and the North
(5.0) (21 votes)|
November 21st, 2005
: The food I have tried so far is good and cheap
Purchased provisions for the crossing and made my way onto the ferry.
With little messing about we were soon on the open sea heading towards
Tunisia. A big ship, with a handful of passengers and some rather
rough seas. Not sure what to expect on arrival at the ferry port
- I have to make my way across the causeway into Tunis - a ride
of 10Km or so in the dark. Still, after successfully negotiating
the streets of Palermo at rush hour, I'm sure its nothing I can't
When retrieving my bike from the hold I bumped into another of those
rare species, a cycle tourer. Victor is Swedish, in his late teens
he had finished school and was in the last stages of his first long
distance cycle tour - from Sweden to the ancient city of Carthage
in Tunisia. How lucky is that I thought. What I was not prepared
for was the unbelievably strong security presence. Sniffer dogs,
machine guns, police and everyone seemed jumpy and on edge. All
passengers entering were stopped and searched, luggage x-rayed -
and this was having got off the boat! The bikes were stripped down
- again - and forms filled in. I thought it was a bit extreme. On
the way over the causeway we were flagged down by two of the other
passengers who had been talking to Victor on the ferry. We chatted
for 10 minutes - they had great respect for our efforts and choice
of destination. Also we were informed a summit of many presidents
was taking place in the city of Tunis - hence the extreme security.
Everywhere we went were armed police. Entering the city we the ride
up Ave Habib Bourguiba is quite dramatic. Big fountains, big road,
big buildings and big of money but thankfully little traffic. This
is the modern showpiece of Tunis and the site of many of the international
hotels. With all the presidents arriving it was probably the cleanest
it has been since it was constructed - they were literally scrubbing
the pavements when we arrived. Found a hotel without much problem.
Clean, central and 8 euro a night for a sizable room. Went for a
wonder around to check out the surrounding facilities and managed
to persuade a restaurant to stay open for a bit longer so we could
tuck into a tasty chicken dish with all the trimmings.
Back at the hotel we said a toast over a glass of wine to our safe
and comfortable arrival in the city of Tunis - pity the president
couldn't make it to greet us.
First stop was the tourist information, dropped off some seriously
toxic washing at the laundrette - paid by weight, I was tempted
to ask if we could pay for the weight AFTER washing. Breakfast was
filling soup called 'lablabi' served with bread. Stopped by the
main market where we tried dates and they were nothing like the
ones you get at Christmas. These were near transparent envelopes
of nutty syrup with none of the gristly bits. Then to the Medina,
the ancient walled section of the city for an in-depth explore of
the twisting winding streets packed with souvenir shops, workshops,
houses, Mosques and lots of screaming children. I was pleasantly
surprised at how hassle free the whole place is. Being the low season
I thought we would be pounced on by hordes of idle salesmen, but
no. It was fun and not the slightest bit stressful as I expected
it to be. Stopped off at a number of places that seemed to be closed
except one, the Dar Ben Abdallah Museum which is an old house renovated
in the 19th century to the latest tastes. The rooms have been restored
and filled with furniture and creepy manikins dressed in period
costume. We took a long walk to the Bardo Museum along a dusty road
where the pavement just seemed to disappear.
The museum is undeniably a work of art. Many of the mosaics and
items are displayed in a fabulous and spacious setting. Many of
the visitors were VIPs from the international summit and I got the
impression there were some seriously big wigs admiring the exhibits
with us. In my opinion though it was more an art gallery than a
museum. I found it candy for the eye and not fodder for the brain.
Time was ticking and we were soon kicked out the museum. Hopped
on a bus back to the town centre to pick up our washing and plan
the next few days ride together around the north coast. Victor makes
a very easy going cycle companion. When I asked 'Which foods don't
you like', he thought for a bit and said, 'none'. Need I say more.
Wondered around town soaking up the evening atmosphere and feasting
on a giant bowl of soup so thick that it hardly seems fair to call
it soup. One of the freshest baguettes set us up for a venture into
one of the very few bars that sell alcohol. The are all seedy, but
the good beer is enough to distract you from that and the other
odd ball customers.
Start point: Tunis
End point: La Marsa
Via: Carthage, Sidi Bou Said
Total Ascent(m): 96
Max Altitude(m) 315
Max Speed(Km/h): 39.2
Packed and made an early start from Tunis. Cycled along the causeway
back to the ferry port to the town of La Gouelette and with the
wind behind us we soon rolled effortlessly into Carthage.
It started off as a Phoenicians city founded in 814BC and after
a series of epic battles with Rome, it fell in 44BC and was symbolically
levelled and rebuilt in the Roman style with forum, baths, stadium
etc... and it soon became the third most important city in the Roman
empire after Rome and Alexandria and home to over 300,000 people.
With the decline of Rome, Carthage followed and disappeared into
First stop was the hilltop site of the Basilica and forum, now site
of the Musee National de Carthage. Inside were mosaics, statues
and a reconstruction of the site. It information gave us a little
bit of an insight into what went on there. Next past swarms of police
and diplomatic cars to the Antonnine Baths - the usual hot, tepid
and cold baths, steam and massage rooms. The striking thing about
the site was the size of the complex. The foundations and parts
of the structure still exist and they are big.
The short stretch of 400 metres to the Roman villas, Victor got
a puncture - the second in 4000Km. I didn't realise at the time,
but we were metres away from the Presidential palace. I chatted
to the friendly police man who was given a dressing down by his
superior and kindly asked us to move the repair job out of sight
from the road which we did without complaint as they carry pistols.
Puncture fixed we set off to the site of a number of villas just
across the road, one in particular had been rebuilt. Great views
over the bay. Then past more police and army back to the presidents
palace. We decided not to drop is it would inconvenience all the
other people who had prearranged months in advance. More cycling
north following the coast took us to Sidi Bou Said, a charming village
of blue and white houses - Mediterranean style. Got to the top of
the high street and Victor got his third puncture in 4000Km. Time
was ticking and police were everywhere so we agreed it would be
better to stay in a hotel. After much searching we booked into Pension
Predi and Victor carried out his repairs. Feeling despondent, I
had to persuade him not go home straight after reaching his goal
of Carthage, but to continue the adventure along the coast and then
south to the Sahara.
Start point: La Marsa
End point: Bizerte
Total Ascent(m): 359
Max Altitude(m) 88
Max Speed(Km/h): 47.0
Much to Victors dismay, I was up bright and early for 6.00am. Packed
and started cooking breakfast. On the road we passed through the
flag ship hotel zone and the place was filled with army, police
and men in suites with funny ear pieces. Every so often a cavalcade
of flashy cars would speed passed with hazard lights flashing and
speeding as to cause more danger to occupants than any possible
There was a final road block after Gammarth and everything seemed
normal again. Everywhere we go there are pictures of the president
smiling and waving. What is disturbing is that these pictures have
not just been put up for the duration of the international assembly,
they are a permanent feature. Every business has one behind the
counter. I haven't asked how this rule is enforced.
After the hotel zone the road is flat, well made and skirts around
a giant lake situated to the north east of Tunis city. There are
sweeping view to the surrounding countryside - mostly ploughed fields
of mud. The housing is made of shacks and farm animals wander around.
Saw a chariot being pulled at no great speed by a donkey. Passed
through some large towns and were harassed on occasions by wild
dogs and even more wild boys. With so many days off as holiday,
they have become troublesome. The road quality deteriorated due
to the rain and we ended up going down some roads covered in a thin
layer of mud. Navigated back to the sealed road to rejoin the busy
Tunis to Bizerte main road.
On arrival in Bizerte my first priority was refuelling with a packed
baguette. Victor exclamed he wasn't hungry and felt a bit sick.
I suggested a sugary drink and he washed it down with the odd mouthful
of baguette. We agreed to meet up after I had toured the town. Firstly
I took pictures of the old port and then wandered around the Kasbah,
a walled town containing lots of anonymous looking houses crammed
into unfeasibly narrow streets. Climbed a near by hill next to the
outdoor theatre for views over the town. Two container ships were
being towed along the canal and under the bridge that we crossed
- titled very much in its 'up' position.
Back to retrieve Victor and find a place for the night. The hotel
we eventually found was 6TD a night - that’s 2.25p per person,
per night for a clean and friendly place to rest.
Start point: Nefza
End point: Ain Draham
Total Ascent(m): 919
Max Altitude(m) 628
Max Speed(Km/h): 40.5
I am indeed enjoying this country. It is not a difficult place to
travel in. The food I have tried so far is good and cheap - around
1 Euro for something in a 'stand up' with as much bread as you can
eat (within reason). Restaurants are about twice that. Portions
are better than anywhere else I have been. The hotels we have stayed
in are cheap and have 'character' and 'characters'.
Victor is suffering - a combination of food, water and bad luck.
He has decided to travel back home from the last town in Tunisia
on the Tunisia / Algeria border - Tabarka.
There was more traffic on the roads than yesterday, but in comparison
to any western European town its still a laughably small amount
of traffic. Victor battled on and just after 13.00 we arrived in
Tabarka without the police escort that followed us for most of the
way. I organised transport for him and the bike back to Tunis and
waved farewell. Although I have no shortage of people to talk to,
a travel companion is something I have missed and Victors mild manor,
thoughtfulness and laid back attitude to any situation make him
the perfect travel companion.
Toured Tabarka quickly and ate lunch slowly. As I am on the coast
next to the Algerian border and about to follow it south, this is
my last chance to see the sea. What else could I order, but the
grilled fish. "Is it caught locally", I asked. "Of
course", he replied. I said, "In England, the restaurants
catch their fish in the freezer". That tickled him.
After a quick tour around this small and pleasant town I continued
out past a huge cork processing plant. Trucks laden with chunks
of the stuff are to be seen going in and out.
The road south climbs gently but steadily upwards and on a corner
of the road I looked down on a set of neat terraces filled with
cork trees. That’s a good camp spot I thought. I also have
goat meat with my spaghetti tonight.
Back on the road