DAY 25 – CAIRO

Arrived in Cairo at 3am. Was on the lookout for hotel touts at the airport because Lonely Planet advised they work for huge commissions, which are included in the cost of your room. I was very surprised to run into them before I cleared customs. This basically means that the first big scam you come across in Egypt is sanctioned by the Egyptian Government. Not a good sign at all.

Chose the cheapest accommodation out of the Lonely Planet, which turns out to be a mistake. The place looks like it is about to collapse. The only other person there is a guy called James from Florida who tried everywhere else in a ten block radius first. We agree to seek a more suitable place first thing in the morning. By 9am our packs are relocated to a much more stable hotel.

Nile, Cairo, Egypt

I spent the day trying to sort out some of my visa woes (Saudi Arabia) to no avail and exploring Cairo. I probably walked around 40 kilometres and ran into the only other person I know in Egypt at this point in time, terrible Teryle. How freaky is that. During my travels I found a massive second hand book market with tens of thousands of books, many of which are in English. Despite looking through every bookstall I fail to find a copy of the Lord of the Rings to read before the movie comes out at Christmas. The search isn’t aided by the fact that none of the booksellers read, let alone speak any English so they are all in huge random piles. This doesn’t stop any of the Egyptians trying to sell me a book or two. One guy was particularly good. He would pick up a dusty old novel from the top of one of the piles and read the name of the author on the sly. Then he wound say “What about Mark Thornton?” or some other author nobody has ever heard of. This was followed by “He is pretty famous you know”. When I said no he would repeat the process with another equally unknown, unfamous author. Very fucking funny to watch.

That night we went to some Sufi dancing. This is dancing and music done by people from one of the weirder Islamic sects. It is free so demand is high and we ended up having to bribe our way to the front of the queue for 20 Egyptian pounds each. We were pretty chuffed with ourselves about the scam (when in Rome after all) when the entire rest of the queue were let in free of charge 15 minutes later. It was all worth it in the end as the music and dancing was really mental and everyone including the performers had a blast. The highlight was a dancer who spun on the spot for over 30 minutes while everything went mad around him.

Sufi dancing, Cairo, Egypt

Sufi dancing, Cairo, Egypt

DAY 24 – BACK IN TUNIS TO DO BATTLE WITH THE EVIL HSBC

Arrived in Tunis and am more than ready to get to Egypt and see the pyramids etc. Found out that the cheapest flight out of Tunis was with Egypt air at 8.45 tonight. A spot of luck. Until I tried to pay with my HSBC visa and was rejected. 25 Pounds worth of heated phone calls to the HATED STEALING BASTARDS CORPORATION themselves revealed that they have not being paying my visa off in full at the end of each month, as I asked them to before I left for Morocco. Very poor service indeed. It took twenty-five pounds of long distance phone calls to sort it out.

I quite like the local music but I realise how much I have been missing western music when the email place in Tunis put on some Craig David and I thought to myself “yeeeeeeeeeess”. Strange days indeed.

DAY 23 – LOUNGING IN TOZEUR

End up doing a half day tour of the local waterfalls, oasis and canyons etc, which are all choked to the limits with tourists. At the first stop I count over 100 four-wheel drives. End up back at the luxuriant Hotel Sofitel Palm Beach because if feel like another swim (also the creepy guy was pacing around outside my room).

Hubbers, Tozeur, Tunisia

Waterfall, Tozeur, Tunisia

In the evening I amuse myself with the locals in the evening by playing a couple of the locals favourite games. The first is “where you from?” which goes like this. They open with the line “hello my friend” which you are supposed to ignore because they are not your friend at all. After an initial pause whilst they realise that you have played “where you from” about 1000 times before they make a guess as to where you are from. For some reason I often get “Dutch” first followed by “English” or “American”. If they correctly guess where you are from correctly they get to try to sell you something from their shop. If they don’t get it right then you get to keep ignoring them if you should so wish. I am exceptionally good at this game and although I’m not really sure how the scoring works I think I might be the all Tozeur champ at the moment.

The other game the locals play is “where are the Tunisian women at?” this involves sitting around in the local coffee shops with large groups of Tunisian guys and wondering where all the local chicks are. During the day they make up less than the 20 percent of the street traffic and they all but disappear at night. I have to admit that I am more than a little crap at this game, as I have no idea at all where the local chicks might be. This is more than a little disappointing because as far as I can tell several hundred years of interbreeding with the Spanish, French and Italians to name a few have left some incredibly fit genes lying around.

Caught the overnight bus back to Tunis.

DAY 22 – LOUGING TO TOZEUR

Up early again to louge to the desert oasis’s of Tozeur. Tozeurs 10 acres of palm trees are fed by over 200 springs that pump out over 60 million litres of water a day. I discover that dates come from palm trees. I’m not sure where I used to think they came from but it sure as hell wasn’t palm trees.

On arrival at my hotel one of the (creepy male) guests makes a pass at me. He hardly speaks any English and even after I explain about my ‘long term girlfriend’ he insists on hanging around outside my room while I sort my pack out.

I have been making the most of my newfound coffee pricing information. The local coffee shop owners obviously resent the fact that I am part of the secret Tunisian coffee club. They are so bitter in fact that I now watch them make the coffee whenever I order one. Alone again for just one day and already the paranoia has started.

Have been in Tozeur for 3 hours and already I have seen everything there is to see including the cool Dar Charait Museum. And on top of that I have got totally out of it on caffeine and done the tacky postcard thing. To make matters worse I am now gagging for a swim. Luckily Tozeur’s beautiful surroundings make it a prime stop on the Tunisia resort trail, which means that it comes with a full quota of luxury resorts – with luxury resort swimming pools. A brisk walk along the zone touristic reveal any number of choice locations just lining up to soak the skinny bald ones body. Polite enquires to a couple reveal that pools are for residents only and with rooms starting around 100 quid that’s a little over my budget.

Noticing that the next resort along, Hotel Sofitel Palm Beach, is the flashest place in town (and remembering my success with the luxuriant bogs in the hotel Sofitel Diwan in Rabat) I decide on a change of tactics. I stroll in like I own the place even though I am dressed in stinky sandals, baggy and dirty shorts, a black t-shirt with FREAK emblazoned across the front in huge white letters and a floppy hat. Pausing briefly in reception to suss the joint out (under the guise of looking at post cards) and make sure that the staff are all suitably distracted and I’m off up to the swimming pool where I confidently take a deck chair front and centre. Now I only have two hurdles left. I don’t speak anything other than English so if they speak to me in any way, even to offer me a drink, then they will know I am not with any of the tour groups in the hotel and the game will be up (I haven’t seen a single English tour group in Tunisia yet). The second hurdle is that I don’t have a swimsuit, so I have to swim in my boxer shorts, which could give me up as most punters in a 130 quid a night hotel can afford a swimming costume. A quick scan of the pool reveals some just plain embarrassing swimwear from the Europeans (Italians I think) present. If anything my boxes will look too normal. Sorted. 3 hours later I walk out the front door under my own steam (as opposed to being thrown out) complete with photo taken by a member of staff of self standing by pool in a black t-shirt with FREAK emblazoned across the front in huge white letters.

Five Star Resort, Tozeur, Tunisia

DAY 21 – SURREAL DESERT FORTS OF CHENINI AND DOURET

Disappointing news at Gabes. The Libyan tour guy is no fucking help at all. He says that there is no way to get visas unless we are in London and trying to bribe a border guard would be very silly indeed.

Thomas and I head down to Matmata to see the famous restaurant/hotel that was used for Luke’s uncles’ house in the film Star Wars. After that it’s back to Gabes Gabes Gabes (again) and we went our separate ways. I headed off to Tatouine to see some Berber hilltop Ksours (forts).

Star Wars set, Tatouine, Tunisia

By 5pm I was racing along a desert highway which looks like somewhere in Arizona in a beat up old French car listening to Arab pipe music. I haven’t slept in 33 hours and the whole scene has quite a surreal feel to it. Both the Chenini and Douret Ksours are totally out of this world.

Desert road, Tunisia

Tunisia

DAY 20 – A GERMAN A SCOT A MOROCCAN AND TWO GREEKS WALK INTO A BEACH…

Today we adopt two Greek girls, a Scot and a Tunisian guy and head off to the beach. There are too many of us to sneak into the resort part of the beach. Especially since we have a local lad with us. The resorts make it especially clear that the locals are not welcome on the nice part of the beach. Our attempt to walk the shore front looking for a less well guarded resort nearly results in blows so we head for the public part of the beach where a good day is had by all regardless.

Tourists in Jerba, Tunisia

Thomas, Hubbers and six foot one German Girl, Jerba, Tunisia

The Scot, Thomas, turns out to be particularly good value. He has been in Tunisia for three weeks and his stories of the Tunisian scams are funny and run along similar lines to mine. The only difference is that Thomas speaks French and has managed to get by on about 5-10 pounds a day compared to my 20. He let me in on a few secrets, like coffee should only be 10p not the 25-100p that I have been paying. I feel like a very gullible tourist twat indeed.

Hubbers and Toursit on beach at Jerba, Tunisia

Back at the hostel Thomas and I are invited drinking with some Libyans at one of the resorts. The ‘disco’ is only a quarter full and 90 percent of the punters are local guys. The women fall into two groups. The very young and the middle aged. Both groups are making short work of the locals (or is it the other way around) and tongues are flying.

We strike it lucky with the Libyans, as they are able to give us the number of a Libyan tour operator who will be able to help us with Libyan visas. This is especially good for me, as it will save me 200 quid on a flight from Tunis to Cairo.

We get in so late there is no point in going to sleep so we pack and catch a 7am louge to Gabes Gabes Gabes.

DAY 19 – THE GERMAN FROM JERBA

Transferred to the Auberge des Junes first thing in the morning and arrange to spend the day at one of the resort beaches with a 6’1″ German girl who works at the hostel. The beaches in Jerba are strictly divided amongst the resorts that line the beaches with a shitty bit left over for the locals. Fortunately Karen and I are able to use our distinctly western looks to cruise up to one of the nicer bits and help ourselves to a couple of deck chairs and an umbrella.

A cruisey day all in all and I had to laugh when Karen tells me that her boyfriend is so insecure that he rings her every single day for a talk. Getting back to the hostel the hostel owner stares at me like I have fucking his daughter. Apparently the German boyfriend has rung twice. I suspect tonight’s talk is going to be a long one :)

DAY 18 – MAKASTIR TO GABES GABES GABES TO JERBA

Monastir is another resort town. I took a photograph of the castle used in Monty Pythons life of Brian and left and hour later for Gabes.

Monastir Castle used in  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Tunisia

Gabes is a small city, which operates as a transport hub for anyone travelling around the south of Tunisia. I swapped to a new louge taxi for the island of Jerba. One other guy from the first taxi made the change to Jerba with me. Samba is from Senegal and I swear I have never met a darker person in my entire life and I’d be pretty prepared to bet none of you have either. He speaks hardly any English but we share a quick joke about Senegal knocking Moroccan out of the World Cup and we’re mates.

Sambas gig is a good one. He sells those tacky tourist necklaces. But he doesn’t run around selling them to the tourists one at a time. He finds hard up Tunisians who want to make an extra buck, sells them 100 or so and lets them do the hard yards.

To get to Jerba we need to catch a ferry at Jorf. The queue for the ferry is well over 150 vehicles long when we join it so we have a little time to kill. The local kids are on to this and rush up to sell us pizzas for 1 Dinah. I’m famished and was just wondering if this is negotiable when I notice a well dressed 20 something Tunisian is already down to 700 so in French.

I ask his kid how much for two in a mixture of French and pointese. The wealthy Tunisian took one look and me and said 1100 in English. This is well over what he has already negotiated for himself and I realised that he was trying to make me subsidise a substantial proportion on his meal. Then he asked me, in English, if I speak English. To which I replied “and a little French” to let him know I was up to speed with the current status of negotiations. These must have been magic words because all of a sudden we are all paying 700 each.

Whilst waiting for the ferry Samba lined up a local to sell some of his necklaces. I tried to look interested in the necklaces to help him out with the negotiations and he gave me one for free. I’m secretly stoked even though it’s tacky as hell. On the ferry I racked my mind for a suitable gift to repay Samba. In the end I decided to take his photo and post it to him as I doubt he has a camera of his own. This is something I have already arranged to do a few of times on tour. Sometimes in return for being allowed taking a photo. Sometimes as a favour. Lining up the photo I realise that samba is so dark he just looks like a silhouette in the viewfinder. Now I don’t have much experience with photographing very dark skinned people but I decided that the sun might help. A quick look around for the sun and its already shining on his face so this is the best I can hope for. Anyway I figure that if this shot doesn’t come out then his whole family photo album will look like a silhouette fest so he’s probably used to it.

Senegalese friend on ferry to Jerba, Tunisia

Arriving in Jerba the Auberge de Junes is full. Samba arranges somewhere else and even manages to get us a discount.

DAY 17 – GEEKUS MAXIMUSED OUT

At breakfast I find out that the pretty blond Swedish girl has been hitching around Tunisia by herself and is heading off to Morocco by herself. I gave her my Morocco Lonely Planet as I have a feeling that she is going to need it.

After breakfast I finally do the Bardo Museum, which is chocker block full of cool roman stuff. I’d say it was even better than all the cool roman stuff in the Vatican Museum in Rome. Geek quota fulfilled I headed off to catch a train to Sousse.

I’m getting a little lazy so I came across two new taxi scams today. The first guy put the meter on when I asked then slipped it off when he put a tape in. Now normally that would have pissed me off but he put on something that sounded like Dolly Patron so I had a quick play with the meter and got it going again. I must be getting soft because I ended up paying him twice what the journey was worth and he still had the audacity to moan and bitch when I got out of the cab.

The other guy had a meter which wasn’t attached properly so you couldn’t see the screen. I asked him to put the meter on and I saw him set it correctly and then it flipped back down. Then we started to play the “I must take you much farther than you need to go” game which made me suspicious of him. This is a common trick that taxi drivers use. They take you much further than you need to go or they take you in a round about route to get there. This made me suspicious of him so I flipped up the meter and found out that the price had doubled. Which was funny because the taxi hadn’t moved. I gave him a quick description of what I thought of him and got out and walked.

Sousse is a big resort town and as soon as I am settled I regret going there. Firstly it’s expensive. And secondly I always feel like a bit of a fraud in resort towns when I am backpacking. Partly because I am always little bit less well dressed and a little bit more grubby than the rest of the people there. But also because there is a difference in budget that separates backpackers from the average resort punter who has usually flown in for a huge week long party with a huge stack of cash to spend. I promised myself that I am not going to any more resort towns unless it’s on a huge week long party with a huge stack of cash to spend.

On the up side I had the best sales experience of my tour. I noticed some cute stuffed camels and I picked one up while debating in my head if I could get one around the Middle East without destroying it. Immediately I decide against it as it felt like it has been stuffed with scrunched up paper. Then the fat sales guy comes up to me and says, “How much you want to pay” I reply “Combien?” (French for how much). Despite my feeble attempt at French he spotted me as an English speaker straight off and said “Fifty Diram”. That’s 25 quid for a small toy camel stuffed with scrunched up paper, this is a resort town after all. I laughed said “No merci”, put the camel down and started to walk off. Then the fat sales guy uses his bloated body to block my path and says “Okay, how much you want to pay? How much?” I just kept walking around him and he kept trying to get in my way all the time saying “How much you want to pay? How much you want to pay?” Getting louder and louder with each repetition. Eventually I got past him and he slid into a complete panic and screamed, “Okay five Dinah! FIVE DINAH!!!”? I just kept walking thinking why can’t it always be that easy to get down to 10 percent of the starting price.

DAY 16 – DOUGGA 6 RUINS ROMAN II (THE SEQUEL)

Catch a louge taxi to Tebersouk to see some other well preserved ‘Ruins Roman at Dougga. Once again the best of the mosaics, statues etc have been relocated to the Bardo museum in Tunis.

Louge taxis are definitely the way to travel in Tunisia. They work like this. In ever city there is a louge taxi station where the louge taxis meet. The taxis all go in different directions and the drivers loudly call out the names of the places they are going to three times in a row e.g. “Gabes! Gabes! Gabes!”? As soon as a particular taxi is full it leaves. Sometimes this means you wait an hour. Sometimes you get lucky and fill the last seat, which means you leave straight away. Competition for seats can get a bit tough and you need to be a little bit territorial. Otherwise you could have your luggage removed and watch you taxi go without you when you are just over the road buying fruit (as happened to me in Jendouba). The other great advantage of louge taxis is that they are fast. I mean we are not talking Moroccan taxi driver fast here but these guys work on the clock and overtaking is the name of the game. So much so that it’s quite common to be overtaking one vehicle and be staring down the throat of another louge taxi overtaking someone coming from the other direction. Best of all they cost about the same as buses and trains and the prices are fixed by the government so there is no monkey business.

Getting back to Tunis I book into the Maison des Junes which is French for house of the young people. It sounds little pervy to say you are staying at the house of the young people in English so I just use YHA where possible. My luck is in and I find a French guy, an English guy and a Swedish chick that all speak fluent English. I savour my first proper conversations since Marrakech, seven long days ago.