We decided to move on to Djerba on Friday, as there was very little we could do around Tozeur, without heading out into the desert. The drive back across the salt plain was, in some ways more spectacular than the journey out. The weather was grey and there were no mirages, but the impact of the great wide flat area hit you whack in the face, rather than creeping up on you through scrubby areas, as it had the other way.
There were some interesting things to keep us awake on the way
Stopped for a tea break
This town had a thing about pushme-pullyous (check out Dr Doolittle if confused)
We drove into Djerba via the ferry (it cost about 28p!)
and were interested to see, not only some wild flowers
but a more prosperous looking area. We ended up staying in the main town called Hamut Souq in Hotel Loto (Lotus)(Djerba is meant to be the famous island of the Lotus eaters that caused Odysseus so much trouble), a charming, delightfully homely place with a decent bar.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing and decided to spend the following day exploring the town. There was a very fine Roman fort just over the road
and the usual medina/ souk where we brushed off the insistent sales people,tracked down a cash machine and bought a wooden camel to go on the Christmas tree. The rain started coming down in stair rods (cats and dogs, bucket loads…choose your own simile) so we repaired to the hotel and spent the rest of the day supping beer and reading. (It’s a hard life, you know…)
There was a man sitting on his own and I got chatting to him. He was a German called Jürgen who had a massive truck parked in front of the hotel. He was waiting for the rest of his group to turn up, which included 8 motorcyclists and another support truck and they were going to head off into the Sahara for 10 whole days without any extra support! He had taken about 2 or 3 days to clear customs, so I felt a little feeble to be complaining about our 5 hour wait. Nearly all this conversation was in German, and he seemed to understand what I was saying (or he was very polite). After Tim and I had eaten our supper, we went to join him and his couple of friends. It turned out that the woman was a travel agent who had worked in Tunisia for years. She was single and said that it is very hard for a single woman (foreign or otherwise) to have much of a life in post revolution Tunisia. She was really quite negative about her life in Tunisia at the moment and was thinking of moving to some European country.
Our new German friend spent the whole evening (over generous helpings of wine) trying to persuade us to come with his group into the Sahara. Of course we said no, as we were totally unprepared, but he would not take no for an answer. In the end I told him ‘mein muti sagt nein’ (my mum says no) to which he replied that was OK she could come too and he would bring his dad. (When I told my mum she had pulled, she wasn’t too impressed, funnily enough).
Jürgen said they were leaving at seven the next morning, so we got up specially to wave the group off, but sadly they had already gone. It’s a shame, because it would have been a really cool thing to see.
On Sunday we drove around the whole of Djerba, through the tourist areas (great if you like sun and sand and the odd pony or quad bike rides), around the coast, through the middle….. it was very…….nice. (saves me a bit of work on the blog, I can tell you).
I was a bit more excited about these…
(We have been wondering about our guide book, were they on magic mushrooms when they wrote it, or what? Where are all these wonderful places in the Medinas and I can’t see much of a ‘Greek fishing village’ about Hamut Souq). We stopped for some lunch in a very good seafood restaurant in Ajim, the ferry port, where I got to choose my fish. I hardened my heart, (they were dead already, but not for long, by the look of it). A really good meal!
We had another quiet evening at the hotel and we finally got in contact with Mohamed via email. I was busy arranging to meet up with him the following Monday in (what I thought ) was Gabes, and asked him, by the way, were there any good campsites there. Luckily Tim spotted that he was talking about Gafsa, which was the other side of the country, about 80km from where we had been in Tozeur….. (Doh!) The reply came back saying yes there was a campsite there and he had talked to the police to keep us safe….. After a quick rethink, we decided that camping was not such a good idea there, we were fed up with staying in hotels and really wanted to camp somewhere we could just chill, so I managed to change our ferry ticket to come back a week early. All of a sudden we went from feeling caged in to looking forward to the rest of the trip.
At breakfast I got chatting to a lovely German lady, who comes to the hotel every year to get away from the snow at her home in the south of Germany. It turned out she is an artist and illustrator called Kristiana Slawic, who does the most exquisitely detailed work, including illustrations of all of the 58 types of bumble bee to be found in Germany (using trays of preserved specimens from the natural History Museum in London!)
We drove up to Sfax on Monday and arranged to pop over to Gafsa to meet up with Mohamed for the day on Tuesday. The journey up to Sfax was pretty uneventful, apart from this
There was a contraflow on the dual carriageway at one stage and the traffic had ground to a halt. Just picture this; two lanes with a solid line of traffic moving each way and people were overtaking us. We were forced to stop so that they could get back into the queue without crashing. There had been a crash involving this lorry and several other cars, but it didn’t look like there were any major casualties.
We had tried to use the ferry on the way off Djerba, but it was not running due to high winds, so we had to go the long way round. We wanted to visit the Mareth Line museum, but it was shut; A familiar theme in our travels. Planning, or lack of it, might be something to do with it.
We started to look for somewhere to get lunch and ended up stopping at this restaurant, not noticing the dead animal bits hanging outside at first.
I was so hungry that we decided to give it a go anyway. It ended up as quite a surreal experience (bearing in mind the number of times we had been stopped and questioned by the police) Inside were two Guard National blokes, (shiny leather boots and jackets and all) really enjoying their lunch. They seemed quite at home, helping themselves to the barbecued meat from the grill and Tunisian tea. They told us it was very good there and one insisted that we take a piece of his meat each- (don’t read this mum) from his bare hands. Do not believe the guide books; Tunisian eat with both hands and most use knives and forks because da da dum…. there are sinks in every restaurant where you can wash your hands! Everyone drinks bottled water and we have survived nearly two weeks here, eating salad from a range of places, without any noticeable ill effects. The food is delicious and Tunisians love it to be really fresh. We ordered 100g of lamb each and it was pretty good, even if it was mainly bones. The only shock was the bill. 20 Dinars! (about £7, but a lot for two little plates of food) Bearing in mind we had paid a maximum of about 10 dinars for quite generous lunches up to then, we felt they had ripped us off. Special tourist price!
We got to Sfax at about 4ish, but it was mayhem! If you want to train to drive in India, Tunisia is the place to come. Nobody gives way to anyone, people cut round roundabouts the wrong way, pedestrians leap out in front of you, because it is the only way they can cross the road, people just pull out in front of you, cut you up from either side, bikes and motorbikes drive the wrong way down the street, roundabouts gridlock at the drop of a hat, cars squeeze you from both directions (well, I think this was going on, as I had my eyes shut for a lot of the time). Tim was amazing! He managed to force his way through without contact with anyone or anything else. He also made the point that it is not surprising that Tunisians smoke so much, as they probably can’t imagine getting old enough to get lung cancer!
Trying to track down an hotel in amongst all this was impossible so we left the centre and chanced on a nice little hotel that gave us a room with a separate sitting room and kitchenette for about £27 a night, including breakfast. The restaurant wasn’t bad either, although it was very empty and the young man who served us looked as if he would rather be elsewhere; he didn’t take his overcoat off and the chef gave him a right old telling off at one stage!
On Tuesday, we set off, having arranged to meet Mohamed at a roundabout near Gafsa at lunchtime. The traffic was even worse and it was good to hit the open road. It took us three hours to get there (through some pretty high winds and a bit of a sand storm) and it was a relief to see our new friend waving at us from just beyond the police check point.
Mohamed introduced us to his lovely wife, Kate, and adorable 2 1/2 year old son Hamid and then showed us around some local Roman ruins and a great little museum. He then kindly showed us the campsite he had found and it was a real shocker! It had a pool, two coffee bars, a lovely restaurant, beautifully clean facilities, a nice lounge where you could sit in bad weather, lovely guest rooms, a really friendly owner and you can camp there for about £5 a night! Damn!
After that Mohamed led us back to his mother’s flat where we were really made welcome and were treated to some Tunisian home cooking. It was really delicious, probably the best we had tasted in Tunisia and we ate Arab style around a table in the sitting room, which was great fun. Mohamed’s mother could not speak any English and very little French but we communicated well enough with Mohamed’s help. She was widowed two years ago and had moved to Gafsa to be nearer to her family. Her health is not good and I was a little shocked to find that I was 6 months older than her. She made the point that it was unusual to see married couples enjoying retirement together, as a lot of Tunisian men dump their wives when they retire. We bonded over pictures of our children and I got my Granny fix playing with Mohamed’s son.
We left rather later than we had intended, having refused a kind invitation to stay the night, and ended up driving back in the dark. Poor Tim had had enough by the time we got back to the hotel and it was really helpful to find that there was no parking space. There was a white van in one of the places and the waiter from the previous evening had to move it, together with his second telling off in two days.
On Wednesday we drove on to Tunis. We stopped to see the coliseum in El Jem, which was fantastic. It felt less caged in than the one in Rome, was far less crowded and cost considerably less to get in (£3.50, including the museum). The museum was a lovely little place with some of the best preserved mosaics I have ever seen.
After all our previous problems with Tunis, it was surprisingly easy to find our hotel (apart from the inevitable gridlock getting into Tunis) and to park the car. Phew!