My favourite one...
19.09.2007 34 °C
A 2 hour Louage back to Tunis; then another 3 hour trip and suddenly you find yourself exactly where you didn't want to be, Hammamet. European prices, heavily tattooed pasty English families and Medina that would have been beautiful in it's day but is now riddled with 'Tourist Police' and hawkers. I forked out the 40 Dina for one of the cheapest hotels in town and having decided I was going to milk every service I could out of my 40 Dina I spent the afternoon by the pool reading my book and getting a tan, whilst planning my escape route for early the next morning.
After almost emptying the buffet breakfast at 7am I was ready to make my way to Kelibia about 70km further up Cap Bon. I enquired at reception what was the cheapest way to get to the Nabeul bus station in the next town;
"6 Dinar by taxi." Was the response, however when I asked again were they sure there wasn't a cheaper mode of transport like a bus, they raised their eyebrows with surprise at my apparent reluctance to pay 6 Dinar.
"Yes; there is the local bus that leaves from just up the road for 800 millime (0.8TD)."
With a 'Shokran' and a smile I was off.
30 minutes of waiting on the side of the road watching around 15 buses fly past with 'Tunisian Tours' splashed across their sides I was on the verge of giving up and taking the next taxi that slowed down in front of me, Dinar signs in the driver's eyes as they spotted my backpacks. An elderly Tunisian man crossed the road and walked over to me grinning, obviously taking much amusement from the fact I had attempted to wave down every passing vehicle with more than five seats, to no avail. As he approached, the smell of either him, the bin he was carrying, or both, started to flood my senses making me almost cringe as I attempted to smile. He started pointing to a bench about 500m up the road which I guessed was where I had to be for the bus. I thanked him and walked over to the bench and within the next few minutes I was boarding the bus. Once again I was the only Westerner on a packed mode of transport and was met with not smiles but stares as I took up two seats with my backpacks.
The local bus took me to the next town north, Nabeul, only slightly smaller than Hammamet it was still riddled with tourists. I had been told by one of the only women that had talked to me openly in Tunisia that to catch the louages on to Kelibia I would have to walk to the other side of the medina. The medina’s in the tourist towns of Hammamet, Nabeul and Tunis, were nothing like the medina of Bizerte I had been wondering through several days earlier. I wandered into a store selling sandals, keen to get another pair after leaving my Moroccan pair with a mate in Biarritz.
The sales assistant instantly jumped to his feet and ran over to me, hitting me with the sales pitch;
“Hello my friend; all real camel leather; perfect for you my friend; good price my friend; you try these; what size my friend? I say 40; I am right aren’t I my friend?” And then paused for a breath.
I liked the ones he’d grabbed for me but I was going to do all I could to limit the interest I showed in them.
“How much?” I said looking over his huge collection.
“Good price for you my friend; 60 Dinar.”
I laughed straight at him and walked out of the store, knowing perfectly well that this wouldn’t mean an end to the bargaining. He ran out into the street after me, sandals in hand;
“How much you pay my friend?” I had almost forgotten just how many salesmen friends I had made in Morocco.
“No more than 10 Dinar.”
“Ok, I give you 40 Dinar my friend, good price.”
“20 Dinar, my friend perfect price, you pay twenty Dinar.” His act was going perfectly and right on cue he started to loose his friendliness, putting the sandals into a plastic bag and shoving them in my hand.
“So 10 Dinar is ok?” I said smiling.
“15 Dinar sir; incredible price, so cheap, real camel my friend.” For a second time I walked away.
“Ok! Ok!10 Dinar.” But it still wasn’t over. As I pulled the 10 Dinar from my pocket to pay, his voice became calm and in a whisper he said;
“10 Dinar for the boss my friend, but give me two Dinar to buy a Coke.”
Once again he was met by my laughter;
“It’s Ramadan mate!”
He smiled, the transaction was now complete.
The louage from Nabeul to Kelibia was one of the longest I had caught, and the smell from the vomit like splatter near the side door gave me even more reason to stick my head out the window for most of the trip. Desert landscape to the left, ocean to the right, the scenery was far from ever changing.
Arriving in Kelibia I was only slightly disappointed to find that my awaiting group of taxi drivers had been reduced to two young men, who seemed to have more interest in kicking rocks on the side of the road than getting me to take their taxi. Once again I opted to walk; and two hours later I was covered in sweat and blisters (partly due to my newly aquired camel sandals) standing in front of my nights accommodation.
'Le Maison de Jeunes'; 'House of Youths' is a sort of youth hostel run by the Tunisian government providing accommodation for 5 Dinar a night. (2.8 Euros; the same price as an Espresso in Paris.)
The building resembled a barracks, with the 40 rooms each containing 5 beds. On this particular night I was the only visitor and after paying for my nights accomodation with one coin, I was given the key to my room and was firmly told to;
"Make sure you keep the door locked!" I did as I was told.
Feeling a bit uncertain about the hostels safety I hid my biggest backpack behind my bed under a sheet, taking all my essentials (passport, credit card, vegemite) with me. The hostel/barracks is situated just north of the town's port, between the ocean and Kelibia's main tourist attraction, the Carthaginian fort. Overlooking the town of Kelibia and the beaches to the north it is almost worth the 3TD admission fee, angrily snatched off me as I tried to get a student price.
Since the original fort was built by the Carthaginians it has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times; destroyed first by the Romans after the second Punic War;
It was then used during the Arabic conquest, by the Byzantines, then was used as a religous centre between the 13th and 16th century and was again rebuilt by the Ottomans. With the latest edition being gun-emplacements installed by the Italian and German forces during the Second World War;
Wandering around the fort taking in every view became an exhausting task as the sun continued to rise, with the only shade being provided by a lone fig tree in the centre of the fort;
The irresistible sandy white beaches to the north of the fort were to be my next destination and whilst walking in the dust along the road side I decide that this was probably the safest place I would find in Tunisia to give hitching a go.
As first car approached, I nervously stuck my hand out;
The 10th car to pass was a 4 door pickup that slowed to a halt 50m in front of me. Running to the passenger window I was telling myself that if the guy looks incredibly suss I'll pretend as though I was merely asking for directions. The guy was young, in his mid twenties, stuffing a chicken sandwich into his mouth, mayo dripping down onto the coke bottle in his lap. I had a little laugh to myself as I was confronted with, yet again, a complete disregard to the fact Ramadan. His French was poor, but I managed to describe 'beach' with numerous hand actions and freestyle strokes and 10 minutes later I had my feet in the sand at the secluded El-Mansourah beach, where my only fellow beach goers were a group of three arabic men practicing their beach volleyball skills.
The water was perfect and a strong onshore wind had created some little wind waves. After going without surf for over a month and a half, the longest without in about 5 years! I lay on the beach with a beaming smile after 20 minutes of bodysurfing the crumbling waves into shore. The heat on the beach had become almost unbearable and running low on water I headed back to the 'Youth Home' for some food and siesta.
Returning to the beach at night I was stunned to see the beach was now covered with hundreds of people swimming, laughing, building sand castles and of course, playing volleyball.
Having played a season of volleyball in Australia a couple of years ago I new the basic rules and what a good game should look like, and honestly, these guys were awesome! Whilst travelling through both Morocco and Tunisia it was on the rarest of occasions that I saw locals playing sport; and even then it was mostly children and youths. But here two teams of middle aged Tunisian men spiked and slammed the ball over the net into the sand with an intensity you would expect from an Olympic team;
As I sat on the beach that evening in Kelibia, I was witnessing so many elements of Tunisian culture that I had either misunderstood or didn't even know existed. Families sat about building sand castles with their children, grown men splashed and tackled eachother in the water, youths ran around chasing a soccer ball, women and girls swam in t-shirts bodyboarding small waves into shore;
Could these be the same men that haggle me at taxi stations? The same youths that try to sell me hash? The same women that hide themselves behind their clothing and will never answer to my hello?
The effort of dragging myself out of the touristic traps of Tunis and Hammamet had finally payed off; I was finally seeing the real Tunisia, the Tunisia that a Two Week Day Spa Package Deal will never let you see;
Then suddenly the crowd started to disperse; the volleyball ended, families packed up and headed to their dual cabs that lined the beach (fitting on average 8 people); because of course;
The sun had set, and it was now time to eat!!
Garrett in Kelibia Tunisia