February 09, 2010

The Road to Gabes

My ankles are killing me. I can't wait to get to the desert.

I'm happy also to leave behind the smog-filled sky of Sfax, due to its high production of phosphate and gas refineries and automobile assemblage. The sun fights to shine through, but the outskirts of the city (the second largest in Tunisia) are sealed in by a wooly gray blanket overhead. It's amazing that the olive, apricot, almond and pistachio trees that line the national highway can bear fruit at all. But somehow, industry and agriculture coexist here, in completely separate worlds -- fiery smokestacks piercing the sky above while nomadic workers prune and pick the trees below without aid of any machinery.

At this point in winter, though, the roadside crops look all but abandoned, only an occasional sheepherder or bedraped wandering woman breaks the monotany of the barren - yet somehow fruitful - orchards.

There are as many plastic bags along the shoulder as there are trees -- in fact, probably more, and in all hues of white, ecrue, black, and turquoise. The multi-colored bags litter the roadside, especially the beaver cactus planted as a makeshift fence, which now sprouts bright plastic cactus flowers as a precursor to their spring floral outcroppings (if there is enough rain).

We're on a long drive to Gabes, which is still on the coast, but we'll be in the desert by tonight. Although I know it's not hot there yet, I'm sure my body will start to respond immediately to the increasingly arid climate, the rocky terrain and, finally later this afternoon, the sand dunes.

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