Warning: a very wordy blog! (Including a bit of a rant, I suspect)
On Friday we had a nice relaxed strike, because, although we had to catch the ferry from Civitavecchia, we didn’t have to check in until 6 in the evening. In the end we waited for the dew to dry off and headed off just after mid day. We called in to the super market and bought some milk and wine (not being sure how easy they were to buy in Tunisia) and headed out early to the port. I queued up with my online booking printout to pick up our actual tickets, but when the bloke saw Camel, he decided that she was taller than I had said and we would have to pay extra. I disputed this, so he sent us down to the dock to get her measured. The man down there took one look at her and said that she would be fine, so he signed our piece of paper. When we looked more closely, he had two bits of wood nailed together in an t shape to gauge whether the loads were too high. You could see why- there were fairly small cars that were loaded with mystery goods that more than doubled their height.
Back again to the queue and then we got our tickets. We were pretty near the front of the queue and were delighted that we were allowed on the ship fairly early. They fitted us in like sardines (not quite as bad as going to Iceland) and then we went up into the very pleasant and spacious Excellent. Sadly the bar wasn’t open, but I guess that is was a way to get into the lack of alcohol thing.
The crossing was as smooth as any I have ever encountered, the food cheap and delicious and there was plenty of space.
It took about 12 hours to sail from Citavicchia to Palermo and then another 12 to get to Tunis. That brought us into dock at 9 pm, but I wasn’t too worried, as I had already booked an hotel very close by. I had read that it took ages to get through customs, but I thought we might be in bed by midnight. Fat chance!
We waited for ages to go down to the car deck (meeting a very nice couple of Algerian lads who were returning home from Malmo to see their families- they said that it was perfectly easy to get across the boarder into Algeria, another preconception bites the dust!).
Once on the car deck, there was the usual wait, while they unloaded the upper decks. I amused myself watching a flashy young man smoking almost directly under the no smoking sign. Eventually things started to move, but, instead of someone official telling you what to do, everyone either sorted themselves out, or directed everyone else. It was chaos, but remarkably nobody hit anyone or anything else! (we later saw a car (looking very battered) being taken away by a forklift truck).
(No more photos, I am afraid, because we didn’t want to upset the port police)
At this point I got very excited because it looked like we were about to be let out of the port with no hassle. We passed line after line of parked cars with all of their luggage laid out on the floor. Not for us, I thought, they are letting us go because we are tourists. Nope, we ended up in a huge great shed behind a massive assortment of vans and cars, all loaded to the gunnels both inside and out. And yes, we all had to empty everything out onto the tarmac. It was bad enough for us; we have an awful lot of kit due to living outdoors through such a range of conditions, plus the ski gear, of course. The other vans were shockingly full. We then were told to list all our possessions on a customs form (it was in Arabic). We were feeling a little shell shocked and apprehensive, when our knight in shining armour, called Mohammed, came to our rescue. He filled in our form for us, showed us what we did and didn’t have to declare (not EVERY single belonging, then!) and explained what the heck was going on. He had been living in Poland and was returning home to see his family and said that the process was taking way longer than it did normally due to increased worries about terrorists. We sat around and watched a large group of customs police stand round taking instructions/ chatting / smoking / sniggering about keeping us waiting (I am not sure which ones are true).
We waited and waited and…. some time later the officials started moving. We didn’t have all the right paperwork but we managed to track it down. Someone gave the car driver in front of us the third degree, looked under his bonnet, tapped all round the car, questioned him for ages, and so it went on.
The boss man noticed us poor tourists (yep, the only Brits on the boat) and he got someone to check out our paperwork and gear. All the bags open, whats in that box? (medicines, cooking gear, spices…). He said he would get the inspector(????) Another long wait. Nobody turned up. I then noticed they were checking out the two cars that were blocking us from behind. All of a sudden we were told we could go. Yeh! Muhamed said that we needed another document to allow us to drive in Tunisia. Booo! We backed out of the giant shed with help from several nice blokes who were all still blocked in. Where to get the document? We drove backwards and forwards through the lorries and general chaos that is Tunis docks. We gave up and went back to ask where we had to go, and we were told to go to office 4. Eventually we found the right general area and an office with a 4 written on the wall by indelible marker. There was a crowd of confused looking blokes milling around outside, clutching various bits of paper, so I assumed I was in the right place. It was kind of intimidating because I was the only woman there, but they were very polite and helpful when I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally the office opened and they eventually stamped my papers. I then had to go and buy an actual stamp and then go and queue up at another kiosk, where a disinterested young woman looked over everything and provided me with the important final document. We then queued to get out of the port and were thoroughly questioned by yet another set of police as to where we were going and what our intentions were. They took away most of the documents and we were allowed to leave. The total time it took from docking to leaving was 5 hours 10 minutes.
So we were heading into an unknown city, looking for an hotel, which might not let us in, driving in the dark. Just when we thought we were going to just carry on we were stopped by our first police road block asking us for car insurance details. It was very lucky for us that I had noticed that I had brought last year’s insurance paperwork and had found some failed emails that implied they had sent me the new paperwork. Yes we had renewed the insurance, but because we were abroad at the time, I had forgotten to print the paperwork off. How dumb can you get? The nice bloke believed me, Phew!
So we drove into the centre of Tunis to find the nice, central Golf Royal Hotel and we could not find our way through the stupid one way system, no matter what we did. I could plot us on Maps on my iPad, I could see the hotel on the map but we kept being blocked by stuff. In the end, we parked and Tim went on foot to find the hotel. It turned out that there was a police road block all round the hotel and the only way we could drive there was to go the wrong way up a one way street. We did that, but the police made us go to another car park, as they would not let our car near our hotel. We finally walked up to the entrance at 3 am, nearly dropping with fatigue, but Joy of Joys they let us in!!!!!!