As some of you may know, I am currently in the middle of a 13,000 mile charity drive from the U.K. to Cape Town (www.shoebaru.com). We (Team Shoebaru) are currently “stuck” in Aswan, Egypt, which has been our de-facto base of operations for the past month or so while we sort out numerous visa and mobility issues on our way south into Sudan. Before we arrived here we traveled through Europe, taking a ferry from Palermo, Italy to Tunis, Tunisia, and then continued east through Libya until reaching Egypt about a month back.
Below is an unpublished excerpt from our Shoebaru.com blog concerning our trip to/through Tunisia. Why unpublished? Well, because I got the post-writing schedule mixed-up, and accidentally wrote about our experiences when our other teammate (Emily) had already done so. So, instead of letting perfectly good writing go to waste, I thought I’d present it here. So, without further ado…
My birthday request was granted–the six hour drive from Florence to Salerno was completed without issue. We arrived a few hours before it would be possible to board the ferry, so we took advantage of the time and had amazing birthday meal of pizza, wine, and gnocchi in the downtown area, followed by more delicious gelato.
We started boarding procedures around 10PM, which included the prerequisite passport and car document checks. Cars and bodies aboard the ferry, we finally pushed off of the dock just after 1AM. The ferry itself was pretty huge, but the actual space for passengers to lie about was relatively meager. All of the passengers traveling by foot had boarded before us, leaving no room on the benches in the main dining area (think of a large cafeteria setup with some bench seats around the outside). We set our stuff down and set out to explore the ship to see if there were any alternatives to sitting at a table for the next 22 hours (small personal rooms cost upwards of 200 euro), and eventually came upon a largely undiscovered movie theater room that was open for the taking. We each grabbed a row of three reclining chairs and made our beds for the night.
We awoke around 8AM, just before docking to pick up and drop off passengers in Palermo, Sicily (our original port of embarkation before the issues in Germany). The newcomers obviously knew about the movie room, as they streamed in to occupy all remaining open spots. We grabbed a bite to eat and took a walk around the ship–the entire thing was covered with passengers, on every available open surface. Also, it looked like despite what had been advertised online, our suspicions were right–the two nightclubs, casino, and free wi-fi weren’t available after all. We would spend the rest of the day eating, sleeping, and reading until we docked around 11PM.
We were some of the first cars on, which meant we were the last ones to disembark. Customs procedures were a bit hard to follow, as there wasn’t any information on where we had to go and what forms we needed to possess to legally enter the country. It didn’t help that we were pretty haggard after the day long voyage, but we eventually figured everything out and were on our way to the city center within a couple hours.
Scott BKK had been e-mailing some Couchsurfers during the previous day to see if he could secure a spot for us to crash during our first late night in Tunis. A few had replied back and we were heading off to meet one of them at a house party somewhere downtown. Unable to find our way with the directions we had, we waited for our new friend Fabian to pick us up from a gas station and direct us to where the action was. Turns out that it was a going away party–mostly attended by French ex-pats–for a girl leaving back to Toulouse in a few days. We had a few refreshments while chatting with the locals for a couple of hours, eventually splitting up when we left so that Scott BKK and I would go with Fabian, while Emily and Joe would stay with another Couchsurfer, Anissa.
Arriving at Fabian’s place well after daybreak BKK and I quickly made ourselves comfortable on whatever surface was available and were fast to sleep. The next morning we met Fabian’s two roommates, who happened to be going off to their beach house to spend the day. They wanted to know if we would like to join, so we worked out plans to accompany them for part of the day, returning back to the city to explore some more in the evening.
We headed outside to the car, and were horrified to see broken glass all over the ground–the window had been smashed, and our bags had been stolen.
Our cars had been broken into well after daybreak, right outside of Fabians apartment (and in back of the local Mosque). It looked like a quick smash-and-grab affair, as much of our stuff was still intact. Unfortunately, the large bags containing both of our clothes and some of our electronics and other goodies were gone. This would complicate things a bit.
We called off going to the beach and instead made our way to Anissa’s house to meet up with the others so that we could develop a plan of action. Our stuff was gone, and we wouldn’t be getting it back, so first priority was to secure the car and anything still inside. Just to be safe we completely unloaded both vehicles, dumping all of our stuff in Anissa’s for the time being. Joe and Emily, along with Anissa’s friend Bethany (an American in town for a while after having to flee Syria, where she was doing her Ph.D. dissertation), went our to look for a glass repair place that could fix it same-day, as we needed to be on the road by the next so that we would make it to the Libyan border in time to meet up with our guide. Since our exact model of Subaru wasn’t for sale anywhere but state-side, it might prove difficult to find a piece of glass that would fit.
The three of them returned a few hours later with a newly-windowed car. Indeed, there wasn’t any glass around to fit our car, but they could cut a piece and have it ready the next day. Instead of that though, they opted to glue a piece of plexiglass to the window so that it would be done as quickly as possible. The door and window would now be non-functional, but at least the hole was patched up.
After everything had been sorted our the five of us went out to the Tunis Medina for Iftar dinner (the traditional breaking-of-fast meal at the end of the night during Ramadan).
The next day we had an alarm installed on the car that had been broken into (didn’t have enough time to do both cars), so at least we’d have an audible alarm if anything happened again. Between that, repacking, and figuring out our next moves, most of the day was consumed, and we finally got on the road again to head south to our next destination right around sunset. We ended up giving Anissa a ride to her family’s house for dinner, and they graciously invited us in to join them, which was a real treat. Having lost the energy to continue on for the day, we set up camp in their backyard and set off early the next morning towards El Jem.
Huge thanks to Fabian for setting up our accommodations, Anissa for her generosity throughout our travails, Bethany for her assistance in getting everything sorted out, and Sam from Ann Arbor for assisting with getting our alarm installed posthaste. Also, thanks to Anissa’s family for a memorable last dinner (and place to camp) in Tunis.
For more updates and tales of adventure be sure to visit our trip blog at www.shoebaru.com.