After a 10h crossing from Isola Marettimo on the west coast of Sicily we made landfall in Sidi Bou Said at around 10pm. Crossing of the Cap Bon TSS area (mandatory shipping routs, like highways) was not without some excitement, having some of the worlds biggest container ships in very close vicinity. AIS and radio helped us to resolve all situations according to good seamanship and only a few hours later we sighted land. Or let’s say Islands. Zembra and Zembretta Island are Nationalpark area and we had to navigate around them. The view with of these jagged islands with the setting sun behind us was nothing short of majestic. North Africa for the first time and all that on our own boat! Thousands of birds follwing us around the island, hunting our fishing gear with two actually getting hooked. Brant hat to pull them from the sky and free them. Quite some action. Amidst the bird incidents the Tunisian National Guard calling us the radio. They must have seen us on the AIS wich is a good thing they had most of our data handy and just wanted to great us really. Super friendly first contact assuring us several times how welcome we are to their country. We had no idea what to expect in terms of official contact and with the language barrier and cultural differences it was always a bit exciting talking to them. But in the end the friendliness of the officials would impress us again and again until we leave a few weeks later.
Approach to Sidi Bou Said in the dark ist not without risks. As the harbor entrance is silted and unlit buys are floating all over the place. With a spotter at the bow and very slow speeds we make it in safely. The marina staff is very friendly and even tough we could not reach anyone prior to our arrival we get the best spot in the marina. Customs and Immigration takes another 1.5 hours. Our feelings are a mix of excitement and exhaustion. I keep telling them that this is the first time we are in a North African country and try to appear a bit clueless. In the end one guy tried to get some bakschisch from me but again I play clueless and the officers partner jumps in to defend us explaining that we have no cash just cards and so it’s done. Midnight, we have been up since 4am so all we want is sleep.
Exploring around Carthage
The days that followed we visited the historic sights of Carthage and get to know our surroundings and the Souk in the center of Tunis. First order of business was to get a haircut and a shave at a local barber shop. The nice but very touristic (local tourism, there was generally no international tourism visible to us) village of Sidi Bou Sid was quickly left behind in order to explore a bit further inland. After a delicious burger at a hip place we found a barbershop in a backally, the barber did not speak french so one of his clients was quick to translate that the three gentlemen here want to improve on their grooming standards. The place was rock and roll we could smoke inside and after the last customer left we where without translation and explained with our hands how we want our hair and beards cut. Well there was only one cut available anyways.
The next day we took a stroll around the roman baths and the roman villas where we found an old professor sleeping in the shade of the old wine cellar. The cellar was filled with old mosaics, that where in the process of being restored (have been for a few decades) the man who spoke well English explained us all there is to know about the different cultures that lived in Carthage (wich was one of the most important Cities in the Med region in the old days.) He went on and gave us the best tour we could have imagined, including his view on contemporary topics such as the Arab spring and the role of Tunisia in the Arab world. In the end he showed us the biggest mosaik they have restored, it was locked up in an old building and we where the only ones that got to see it. The unwanted tour guides are always the best.
Our visit to the Souk
People have told us that it’s dangerous to walk around Tunis without a guide, that we should not take the train, that the cabbies cheat you, and that the sales men of the market make you buy stuff you don’t want. Let’s find out.
We took a cabbie in the early morning and drove the 20km to Port de France which is one possible entrance to the Souk. We got some cash from the ATM and took a stop at the last cafe place before entering the narrow streets of the market. Other then Sidi Bou Said which is a fancy suburb of Tunis we realized only now that we where in an Arabic country, where most people lived more traditional. All in all the Souk was not exhausting as we have been told we just zoomed trough all that exotic stuff and where left alone by most barkers. We actually found a little restaurant wich was very basic but offered some nice food and treated us like special guests. We realized only later that this country is very accustomed to tourism but has lost most of its visitors during the Arab spring. Us, being some of the very few and early visitors coming back, where greeted with much joy by every one we met. Especially Brant and Brooke being US citizens where all the hype. Many a woman touched Brookes hair amazed by her blond and pink died hair.