29 September, 2006

Tuna in Tunis 3994miles

After a VERY wild eight-hour ferry crossing, which turned into ten hours, I reached Tunis at 22hrs00, as they say en français. An extremely efficient border and customs control saw me rolling through the crowded streets of Tunis at 22hr30. This is Ramadan but I suppose the place will normally come more to life at this time of night because of the heat during the day.

Last year at the Moroccan border with the tiny Spanish enclave of Ceuta, Dean, Gavin and I had no end of trouble with everyone wanting to 'help' us and we all the while paranoid about something going missing from the bikes during the mayhem. Then, because we were three, we could separate tasks, one to guard the bikes and so on.

In the highly regrettable way of treating everyone the same, I expected a very similar situation to occur here, another Arab country. Other than keeping vigilant and strapping everything to the bike in the most complicated way possible, I had little idea how I, alone, was going to cope.
I need not have worried. And I feel very badly having categorized two different countries in the same way, much like suggesting I'd get similar treatment from the Greeks as the Norwegians. There was plenty of paperwork to deal with but everyone was in uniform and - unusual for border guards - they SMILED! Not seen much of that for a while.

They kindly explained the way into town and I rode off. Ten minutes later I was in the middle of Tunis looking for the hotel. Of course I hadn't a clue where it was but all these people were hanging out of the windows of their cars shouting and smiling and laughing! Some sort of street or 'driving around laughing' party was going on! And I felt welcome, so I smiled and laughed back. Then I asked where the hotel was and they, sort of, told me. It took a few goes but I got there in the end. Sometimes in an unknown city you can flag down a taxi and get him/her to show you, paying the fare when you get there just as if you'd been inside the taxi. But not in Tunis. This taxi driver just showed me anyway, before I even got the chance to explain I'd be willing to pay! Then he roared off into the night. "Willcoming to you in Tunisee," he shouted and left me to the luxury of a big, proper, grown-up hotel! "Garage pour la moto monsieur? Certainment!" I understand them, they understand me!! BBC News 24 and an English-speaking film channel showing "Pirates of the Caribbean". Shower, remote-control, heaven, sleep! zzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

I packed up in the morning fully refreshed and headed (wobbled) off into the misty morning traffic. Got the oil changed at the garage. The man assured me it went into this 'sump' where the oil and water were separated. Hmmmm! Made the forecourt into a skidpan anyway which made leaving all the more exciting!
"I'll maybe just phone the man in London for confirmation. If there's a couple of days to spare, I'd love to see Carthage," I thought, passing a phone shop.

"Sorry Mr McMillan, I tried everything," an unbelieving ear heard while my jaw-bone increased tenfold in weight, "you can try the Libyan Embassy yourself now that you are in Tunis." No point in saying anything about how he's been reassuring me ever since Nuremberg that this was all going to be fine. No, that's an unnecessary waste of emotion. On, on. Back to the hotel. This is what it's all about, after all - dealing with problems. And it's just as well I didn't ride all the way down to the border 300miles away! I'd have had to come all the way back!

I'll spare you, dear reader, the pinball-like experiences of trying to satisfy the needs of the various Diplomatic Services, but while the Libyans take FIVE days to decide whether or not to let me through, the Algerians have already chosen to do without my company in their lovely nation. The graceless retreat via Marseilles then down through Morocco looks increasingly likely. But time . . ? Central African hard rain's a-gonna fall . . . and geography and politics, Democratic Republic of Congo is about as close as we can presently get to anarchy and chaos. I hear that children there with rifles love the challenge of a moving target. There's a boat from Ghana to South America. Then no Malawi, no Mozambique. Bright side - Ouagadougou, my favourite capital city, just because of its fantastic name. Of course, I've never been. Just as Mr Essex so famously said; 'every cloud's got a silver - linin' . . .

Meanwhile I've been invited by Mahmood to stay in the unoccupied room above his café if the hotel's too expensive. Maybe Walid and his lovely Ukrainian wife, Olga, will let me take them to dinner in repayment for all the help they've given me translating things into Arabic. I get to see Carthage and I can take a run down to look at (and maybe even camp in!) the Sahara. It's less than a day away. Play in the sand at last!!


At 01/10/2006, 08:23, Anonymous Lorenz said...

Great story! Stuart Taylor mentioned you were on your way to Cairo. I'd be glad to help you out when you are in town. Give me a call or send me a note when you are arriving.

Lorenz (+2012 743 2886 / lnehring@lgc.com)

At 01/10/2006, 17:48, Anonymous carrie said...

What an amazing time you are having- a real adventure. Its bringing back lots of memories for me when we had our fun and travels to Benin. So glad to hear that you are eating, alive, sleeping and still smiling!!!!! Love reading your tales..............
Big hugs
Carrie xxxxxx

At 02/10/2006, 20:51, Blogger mo said...

so pleased your charm is just as useful abroad as it is here. The locals seem to warm to you almost everywhere(we'll not think about Italy) Are you still struggling with Ramadan? It'll be over soon. I also enjoy your ravings, and a few rantings. Very entertaining!


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