On Sunday morning, after about 3 1/2 hours at our Tunis hotel, we were up and raring to go.
After a very very pleasant breakfast we dropped off the key and headed off to explore Tunisia. As we left we could finally understand what all the security measures were all about; our hotel was at the back of a block that included the Ministry of the Interior (the whole block was surrounded with razor wire and police with HUGE guns). (No photos of that, I am afraid, as it’s on a par with poking a grizzly bear with a pointed stick )
It was relatively easy to get out of Tunis and onto the motorway that heads south (apart from the way that pedestrians just step out in front of you and mopeds come at you every which way) and we were soon headed down towards Nabuel, where I thought there should be a campsite.
The motorway itself was most impressive but we decided to take the back road to avoid the toll
We were a bit shocked at the state of one or two cars
There were, however, lots of very nice ones near Tunis, including a liberal sprinkling of Range Rovers.
I was very excited to see this young camel
until I realised where he was tethered.
The traffic was stopped for one or two reasons
and we were stopped and questioned a couple of times by the police (where are you going, where did you come from, are you carrying any weapons) (he smiled, so I think he was joking) who were all perfectly polite and friendly.
I had checked out the Camping Hotel Les Jasmines’ internet site and it looked legit. (It didn’t, however, include a map of the actual location) I had an address, it said it was by the beach, so I thought it would be easy to find. Pah! (our sat nag does not know Tunisia exists and the iPad Maps is very basic without internet connection).
We arrived at Nabuel by mid day and decided to search along the sea front.
We drove along every street in the whole of the sea side part of town. After a couple of hours, we gave up and asked some locals. No idea. We tried phoning. No answer. We gave up at this point and booked into a local hotel. For £30 we got a very pleasant room for the night plus breakfast. The hotel is huge with great views from every room. We got the impression that it had seen better days and that tourism was nowhere near as successful in Tunisia as it used to be.
It was almost empty as well. Unfortunately, as we were checking in, I realised that I had left the passports at the hotel in Tunis. AAAAARRRGH! (A quick phone call allowed me to calm down).
We walked out into Nabeul to find some supper. Being British, we were way too early for any proper restaurants to be open, but there were a myriad of fast food joints and cafes. It was very strange to walk along with Tim without being able to hold hands (I gather that PDAs- public displays of affection- between even husbands and wives are really frowned upon here) and I had to keep my hands in my pockets to avoid committing a faux pas. I kept my eyes open and men and women did not touch each other (apart from a few courting couples walking very sweetly arm in arm along the beach). We eventually chanced a tacky looking ‘Mexican’ joint, we were given a huge amount of very tasty food (including soup, various salads, rice, chips (?) and some perfectly cooked sea bass) for only £17. And we were perfectly healthy the next day.
The only downside of the hotel was a flaming mozzie that kept whining all night, despite my best efforts to kill it and yes, I got my first bite of the season as witnessed by the blood on my pillow in the morning. Meh.
On Monday we decided it wasn’t worth staying any longer in Nabuel, as it is a beach resort with not a lot else to offer, especially in February, when it is about 14 degrees C and raining. We had decided to head down to Gabes, as that was where the next possible campsites should be. We filled up with diesel before we left (42p a litre, yeh!) but we had to go there via a two hour detour to pick up our passports. The motorway was very good and only cost about 60p each way (so much for avoiding the tolls!)
When we got into Tunis, we had the same trouble getting anywhere near the hotel so I ended up trying to walk to there. I was told very firmly that the way I wanted to go was ‘Interdit!’ by a fierce looking policeman with a gun. His friend was much nicer, told me not to cry (OK, I was feeling a tad stressed at this time) and told me I had to find another way round. We managed it in the end, with Tim parking on a really major road and me dicing with the lovely Tunisian traffic (we kind of feel that the crossings here are to line you up so they can mow you down!) to cross over to find the Golf Royal. The police let me through with a smile, the receptionist was most relieved to see me and highly apologetic (I thought it was my fault, but never mind!) and I was finally reunited with the passports. Phew! You do NOT want to be in Tunisia without proper ID.
The drive down to Gabes was fantastic, despite the rain. It took us through a fairly diverse landscape, with increasingly beautiful views.
It was interesting to watch shepherds herding their flocks right next to the motorway, as well as people waiting for the little minibuses that ply their trade right on the hard shoulder.
There were people selling dates and oranges and bread right on the hard shoulder as well. The total toll for the motorway could not have been more than about £5 and road was excellent, with some pretty good service stations as well. We ended up buying some very tasty bread from a young lad at one toll booth. No school for him then.
We were stopped by the police a few times, including being sent down this rather ropey track with HUGE potholes and juggernauts coming the opposite way.
When we looked like we were not certain about the way to go, a friendly taxi driver stopped and showed us the way. The people here are just lovely!
I had a pretty clear address in Gabes for the first campsite, but it just didn’t exist and nobody had heard of it. Tim asked a group of men for suggestions and they thought there might be one near Matmata, which was just up the road. We drove on, through New Matmata, up into the mountains and WOW! the view was stunning.
There was no sign of a campsite and it was beginning to get dark. We decided to cut our losses and try one of the hotels suggested in the guidebook.
As we drove into town we were chased by a young man on a moped and when we stopped, he offered to help us find an hotel. I asked him to take us to Hotel Matmata and he took us there at a very sedate pace, not much of a challenge, as it was very clearly signposted.
I gave him a small tip, but it became obvious that he was angling for a guiding job. I managed to put him off and we checked into a nice big room, that had seen better days, but it was only £17 a head for bed, breakfast and evening meal. The food was very tasty and, although there was way too much of it we enjoyed it thoroughly. (there was only one other man in the hotel).
As we were finishing eating, we were approached by a man called Mohamed who arranges tours. In the end, with some trepidation, we agreed to a full day excursion that sounded pretty expensive (£70 a head) but it sounded really exciting………