Tuesday, July 05, 2005
There and back - Part two.
| posted by Simon |
10:39 pm |
Hell is usually a foreign airport arrivals lounge, although you do very little lounging. Habib Bourguiba airport, named after the country’s first president, isn’t as bad as you would expect. It took about an hour to get through passport control and baggage collection, about another twenty minutes to negotiate the time share touts and trolley dollies to find our coach, and finally a further thirty minutes to get from he airport to our hotel the Occidental Allegro Riviera. Just over a kilometre outside Port El Kantaoui, our hotel was slap in the middle of the most westernised part of the country; although things had changed so much since we last visited we could have picked any of the main centres.
If Africa was an iceberg Tunisia would definitely be above the water, but make no mistake this is still Africa. The tourist areas are very green and full of colour from the Bougainvillea, Marigolds and night scented Jasmine, but they are only possible because of the water from huge desalination plants. If you travel inland just a couple of hundred meters you see the real landscape, dry and scorched with sparse grasses, Olive groves and Juniper trees. Just what you would expect from a country whos south west corner has been swallowed by the Sahara desert.
Tunisia only gained independence in 1956 and is currently on only their second president, who happens to have a home about ten minutes from the hotel in which we stayed. An insane taxi driver pointed it out one day whilst taking us back from a trip into Souse, “regardez, la maison du president” he said, totally ignoring the road. This was just after a lengthy conversation about football. It doesn’t matter where I go I always seem to get into these conversations. I had finished arranging the price for the taxi journey and got into the back, he launched into the conversation with “You eenglish yes ?” I barely had time to reply when he went off on a mad monologue, “Tott-en-ham, Noteengham, Leeverpooool, Char-el-ton, Noteengham, I am Leeverpool but they are sheet. Kaput seence Keegan, kaput seence Dalgeesh”. He asked which team I supported and we both voiced our hatred of the red side of Manchester. All through this exchange he was weaving in and out of traffic at an alarming speed, tailgating is a necessity because if you leave a car length between you and the car in front, someone nips into it. At one point we were no more than three inches from the bumper of a large coach traveling at well over forty miles per hour. The alternative is a tuktuk, little purple three wheel carriages quickly renamed deathdeath by Tracy because of their worrying habit of tipping over whilst going round corners.
Tunisia is a very safe country to wander about in; in fact the worst thing that will happen to you is getting lured into a carpet shop and given the Arabic version of the hard sell. They will try everything to get you in there, their favourite being “Hello, I’m your waiter, I served you last night, do you remember me ?” “I will take you and show you something that no one sees, you will get good photographs” Yeah, you’ll get good photographs of the inside of a carpet shop. The most inventive one we heard was about a sheep sheering festival, the bloke worked really hard for a good few minutes telling us about this festival in the medina, eventually ending with the line “come I show you”. With that he ran into a nearby shop expecting us to follow, we didn’t because we were too busy laughing. As with most countries that rely on tourism everyone is very friendly, but they have another trick. The currency is closed, you can’t buy Dinars outside Tunisia and it’s illegal to take them out, whatever you change you have to spend.
So, after we had filled in all the forms in order to check into the hotel, we were given our room. By this time it was after midnight local time and I was hot and tired. The only solution to this is to crank up the aircon’ and lie bollock naked on top of the bed. After ten minutes I felt much better, put on a pair of shorts and went off to find the bar. It wasn’t long before I was sat drinking a large Boukha (locally produced fig brandy) and coke. Boukha is an Arab word for water, and strangely it also means insane, and when you have had a few of these you understand why. It’s not long until fig brandy becomes frig bandy. Suffice it to say I slept like a baby that first night, and woke up early ready for the start of the holiday proper.