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Now where can Hannibal be?
Tunis, Tunisia,
July 25th, 2003

Pros: The food is good and cheap
Cons: Changing money

You cannot predict how Africa will hit you. As i disembarked I was assaulted by a broiling dry heat that made me think that the inside of an oven would be cooler.My first challenge was money. It seemed that no one in the airport wanted to deal with my traveller’s cheques. As I stood in the line at assorted money changes in the airport I was constantly ignored or passed over for anyone else. I finally had to part with a 20 Euro note that I had tucked away – I was fortunate to have that considering how much I underestimated the cost of the taxi to the Nice airport.

With some cash in my pocket I parted through the smoke filled airport to the taxi stand and then I had a mild panic attack in the taxi downtown. I got let off at Hotel Rue de Russie where for 35 Dinars I was able to get a nice clean comfortable room that just screamed desert. The bathroom had an amazing deep tiled tub that I got lost in.

I didn’t stay in the hotel long, just enough to throw my backpack on the bed, then headed out to what I could find in downtown Tunis in the way of food and money changing facilities. About an hour later and numerous closed banks later I was finally able to cash some traveller’s cheques at a hotel. I had a feeling this was constantly going to be an issue so I changed a lot.

Not far from the hotel I went into a tiny restaurant type stall and had an amazing glass of fresh lemonade. The whole time I stood in there the girls working at the counter just giggled and played coy with me. Unfortunately they didn’t use disposable cups here, which is good for the environment but it left the cleaning facilities in question. I guess I would find out later that night just how good they cleaned things.

Turning around from the giggling girls I took some time to survey the street I was on. I actually knew exactly where I was but the more eye opening experience was the realisation that I was back in Africa. Vendors of all sizes and shapes had their wares displayed on pieces of cardboard all down the street. The gutters were filled with discarded water bottles and assorted other rubbish. The whole scene was dark, dingy and dreary. It reminded me in many ways of a street I had been on in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. On that street small cardboard and tin hovels were interspersed with garbage.

The mind of a traveller has a tendency to turn quickly and I needed to figure out how and when I was moving on from Tunis. I wandered along Avenue Bourguiba looking for one of the numerous travel agents that the Rough Guide claimed existed. I couldn’t find any so I gave up and settled down at the Café Champs d’Elysee and consoled myself in a kiwi fruit sundae.

I ended up back at the train station and opted for a ticket to Sousse which was just a stone’s throw away from one of the key destinations of my trek to Tunisia: Monastir. There was no queue at the ticket counters and as I plied my way through the metal maze the ticket seller was busy waving his hands at me and smiling. I’m thinking he was rather bored. He was a happy soul and had a very contagious smile. In not time I had a 1st class ticket to Sousse for 8 dinars.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the restaurant Cassacone and for 4 dinars I stuffed myself into a food coma. I started out with the soup du jour appropriately called soup African. I have no idea what was in it but it was a tomato soup base with either couscous or barley and a lot of coriander with long stems. Next I was served a heaping plate of riz d’espagne; rice in tomato sauce with clams and mussels and something that I thought was a short noodle. I looked closer at it and noticed that one end appeared to be slightly flattened like a paddle. That was a strange noodle shape. There also appeared to be some kind of pattern on the paddles kind of like small little circles…it’s a squid tentacle!! It also wasn’t just any squid tentacle it was one of its feeding tentacles. Ironically I was feeding on a feeding tentacle. I just hoped it wouldn’t stick on anything on the way down. Done with the seafood bonanza I filled myself on some kind of chicken that was excellent. Then I demonstrated my ignorance as I misguidedly poured my mint tea all over my crème caramel.

Back outside the sun was almost down and there was no trace of humidity left in the air and it was very comfortable to walk around. With the heat of the day gone the street was no alive with a huge crowd of people and swallows filled the darkening sky. In the area in front of the train station a large football game had broken out. As I slowly sauntered around taking in the atmosphere I noticed above the din the call to prayer from a near by mosque. The lilting voice carried through the crowd but no one seemed to heed the call.

My final call for the evening was in a corner store as I searched for a bottle of water. I was standing at the back of the small kiosk watching the throng of chaos at the counter in front of me when I suddenly realised that I was the only one left in the store. Where did they all go so fast? The man behind the counter called out “Oui monsieur?” I turned at the voice then turned and looked behind me. Who was he talking to? He wasn’t looking at me. Then he called again, “Oui monsieur?” I did it again – who was he looking at? I snapped my head back and this time looked directly at him. He responded with, “Oui?”

I asked for a bottle of water and he turned to the fridge and retrieved the cool liquid. I watched him come closer and when he walked into my vision range I realised the problem. He wasn’t cross-eyed he was the complete opposite – his eyes were pointing in completely opposite directions. That was just freaky. I thanked him and ran away like a puppy with his tail between his legs.