I’m at a turning point in this trip. Bingo funds.
Push on or turn back but as my Dad always said “It’s bad luck to turn back”.
Leaving the chaos of Cairo far behind, I was heading for Morocco for my birthday. Megan was staying in Cairo, D’ had gone home and it was time to go.
Iris my Californian patents lawyer/Star Wars geek travel bud had just visited some original sets in Tunisia before heading off with her Tinder “boys” into the Balkans. She had planted the seed in my brain however for a small detour on the way to Marrakech.
So I booked the flight and landed in Tunisia – a place apparently scary and very dangerous according to our governments website.
Firstly – what a load of fear mongering crap. I’ve felt more in danger walking down the Main Street of Dubbo at 3am.
FU travel warnings.
*there ARE a shit ton of heavily armed police, national guard and take-no-bullshit military units around with full body armor, big arse truck mounted machine guns, and tanks but hey…that only spells security to me.
Landing in Tunis a few weeks ago was like emerging into a virtual paradise.
Immigration? Smashed it. Pssst… you are Australian… NO VISA! Welcome!! Wtf?…then 3 steps out of immigration … Pssst… wanna free Orange SIM card? HERE!…just 20 dinar ($11AUD) gets 3gig data and unlimited calls for 30 days…want to top it up now?… Hell YEAH 🙂
Then I stepped outside. Huh? No scammers or sellers? No garbage? Fresh air? No pollution? No crowds? No traffic?
So this is Tunis? But its all so…so clean and so…so quiet? Am I really in North Africa?
Am I lucid dreaming?
Ok the airport taxis were tricky and I only got a tiny bit ripped off but lesson learned. The lesson is ignore the taxis and the predatory taxi touts, walk out of the airport case park to the road and hail a cab off the street (with a red window light – green means booked), check he turns the meter on and the rate is correct (1 usually, after 9pm the rate 2 surcharge starts). Typically airport to the French Embassy in town is under 5 dinars as a benchmark…and off you go.
I’d “Plan B”‘d (yes go on…giggle those that know me) the accommodation as the hostel appeared to vanish after my booking and never returned any calls, answered emails or even their phone. Even by their own admission were hard to find AND they advised never walk in the Medina after dark as it was too dangerous. So in the 11th hour with not even a booking response I went to Plan B.
Plan B was the best thing ever – an Airbnb with a lovely local lady with some amazing housemates – staying up and letting me in after wandering around the Medina at midnight like a lost lamb.
And so, disheveled and slightly in shock, I met Hasna (eventually), Arianna (+ Dino), and Diana – three amazing Tunisian, Italian and Moldovan women studying and working in Tunis that allowed me to share their home for the initial 3 day trip that’s turned into 3 weeks so far and counting.
Arianna was studying Law here for a little while, and Diana had just arrived a few days earlier but was itching to explore the city. Day 1 was explore day for me so Diana and I set off and began losing ourselves first in the Medina, then Carthage, swimming in the Mediterranean, then the city at large.
Here to study Arabic and already fluent in several languages (including French and Arabic), she was awaiting her partner to arrive and was the perfect travelling companion to ease me into a completely alien Arabic/french speaking Muslim country. I unashamedly picked her brain to help me get oriented and comfortable with some basic French and Arabic.
We also accidentally broke into the Carthage site via “a secret way” but that’s another story.
**note : ALWAYS explore a hole in a fence, especially the one near the roundabout overlook at the base of the site…shhh
We dove into a local Couchsurfing group meeting and met so many friendly and open people who just welcomed us into their fold.
So much so we ended up on a 2 day camping and hiking weekend with about 30 of them way out west near the Algerian border where we endured endless border patrol and police checkpoints but man oh man, was it worth it.
Best birthday memories made so far in Tunisia:
- spending my birthday weekend hiking into incredible terrain and traveling with a joyous bunch of Tunisian/Egyptian people: campfires, singing folk songs, dancing and enjoying life well into the night
- getting more than a little paranoid by being mega close to the Algerian border then getting surrounded and followed in a dodgy border town by the ubiquitous white Toyota trucks that we know all the terrorists drive.
- driving through each border town with M.I.A “Paper Planes” on repeat, blaring out the windows and laughing our heads off at all the white trucks. It became our anthem for the trip
- Meeting and making many new friends.
But SO much better then sitting alone in a bar in Casablanca and proceeding like I’d originally planned.
*Plus waking up with sticky notes all over the house just totally made my day 🙂
There’s so much to see and do in this small but historically rich country.
It’s been a wild few weeks so far.
*breaking in to and exploring historical archaeological sites at Carthage and Sidi Bousaid.
* wandering the Bardo Museum marveling at the mosaics and weeping at the bullet holes.
*spending days wandering through Punic, Roman and even older ruins.
(I MAY have also snuck into the Les Villa Romaines via the paddock and the thorny hedge next to the large Mosque – hey I was exploring!!! )
*wandering lost for hours in the massive Medina. (dangerous? …pffffft… night is awesome in there)
*Spending an afternoon at beautiful Sidi Bousaid and relaxing by the Mediterranean.
*a 7 hour bus ride to Tozeur and visiting Star Wars and Raiders movie sets.
(I look smug for a reason – I’m on a freakin Star Wars set!!!)
*a virus/food poisoning that laid me so low in Tozeur I missed Star Wars Canyon and had to fly home. Slept for 2 days and have just now gotten over it.
*the possible source of the camel tagine that brought me undone … Dear God the humanity 😦
*and the general weirdness of being in a completely ancient and totally foreign culture.
I’ve also learned that no matter where I go, people seem to generally like me. Perhaps I’m not as awful a human being as I’d convinced myself I was.
To be continued …