Articles By Gord
As I see it... The Sahara Desert

August 2005 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

The way I see it... The Sahara Desert

You know that comfy feeling of sitting in the sand at Turkey Point in a wet bathing suit? You stand up and do that leg shake, brush, pull, snap thing with the suit, trying to dislodge those pesky granules?

Whenever I write about a destination, I want to convey the passion that location inspires within me.

The Sahara Desert. (I would wager a betting man that this might well be the first time the Sahara Desert and Turkey Point have appeared in the same column.)

Sand. I celebrated my 50th birthday seated atop a Sahara sand dune, (no wet swim suit), but hands cupped together, filled with sand so fine, like icing sugar, it slowly slipped through my fingers, back to the dune.

Back to the desert - and me, without my sand wedge. It was sunset and the desert dunes stretched on forever like rolling waves of an ocean, as Catherine described it. Huge, vast emptiness of sand, sand, sand.

It was that awareness, the sense of emptiness that intrigued me the most. There was no chance of getting lost; wandering off into the desert only to return sometime later as some modern day version of “Gord of Arabia”. Our guides would have never let that happen.

We got a terrific deal to Tunisia. And just where is Tunisia, you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked because, in all honesty, I had to ask too. It lies on the southern shore of the Mediterranean in North Africa, nestled between Libya to the south east and Algeria to the west. Nice neighbours if you're a bullet.

Some of you movie buffs have seen extreme parts of southern Tunisia already. The salt lake in “The English Patient,” and you may remember a stone desert scene from the first “Star Wars.”

So, included in our terrific deal was a three day Jeep safari of the Sahara and Southern Tunisia.

The south was like a throw-back in time, where motor vehicles seemed out of place and I half expected to bump in to Fred and Barney at any moment.

There were spice markets and roaming herds of sheep, goats and camel. No English spoken here or in the rest of the country for that matter, so you'd best brush up on your French or dig out that English-to-Arabic translation book. No McDonald's to be found either, but the Tunisian equivalent is some guy with a barbeque of sorts standing by the shoulder of the road. This guys not flipping burgers or roasting weenies, he's got a full lamb or goat carcass hanging beside him on a hook. You point out the chunk of meat you'd like and while you wait, he grills her up for you. Fries are not an option.

We were there in January, where the midday temperature was a comfortable 15-17 C.

Do not go anytime during the summer months unless you've got a yearning to be barbecued or look good in sweat.

It's a fascinating country and very different from north to south.

The north has awakened to the value of tourism, with luxury hotels, a smattering of restaurants, loads of pizzerias and cafés. You can get wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks from the hotels and restaurants, but the cafés served primarily juices, coffee, tea and water.

It's a funny little relationship that this mostly Muslim country has carved out with western world tourists and holiday desires. They're still learning, and I think it's that lack of a full-blown tourist Heaven that holds the appeal.

I find the call to prayer mesmerizing. And you will hear those calls everywhere. I found I frequently just wanted to stop and listen. Almost a hypnotic effect, drawing me to them, much the same way a “50 per cent off” sale sign calls to Catherine.

The country is rich with history, we did our bit but the highlight for me was a coliseum built by the Romans, buried under sand for centuries and only rediscovered in the early 1800's. It's been so well preserved by centuries under the sand that it's still magnificent.

We arrived there at dawn and virtually had the entire run of the coliseum to ourselves. Unlike Rome's coliseum, you could climb to the very top, walk about, sit anywhere and go beneath the arena floor to the cells and cages where you could imagine the lions awaited their call to dinner and prisoners and slaves hoped they weren't on the menu.

If you're thinking of visiting Tunisia be prepared to barter. Shopping is great fun in these sprawling markets called “Souks” and every town or city has them. The venders are persistent and smooth; smoother than the Sahara sand. You stop to look at anything; a rug, a piece of jewellery, the sky, your fingernails, and these guys are on you. I paid $14.00 for my fingernails and I got the guy down to ten bucks for the sky. (I got him to throw in the sun too.)

Over the course of our stay, the bartering became less of a dread as we'd wander through the local Souks on a daily basis and sometimes emerge having bought nothing.

My blindness proved to be a real asset as we manoeuvred past the crowded stalls. Catherine and I were always linked arm in arm, her purse and purchases trapped safely in front and between us. With my white cane held firmly in my free hand, we just didn't pose an easy target.

We both felt very safe throughout the country, it was as if we were protected by the superhero power of the “TOURIST.” Almost as if you could hear the locals whispering ”Hey, stupid, don't be messin' with them. Can't you see they're wearing those tourist costumes.” Nobody is likely to try anything.

There's a tremendous police presence and frequent highway check-points. Never were they interested in us, but they were always asking to see the driver's papers. They even have a police force to watch over the police force. In fact, right now they're probably watching me write this.

 
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