To view our previous log entries please use the following link: Italy, Sardinia.
To view our next log entries please use the following link: Tunisia II
Log Entry Tuesday 27th April - El Kantaoui and onto Yasmine Hammamet.
With time getting on we check into one of the first hotels we see (El Hana palace), we register and decide for an extra 10TD (£5) we will have "half board" we had driven enough for one day. The hotel is very grand as such, certainly, once again, considering price. We are given a "restaurant card", when we arrive for dinner we are asked for our card and assigned a table for our duration? The hotel is quite sparsely occupied with different EU nationalities, quite a few British. We get talking to a few of them during dinner and afterwards in the bar, again, alcohol is sold. All are on package tours, utilising arranged excursions - they show quite a lot of interest in our story, but for some reason question "security" - we assure them there are no issues. In fact, we felt more intimidated in our short experience to date on the east coast?
We check out the hotel after checking email and such like, we had befriended one of the managers, he took Ann to see the master suite, she was quite over come with grandeur. We bid our farewells, leaving the car in the car park we were to walk to the port. We knew in which direction it lay so we cut through the hotels, finding the beach we turned and walked North along the sands.
They were trying to sell us any thing from jet boats to paragliding, as we approached the harbour a replica galleon was entering the harbour - every port has at least one.
The port has been completely developed for tourism, and continued for some way inland, apartments, hotels etc, etc. The port, or rather marina was a hustling area, out side of the marina was the trip/leisure boats, their staff fighting for your business, "running the gauntlet" we called it. We enjoyed the experience, giving them (verbally) as good as they gave us. We constantly barraged with "Hello Mr Tony Blair", a little out of date perhaps, and "Hello mate - prices better than ASDA" in a cockney accent? We had a good laugh with them all! We wandered around to the far side, where we met a Brit who was having his steel sailboat lifted out. We spent some time talking about anti foul, anodes and all that good stuff - never go through the pain barrier if some one else has already done it?
We now had to re-run the gauntlet, but we had had fun the first time, some remembered us upon our return trip. On the way back round we stopped for lunch on the quay side - it was good enough, although a little expensive to what we were used to. The waiter at first tried to sell us the "Plate of the day" omitted from the menu, he seemed surprised when we asked the price, it was 15TD (£7.50) more expensive than any thing else on the menu - we declined. I ordered a burger for a change, and was not surprised to find that it was lamb.
The port was complemented with the usual floating restaurants, we had now seen enough - the possibility of wintering here was not dismissed. We headed into the complex, it was centred with a musical fountain - surrounded with bars and restaurants, obviously. We got back to the car, we planned to head further north to Yasmine, but did consider staying another night, using the hotel as a base, we decided to move on?
Once out of El Kantaoui we joined the only section of motorway which is a toll road, but saves a lot of time, we had decided to overnight in Yasmine.
Arriving in Yasmine we were surprised to be driving straight into a tourist devolvement, centred around the port - no real suburbs. This development is enormous in comparison to El Kantaoui and much less people, the attempts at securing your trade, out right aggressive with people running at you from shops and cafes and following you until you almost felt compelled to tell then to "_______".
The promenade was enormous, very well laid out, but no one using it. We walked around the marina, looking for a couple of people (Mike & Joe) who as "residents", had supplied us with a lot of assistance in the past. The marina is also enormous, hundreds and hundreds of vessels, many super yachts. As we walked around there was lots of work going on, preparing the various craft for the season. We found Mike & Joe's yacht, it was an unannounced visit, we were lucky to catch Joe in - Mike was out, Joe was on her way out. We introduced ourselves, thanked them for their assistance, we spent some time discussing the normal "boaty stuff", we then bid our farewells and let Joe get on with her business.
Yasmine has beaches either side but quite quiet as the season here is June/July, too hot in August apparently. The port also boasted floating restaurants and three replica galleons, none in service yet.
Our wandering complete we decided not to over night, due to the lack of people, the massive complex appeared hollow to us, we left to visit Hammamet, but after that we decide to head north, back to Sailaway. Yasmine would not be a wintering option for us. Arriving back to Sailaway quite late all was well, a brilliant experience, we really enjoyed it, but nice to be home. The north coast, west country and the south had a real attraction to us - the real Tunisia in our opinion, our restricted time obviously meant we had missed a lot also. The east coast was really a creation of what the tourists want/need but does not reflect the true country, it's difficulties and strengths. Time now to start watching the weather, time to move on.
Log Entry Monday 26th April - We begin our drive north, stopping at Kairouan
Our target destination for today was Scosse, part of the east coast tourist development, about 1600 hours we were approaching Kairouan, said to be the first historic centre of Africa, boasting some 135 Mosques. During our drive we are continuously amazed to view the methods and types of cargo.
We came across this pickup with a camel on board, the animal was either well bound or was a frequent traveler, imagine if it had tried to stand?
As we approach the city of Kairouan we first hit the normal suburbs and activity in the streets, any thing from selling, to fixing, the old town is said to be walled, so we drive to the centre and eventually the magnificent walls come into view. The city is very busy and the traffic very dense. Ann now, continuous complements me on my "local driving", it is easy, once you realise there is no rules and you remain totally focused on what you want to do it all works well? In over 1400km we have not seen one road accident, unless they were all behind us? As we make our way around the great walls looking for some where to park, inadvertently "cut up" a young guy on a moped, we continue on. A few minutes later as we are sitting in stationary traffic, the same young guy pulls up along side. Thinking I was back in the UK, I roll my tee shirt sleeves up ready for a fight! The guy, asks if we are lost (in French) I explain that we are English and looking for some where to park, he never even mentioned my driving?. He tells us to follow him, he will show us where to park in the old town (OPPERTUNITY!) as we do so, he makes a call from his mobile. The guy takes us through the great arches and we park. As we do so another gent approaches, the gent on the moped introduces him as his brother, sure? His brother can be our guide, he wishes us good luck and disappears (CONVERSION - I love these people!)
We explain that we do not have much time, one hour maximum, we are led into the narrow streets. The gent is quite informative, we pass many of the Mosques as we walk, the streets are extremely narrow, most windows high and small as is tradition, to safe guard against heat etc.
We are taken into a house that is under refurbishment, no objections from the workman? It is explained that this is one of the oldest houses in the town, it's external walls are about 1m thick.
As we walk through, the history of it's doors is explained, a door with a single "knocker" attached to it indicates one family live there, two "knockers", two families. A large door, with a smaller inset into it, indicates that there are children in side the house - as is tradition.
We eventually are taken into the souk area, where the craft/tradesmen operate (OPERTUNITY), it is quite interesting to watch, but we have seen it before. The tradesman takes us into his store and begins to show us his wares, upon enquiring, the STARTING prices are very reasonable. We notice what we would call a "throw over" that would be perfect for our bed to replace the quilt as the temperatures rise. We acquire it at a good discount (CONVERSION - brilliant), all parties are happy, we carry on following our guide.
We are taken to "Barruta Well", we are led up a steep series of steps, as we do so it is explained to us that every day a camel is let up the steps to draw water from a well, returning down the steps each evening. The well has been in operation for hundreds of years, now, a tourist attraction. As we reach the top of the stairs, surely enougth they is a colourfully decorated camel and it's master awaiting a tourtist or even two.
Our guide has us stand back and the camel is put into action. The camel, as it walks turns a "pegged wheel", this wheel drives a second at 90 degrees. Off that wheel is a series of ropes with small buckets attached, bring up the water from some 20m below.
Once all had been seen we went to exit, it was asked if we could drop some change onto a metal plate by the door way - we did so (CONVERSION!).
We explained that our time was almost up and we must be moving on. Our guide pleaded with us that we must visit the Government carpet store, the quality is the best, with honest, fixed prices (right!). We explained that we did not need carpets, he went on to explain that from the shop's roof you had excellant views of the city - we agree (OPPERTUNITY!)
As we enter the store the proprietor greats us and beckons up the stairs to the roof. The view was not exactly brilliant, but that was merely a reason to get us there?
Once we had finished with our guide we were led back to the store keeper, our guide left us with him as he had to go and pray? Once inside, we were sat down and served with mint tea, worth an experience. I told him we were poor, but that is looked upon in my opinion as only "price setting". A young boy began laying down hand made rugs, starting with the largest. We explained we lived on a boat, we were told not to worry as he could ship them back to England for us! Eventually we made him under stand our predicament, but that only brought smaller rugs out! One must bare in mind this is supposed to be a Government shop with fixed, honest prices?
One of the small hand made rugs matched perfectly the cover we had just purchased for our bed and would sit along side our bed - I enquired on the price. Attention was now focused by the proprietor, we got down to about one third of his origin asking price - signs of disgust were by now evident, but that, as we have learned is all part of the process. The proprietor shouts out, "OK, but 10TD (£5) for the boy!" and stormed out of the room! It was a brilliant strategy, he, in theory had now increased the asking price by 10TD and left no room for further debate? It was now up to us, we either bought or not? Ann was complete out of the process now as she was adamant we did not need it - I had enjoyed the process, the best yet experienced. We were left with the boy, we agreed to the purchase, passing the boy 10TD (CONVERSION!). The boy said, "Thank you very much, Mr ????? always does that!" the rug was wrapped well for us. As we left the room we paid the balance and I complemented him on his "style", he laughed and wished us well.
Our guide took us back to the car, I gave him 10TD (£5), well worth the money as it had been informative, we would have missed a lot without him. The gent said "You would not have a little more sir?" (OPERTUNITY) I replied "No you have spent it all, and remember, you have you commission to receive from our purchases". (CONVERSION for who?) Our guide laughed, shook my hand and disappeared into the narrow streets.
We set off and one and a half hours later we reached Sousse, the roads now are much better, Sousse was very disappointing, once on the water front it, to us, could only be described as "Blackpool without lights or trams?" We decided against staying as planned, but made our way up the coast to El Kantaoui, friends of ours had wintered there and had spoke very highly of it. Every thing was now changing for us, we had lost the wilderness and subdued west and south, it was becoming "heavily tourist orientated", built and created for it unfortunately? The people also were changing, more aggressive at selling - it reminded us of the time share sellers we had experienced a number of years ago in the Canaries.
Log Entry Monday 26th April - The oasis and the return to Douz
The next morning we showered and had breakfast, once again, reflecting over our early morning experience. Our driver then took us into the centre of the oasis, asking us if we wanted to swim, we declined indicating that we would rather make an earlier start back as we had quite a drive north.
To see such a cause for this centre of "green" was interesting, the pool itself was not large, nor deep, perhaps twenty meters across and a metre deep at the most, this was were the tourists would swim. I wandered around out of interest, behind the pool was a much smaller one, with what looked to be a man made dividing section.
When peering into this much smaller pool, no more than three metres across, it had an opening in the centre, the water and air bubbles could be seen rising from below ground level - this was clearly the source. Away form the large pool, man made irrigation channels ran off to feed the rest of the oasis. I found, some 200m off a small pumping station, when enquiring I was told that the water was pumped off to "other areas" - such a reliance on nature?
We began our two hour journey back, the road being of varying quality, as is normal. We passed many small communities of people way out in the distance, living in tents on the sand. We were told they were looking after their animals, goats and sheep, not bedouins? No pictures however - failing camera, very frustrating. It had been a wonderful experience, we were very pleased we had done it, the camping was very differ ant for us, we both agreed a week there would have been too long, but that was just our opinion. A couple of hours later we arrived back at Douz, to return to the hotel to pick up our car we pass the Tourist Information building, Emil is sitting outside, he sees us and waves. We arrive at the hotel, as we bid our farewell to our driver (who's name we never got!) Emil turns up on his moped, enquiring on why we were back so soon? We explained the change in route, and re-assured him that all was fine with the trip, thanking all we climbed into our car and left about 1030 hours.
Log Entry Sunday 25th April - into the Sarah.
We sit and await Emil, he promised to be here at 1500 hours, it was now just past, still we appreciate the lack of punctuality here? From where we sat, we could see the main road, each time a pickup truck passes, we joke amongst our selves- "wonder if we will have to share a ride with sheep?" At about 1515 hours, a young man enters the hotel and walks to reception, from there he is directed over to us? The gentleman explains Emil has been delayed and our 4x4 is outside to take us to the Sarah. We pick up our over night bag and make our way outside, waiting for us is another young guy in his jeep - our driver. First impressions were not good, where was Emil? The truck had a cracked windscreen (as most vehicles did I had noticed), there was also the remains of a tow line, cut of at the front vehicle anchor bracket? The driver was to stay over night with us (separate tents hopefully), act as our guide. We were checked to ensure we had bottle water for the trip, then, we jumped in and we were off. The guy, spoke good English once he gained confidence, the drive was to be approximately four hours, when I enquired "how many kilometres?", I was told "it was impossible to say due to the slipping of the wheels in the sand?" We travel for about ten minutes by road then we turn off onto what can only be described as tyre marks in the sand, there was a sign post in French, but I have no idea what it said?
Within minutes we could have been in the middle of no where, the guy had done the trip many times, that became very clear, as he could certainly handle his vehicle. We kept hitting periods of crumbled rock plateau, with a sand covering, of various depths? I kept turning around to Ann "are you ok?" She found it easier to nod as a response as she was being thrown around like a rag doll? We were approached head on by another vehicle full of people, it appear to be barley touching the ground as it bounced along - I guess we looked similar to them? It was explained to us that people actual still live out here (Bedouins), however many, during this time moved closer to secure sources of water as the temperature increased in the summer months.
We went through periods of what seemed like total isolation, then periodically we would come across what looked like fortresses. These were military installations, guarding the boarders and watching over traffic - they looked like a set from a movie, unfortunately our failing camera let us down with pictures. I have to confess we passed them in such a violent manner any camera would suffer catching a good picture? We did slow down when we came across issues of interest - we say a couple of Bedouins in the distance. I initially called them Nomads, but I was quickly corrected as Nomads are from Algeria!
Our driver said there was a cafe ahead if we would like to stop and rest, Ann and I looked at each other in disbelief? We agreed as we had been traveling for about two hours, we must be half way? We could not believe it as a sign appeared "Cafe Tente" and an arrow pointing to it's position? We pulled up to a building which was made from poles and palm leaves, it was amazing. As we pulled up, the internal was decorated in rugs and sheep furs.
We sat drinking a couple of diet cokes at 3TD (£1.50) - how the hell they survive on "passing trade" who knows. It was certainly not the place we would consider opening a cafe? Our driver got his coffee free, typical for those bring the proprietor trade. We sat in comfort watch small twisters develop out side, spiraling the sand high into the sky and carrying it off.
There was all the "mod cons", ladies and gents WC, complete toilet base, seat and all. The only thing was the flush was manual, a mix of water and chemical from a watering can. Where it all ends up is any one's guess? As I approached the WC a German lady was exiting, I said hello politely, in French, she answered, stating her nationality as German (in German). When I returned to the cafe she was sitting talking to Ann. The lady was staying at the Cafe - a friend of the proprietor we though, a sleeping bag and rucksack was sitting in the corner? She explains she was there for a week, she explained that evenings in the desert were beautiful, stars, clear skies etc! There was a lot lost in the translation, we left thinking "strange woman" - nothing to do with her nationality- being German?
We left the cafe refreshed and continued on, many times I questioned how we were kept on coarse, at times were followed "tracks", of stones, some what utilised by the military? They appeared to me to be more of the base rock plateau I mentioned previously with the sand blown off? Still either way you had the security of knowing help was not too far away should some thing go wrong? I would say for 60% - 70% you were in amongst the dunes, the driver choosing the route most suitable, coming across the odd tyre track not yet covered by the shifting sands. After a further hour or so, we came across a fence? Not an old, broken, patchy affair, a new, very robust, what looked to be a well maintained fence - I obviously enquired about it! Our driver could only tell us that the land (desert) had been bought by some one, and was off limits? Image that, buying a section of desert and putting a fence around it - some of the fence posts were almost completely covered by the sand? Upon chatting about it more I discover that oil had been discovered some two hours further west - perhaps that was it?
We drove on, I was becoming a little concerned as our driver was, watching the sun's position in the sky (falling). I was about to enquire if we would get there before dark, when we fell over the top of a series of short pitched dunes and in the horizon a "green patch" appeared - it was Ksar Ghilane. It would have been interesting should we have been out there in the dark - not!
As we drove into the oasis we watched the sun set over the dunes, it was beautiful, no pictures (camera), the oasis was, or could be said to be a complex. It was now housing, camping complexes, quad bikes, camel stops etc. We were asked if we wanted to go swimming in the oasis now, we preferred to get settled and eat. Few people were about as we are not yet in there tourist season. We pull up into our destination "Campement Paradis", believe it or not? We were shown to our tent and to the communal showers etc, there was about ten other guests, all French. The tent was made from thick woven material, draped over poles, the front of the tent was made from bamboo. The central doorway was "closed" with a heavy sheet of the same thick fabric. It had electric lighting (for now as we found out later), when we were shown to our tent, the light was switched on to show us inside, beds only nothing else. We were real campers now! Our driver had left us to drink coffee with some friends but would meet us later. They served dinner at 1945 hours in the restaurant, every one sat down together, the meal was good, but unusual - spaghetti, with lamb (of coarse) cooked in a vegetable sauce (of coarse). It was a pleasant change from cous cous, the restaurant was sizable, there was seating for a good 50 people or more.
After dinner we made our way to the bar, bar we thought? I was a bar, they sold alcohol, I had a reasonable Tunisian red wine for a change. We talked to a number of the other guests, as best possible, most were here for a week, one party only two nights. We made the arrangements with our driver to visit the pool in the oasis in the morning, we also enquired about an alternative route back (by road). We had been through some quite violent sections, as I have a back issue we thought it wise to seek an alternative route to return. It had been his intension to take us back the way we came but there was an alternative, a twenty minute off road then joining a road (as good as they get). The trip was much longer in distance, but half the time (two hours) we opted for that! Our driver went to join the staff and their impromptu band - he played a sound tambourine, or what ever they call them?
It was not long before they had the guests dancing, including myself. The traditional music and dancing went on for some time, it did not come across as totally for the guests, but there participation was encouraged. They danced and sang amongst them selves, each taking a turn to sign or play some thing - all without the aide of alcohol, our driver was thirty two and had never tasted alcohol. This we had seen a few times now, we thought it good to see guys having such fun, probably every night, we tried to make a comparison to the UK culture, there was not one in our minds.
We retired about 2230, as was really the norm as the day starts early in this country. We fell asleep listen to donkey's braying in the distance. We had to get up about 0330 hours for the call of nature as one does at our age. This meant a trip to the communal block, Ann switched the light on to get dressed, nothing! We had to get dressed in the dark - "the lasted time I did this I ended up with a pair of knickers on?" I said. Hopefully our laughter did not disturb too many people? We lifted the door sheet, once our eyes focused, we could not believe them, you did not need lights, with the moon, clear skies and the millions of stars you could see all around. We were fascinated by what was in front of us, and talked about it as we walked to the block. On our return we climbed back into bed, we had placed a chair strategically against our tent to ensure we did not climb in with any one else. We talked about "outside", clearly under standing a further need for the thick material over us - you would never get to sleep exposed to that sky. As I do not sleep well, after five hours or so, it is enough. I woke about 0430 again, my attention again focused "outside" peering through the bamboo front. It then started, the "dawning of the day" I called it to Ann. It began with the donkey's, instead of a solitary sound in the distance, it was like they had all woken up at once, many could now be heard. Next came the wood pigeons (as we would know the sound) - soon they were all at it, complementing the donkeys. The traditional bird sounds started next (tweeting), the noise was now really significant, buy now I could not here the French guy snoring across the way! At last came the cockerels, starting there day about an hour later than the rest of them. I found the experience fantastic, I had lived in the country, camped before, although a long time ago, but could not recall such an experience?
Log Entry Sunday 25th April - A Camel for Ann?
We have time to spare today, Emil has arranged for a 4x4 to pick us up at 1500 hours and drive us across the desert to an oasis at Ksar Ghilane, south east of Douz. We are unable to use one of the numerous tour organisations, as they seemed to focus on 3 - 5 day trips, we do not have that much time available. We intend to have a short drive to the south to look at the terrain, and have a further look around the old town square, walled as a traditional fortress.
As we drive we see a small group of camels tethered, Ann want some photographs, and ultimately a ride? As we are parked, an gent pulls up on a moped, he asks if we should like to ride a camel? We begin the essential debate on price and agree, he asks us to follow him. To our surprise, he pulls over to a small group of children, he passes his moped over to one of the children and jumps into our car! We drive for a further 15 minutes to the south and we are asked to pull in to a "Camel Stop", attached to a small, but quaint hotel, rides are available to the public, or, organised trips. Our passenger asks us to wait a moment and disappears over to the group of men and camels, in time he waves us over - his percentage obviously agreed. That is the way it works, the people are excellant at spotting opportunity and turning it into cash - I love it!
Our passenger hands us over and asks us to pay now, I have the agreement re-confirmed and hand over the cash. We watch our passenger bid us farewell (with his due percentage), walk back to the road and waves down a passing car. He gets in and heads in the direction from which we came, obviously to pick up his moped? The gents at the camel stop obviously try and change the agreement which would obviously then change the price, but we stick to our original requirements.
With the agreement clear and money exchanged, Ann climbs aboard "Ali Barba" and disappears into the sunset, out of sight amongst the dunes - a job well done I thought?
To my surprise, thirty minutes later, the party re-appears, Ann is heading back?
Ann dismounts, the boy asks for his money back, he says he has had enough! I explain, "I sympathise, but a deal is a deal", we compromise and I take Ann back!
Seriously, Ann had had a great ride, the boy spoke good English and had even galloped the camel through the dunes at one stage.
With the camel ride over, we turn around and head back into Douz, the town centre has had a traditional style fortress re-created. Walls surround the cafes and souks with four gates giving access into the square. We walk around but find little of interest other than a cool refreshing drink.
We then head back to the hotel, the sun is too hot for us to endure out side, we have an hour to kill before we are picked up for the Sarah trip, our over night back is packed and ready. We have a chance to catch up on email and review the weather out at sea as we are looking to leave Tunisia by the weekend?
Log Entry Sunday 25th April - A traditional meal out in Douz.
Saturday evening, and we have an appointment with Emil's friend in his restaurant, we are greeted with great excitement - I am sure he thought we would not turn up? We were once again given his name, unfortunately, once again, we could not pick it up? There were two other places we would have considered, but all very similar the attraction of this particular establishment was it decor, one annex was a simulation of a Bedouin tent. We then proceed to have the "fun", enquiring on price, we are told "Do not worry, I only have one price!" We are then asked which hotel we are staying in - to us this is a gauge as to how much one might pay? We discuss the menu in "broken French" as best we can and settle on a price - time now to move on, with the informalities over, it's time to eat!
We opt for traditional table and chairs, a couple of hours on the floor did not appeal. The food started and stopped when we said, it was based (as tradition) on lamb, complemented with chicken. Various vegetable soup and sauces accompanied the cous cous. When we had had our fill we asked him to stop, we could bareley move. We finished with "rosemary tea", we were told it will "take away the meal", my comment "be careful, not too much - I do not want to loose too much weight!" was clearly under stood and brought a sound burst of laughter. After paying our bill and wishing our farewells, we were invited back for tea with him in the morning as his guest, we explained our plans and only committed to a "possible". Upon leaving, Emil was sitting out side, he enquired how the meal had been etc - we stated, his recommendations had been very good - all three parties separated happy! We walked around the old town square, it looked very decorative all lit up, the souks hard at work, but no real pressure to sell you any thing.
Log Entry Saturday 24th April - Further south, down to Douz and the Sahara.
We get an early start, well, on the road by 0830 hours, with 150km to cover to get us to Douz. From there we intend to take an organised trip into the Sahara. The terrain now, is almost completely sand and rock, we constantly see "camel crossing" signs by the roadside. As we leave Kebili we pass through the wet lands of Chott El Jerid, large salt lakes. As we approach Douz we see our first oasis, quite astonishing to see the absolute contrast of green to desert. Unfortunately our failing camera let us down once again, a replacement is not likely this far south, we searched Gafsa and Douz but the only camera's they boast are the disposable units, they are however, very proud of their one hour ability to process the film.
Douz, once again is a very interesting town, with almost every thing fixable in the street, we watch a guy weld up a trailer as the owner and donkey stands alongside. After refreshments we seek out the tourist information, we are great ed by Emil and a young lady. Emil organises our hotel and the trip into the Sahara, we argue over the price of the trip (of coarse) and agree eventually - Emil constantly reminds us "I am not a bandit sir!" We have a great laugh, he also takes us to a friends restaurant, we will visit to night.
Emil takes us, or rather we follow him on what we have began to call "put puts", small mopeds - every one has them! He takes us into the hotel and introduces us to the receptionists and tells them to give us the best room! All for effect obviously, but he does his job well, officially on the "Tourist Information" pay role, and, an excellant ability to provide a service. Of coarse, Emil takes a cut from the service but he certainly takes away the pain, and we have become very accustomed to the price discussions!
We retire to our room, having a gin and tonic on the balcony.
Log Entry Friday 23rd April - Turning south, down the Algerian Boarder towards Gafsa.
We leave Tabarka and make our way slowly south, the roads become, once again, very narrow, winding and generally difficult. A further complication is that the bilingual road signs seem to disappear, the same in the towns we pass through, every thing is in Arabic - interesting? We confirm our route by means of elimination, or asking at the many police controlled vehicle checking stations. Our progress for the first two hours was slow, due to the numerous avalanches. One was periodically having to either negotiate around the rocks and earth fallen from above, or, working around the "missing road" that was now down the hillside below. There was no police to assist, there was the odd workman present but all were left to "work it out" as one might say. We passed about five falls during that period, some seemed quite fresh, perhaps the heavy rains during the night had influence the situation? The more faint hearted may have insisted on a four by four - our little compact was fine! The drive was breath taking, both the views and the towns passed through, trying to appreciate how most of these people lived was difficult for us?
We passed a couple of junctions upon where a road, in theory, serviced the Algerian boarder. Each point was guarded by the military, we were stopped a couple of times, but once our nationality was know we were courteously moved along and wished well, others had their vehicles emptied and searched for whatever? Once we knew the routine, that is make our nationality know instantly, we were processed a lot faster.
We joined the main road to El Kef about lunch time, the road was now much faster - subsistence was due. We came across a roadside restruant and we pull in. A gentleman, which turned out to be the proprietor, was barbecuing meat outside, he had a full carcass of what looked to be lamb hanging behind him. He cooked meat and fish there, he then took it into the kitchen. We order, well, put ourselves at the mercy of the waitress in search of some thing local? We had two dishes to share, both lamb stew prepared in different ways, served with fresh bread - it was lovely. As we returned to the car, we noticed sheep penned at the side of the building. With the aide of sign language and very little imagination, he explains that butchers the sheep, processes the meat, cooks and serves it! Ann is a little taken back when I point out that we have just eaten the sister of the sheep she was just talking too! That's how it is done here!
As we continue on, the terrain changes, from the lush green, to sandy, rocky pastures, we in time, see our first camels from the road side. The crop now farmed is cactus, we pass acers and acres of rows of cactus. The crop being harvested, for what reason we do not know but it's presence becomes substantial. Unfortunately the pictures did not come out as our camera is now beginning to show signs of failure - we only hope it lasts until we can get a replacement?
The infertility of the terrain continues to decrease, in most areas top soil has almost gone, sand, cactus, and more sand! We reach Gafsa about 1600 hours, finding a hotel is quite difficult, there simply are not many, but with persistence, we find one. Not as refined as last night but some where to put our heads down, at 36TD (£18) for bed and breakfast for the two of us one cannot complain?
Once checked in we head to the old town square we had passed during our hunt for accommodation, we found a suitable establishment, ordered, and enjoyed our meal, a long, but enjoyable day!
Log Entry Thursday 22nd April - We are now at Tabarka, 10 miles from the Algerian boarder.
We pick up a hire car, for the next week we will head into the Tunisian countryside, our prime destination being south to the Sahara. The weather, at sea is still quite volatile, rather than waiting for the correct weather to sail around to the east coast, combined with the fact that the coastal regions are predominately "westernised, tourist resorts", a car and it's freedom seems a much better option? We head towards the north coast, west towards the Algerian boarder, the drive is rather interesting, once moving away from Tunis, the roads worsen rapidly, the road, or rather, tarmac drops to no more than one and a half lanes wide, both sides bordered by sand. There are two objectives, firstly to try and stay on the tarmac as much as possible, secondly when on it, to miss the enormous "pot holes". A third rule of the road - after being run off the road twice by trucks, one realises, upon their approach the best thing to do is to pull over onto the sand and give way? A constant hazard is the numerous taxi type buses on the road, they clearly under stand all the rules of roads as they do what they want!
The countryside changes, it becomes very green and arable, many small farms, with what looks like whole families working in the field, little machinery in use. It appears, you either work in the fields, or become a shepard, watching over the cattle, goats or sheep. Solitary live stock wander the roads, tethered, not by the neck, or halter as we would know but by the feet? The front and back feet are tied closely together independently, then together by a short piece of chain. The animal, then to move forward has to "jump" with its front legs, which due to chain, draws the hind legs towards the front? A horrible method of securing an animal, but widely used, almost traditional.
One of the problems here in this area appears to be flooding, which is contradicted by the harsh, dry sandy environment? We pass many areas of wet land, with submerged trees etc? We are reluctant to repetitively stop and take photographs of the people, as from one experience, it causes some what of a stir - tradition I guess? Our progress is halted repetitively by what we would call road works. It appears that, pot holes/subsidence appears as the sand boarder is washed away, no drainage is apparent, eventually, or rather, repetitively, the road collapses. It is quite easy here, the sand boarder on the remaining, good side of the road is extended, with sand and both lanes of traffic use, the extended good side while the men work on the repairs, total consideration is given to "Health and Safety" as one can imagine?
As we drive we see efforts to create power lines, and some form of pipeline system, progress is sporadic and patchy along the roadside, also following our route is a disused, over grown railway line.
We join the main road to Tabarka at Sejnerne, the town was clearly a bustlingly centre, little foot paths exist so all use the road, we were luck, the children appeared to have just finished school also. We had to make our way through the town, negotiating the trucks, rather still keeping out of the way. There were also on the roadside what seemed to be dozens and dozens of the small minibus taxis, your route often took you around people - they do not move for you either, it is just the way it is for all traffic, not just us!
At one point we even had to stop and move around a wandering cow, not tethered thank goodness, must have been a local? It is hard to describe the experience, one really has to do it?
The road quality was better now, the road was wider, still plenty of pot holes, but less subsidence. The trucks clearly loaded up to the max, with whatever? We pass a beautiful viaduct for the disused railway line, not sure what happened there? As we pass through towns it is clear there is no running water, we see an old lady with a donkey laden with 25 litre drums, filling them with a watering can from a stream by the roadside. We pass a small group of school children, one of the boys had a live chicken under his arm - must have been a pet?
After four and a half hours and 200 kilometres later we reach Tabarka itself, beaches etc, are lovely, but it is scattered with palatial, but many, dated, hotels especially along the beach. There is a nearby airport, that is how the tourists mainly arrive one would imagine? We choose to make our way into town for accommodation, the hotels are isolated along the beach, 2/3 miles from the town itself.
The town is busy, we find a hotel down by the harbour (obviously) as we have to be near water! The hotel is called "Corail Royal" and for an apartment, complete with kitchen, and breakfast the cost is 31TD (£15) per person. Ann discovers "Friends", in english, via satellite TV and settles down with a gin and tonic, from our personal stash. Eventually I drag Ann away from the TV to eat, we had planned to eat in the town, some traditional couscous dish? That plan was ruined as the skies opened, the rain was torrential flooding the streets, speaking to reception we decided to eat in the hotel, a three course meals costing us 8TD (£4) each - much different to the tourist prices we had been paying in Sidi Bou Said and Tunis? We chat with the gent at reception before we retire for the evening, cultural differences become some what better under stood. He earns 300TD (£150) per month, he is 27 years old, single, living with his parents. He had been previously out of work for two years, his mum provided for him during that period. There is no form of Government benefit schemes, he receives no funding from the state. He would like to find a wife but states that he is now too old and under funded personally to obtain a good wife. We offered our daughters, but he declined due to stories he had read over the internet, that confused us?
We drive up past the security controlled fishing port towards the Genoese Fortress perched strategically on the point, the local waters are said to famous for it's red coral trade, there are a couple of diving centres nearby.
We see some of the local fleet over the yard wall, out of the water for refits - they are sizable craft.
Log Entry Wednesday 21st April - Around Sidi Bou Said
Today is a mix of work and wandering, we have had to replace our batteries, our domestic bank failed on the way here and the cranking/engine starter battery is now five years old in May. Rather than throwing it a party, we decide to replace all, and a good price was bartered yesterday. We have an interesting conversation with the proprietor (who's name we did not catch), who confirms our believe, there is one price for locals, and another for westerners. During our negotiations with the proprietors assistant, a charming young lady, well younger than me with still a little bit of life in her? We worked from a written price list, not an imaginary one in a persons head? They were now fitted, however, here, there is a "tax" placed on the old batteries forcing you to return them to the supplier of the new ones to allow them to dispose of correctly. A good, "green" solution to dumping! With that task completed, we now feel we have contributed significantly to the environment, what's more we can spend our "tax rebate" in the "Cafe Sidi Chebanne", the cafe over looks the marina and bay - "a must" we were told by a frenchman I was speaking to yesterday, so off we go! We take a wander along the local fish quay, like all fisherman they appear to spend as much time repairing the nets as fishing?
We make our way up to the town and up through the "souks/merchants streets", it is lunch time so there is less trouble from the merchants - we have a mission! As we approach the peak, the Cafe Sidi Chebanne comes into view. It would be difficult not to find it as one needs only to follow the column of tourists from the coach park?
The views are truly spectacular, before ordering, it would have been a perfect setting to spend a couple of hours taking it all in over a couple of beers, still, fruit juice is just as good?????
As we scan the marina, Ann struggles to find Sailaway, she is clearly marked for reference, bottom left squeezed between two Princess 50 foot motor cruisers. I wonder what damage we will do to them when we come to leave our berth?
Log Entry Saturday 17th April - Tunis and it's Medina
In the heart of the city of Tunis is "The Great Mosque" known as "Ez-Zitoua" (The Mosque of the Olive Tree), it is said to be the largest and most holy sanctuary in the city. It's origin is said to go back to the birth of the city it's self. History tells us it was completely rebuilt between the years 856-863, subsequent improvements have obviously developed over time. Non-muslims, and no photography is allowed within, so pictorial evidence appears not to be available, obviously we could not enter. The intensity of build up of dwellings around the Mosque also eliminates most external photography of the monument.
Description of the Mosque and it's function:
The dome of "Bahou", above the entrance to the prayer chamber is said to be a good example of Zird Art (11th century) with it's wealth of alcoves in bi-coloured stone. The library, in a wing to the west of the pray chamber was founded by Sultan Abou Othman (1450). At the end of the 16th Centaury the east facade of the building was complemented by a columned gallery, the Turkish contribution, a gallery added in 1653 around three sides of the court yard. In 1834 a new minaret, 44 meters high was constructed, it's decor inspired by the Moorish.
In the beginning the Mosque was the political and religious centre, now, the souks of the noble trade guilds (traders to us) surround it in order of seniority. (The Medina) It's supporting activities (manufacture etc) are alive around it's perimeter.
We arrive by TGM, and make our way west down Avenue De France, this avenue is extremely westernised with modern shopping malls, complete with well know brand names (ZARA etc.) along side the abundance of street cafes and restaurants. One become accustomed to the rules defining the function of the motorist and pedestrian, it is quite simple - there appears to be none! pedestrian crossing exist, but most are coloured blind as they walk on green or red - you step out and weave your way between the traffic? The numerous police forces are present, but have no control or impact to the chaos, I am sure they would not agree? As we make our way through up to three lanes of moving traffic at times, I put Ann's mind to rest by pledging to put myself between her and the on coming vehicles - she takes some "dragging" at times. Litter is extremely prominent, bins are available and appeared serviced (manly empty, with new bags inserted), culture is the issue - when some thing is finished, it is just "dropped". people are clearly employed to pick up this garbage - they are kept busy, off the main avenues is a totally different issue - piled high, flattered by traffic?
We make our way to entrance of the Medina at the head of Avenue de France, through the great gate of "Bab Bhar" in the "Place de Victoria", the increase of "westerners" is noticeable and the "hustle and bushel" from the traders begins. We make our way up "Rue Jama Zitouna" toward the Mosque.
One quickly gets used to the traders, one questions how they make a living, most selling exactly the same, only the price varying - and it can vary quite a lot! As we get into the hart of the Medina, the streets narrow further, still filled with merchandise.
As we make our way through, a local gentleman introduces himself, as Emir, "I am not a guide, I am a trader" would you like to see the "Panoramic view of the Medina". It was not on the map we had? One always has to remember " nothing is for nothing" here! After a further discussion it was confirmed "no fee was necessary" - he has then to be after a tip? Anyway, to further educate our selves from experience we follow Emir, I notice him talk to another man in a white jacket a head - he too has two westerners. Are we being led to the slaughter, I wonder - no charge was again confirmed, he has to have an angle but could I see it? We arrive at the sign posted view point, as we do so, Emir points out his perfume shop! I now had "his angle" - he is a good, free guide, and you feel obliged to by some thing from his shop, which, we would never have "happened by".
Emir was quite informative, and blessed with a good sense of humour. The view point was one of four houses, once belonging to a King, he had four wife's, one in each house. We discussed "mother-in-laws", the same issues belong in all cultures (Sorry Ann!) Emir, said he was blessed to have only one wife, and mentioned "mother-in-laws" - no idea what he was on about? The house was an extension of the Medina, full of rugs to be sold, one lady could be seen weaving away.
We did get a good aerial view of the Mosque, and the adjoining "Three Medersas" complex (Religious Education), the view of the medina and city was also clear, however the activity of the Medina itself was concealed by roof.
Once our viewing was over we made our way down the many stairs, unlike our journey up we were approached by many of the carpet sellers - makes since the "punters" have to come back down! As we exit the building, Emir, moves in for the kill and asks us just to look at his store! The perfume store was very traditional, numerous perfumes in clear "pouring jars" to be metered out into smaller vials as they were bought. We were passed over to Emir's brother, who spoke better english, we were introduced to the original versions (obviously) of Hugo Boss, Channel and a few others. As we had sailed towards the coast line slightly north of Sidi Bou Said, we had been engrossed by an odour, obviously from trees or bushes on the coast line, it had bewildered Ann, she had spent many a time smelling path side bushes to try and identify it? Here it was "Jasmine", Ann and I looked at each other, and, I enquired on the price - a price list was produced, this was not typical - most seemed to base the price on "what they think you will pay" then double it to later apply discount, or not if you are daft enough to accept it? We said, "no, too expensive", turned and began to walk out - we began the bartering process, agreed on a price and bought a small vial. As is tradition, Emir, looked extremely disappointed at the amount we would pay, you would think we had just killed one of his kids, but he still took our money? As we left the store i shook his hand congratulating him on his "Sales Strategy", and wishing him "good luck". His "angle", the best we had experienced yet, some thought put to it as apposed to "blatant robbery!
We made our way out to the outer perimeter of the Medina, they were full of dark workshops, producing "stock" to be sold in the Medina. It was impossible to see any actively, however one door was open. They were forming decorative, metal plates. One man could be seen making a metal vase from what looked like "flue pipe" - very traditional I thought. The outer streets bordering the Medina, full of trading activity, far from the "Tourist style and pricing" we found the area interesting and stopped for lunch at one of the local "fast food cafes", we had a Chawarma, basically lamb kebab in a flat bread roll, served with fries and olives, washed down with water obviously! for the two of us it cost 4.8TD (£2.40), we even paid "local prices", as we sat and ate we had been trying to work out this guys "angle to charge you more!" This culture does get you like that, we paid, wishing him well as we left.
Log Entry Tuesday 13th April - A brief visit to Tunis, and a trip to Carthage.
We are today to travel to Tunis to the Tourist Information Centre by the TGM, it takes us straight into the centre, the information centre is within 200 metres of the station (so our Pilot book indicated), a 35 minute train journey costs us approximately £1 return for the both of us, and there was entertainment on board?
Many teenagers use the train, it was interesting/entertaining, watching them force the door open while the train was in motion - we guessed to let air in? As we approached various stops, the doors were forced open early to jump off, or, late to let friends on that would have missed the train? The practice seemed normal, nothing was said, even by the inspectors on the train - strange?
We arrive in the centre of Tunis, our visit this time will only be a shot one, to gain knowledge from the Tourist information, as to what is both local and further a field? We searched the area, well outside the 200m perimeter - nothing! We use our initiative, we ask a police women in our best french accent, she too does not know where it was? We must have been saying some thing wrong, as we spot it across the road some 300m further on - it is nearer 500 - 600 metres over on the far side of the road. Once inside, the english is good and the staff very helpful, our plan now, is to return to the station, and journey back to visit Carthage today, we will return early another day to Tunis and visit it's own points of interest.
Carthage is a memorable name to all, used always, in many movies of that period. it was originally founded by the Phoenicians (Princess Elyssa). The city was said to be one of the most powerful and rich in the world, a great enemy at one time to both the Greeks and later the Romans. It was Rome's "Punic Wars" that left their mark clearly on it's history. The original site now partially covered by today's modern town remains steeped in the memories of it's past glory. The original city was devastated at the time of the Roman conquest by an enormous fire.
As we depart from the station we are approached by a guy with a horse and carriage, offering to take us around the sites, waiting for us to view the exhibits then take us on to the next. We discuss and agree the price, we are confident we did better than "the £4 post card!"
Off we go, firstly to the Roman ruins of the original part of the city, our guide is quite informative, this area in which the ruins lie is clearly a "well to do" area, as we travel, we are informed of various diplomats dwellings - very nice dwellings too. As we approach the ruins we are advice to purchase a "complete ticket" for all the attractions as it will save us money, we do so, it costs us 20TD (£10) for the both of us, inclusive of a photo permit. A similar pricing policy to that of our UK Heritage Homes/National Trust?
To walk around the uncovered, some times reconstructed dwellings was interesting, the ancient mosaics left to weather. It is difficult to under stand how such treasures, some dating back to Phoenician time can be left so unprotected from weather or man?
The way the city sector has been reconstructed gives a clear indication of how they must have lived, the wealthy any way - baths and all.
As we make our way through the busy roads in our carriage, it is hard to understand how some private dwellings have well kept Roman ruins within their private gardens - beats a garden shed I guess?
We stop next at the Roman amphitheatre, in use today with it's modern sound and lighting system.
Returning to our carriage, we head towards the Roman Arena, where they apparently fed the "unlucky ones" to the lions. We pass the remains of the fresh water reservoir used at that time, along the route are vast areas of wooded ruins full of chickens?
The arena has was originally said to be five stories high, seating 25,000 people, complete with a complicated series of tunnels with various entrances and exits around it's perimeter. A one time two Catholic saints were "thrown in" and eaten alive? There is a yearly vigilance to commemorate their execution.
It is now time to leave our little friend, Ann has to have her photo taken - she loves the men! We make our way up into the Punic Quarter, the ruins of the city of King Hannibal.
The views over the city, and of Tunis, the surrounding land and sea were amazing - never truly dictated by the camera. A joining this quarter is the Museum of Carthage, although full of artifacts discovered through out, from a historic point of view one could imagine that only a very small percentage of the area has indeed been formally excavated?
The museum is built along side the former Byzantine-Moorish French Cathedral - a magnificent conclusion to our day.
Log Entry Monday 12th April - Sidi Bou Said
The marina is a mix of local fishing boats and pleasure craft, the pilot book identifies it as the mooring place for the yachts of the wealthily Tunis residents. There were a couple of 15 meters plus "gin palaces" but most craft were of moderate size, 10 meters or so. The whole town is decorated in a blue and white colouring, the marina follows suit, with cafes and proud promenade. The staff are helpful, French is prominent, but English not widely spoken.
The marina water is an unusual blue and clean, a mix of boating and water sports, the harbour entrance opening out onto a beach complete with a large western style hotel. There is armed security every where, however one would question it's effectiveness as they seem to spend there time sitting about talking, it is the same in the towns, residential areas are clearly marked with no entry signs complete with barrier, a centaury with his own box for comfort/status?
To the south is the magnificent presidential palace, complete with secure water front, off limits to all, when the President is at home the area is patrolled by the military.
The town itself is placed on/over the cliff top, there are two routes, one, the road way - a far longer way round? The second is a series of steep steps taking you directly into the town centre, for some ridiculous reason we choose the later? The climb was difficult, some thing I would only do once, and certainly not in summer temperatures, the view through the dense tree growth was very impressive. We find later a taxi costs just over 2TD, less than one pound sterling each way!
The town appears to have been split into sectors, the main street dominated by a small round about and Mosque, there is then a whole section as a "medina", or market for the tourists and there are hundreds around, mainly French, but a few English. It is interesting watching them move briskly in columns, from the designated coach parks, to the various points and returning, obviously on a schedule - no thanks!
Amongst much junk, we find a gentleman selling what we believed to be water colours of local points of interest, a picture of the local Mosque catches our eye. We have around sailaway numerous frames pictures of some of the places we have visited. All we have to do now is haggle the price, which he starts at 20TD (£10). We drive his price down to 8TD (£4), he seems unhappy but takes our cash, still trying to sell us another for a further 2TD (£1), we have no space so we only take one. I could not under stand his commercial logic, trying like mad to sell us a second for a further 2TD, still that is the way it was?
We return to Sailaway, I dig out a spare frame and look to find a space to hang our latest addition. Ann unwraps the picture to find that it is a printed posted card, elaborately packaged - no wonder he was trying to sell us a second for a further 2TD, they probably cost him pennies. We had just paid £4 sterling for a picture post card - he must be laughing his socks off, still that is life, cannot turn the clock back! I did think of taking it back the next day but we quite like it?
Log Entry Sunday 11th April - On our way to Tunisia.
The night kept us busy, adjusting the sails with the for what seemed, the ever changing wind direction, however the rewards were great - we maintained an average speed of 5 knots, while at times reaching over 7.5 knots. The wind eventually fell in line with the forecast but, was stronger than forecast which was good for us. As we came about 70 miles north of the Tunisian coast the volume of shipping increased significantly, we expected the shipping lanes to be busy but they were still 20 miles off? At times we had 5 - 8 ships in site at one time, ranging from, fishing, commercial (mainly tankers) and military, we worked our way through them. We as one does have a shift pattern, it is difficult to sleep but one has to at least try and grab a few "winks" when one can! I do not really have a problem sleeping, Ann prefers it, "gives her a rest!" she declares?
As day breaks we are well into Tunisia waters, we deliberately leave "the flags" until day break, far easier and safer! It is customary to fly a courtesy flag of the country who's water's you are in. So, down comes the Italian, and up goes the Tunisian, as Tunisia is not in the EU we also fly the yellow "Q" flag, identifying us as "requiring free pratigue (clearance) and are free from plague - we hope?
After a night of high shipping activity, in day light we see very little, other than the occasion trawler, we cross the 10 mile wide shipping lanes negotiating only 5 vessels over the two lane (one heading west to east, and the other, east to west) again, oil tankers. Once past the lanes we have only the local traffic, to and from Tunis, the capital.
Our first glimpse of Tunisia was at 1315 hours, I manually confirmed our position using the lighthouse on Ile Plane, off Cap Farina on the west side of The Bay of Tunis. The land fall appeared out of the mist confirming we had only 4 miles of viability. The log entry read "land sited at 1315 hours by the first mate" - well it was me (the Captain) who sighted land, I was so angry! Once I had re-instated my authority I made us a cup of tea.
For all of our great sailing during the night the wind began to fall off, and to motor sail was now our only option, it was now also clear that arrival at Sidi Bou Said would now be in the hours of darkness. The pilot (sailing directions manual to most) advised that "Night entry is not recommended if this is your first visit". We have to admit, we have found this pilot to be some what out dated and inaccurate in many cases - what do they know? The complication was declared as "shifting sand banks, poor harbour navigational lighting and the lack of room to manoeuvre once inside the harbour". The navigational lights were visible from a good 500 meters, one issue dealt with, the sand banks gave us a good opportunity to test out our new electronic chart plotter? There is a known short fall with regards to the navigational charts for the Mediterranean, they were created mainly in the 19th Centaury, before GPS navigation, using celestrial navigation - inaccuracies are known to exist. This was clear with our new electronic charts, using them to navigate through the sandbanks was not an option. This was confirmed as when we did tie up inside the harbour, the chart plotter showed us to be on the other side of the quay, about 150 meters out at sea - another good investment? We made our way into the port using traditional methods, and feeling our way in with our depth sounder. Once in the entrance we were greeted and directed to the quay side, an area, as the pilot stated "reserved for official craft". We went through an interesting experience with the port Police, Customs and immigration, once we had filled forms in triplicate, paid our bribes, sorry, they call it "kindness", we were able to retire about 2200 hours for well deserved sleep.