couple of kilometres before the oasis lies a roman fortress in ruins stemming from the times that crops like grain could be grown here. Then came the sand. Lucky for us...
Entrance. Leave your bike outside.
Inner Square and chambers of the fort.
Oasis in the background. Dunes in between. Clouds forming above.
We rode towards the oasis through the dunes. I almost ran over the decaying cadaver of a camel lying in a dune pan but forgot to make a picture of it. I was a bit busy staying on the bike at the time.
At the oasis. Rudolph Valentino impersonation taking place in the background.
The well in the oasis. Abundant facilities in place. Parking at the left, swimming in the centre, food in the back, scarcely clad women in the front.
Enjoying the local cuisine.
Oops! Something's brewing.
Okay, bad pose, unsharp picture. Never mind, look at the pool, it's raining in the desert.
The rain was short and stopped soon. It turned the colour of the sand from yellow to an appropriate orange.
We filled up for gas at the oasis and left for the return stretch. We had to cross dunes for some 15-20 kilometres. Luckily the rain had formed a hard crust of a few centimetres on top of the sand making the crossing easier. Nevertheless it was hard on some and harder on others (me).
What's keeping the rest? I'm the one with bad knee remember.
Someone took a tumble. Happens to the best of us. Only less often. The white patches are formed by the underlying softer sand, below the harder crust formed by the rain.
Leaving the dunes, back on he flatter desert surface.
The weather turned a bit towards wind coming in from the right. Blowing in sand and covering up the ruts and tracks of the piste. Making it quite difficult to ride. At a certain point I adapted to remain seated on the bike for most of the time. Trying to steer and counter steer roughly towards the direction I wanted to go.
Last coffee stop before the hotel. Hard times are showing.
The last stretch to the hotel was some 30-40 km of piste. Light was getting dimmer making it harder to judge what was up ahead by lack of contrast. Wind was blowing strong from the side and sand swept over the piste from right to leftt. Actually quite impressive to experience even such a modest sandstorm but hard to get through nevertheless.
Our group was stretching out. The three in front of me, Norbert, KTMax and Hunter, were slowly heading towards the horizon. Hannes and Wolfgang were behind me. I decided to ride at my own pace but at a certain point caught up with Hunter taking a break at the side of the piste after having a difficult moment.
Needless to say I passed him at full speed just to make an impression while trying to dent his ego in the process. The hotel wasn't so far at this point anymore and we joined up in front of the hotel to first go into town to fill up the bikes with gas.
Boy, did we enjoy the hotel facilities this evening! Staying awake until the briefing at nine o'clock was difficult.
Day six: Back to Djerba
On this last day of riding we had to transfer back from Douz to Djerba which is some 200-250km. Weather wasn't too good. Chilly and overcast. And forecasts mentioned some rain. We started of with a stretch of desert of about 30 kilometres but apparently my cup with off-road capabilities was running empty now.
Riding clean lines was getting harder and harder and the pace dropped so I lost the leading tour guide Much, KTMax and Hunter out of sight. I wasn't the only one having a hard time because when we joined up again at a stop for coffee KTMax came with the suggestion I already had made up in my mind which was to ride the rest of the trip on tarmac.
So the plan was to follow or lead the Orange bus driven by Norbert (he drew the short straw) back to the hotel on Djerba.
Coffee stop. Notice the high tech Solar cells. Water for coffee and tea was heated on a single flame Campinggaz canister though. Hence the queue in front of the counter.
And so we did. We had to ride through some rain and wind for a while but a hot lunch in Matmata warmed spirits and bodies. From there on there was a part with some lower mountains meaning curves but unlike KTMax and Hunter I wasn't in the mood to explore the grip of a knobbly front tire on wet and muddy tarmac.
After descending to a plain the weather got better and we let Norbert in the bus catch up because we had lost him out of our sights on the mountain roads. We took in the scenery at a leisurely pace from our saddles that seemed to get narrower and harder over time now.
Despite having put on a set of bicycle pants the saddle wanted to wedge itself up my behind more and more. So I adopted the routine of turning it an alternating cheek.
Spot the orange bus!
A few palms make all the difference.
Back on the ferry.
Back on Djerba it turned out to have rained considerately over there. Puddles and pools all over and some parts of the road were covered in water ankle-deep. But the water was not high enough to get the bikes clean from bottom to top so we stopped at a gas station.
Local labour is cheap…
The Swiss group followed the original plan to go off-road initially but had to adjust that due to parts that became to slippery for comfort. So they rode some stretches of tarmac as well. They arrived at the hotel hours after us nonetheless.
I will…join you guys…at the bar…shortly….Zzzzzz.
In the evening a farewell ceremony and gift handout was planned and Klaus made an effort to entertain us. And he had to because he had left his pack with gifts at the hotel in Djerba.
A local Douz KTM shop dealer was found willing, being North African for a hefty sum of money, to bring us the pack with gifts.
Awaiting the arrival of the gifts we resided in a hotel bar of Tunisian ambiance where Klaus treated us on a selection of his CD music collection amongst which performers the like of Andrea Berg, Mireille Mathieu, Vader Abraham (Dutch singer of sorts...) with the Schloumpf (Snurfs in English I think) song. Sung in German mind you.
Some of the songs also accompanied by a singing Klaus. He knew the Schloumpf/Snurfs song by heart...We were not sure if this was all an act or a dead serious sharing of his musical preference but is safe to state that, at last, at 11 o'clock the arriving gifts were welcomed with great relief. By Dutch, Swiss, Austrian(the other tour guides) and Tunisian(hotel staff) people alike.
The harder you suck, the less you hear Klaus' music.
We each received a Tunisia Dune Tour 2006 T-Shirt and a Certificate stating we had overcome all obstacles and became true KTM Adventurers. Who was I to argue…
We had the certificate signed by our tour guides and when Norbert signed mine he remarked he had hunted me down a bit. I am not sure if it was quite meant as an apology because he added "that I needed it". The reason for writing this last bit down is to try to capture the spirit of the whole event where we were pushed to explore our own limits and overcome them. Accompanied and instructed by experienced tour guides.
All in a controlled manner I must add and the whole group of Swiss and Dutch were complemented on riding with our heads resulting in no casualties or even minor accidents for the whole week. Blisters, stretched ligaments, abrasions, bruises and such not taken into account. That comes with the territory.
I also must add that the bikes did not suffer of any problem whatsoever. Not even a tire problem. Which is remarkable since this particular set of bikes had already done about twelve tours this year in countries like Morocco, Italy, Tunisia etc.
Most people were scheduled to catch planes on various times the next day so we all said goodbye to each other. The three of us had an entire day left to see something of Djerba and went into town Houmt-Souk to join the usual North African Local vs. Tourist haggling ceremony when scoring gifts for the home front.
Welcome my Friend! See anything you like? I'll make you very special price.
Streets of Houmt-Souk
We also had some time left at to spend at the hotel. Too cold to swim though.
The Day after that we left for home, tired and with sore limbs but us lowland city slickers were one adventurous memory richer.
Writing : Apuch
Pictures: KTMax, Hunter and ApuchLast modified: 19-07-2009