25.07.2006, Mediterranean Sea - Bordj Cedria, Tunisia, 51km
After a somewhat uncomfortable night on a deckchair we woke up to another hot and sunny day. We treated us to some café au lait from the pool bar and our last night’s bread roll and packed cheese assortment. Delicious :-)
Soon one could see the coast of Tunisia and we realized that now, there was no turning back. After the expected chaos leaving the ship (we were of course in the very back and of course everyone started their engines way before it was possible to leave the ship) we had to go through some more customs and one guy tried to rip Jens off 50 Euro. He took our papers and passports and disappeared with them, so Jens followed him and then he wanted 50 Euros to return the papers. When they got back to the car, I got mad and threatened to get the officer - he returned the money! "Oh, madame, I don't get paid!". Yeah, whatever. Later I read in the guide book about this. These guys do not wear a uniform and the pretend to help you with the papers (they scribble something on your customs form). For that “help” they claim payment. However there really isn’t much to help with since everything was done onboard the ship.
A customs official had a quick look into our car and then we were off towards the exit (there were far more interesting cars for him to search!). Before the exit you have to hand over the remaining papers, so that you only keep the driving permit and the receipts in your passport.
In summary, getting into Tunisia was not as bad as it was described in some books; however it is still very confusing and without a word of French one would be utterly lost. I read many stories on the Internet that it is a problem to bring a GPS system into Tunisia, involving many papers and official processes. So we hid our GPS system and antenna in the car, getting of the ship the “helper” asked about the GPS, we said that we don’t have one, and that was it. Right after leaving the ship, we reinstalled the GPS and no one ever cared.
Finally we were on African soil and drove in the direction of Tunis. It was a holiday in Tunisia (Jour de la République) and there was little traffic. After some confusion (some directions are written if you come one way, if come the other way there are no signs), we were on the P1 south towards Sousse.
I had read in the know-how Tunisia guide that there is a nice, shady campground at Cedria Plage just outside Hammam Lif called Cedria Plage Camping. It is part of a boy scout camp and really nice and shady.
The beach is 200m away and we went directly for a swim in the sea. There we made the first contact with the North African way of dealing with rubbish, i.e. not dealing with it at all. There were quite a lot of people on the beach, all locals, mostly from Tunis and the beach was COVERED in rubbish. The people were sitting in between dirty diapers and plastic bottles not minding at all. Surprisingly the water was nice and clean and the swim cleaned our dirty feet and fingernails. After the swim, we had some yummo dinner, with a local speciality, a fried pocket of bread filled with spinach, cheese and egg.
On the 29th we have to be at the Libyan border. So, the remaining days will be spent along the Tunisian coast.
26.07.2006, Bordj Cedria, Tunisia – Monastir, Tunisia, 183km
After our first breakfast on African soil, we packed our things, tried to fill-up our water tank (by carrying empty water bottles to the wash area, filling them with water and carrying them back to the car – in blasting heat). For some reason our perfect water pump system, that worked perfectly fine in Germany, did not work once we were on the road. So we tried to fill-up the tanks, in case there was just too little water in it. In the end it worked somewhat, but not as perfectly as at home. Of course … also on our brand new gas stove there is only one side working … hmpf.
Anyway, we got back on the route and started our first full day in Tunisia. Our goal for this day is the city of Monastir, close to Sousse. We stayed on the P1 and in Bou Ficha we made a little detour to the Berber village Jeradou (road C35) and the roman ruins of Sidi Khelifa. It is a very picturesque landscape and the people in Jeradou are lovely and leave you to look at their village without any hassle. We had a coffee in the local coffee shop and discussed the results of the football world cup. The roman ruins in Sidi Khelifa are well conserved with a great view towards the sea and we had them all to ourselves.
In Ain Er Rahma we got back on the P1 and drove on to Monastir. It is right outside of Sousse and next to the well off town of Skanes, with nice villas along the coast. We found a wild camping spot in the public Parque de la Falaise (N35°46.882’ E010°48.898’) next to the restaurant “Tour de la Falaise” on the Route de la Falaise. The spot was not perfect, but the guys from the restaurant were nice and we had pizza and even a beer and one could see the turquoise sea from the roof tent. The place was crowded with Tunisian holiday makers and we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. However right next to our car was a small playground with two rusty swings. We were kept awake till 2 in the morning - Tunisian kids just don’t go to bed early. The squeaking sound made us mad … once all kids were gone a strange drumming and singing started at full blast till 3 am. At 5 am the Muezzin started their prayer calls. Very authentic, but not very quiet.
27.07.2006, Monastir, Tunisia – Matmata, Tunisia, 406 km
Without much sleep and without breakfast we left Monastir and continued along the coast. It promised to be another very hot day. We stopped at a great place for breakfast off the C82 south of Ksour Essaf (N35°16.157’ E011°05.619’, turn left after the Sfax 72km stone), it would also have been perfect for wild camping, with view to the sea among big eucalyptus trees.
The rest of the day was spent driving in the heat. We decided not to stay in Gabés, but to drive up into the mountains to Matmata. The area is known for its nomad houses build like caves into the mountain (parts of the Star Wars movies were shot there). We gave ourselves a treat and stayed in a nice hotel with pool just outside of Matmata called Ksar el Amazigh (70 Dinar for 2 including dinner and breakfast), after being chased away from the town center by begging children (caramel, caramel, bonbon!). We used the chance to recharge our electronic devices and take the first shower after Switzerland(!).
The landscape is beautiful, however in the town of Matmata you can tell that they are used to tourists (brought up in bus loads from the Isle of Djerba) and it was the first and only time in Tunisia we heard had people begging for gifts.
28.07.2006, Matmata, Tunisia – El Marsa, Tunisia, 131 km
After the long drive the day before, we were glad just having to drive a short distance close to the Libyan border, where we had our appointment with the Libyan guide the next day.
We drove through the mountainous Matmata region past Toujane (lovely nomad village with great views) towards Medenine and on to Ben Guerdane. Along the way between Medenine and BG people were selling liquid in all possible sorts of containers. We were wondering what that liquid was (maybe olive oil?), when we saw a guy next to the road filling that liquid into his tank. So they were obviously selling cheap petrol “imported” from Libya. The little “points of sale” were going on for kilometers. Same, same, but different. It was in general interesting to observe, that certain areas were always concentrating on the same products. So for a while all the stalls were selling melons. As soon as I decided to buy a melon at the next stall, they changed to peanuts or honey or grapes.
The guide book also promised us many people along the road waving with Libyan money for a black market exchange. We had some dinar we wanted to change, but not a single changer could be seen. Hm … Tunisian dinar could only be changed to Libyan dinar on the black market, since both currencies are officially not available outside their country.
After checking the youth hostel in Medenine (we drove past 4 times, before we found it), we decided to move on, since the camping spot had no shade and was directly next to a busy street.
We found a great overnight spot in El Marsa (up the C110 from Ben Guerdane) on the beach at the youth hostel. It is hard to find (once you get to the sea, turn left and continue for 1km until you see a building on the right hand side), but the people are very friendly and obviously not used to foreigners. We set-up our camp next to some shady bushes. Next to us the kids were playing soccer and Jens went for a swim in the sea – or more a walk that is, since a sand bank stretches out for miles and you barley get your knees wet. All along the beach there are make-shift huts – we figured that people actually live there.
We enjoyed the sunset and had some yummo home-made couscous and veggies.
The next morning we are off to the border of Libya. We were a bit nervous when we went to bed that night. Libya, land of Ghaddafi, Lockerbie and roman ruins. What was lying ahead of us?
Country: quite frankly, we didn’t do Tunisia justice. We only spent 5 days racing through on our way to Libya. However we loved what we saw. People were always very friendly and timid. There was never any hassling (apart from Matmata). We were surprised, how little French was spoken in the villages and how foreigners outside the big tourist centers were obviously not common.
Costs: Tunisia is a very cheap country. There are no costs for entering the country, apart from 1 TD for the road permit. The campgrounds cost an average of 4 TD. Diesel and food is also very cheap. Even in Monastir, you can have dinner for 10 TD – and that is a lot.
Driving: driving in Tunisia is like driving in Italy. A bit chaotic, but somehow it works out. Along the main roads, there are many police control stations (though we were never stopped) and there is a policeman at nearly every roundabout. We still witnessed some daring overtaking maneuvers, especially trucks overtaking trucks. The road signs are 90% there and point in the right direction. Also all the signs are in French and Arabic.