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Only three weeks and no desire to travel to Libya or Algeria for a long time? Or is it on your way to Africa for the first time? Then Tunisia is an ideal destination for enduros to dig in the sand of the Sahara.

Joachim Deleker


It only gets quieter behind Bizerte, on the North Cape of Africa. The chaos in the port of Tunis and the miserable traffic in this city are almost forgotten. We are on the black continent? only that it looks very different from what I expected. Birgit and I follow the coast towards the west via small back roads. After the winter rain, the landscape has put on an almost Irish green dress. The farmers are already harvesting the first hay of the year. And with barely 12 degrees and light drizzle, African cliches go for a swim: heavy dark clouds hang in the mountains of the Tell Atlas, hiding the over 1000 meter high wooded peaks around Ain Draham. But then the road curves, winds down through fragrant pine and cedar forests. The first rays of the sun tickle our nose, and when we reach El Kef in the late afternoon, no more clouds can be seen. The next morning the lush green disappears with every kilometer driven until only a barren grass steppe is left. Finally we reach the ruins of the Tamerza mountain oasis. The old dilapidated mud houses are spread out spectacularly on a ridge above two wadis, dry river valleys. To the east there is a huge palm grove, and behind the old village brown mountains fold into the blue sky. After Tamerza, the road climbs through a bizarre rocky landscape. Dreamlike curve sequences make you nervous, but sand and gravel, with which the most beautiful bends are garnished, calm the gas hand again. Too bad. Another dozen switchbacks downhill and we rush straight into the endless monotony of the Chott el Djerid, the largest salt lake in Africa. We jet across a completely smooth, brown plain, the air shimmering in the midday heat. Mirages simulate a non-existent lake. A red and white milestone flies past every 1000 meters. Nothing else. Only after Tozeur does the chott change face. Snow-white salt crystals cover the plain, dazzling despite sunglasses. Again and again we discover traces that lead to the dead straight horizon? or straight into impressive mud holes. The salt crust is thin, sometimes brittle and fragile, then again as hard as ice. But underneath lurks the tough mud, from which, once broken in, it is difficult to escape again. So we’d rather stay on the road. Most of the time, anyway. Because we just can’t resist a little round over the crunching salt surface. The first small dunes herald the end of the salt lake. The strong easterly wind drives sand flags across the street and into our helmets. When we reach the Douz oasis, not only does it grind between our teeth, the fine yellow stuff even trickles out of our ears. Regardless, Douz has one of the few campsites in the country, even with hot showers. Eight motorcyclists turn up in the course of the evening. It will be a long night with African stories and the latest information from Algeria, Libya or Mauritania. Far too early, an African sound cocktail wakes us up. Completely distorted muezzin chants mix with the roar of donkeys and the screeching of roosters, and somewhere a few more curls go crazy. Not a single eye is left. High time to seek the quiet of the desert. A small slope finally leads us behind Matmata through the mountains to the Berber village of Toujane. The enduros are finally getting a job. We balance the motorbikes in a narrow gorge over rough scree, washed-out ruts and large rock steps. The gravel track winds boldly through the uninhabited expanse to Toujane. The closely nested mud houses of the Berber village cling to the steep mountain slope. Only the small mosque sets a white ray of light between the brown walls. Old men crouch in the shadow of the houses, thickly wrapped in heavy, dark cloaks, and watch the passing time. For hours, weeks, probably a lifetime. Time has a completely different meaning in this world. The slope gets better behind Toujane. Nevertheless, we don’t see a single car. Every now and then a few camels, a herd of sheep or goats. Sometimes a lonely Berber tent can be seen in the hilly landscape. Gradually, brown mountains replace the green plateau. A few palm trees later loosen up the stony desert. Shortly before noon we roll into Tataouine, where the permit for the restricted area in the south should be given. We had already registered by fax from Douz. And indeed, our permit is ready. However, the mischievously grinning boss demands 45 dinars, whereas only 10 dinars are due per person. “Yes, but,” he instructs us, “motorcyclists need a guide. Makes an extra 10 dinars, plus 15 dinars for the Fuhrer’s agency. ”Nevertheless, he explains, we could drive into the restricted area without a guide. We understood. African Leverage Laws. Whoever sits on the longer end determines the price. Either we pay or there is no permit. Bargaining is futile this time.Before we head into the desert, we drive to Ksar Ouled Soltane, a beautifully restored residential castle from the 15th century. Barrel-shaped storage houses, the ghorfas, are grouped around two inner courtyards and can only be reached via bold stairs. The ancient architecture of a ksar actually looks very futuristic. It is probably for this reason that scenes for the film »Star Wars« were shot here. We pass a few more dilapidated Ksars before an eerily bad road leads into the vastness of the desert behind the mountain village of Guermessa. We laboriously rumble on on hard corrugated iron and deep gravel. Suddenly it smells like burned plastic. The speedometer cable of the Dominator fell out due to the jolting and is currently scorching on the exhaust manifold. A little later, Birgit misses the license plate of her Suzuki. Fortunately, we barely find it two kilometers back – the piste doesn’t get any better, the landscape doesn’t get any more exciting. Annoyed, we reach the ugly village of Ksar Ghilane, which is dozing in the heat of the desert. But paradise, the oasis, begins just a few hundred meters away. In the middle of the palm grove, a warm pool, shady tamarisks, chirping birds and small cafes. In the sand dunes we even find a wonderful place for a tent, but the peace and quiet will soon be over. The wind rises and drives sand and dust in front of it. We can forget riding a motorcycle, the view is barely 100 meters. The sandstorm only subsides after 30 hours. During a short walk we discover countless beer cans in the sand. A guided motorcycle tour group, each of them a small would-be cinema enthusiast, simply left the rubbish behind when they left. The storm ensured the area-wide distribution. Are Tunisians happy about such gifts? We leave Ksar Ghilane behind us, dust the good road south and reach the restricted area at the Kamour military post. Our permit is checked, the barrier opens and the way into the Sahara is clear. The wide slope branches out into many individual tracks. Small gray tufts cover the dusty plain. Limitless loneliness, the monotony of the desert captivates us. It’s getting sandy. More and more often, small dunes wander over the gravel road, forcing us to do a fun slalom. Not a single trace can be seen. Who knows when the last vehicle was here. With a nasty metallic noise, the fun stops abruptly. The first shock becomes a certainty when I remove the cover of the pinion: acute tooth corrosion, the end seems near. What now? We can forget our destination, the dunes near El Borma. I tighten the slack chain, we heave the Honda out of the soft sand, and I accelerate as gently as on black ice. The pitted sprocket packs! Pig. Don’t stop now, the dunes of Erg Oriental are already appearing on the horizon. But the piste to get there is getting sandy. With a heavy heart we turn to the exit of the restricted area. We can easily reach the tar road and with it civilization. A phone, a call to a good friend in Cologne who gets the pinion, drives to the airport and hands it to the first Djerba vacationer. Barely 20 hours later, I receive the package on the holiday island. Logistics is everything. This means that the Dominator is ready for desert again. But we neither have the time nor a further permit for a second detour to the Sahara. We only have three days left for the return trip. So we cross through the inland, climb over bumpy mountain slopes on the Djebel Biada, marvel at the Roman ruins of Dougga and the picturesque old town of Sidi Bou Said and arrive ?? in time for rush hour traffic ?? back to Tunis.


Tunisia is thanks to a relatively good infrastructure
an ideal terrain for the first trip to Africa. And: In the south of the country, the first sand dunes of the Sahara are already luring.

Getting there The shipping companies CTN and SNCM operate several ships from Marseille and Genoa to Tunis. The crossing takes 22 to 24 hours. In the off-season there is a ticket (there and back) from 364 marks, a motorcycle costs 278 marks. Pay attention to special rates in the off-season. Information from SNCM Germany, phone 06196/42911, fax 483015. For those traveling to Genoa and Marseille, especially in winter, the car train that goes to Bolzano and Narbonne is ideal. Depending on the travel time, one person and one motorcycle to Bozen cost from 293 marks. Whoever books the return journey at the same time pays from 527 marks. The quickest way to get to Marseille is by car train to Narbonne. The ticket costs from 357 marks; there and back from 643 marks. Information from DB Autozug GmbH on 0180/5241224, at all DB counters or on the Internet at www.autozug.de Travel time The best time to tour Tunisia is from March to May. In winter there can be night frosts even in the Sahara, while rains occur in the north. If you have no problems with temperatures of up to 45 degrees, you can also venture into the desert in summer. There are hotels in almost all places. A room is available for as little as 20 marks; the quality of the accommodation fluctuates between getting used to and ostentatious. Campsites are rather rare, but free camping is not a problem. If you want to spend the night in peace, you should avoid being close to villages and streets. Free camping in the Sahara is a unique experience. A warm sleeping bag cannot do any harm in the often surprisingly cold nights. DocumentsFor Tunisia, a passport is sufficient. A green insurance card is required for the motorcycle, which must be valid for Tunisia. Take copies of all documents with you. Real desert solitude is guaranteed in the deep south, which is, however, a restricted military area that can only be entered with special permission. This is available from the Syndikat d´Initiative de Tourisme in Tataouine. With a lot of luck, the permit will be issued immediately. Better: Send the application a few days in advance by fax, 00216/5850999, with the necessary data (planned route and time, vehicle type and license plate, personal data with passport number). The motorcycle Gold Wing should also have been sighted in the Sahara , but it’s definitely more fun with an enduro that is as light as possible. In Tunisia, however, many slopes are decorated with a solid tar cover. Only in the south and in the mountains there are still numerous sandy paths. If you also want to tackle the dunes on the edge of the Sahara, you should mount coarse tires such as Conti TKC 80, Michelin T63, Mitas E07 or Pirelli MT21. A large tank is only required for trips into the restricted area. The route chosen there will inevitably be based on the range of the tank. The Bible for Tunisia drivers is still the almost 800 page “Tunisia Travel Guide” by Reise Know-How for 44.80 marks. We also recommend the travel guide from Michael Muller Verlag for 29.80 marks and the APA Guide Tunisia for 44.80 marks. The Michelin map 956 in a scale of 1: 800,000 for 13.80 marks is suitable as a map at most necessary for the deep south. The sheets are available in a scale of 1: 1.000000 and 1: 500000 from the Darr Expedition Service in Munich, phone 089/282033. TPC maps on a scale of 1: 500000 and ONC maps on a scale of 1: 1.000000 are also available from Darr or Woick, phone 0711/7096700. Travel distance about 3000 kilometers, time required three weeks

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