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.

DAY 15 – BULLA REGIA – RUINS ROMAN I

Bulla Regia Roman ruins, Tunisia

Bulla Regia Roman ruins, Tunisia

Bulla Regia Roman ruins, Tunisia

As it turns out Mounir, Yousef and Omar are pretty likeable guys who speak a smattering of English between them. We are able to discuss quite a few topics like: my job as a totally broke labourer in London, their jobs and families, sport, politics and what’s wrong with women these days eh?

Spend day getting lost in Tunis and finding out that the highly recommended Bardo Museum in Tunis is closed for no apparent reason. Instead decide to visit the roman ruins at Bulla Regia near Jendouba a 4 hour train ride away. Very cool but all the really good mosaics and statues have been relocated to the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

In Jendouba I run into a couple of excellent taxi drivers. One speaks English and takes me where I want to go at a very reasonable price and the other is just as good AND he sets my up with some excellent cheap accommodation, which isn’t in the Lonely Planet. I definitely like Tunisians more than Moroccans.

DAY 14 – FLIGHT TO TUNISIA

Tunis, Tunisia

Did a real solid, but a bit sticky, poo this morning so all is good guts wise. I’ll keep you informed if the situation changes.

At breakfast I thank Dave for the alarm clock but don’t have the heart to tell him about the noises or the batsignal – he doesn’t need to know. Instead I make him promise to tell the kids he teaches where New Zealand is.

Interestingly Mohammed V International Airport outside Casablanca doesn’t accept Moroccan Dinahs once you go through customs.

Am looking forward Tunisia as the language thing might improve language wise. In Morocco if you don’t speak French, Spanish or Arabic then you’re pretty much out of luck. In Tunisia it’s only French and Arabic in front of English. In reality I’m no better off than before because no bastard speaks a word of English beyond the usual sales pitches but I’m definitely climbing the ladder and it feels like progress is being made.

At the Tunis airport the customs guy looks carefully at my passport and reads out “New Zealand” slowly. I’m waiting to see where this is going and then he says “Holland?” to which I nod carefully because I know European nationals don’t need to pay for visas in Tunisia. Five seconds later I’m stamped and ushered through free of charge. Sorted. Although it should make getting out of the country a laugh when they realise I don’t have a visa. Mental note: go to airport early to allow for additional hassle and possible incarceration.

After customs I withdraw 200 quid from the ATM at the airport because it’s cheaper to withdraw in large blocks. I swiftly avoid the Tunisia representative from the “hello my friend” brigade who offers me a taxi to my hotel for 15 quid and bus/walk there instead for 25p.

It’s full wouldn’t you know it but they offer to book me a place in a shared room just around the corner so all is good. The new place seems okay and I am glad to take my pack off. The alarm bells start to go off just after I have paid and handed over my passport. The guy standing next to me at reception who I think works there is shuffling his feet and I realise that he is trying to get away with a 10 Tunisian Dinah note that I have dropped. I tap him on the shoulder and give him my coldest stare. The next thing you know he’s doing a very credible shuffle act with a piece of rubbish as if foot shuffling rubbish is his day job.

Next I meet my roommates who are not too happy to have to share their spare fourth bed with me. Heated words and angry looks are exchanged between them and the hotel guy. This ends with them storming off and the hotel guy smiling nervously at me saying everything is fine. Everything is not fine. I can tell.

Then I get told that I can’t leave my packs in my room, everything has to stay at reception. Why? Can’t my roommates be trusted? What happens when they find out that I am carrying 200 quid cash? What about my 1000 quid digital camera? I’ve got that sinking feeling again and upon leaving my I notice my roommates now have a greasy smiley look to them. I’m fucked.

I leave the hotel for the day and try to put things in perspective. Lonely Planet doesn’t help when I notice that it describes hotels like mine that cater to visiting Algerian labourers with the following quote “unless you are down on your last few dines, avoid these places like he plague” walking around Tunis I am determined to stay out as long as possible in the hope that the roomies will be asleep when I get in. I manage till about midnight but they are still out. Presumably mugging and killing other tourists.

DAY 13 – A BUSY DAY INDEED

Almost did a solid poo this morning. Progress is definitely being made.

Got up and booked flight to Tunisia for Tuesday (tomorrow) morning.

Leaving the hotel this morning I was offered a part in a Moroccan made for television movie. The comedy sketch involved 5 tourists, of which I would have been ‘touriste un’ (one), trying to book into a single hotel room. The punch line was the tourists calling the hotelier a racist after they were refused. I think some of the humor may have been lost in the translation. I had to turn the role down of course. The director was an idiot who couldn’t see why my character should be renamed touriste prime. Which worked out well as today was my only chance to see the Moroccan capital, Rabat, an hour up the coast.

Rabat is nice and a lot lest bustly than Casablanca.

Here’s a travellers tip for you. If you have a bad case of the squirts don’t look for a McDonalds. Look for a five star hotel. The bogs at the hotel Sofitel Diwan make it a veritable pleasure to have a runny bum and the roll of bog paper I stole is by far the best I have seen in all Morocco.

FINALLY A HINT OF ACTION ON TOUR

I tried to get into the YHA Hostel again and succeeded. This is great because it’s cheaper, cleaner, has a working shower and comes with free breakfast. Best of all I might finally be able to have a conversation with someone who speaks English as a first or even second language. After a much needed shower I was repacking my pack and the though struck me that the place has an eerie lingering stare feel to it. As if on queue a guy ‘appears’ out of the shadows of the bunks and invites himself out to dinner with me. He doesn’t speak a word of English but by the way he holds his two fingers up together the message is clear. Now I don’t want to sound like a paranoid homophobic but that’s not really my thing and I didn’t want to lead the poor bastard on so turned his kind offer of dinner down.

My dinner alone was an authentic Moroccan harira (delicious spicy lentil soup) and karaouni tajine (cows tail served with olives), which was served up in an authentic Moroccan diner called Restaurant California (recommended by Lonely Planet). The chef went to great lengths to point out that only men are allowed karaouni tajine and that it is like viagra for the Moroccans. He even drew me a picture of a bull with great emphasis on the penis and tail. This was followed by laughter, back slapping and hushed conversation about the problems with women today. I didn’t really understand a word of it but I sympathised anyway.

Back at the hostel I note that 10 or so of the 12 beds in the men’s dorm are now full. Later that night I am awoken from my sleep by the noise of a sleeping bag being vigorously rustled. My first though is that someone is having a wank and wants the whole room to know. I dared not look over the side of the bunk to see who the culprit is but from the direction of the noise I suspect it’s the ‘lets go to dinner’ guy. After a while it stops and I think thank god. Then a torch goes on. The last thing I see before it goes dark again is a clear silhouette of a condom cast on the wall of the dorm. Something akin to what Batman might shine on the clouds if he wanted Robin to pop back to the Batcave for a thorough seeing to. I’m definitely not looking over the side of the bunk now.

Some time later I actually manage to sleep.

DAY 12 – HASSAN II MOSQUE

More brown soup shitting before breakfast. A little disappointed as I had expected some improvement.

Tried to get into the international youth hostel again but it was full again. Am suspicious, as I haven’t seen a single person come or go the entire time I have lived across the square.

Visited the Hassan II mosque which is totally impressive on every front. Started in 1993 it was finished in only 6 years by Moroccan craftsmen working around the clock. It’s big enough to comfortably fit St Peters or Notre Dame in the main prayer hall, which fits 25,000 worshipers with room for another 80,000 fanatics on the esplanades outside. Isn’t it great what a little fundamentalism can buy these days?

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

DAY 11 – SWIMMING AND OFF TO CASABLANCA

That’s today. I think I may have a dip in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life. Then I might pop up to Casablanca and try to find a coffee shop that has French satellite TV so I can watch the All Blacks smash the Springboks.

EMAILS I DONT WANT TO SEE

Now that I am travelling I have become very particular about what sort of emails I want to receive. The following is a list of emails that I have no interest in:

  1. Offers to lose weight fast (not too big an issue)
  2. Offers of university degrees (reasonably sorted in that area)
  3. Offers of instant finance with no credit check (although I may change my mind in a month or two)
  4. Offers to see Brittany spears naked (love her but if she won’t return my calls…)
  5. Jokes (will have to rely on own limited wit for a while)
  6. Jpegs/gifs (love them but they take too long to download)
  7. Complaints about how long my emails are

Ok that’s all for now. Sorry about spelling, typos, capitalisation, grammar and tense (some was written at the time and some more recently).

CASABLANCA REWRITE

This was going to be a cracking day but it turned out to be my worst yet on tour. I got scammed 5 Dinah loading my luggage at the el Jedidad bus station. It was only 30p but it’s the principle and I am a little over being scammed all the time in Morocco. I got the shits on the bus on the way to Casablanca. It had to happen sooner or later because I’m eating all the local stuff. It’s worth a little anal insecurity though because the local food is pretty tasty.

Only just made to the bus station before having a big brown soup of a poo. Then had 4 cabbies refuse to use the meter for the short trip to the hostel and instead offer me special, fresh off the boat, 3 times what it should be, tourist price. The last one was nice enough to point me in the right direction though. Or so I thought. About a kilometre down the road I asked another guy and I had been sold a dummy. A 180-degree dummy. Grrr! By then I was a little over walking in the hot Moroccan sun so I flagged another cabbie. This guy not only used the meter but he spoke English as well. Things were looking up. Until I had paid him and I realised that he had had no idea where we were going. Grrr. luckily this new place was easy to plot on the Lonely Planet map so I started the 2-kilometre walk to the hostel. I didn’t cab it as I was a little over cabbies by this stage. Got to the international youth hostel and it was full. Booked into a run down place just across the square. Dodgy room. No shower. A toilet that backed up and 3 long flights up. Feeling decidedly, and understandably I think, anti Moroccan by this Stage so I had McDonalds for dinner in protest. One nil the Hubster. Until I squirted it out 2 hours later. One all. And again an hour after that. Two one Morocco.

DAY 10 – ON THE ROAD AGAIN – EL JEDIDAD

The buses in Morocco go something like this. You arrive about half an hour before the departure time to secure a seat. Upon entering the bus you cram yourself into a seat that would be a bit tight for the stars of “Midget Double Special”. This should give you about an hour before the bus actually leaves. But don’t worry because you wont get bored, there’s always a show before departure. It starts with people who will try to sell you all manner of wares from water (warm and cold), tissues, flax fans, shoes, sandals, jewellery, watches, sweets, cakes, gum, salvation to snake oil (I may not speak Arabic but I know a hustler shifting snake oil when I see one) this is interspersed by people in various states of depravation and deformity begging for money. The worst of the latter group was a guy with NO ARMS and you had to put the money in his pocket for him. After several repetions the bus is finally allowed to begin its journey which is regularly punctuated by police checkpoints (every 100 to 200 kilometres), stops in every town you pass through, stops in every donkey market you pass through, stops to pick people up in the middle of nowhere, stops to drop people off in the middle of nowhere, stops to refuel at petrol stations and stops to refuel in the middle of nowhere when the bus run out of gas.

The bus drivers seem to fall into two main categories: retire petit taxi drivers whose nerve has finally broken and people who lack the calmness and good judgement required to become petit taxi drivers and are just killing time waiting for a ‘good’ job where they can be shot out of a cannon (or similar).

Went separate ways to the cunningly linguistic Brits today who are off home via Spain and Portugal.

Port, El Jedidad, Morocco

el Jedidad is based around an old Portuguese fort. As far as I can tell I am the only English speaker in town today so I am getting used to fending for myself again in a country where English is a distant fifth language after Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish. An example of the difficulties I have been experiencing is that I now know how to ask “how much” in French but I rarely understand the answer is since my knowledge of French numbers is limited to the numbers 1 to 29 with a big gap up to 69 followed by another large gap up to 100 where I top out.

On the plus side I have found an internet cafe that does 4 hours internet for under two squids. Which beats the hell out of staying in my room (the worst room yet) at night talking to the bugs in broken French.

CARL: Sava bugs?

BUGS: (silence)

CARL: dacor bon nui bugs

BUGS: (more silence)

CARL: (sigh)

CARL: zzz zzz zzz zzz

BUGS: munch munch (noise of bugs eating all Carl’s clean boxer shorts)

CARL: zzz zzz zzz zzz

BUGS: (burp)

DAY 8 AND 9 – MARAKESH MARKETS AND MADNESS

Sleeping on roof of Hotel Afrika to save money, perfect for the warm Moroccan night air. Spent as couple of days exploring Marrakech with Emma and James. The highlights include a large souk (market) and Diemaa el-fna, a huge square which by night is rammed with makeshift restaurants, fresh orange juice stands (about 100) story tellers, magic acts, dancing cobras, chained Barbary apes, Berber acrobats, locals in traditional garb all of which are available for a photograph – at a price. I had my photo taken with a snake that was thrust around my neck and was then told that the cost was 100 Dinah. That’s taking the piss a little when you consider that I could have had 50 glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice for the same price. Obviously 100 was the piss takers starting price so we negotiated. This means I gave him the two Dinah that most people tip for photographs and walked off while he cursed me loudly in Arabic.

Marakesh market in the main square, Morocco

Marakesh market in the main square, Morocco

Marakesh Souk, Morocco

Was in an Internet cafe later that afternoon having rather a loud moan about slow download speeds, as you do when you go from a shared 2000k connection to a shared 56k connection. I turned around to see the owner on his hands and knees praying to Mecca. Felt like a bit of a rude tourist git for a while. Especially since he was undoubtedly praying for more bandwidth.