topics: Crêpes (food), women in society, Maghreb, tourism, maps, navigation, GPS; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: October 26, 1997

Breakfast: There's not much to describe. Since we all were busy preparing for our departure and photographing impressions of the awakening tourist town, we had only plain bread, cookies, and water.

Lunch: Lunch was the same sort of grab-and-go meal. It consisted of pastries, bread, and water.

Dinner: Because we didn't get enough to eat during the day, we all ate double portions for dinner — making it a dinner for ten instead of for five. We had plates of spaghetti bolognese (meat-and-tomato sauce), chicken-cheese sandwiches, several salads (both méchouia and mixed), pizze (the plural of pizza in Italian is pizze), couscous poulet (with chicken), and many liters of soft drinks and water. As soon as any plate emptied, another one appeared. This feast was a just reward for the day's efforts.

Food of the Day: Crêpes

Crêpes are a French delicacy that looks and tastes sort of like an American pancake. As with a pancake, batter is poured onto a frying surface and cooked on both sides. The difference is in the thickness of the batter — crêpes are very thin — and in the fact that there are usually things stuffed inside the crêpe. There are both sweet crêpes — that take dessert fillings, like jam, and/or chocolate, and/or fresh fruit — and savory crêpes — that take dinner fillings, like ham, and/or eggs, and/or cheese.

Crêpes are often served as hot hors d'oeuvres (appetizers) or as a dessert. We find crêpes are more than a dessert but less than a meal, though sometimes we make them serve as both. andrEa and Corinne ate one crêpe that was filled with Gruyere cheese and another filled with hot fruit (apple, pomegranate, and pear).

Traditionally, crêpes were eaten on holy days to celebrate renewal, family life, and hopes for good fortune in the future. Because of the latter reason, BikeAbouters are sure to eat more of them.

Word of the Day: Omma — "community"

Omma means "community" in Arabic. We wonder if it might have the same etymological origin as oma, the German word for "grandmother."

Person of the Day: young female participant of the "United Nations Bicycle Ride for All" click to view a photograph

Of roughly 50 riders participating in the "United Nations Bicycle Ride for All", only three were women. One was andrEa, while the other two were local girls, one about 13 years old, the other around 11. We wanted to chat with the latter of the two (pictured), but she was much too fast! click to view a photograph These brave young ladies were two of very few women we've seen thus far on bicycles. Unlike in European countries and America, where it is more common to see women on bikes or mopeds, it is sort of an oddity here in the Maghreb. We were delighted to see these bike-happy young ladies turning that tide.

On the streets and in the many cafés, it is obvious that women are not as visible or as vocal as men — indeed they are sometimes missing altogether, as was the case in Ketama and Kaceta in Morocco — but young women are active in schools, and at many levels of education already seem to outnumber men. Still, glance at a week's worth of BikeAbout dispatches in Tunisia and you will mostly see smiling men in the Person of the Day photos. Whereas women who could be placed here do exist, they're sort of hard for us to find from our bikes. That's why it's so important to highlight the young ladies we meet . . . when we meet them. We are always on the lookout for additional interesting women to put into this section. Of course they're out there — maybe they're just shy?

Many people have told us that, by law, boys and girls in Tunisia are now educated equally, and also, by law, must be given equal access to all positions in the work place, especially positions of authority. Enacted in 1956, these laws have expanded to include the rights of divorced women with children, marriage rights of young women, and financial welfare for widows. From what we have seen, some of these laws may not yet have been put entirely into action. But given the challenge of altering hundreds of years of tradition, these are vital steps in the right direction.

Certainly, other more "Western" countries in which political gains for women's equality have been made continue the struggle to make these theoretical changes a reality. In light of this, the strides that have been made in Tunisia in the last 40 years are noteworthy and deserve celebration, especially given the extent that we have seen some women in upper-level management positions, particularly in government offices. A wave of change in Tunisia is apparent, but we have to look closely.

Place of the Day: heavily touristed area between Hammamet and Nabeul

The 12 km (7.5 mi) distance between Hammamet and northern neighboring Nabeul is literally stuffed with tourist complexes — extensive, enormous, and disgusting resorts. We think the signs for these hotels unwittingly indicate the artificial hospitality for the (mostly) German "Visitors of Tunisia." They come to enjoy an "all-you-can-eat holiday," finding only the clichéd side of Tunisia and creating a one-sided dependency (the locals depend on the tourists, but not the other way around) and a cultural vacuum in the local environment.

Tech Fact of the Day: Orientation equipment

How do we actually manage to travel from . . . say, Hammamet to Sousse . . . according to our break-neck timetable? BikeAbout uses a trusty combination of equipment, contacts, and instinct.

Aside from the stars and sun, our orientation equipment consists of maps, guidebooks, and our Magellan Global Positioning System (GPS).

We usually buy maps locally because they tend to be cheaper and more reliable. For example, in Tunisia, we are using Michelin Map #958, which is more than sufficient. In addition, we use all sorts of tourist information brochures that we pick up for free along the way. The guidebooks we carry are from Lonely Planet. They provide excellent tips, maps, and directions, as well as a host of other information. Even Eric Idle's witty documentary "Around the World in 80 Days" used Lonely Planet guidebooks as an information base.

Finally, our Magellan GPS 2000 click to view a photograph is a Global Positioning System (or GPS) using nine satellites to calculate our location and the latitude, longitude, elevation, and even sunrise and sunset times we use for our Fast Facts.

Also, andrEa swears by her green compass for orientation in big cities, especially when the signs are written in unfamiliar alphabets!

Contacts also help us orient ourselves. Local networks, like our (Moroccan) friends from AMED, Dia, the Alliance/FPH, Servas, and the (Tunisian) Maisons des Jeunes, as well as acquaintances who know the area from previous travels have all aided us in one way or another. The International Bicycle Fund has also been very helpful with its excellent information on bicycling in Africa and its on-line newsletter. Lastly, some fellow adventure travelers post helpful tips on the Internet, like world-cyclist Tilmann Waldthaler.

Nonetheless, getting lost in a foreign country is easy to do — whether you're an IJ or not. Our advice: Take advantage of being lost when you get lost! Listen to a shepherd's story, drink an offered cup of tea. Locals' wise words may help you understand more about where you are than any eloquent guidebook.

Group Dispatch, October 26

picture of andrEa

It's Sunday morning, the birds are singing, a tideless sea lies in front of the window, framed by a perfect blue sky ( . . . are you jealous yet?). So let's get up and get ready for a bike ride! If you've been reading our dispatches, you know that this is our daily routine. But today is the day of the "Le Circuit Des Nations Unies VELO POUR TOUS, Hammamet–Nabeul–Hammamet," a United Nations–sponsored "Bicycle Ride for All" from Hammemet to Nabeul and back, organized by the Fédération Tunisienne Sports pour Tous, or Sports for All Federation of Tunisia. The Federation works with the Tunisian Ministry of Youth and Infancy, as well as different United Nations organizations, most notably some sports-oriented groups in UNESCO, to help raise an awareness of the importance of sports and health in all parts of our lives.

We gathered at around 8:30 a.m. at the center of Hammamet, where the ride organizers had added some more banners click to view a photograph to the already heavily bannered main square. Competing banners invited all to "The Tunisian World Bridge Championships, Casino Hammamet" or simply reminded everyone of the upcoming 7th of November national holiday (showing Tunisia's President Ben Ali and the country's flag ). Bicycles of all sorts and sizes started filling the space between the 16th-century wall of the medina, the pink tourist trains, and the beach. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

The 50+ local cyclists and the BikeAbouters alike were equipped with VELO POUR TOUS T-shirts and starting numbers. click to view a photograph Corinne swapped her Wheeler 6700 click to view a photograph — which she generously lent to a participant without a bike — for the back of a pickup truck accompanying the ride, allowing for a less shaky documentation of the ride. At the appointed hour, all of the riders set off.

Pedaling north out of town, the riders followed the road that led along the beaches on the "tourist route" (see the Place of the Day) for the full 12 km (7.5 mi) to Nabeul. Since the main traffic to the north goes on a busy parallel road, and motorcycle policeman stopped motorized traffic along the cycling route, it was a very pleasant ride (if you could overlook the giant line of hotel complexes). But how could anyone not enjoy the ride? Even though it seemed that the nature of the ride was non-competitive (the bikers ranged from five to 32 years in age), the pace was fast and the designated ending point in Nabeul turned into "the finish line in Nabeul" as we approached it.

In a heart-stopping sprint finish, our glorious BikeAbouters Anthony, Padraic, Ethan, and andrEa, rolled into Nabeul in third, fifth, seventh, and twentieth place respectively. When the documentary about BikeAbout's trip comes out, look for the exciting sprint scenes where five-year-old Mehdi click to view a photograph catches up with the leading group and takes fourth place. click to view a photograph Don't miss it!

Of course the local TV and press showed up to cover both the U.N. bike ride and BikeAbout's passage through Nabeul (see translation of newspaper article). After a brief awards ceremony click to view a photograph complete with applause for all the participants, and prizes for the top finishers click to view a photograph, everyone returned click to view a photograph the 12 km (7.5 mi) to Hammamet (much more slowly this time). The BikeAbouters stopped one more time at the Maison des Jeunes to pick up their old friends — the two B.O.B. trailers — and to exchange addresses with their new friends, some of the local youth. click to view a photograph

The rest of the day was a blur of aching muscles. After a quick lunch (it was noon already), we began our "real" ride to Sousse. Instead of coasting with the wind, as we had hoped, the pedal was entirely into the wind. Cycling 86 km (53 mi) over slightly hilly terrain, while exposed to a stiff headwind was no fun at all. Not to mention the unfriendly heavy traffic we hit upon reaching the suburbs of Sousse. After a zigzag through the early evening darkness of the third-largest city in Tunisia, we all arrived safely, but very tired, at the local Maison des Jeunes, our home for the next two nights — "Hey Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream . . . "

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