Djerba Island and back to Europe

Making the best of our last few days left in Tunisia, we set up camp on the wild west coast of Djerba Island. The east coast consists of hotel complexes and more of what we are not looking for. Of course we run into the Germans again, initially met at Ksar Douiret (they probably were advised by the Italians again), we park the car behind a dune and set up camp on the beach. We find ourselves in the middle of “nowhere”. All we see around are some palm trees and the Mediterranean sea with a beautiful sunset painted in the sky. Life can be great as long as you realize it. We get the butterfly seats out, some chips, drinks and enjoy the view for the next 2 days.

Early morning, we are awoken by the tides and we believe that the car is in the water. It sound so close that we sit up straight in bed and double check if we should get our life-vests. The coast is clear so back to sleep. When waking up in the morning, a few hours later, the local women fishing on the beach stare at us, looking quite surprised, as we climb out of the roof tent. Coffee, a book and the view is all we need to get through the day. Life is great!

February 27 we spend the night again in Samaris campsite, Hammamet, approximately 60km from Tunis. We fill up the diesel tanks the next day (diesel is cheaper in Tunisia) and see the radiator leaking….are we going to make it to the ferry? A screw driver to tighter a metal ring and 60km later we enter the port La Goulette in Tunis. Sorting out paperwork is quick, so we spend 2 hours waiting before boarding the ferry back to Genova, Italy. Goodbye Tunisia, hello again Italy. Fingers crossed again that we get all the visas sorted, for the Middle East this time, quickly.

Wild camping in Ksar Douiret, Tunisia

We drive south into the desert south of Tataouine, and camp rough down of Ksar Douiret in the mountains. There are several Italian campers already parked here and according to the Germans that just arrived as well, the Italians have been everywhere in Tunisia advising other people where to go! The Ksar used to be a storage space for the Berberes, keeping their agricultural products for the winter period. Nowadays, the Ksour are renovated and turned into hotels (at least the ones we are visiting). During that night, the wind picks up and keeps us awake for most of the night.

The next day we drive back to Medenine to find out if we can get into Libya. As soon as we reach the hotel from the night before, we download email and see that Libya is still closed. This means we find ourselves in a dead end street and that we have to look at other ways to continue our journey. We can head west into Algeria or back into Europe and try to get into Africa via Turkey and the Middle East. Just outside of the hotel we meet 2 overlanders, John and Marina, that just crossed Africa from Cape Town, exactly the way we had planned. They could get through Libya using their South African and British passports. Unfortunately, we do not have those so we are stuck, more or less.

Overnight we decide not to enter Algeria, as this would mean doing the western route down for which we do not have any paperwork, instead we’ll go back to Europe and prepare visas for the Middle East. Online we book the ferry to Genova, Italy for February 28 which leaves us a few more days to enjoy Tunisia. Djerba looks like a nice destination so that’s where we will go the next day.

Goodbye Italy, hello Tunisia

February 20, 5 o’clock in the morning the alarm wakes us up. A few minutes later, a quick shower, and we are packing the car. It is the day that we will take the ferry to Tunisia and finally enter the African continent, assuming of course we will not have any trouble on the way, or with customs in Tunisia. Saying goodbye to Val’s brother and his girlfriend is emotional as expected. We drive off and head in the direction of Genova, Italy. Almost arrived in Italy, we are pulled over by the police on the highway…. what do we do wrong? We are not driving too fast (simply not possible with the Toyota) and all the lights are working correctly. “Please move the car forward, I will measure the weight of your vehicle.” Ok, we think, this should not be a problem. Our car is ok, but we are not sure about the weight. We never checked the weight of the car after packing. “Papers please” says the highway police officer. He has a serious look and checks his machine again and says “Sorry but the weight of your car is 3,400 kg and you paper indicates the maximum weight can be 3,035 kg”. This could be a problem, we think, but we are not sure. Smile and look confused. Our driving license permits us to drive with a weight of 3,500 kg. “Where are you going?”, the officer asks. “We are going to Cape Town, South Africa, sir”. Big smile on his face and he lets us go. No fine!

We reach the port of Genova, Italy around 12:00 as planned and start getting the papers sorted. We are in Italy so this could take a while. They are not as organized as in Holland and this is a nice way to get us in the mood for the bureaucracy we will have to deal with later in Africa. After waiting for about an our for a few customs officers, we get the stamps we need and can move the car on the ferry. We get into the cabin and in 40 minutes we depart. The ferry is moving and Africa is getting closer. 2 hours later Barry is trying to find the doctor! We have all the medicine you could imagine in the car but we cannot get to the car, the garage is sealed. Val is getting greener and greener and is really getting seasick – 22 hours to go. We need pills to get rid of this. 3 hours later and 2 pills Val starts looking normal again. After a quick bite we get to bed early, knowing we will wake up in Tunis (if we sleep till 3 the next day).

Italian customs was fun but not as much as customs in Tunis. Getting stamps from every officer you could lay your eyes on was more or less the trick to get the car through customs. Confusing all of them, we collect some stamps and head off without having the car checked or searched! Bye, we are off in search of a place to sleep. Cash we got from an ATM machine at a Shell gas station and around 6 in the afternoon of the 21st we parked the car under a tree at the camping place Samaris, in Hammamet, about 75km south of Tunis. It’s a bit cold (15 degrees) and we’re a little lazy so we sleep in the car that 1st night.

The plan for Tunisia is basically to go to the border with Libya. Since it is only 600km, we can take it easy and have a look at the map. We head for Sfax and reach it early in the afternoon, so we continue to Gabes. Finally in Gabes, we are searching for the campsite that was listed in our GPS. We see the town from every angle, drive through the souk about 4 times, ask many police officers and hotels in the area, but no sign of the campsite. It is getting dark and we both do not really like the place. What do we do? Stay and feel uncomfortable or drive to the next town on the map in the dark? We agreed before we left not to stay at a place that we felt uncomfortable with or to drive in the dark. We find ourselves in an impasse. We drive to the next town in the dark. The name of the place is Medenine, another 70km.

Avoiding cars that are driving on our side of the road by turning on all our front lights, we reach Medenine exhausted and start looking for a place to sleep. Any decent place will do for the night. We see the word Hotel in neon signs and check in. We are safe and have a nice bed and a shower and the bonus is the internet connection. We can get to emails and update the website. Bye the way, mum and dad, we will plan the next part of the trip a little better, don’t worry!

It is now 23rd of February and are planning to head into the desert to Tataouine and Chenini for the next 2 days. We still have no visa for Libya!!! Fingers crossed we will get it in time. The guide is booked, the place to meet arranged. All we need is Libya to reopen its border to Europeans…

Departure in 3 steps

The day came that we left Holland but before packing our bags and starting the car to drive to France we, of course, went to say goodbye to my family. Mum arranged a nice farewell at her place and surprised us with a big cake having a picture on it of the 4×4 with us both. Together we spoke about the trip we had in mind, all the countries we were planning to visit and how long this trip was going to be. At the moment we are planning to reach Cape Town in September but have no clear idea yet when we would come back. Barry’s brothers and sister came over with their kids and it was heart breaking to leave them all behind. If we would stay in Africa for a very long time, we promised each other to have them all coming over.

After a long overnight drive of 1,400 km, we reached Perpignan, south of France. We arrived early in the morning which was a nice surprise for Val’s mum. Because we only took a 2-hour nap in the car at a gas station, after arriving we quickly took our bags out of the car and slept a few hours. In Perpignan we worked on the 4×4 to get it completely ready for our trip. We had some bigger and smaller “repairs” to do, Val’s dad was happy to help. Actually he did most of the work and we were watching and learning from him and where possible assisting with the jobs at hand. Among other “repairs”, we worked on the following over a period of 2 weeks:

  • Clean the radiator
  • Replace side panels in the car and back door
  • Remove the rust on the bull bar and repaint it
  • Change the oil, diesel and air filters
  • Replace the brake pads on the front tires and check the status on the rear tires
  • Change all engine oil
  • Install the aluminum cases for our luggage
  • Greasing
  • Replace the tire’ valves
  • Create plexiglas covers for the headlights (to protect them)
  • Replace the lights on the bull bar (we burned the old ones when wrongly reconnecting the electric cables!)
  • Prepare the tent to sleep in
  • Repack the car so that everything would fit in (that was a job in itself but it fits)
  • Wash the car the day before departing to Marseille

Now that all the work is done on the 4×4, it is Val’s turn to leave her parents. She is still recovering at the moment and getting ready to wave her brother goodbye in Marseille. Although we both have said goodbye to family many times before, this time for some reason it feels different. Maybe it is because we will be traveling for so long, through so many countries, with so many unknowns, and no return date in mind. However our family and friends are fully supporting our initiative, happy for us that we go for our dream. Thank you to them for being there! We hope to see you all one day in Africa, wherever this will be. The sundowner will be on us.


Website progress

AfricaMinded is now published in 3 languages: English, French and Dutch. Translating all those texts was hard work for both of us – speaking in our native language became a rare exercise since we met! – but it’s currently live so family and friends can enjoy reading our website in their own language. Proudly, AfricaMinded is now listed on the famous Overland Network Website, along with many other great overlanders’ adventure all over the world. Check it out!

Perpignan, France

Once in Perpignan, first stop is the beach to relax and sleep in the sun. Then Visa pour l’Image starts and it is time to enjoy seeing old friends again, visiting photo exhibitions and joining the evening screening shows, before some late dinners in the small streets of Perpignan. The last week of our stay is dedicated to do some small fixes on the car with Val’s father, Roger, who has a lot more experience and knowledge in mechanics than us. It is a quick mechanics’ training! Roger and Val speak French together while Barry tries to make sense of it. We make up our own words and get to understand quickly what we mean. We add some lights to the roofrack, clean the car again and collect tools and spare parts. Back to Holland by mid September to continue the preparation for the trip to Africa.

Testdriving the Land Cruiser

Our first long trip with the Land Cruiser is to South of France (1,400km). Is the car going to make it? We are a little bit nervous because we just finished the first big repair which is only 10 days old. The clutch will be tested driving through the volcano area in Auvergne, the viaduct of Millau, etc. The car did very well and so did we, reaching Perpignan after a 2-day drive. We are in love with our Land Cruiser, it is amazing to drive and especially the seats are outstanding. It felt like driving only for a few hours so we are not worried having to drive to Cape Town in “our truck” as some people describe it.

Our first big repair: the clutch

We spend the day at the Land Cruiser specialist Wheels Unlimited to do a few repairs, the main one being to replace the clutch. Since we don’t have a deep knowledge on car engines and mechanics, doing such a repair with a professional becomes an interesting day. The car ends up on the bridge while the old clutch is taken out and the new one placed. Afterwards, the front window is also replaced, and we take this opportunity to clean the rust around the window frame. Late afternoon we finally drive home in, now, our 4×4!