Quad Riding in the Sahara and Lightning Storms

Continued from yesterday”¦ From the hotel/set we walked over to another one of the privately owned underground houses that the owner has turned into a “museum”. This house was similar to the second house we saw, except that the living room was at the end of the entrance tunnel, near the outlet to the courtyard, rather than at the front of the tunnel. This is the owner in her living room.

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We found out that several families used to share these houses, with communal kitchen and storage areas, and each family lived in one room. The rooms are awfully small to squeeze a whole family in there! And while the house seems to be plenty spacious for one family, multiple families would make it crowded.

A couple of the rooms were blocked off to visitors, which we think are the rooms they live in. A couple of the rooms had displays. One display was of a wedding, with wax mannequins showing off the traditional clothing and décor of the Berber people. Another room had a series of large pots that goods were stored in. And, of course, a few bedrooms.

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We are not sure “underground” should be the term used, since they are only partially underground. In-ground would be more accurate. Whatever you call them, they are definitely the most unique housing style we have seen before.

After a quick look around, we got lunch at a neighboring above ground hotel. Since hotels have to feed their guests, their restaurants are usually open during Ramadan. We didn’t eat at the Star Wars hotel because the other hotel has air conditioning. And have we mentioned it is hot?

Lunch was good. It was a pre-set menu, so we weren’t sure what we were getting. We were delighted to find out it was all traditional Tunisian food. We were served a chopped salad with bread and a chili dipping sauce with some serious kick. The second course was an egg brick. The third course was cous cous (a small grain) with potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and chicken. The portions were huge. Then they brought out sliced melon for dessert. It was really good. Fortunately, service was quick. We were anxious to get on the road. We had another hour drive to our next destination, and we wanted to get there ASAP since it is likely they would be closing up shop early for Ramadan. And it was very important to us to make it out there in time.

We continued east through the desert to the town of Doaz, on the edge of where the dirt desert turns into the sandy Sahara. We found the tourism office and told the guy behind the counter we wanted to rent quads and go riding in the sand. He spoke no English, and we had no clue whether he understood us or not. He kept saying camel and pointing to a picture of a desert. He and his children walked out to the car with us, which confused us. We were even more confused when he put his teenage daughter in the car and told us to get in and go. We decided to roll with it and did as ordered. The girl directed us to a place about a mile away. We parked and went inside. Just outside the back door was a line of quads. They did understand. Thank God!

Before the boating days, Eric’s big obsession in life was riding three wheelers in sand dunes. Since he was a teenager, he has dreamed of riding in the Sahara. It is indescribable how exciting it is to finally live out such a long held dream. In Eric’s fantasy, he has an awesome high performance machine and is in an ocean of dunes as big as hi-rise buildings.

He was a little disappointed to see that the machines are lower end, not high performance. But he knew that finding a high performance machine was unlikely. A guide went out with us. Since we were only at the edge of the Sahara, the dunes were pretty small. The guide took us on some of the smaller dunes, but a lot of the time we were on hard packed, flat sand instead of the hills. The ride was perfect for Christi, and too basic for Eric. He did as much as he could to jazz it up, going sideways on hills instead of staying where it was flatter and doing some jumps, but the machine isn’t really meant for anything too crazy. We put in the first picture because you can see a donkey and cart in the background. And yes, there is a small farm of some sort in the area.

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The cost to rent the quads was $45 an hour each, which we thought was really steep. When the first hour was over, Eric said he was satisfied and didn’t want to go for another hour. He had fulfilled his dream and was satisfied. To be out longer he would have preferred to have proper riding gear and a better machine. We think the guide was relieved we didn’t want to keep going. It was late in the day and very hot. He had to be dying for a drink of water and eager to get out of the sun.

The place that rents quads also offers camel rides. From the back door we saw a couple dozen camels lounging about. As we were riding around, we realized the place has at least 150 camels, probably more, all saddled up and ready to go. They must get bus loads of tourists coming through here for rides to have so many ready to go. The desert near the camel/quad place is full of camel poop. We mean really full of camel poop, but it doesn’t smell or seem to stick to the tires. Farther away from the camel/quad place there is less poop, but an awful lot of trash. It is sad to see the desert so littered.

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Once we were done riding, we got back in the car and headed back. We had a six hour drive ahead of us. We were surprised to see that there were still many people out and about and many people still hard at work in the fields. Gosh, the people in the city that work in air conditioning seem to knock off work many hours earlier than the manual laborers in the sun. We can’t even begin to tell you how much respect for the people fasting and working out in the farms in the hot, late afternoon sun. We are astounded by their faithfulness.

We noticed that as it got closer to sunset, the traffic cleared out on the roads. At 1935, the official time when you were allowed to eat, we were the only car on the road. Traffic slowly picked up as the evening wore on. Around 2000, a thunder storm started in the distance. It is honestly the most active lightning storm we have ever seen. Usually there are several seconds, maybe even minutes, between bolts of lightning. Tonight’s storm had bolts going off every couple seconds, sometimes as close together as fractions of a second. It almost seemed like the grand finale of a fireworks show as your eyes shot from one bolt to the next to the next. Or, maybe more accurately, like when you go for an eye exam and they give you the test where little lines appear in your field of vision and your eyes dart from one set of lines to the next and the next. It was a full moon, but the moon was blocked by the clouds, making an eerie light pattern in the sky. The flashes of lightning created crazy, psychedelic patterns against the already weird light patterns from the moon on the clouds, sort of reminiscent of when you play music on your computer and the weird patterns move around the screen, just with less colors. It was totally surreal.

The storm brought a little rain, but not much. At 2100, we got off the freeway to go to a gas (petrol) station and were shocked to see that the other side of the road was completely flooded. We guess that it rained harder up north here than it had farther south. The only thing keeping the flood waters from our side was the concrete median in the center of the road. The intersections, where there was no median, were all flooded.

After getting gas, we had to find another route back to the freeway, which was a little bit of an adventure in the dark. We almost fell into an open drainage ditch at the side of the road once, and had to drive through a flooded section of road once. It took a while, but we finally found the freeway and made it back to Kosmos safely. It had been a long, eventful day that is for sure!

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