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BandA’s Travel Diary

Monday, 12 Nov 2007

Location: Tunisia

MapChapter 3 Tunisia

Monday November 12, 2007
Our first week spent in Malta was rather free of stress, as Malta is essentially a part of Europe and nearly everyone spoke good English. The next week in Libya was again free of stress, as we had an excellent guide to look after us whenever we needed help. Tunisia was going to be a different situation as we were no longer on a guided tour and very few people spoke English. Arabic was the first language, with French as the second and English a long way behind. Before leaving Australia we had received firm invitations from three Tunisian Hospitality Club Hosts to stay with them, each for two nights. When in Libya we had attempted to confirm final arrangements by phone or email but unfortunately none of the three replied to us. All was not lost however as we were still able to contact two new Hospitality Club hosts, one in Gabes and one in Tunis, who offered us welcomes.

One of the things that fascinated us while waiting to cross into Tunisia was the continual stream of cars coming through from Libya to Tunisia loaded to the hilt with thick blankets. We had hardly expected to find that blankets were a major export from Libya. We also saw another attempted export foiled! The police search of the cars was very thorough and we saw the police at one car remove all the goods from the boot. Stashed behind was a large drum of petrol. The driver simply looked sad, said nothing, repacked the boot and drove off.

In addition to all these private cars there were literally hundreds of trucks on both sides of the border waiting for customs inspections. This reminded us of a similar experience at Tunduma on the Zambian-Tanzanian border in 2005. On that occasion, however, we had inadvertedly crossed the border without knowing it, this was quite a different situation here. There was no way we could cross into Tunisia without approval from Immigration but one “slight” difficulty was that the Immigration officials had no French or English and of course we had no Arabic. We showed them the “piece of paper” we had been given the previous day at the Tunisian Embassy in Tripoli and, although they seemed to make some sense of it, we still had to wait for over an hour while, we assume, they had to phone the Immigration authorities in Tunis to see whether they could let two senile Australian tourists into the country. Finally our passports were stamped and at last we were in Tunisia. We were only charged $10 for our visas compared with the quoted $40 at the Tunisian Embassy in Tripoli.

Surprisingly, there was no regular bus or other transport from the border to the next major town, Ben Guerdane, so we hired one of the many waiting taxis for the cost of $12 to go the 30km. At first, language problems made us think the driver was charging an exorbitant fee but a bystander who spoke a little French and English made it clear that it was not $120.00 but $12.00 so we gratefully accepted. What surprised us about the driver was that (unlike drivers in Libya) he obeyed all the speed and other signs. In addition, we could now read the road signs as, in contrast to Libya where all road signs were only in Arabic, here they were displayed in both Arabic and our conventional letters. This made life a lot easier; at least you knew where you were heading or what town you had arrived in! With these discoveries we relaxed and began to look around. Some of our immediate first impressions were that, apart from the blanket laden cars that had cleared customs, there were a great number of mopeds (we had seen virtually none in Libya), as well as many horse-and-carts and donkeys. Most of the cars were old and battered but there were also a large number of not so old ones that had been imported from Europe with the telltale F, CH, D, etc., on them. We also discovered why the unlucky driver had tried to import Libyan petrol which would have cost him only $0.15 per L. In Tunisia it was substantially dearer at $0.75 per L. Finally, we naturally looked at the countryside and were impressed with the number of well-tended olive groves we saw.

Our taxi took us to the luage depot in Ben Guerdane, opposite which there was fortunately a little café of sorts where we had a lunch of cheese sandwiches. Our first target destination in Tunisia was Gabes where we had contacted a Hospitality Club Host while we were still in Malta, when the original host failed to respond to our confirmatory emails. With the help of the usual kind stranger we found the luage that was heading for Gabes. Fortunately it was already half full so we had to wait only about 45 minutes before we headed off.

Our next challenge was to find the home of our host in Gabes. The problem in finding the location of contacts in Africa is that, even if a street has a name, street names are very rarely displayed, and very rarely are there any numbers to residences. Fortunately Othman, our helpful Libyan guide, had written out the name and address of our host in Arabic. As we approached the town, for we had been told our host lived on the outskirts of the town, the luage stopped, got out with us and approached a taxi parked by the side of the road. The driver did not recognise the address we showed him but, as we had our Host’s phone number, he kindly drove us to a nearby shop which had a public phone, rang our host, found out where he lived, arranged for our host to be waiting outside his home and then drove us there. What kindness! Moreover he didn’t want to charge us for the ride, as it was not very far. Of course we gave him a generous tip.
Our host had met us in a “main” road then led us down narrow, unsealed alleyways to his home which was entered via the veranda which was right on the street, no front garden. On this veranda were two large cages of budgerigars. Inside, we removed our shoes and put on the “slip-ons” provided by our hostess. As we walked further we found we were in a very comfortable 4-bedroom house that also had 2 lounge rooms and a kitchen. Have we left out a room? Not really! The comparatively small kitchen opened out into a small tiled courtyard. On the far side was a tap and large, square, tiled wash-basin, for personal and clothes washing, and behind that a door led into the toilet which also contained a cold water shower. The toilet had a Western style bowl but no cistern. Instead you used a hose attached to a tap under the shower and/or a bucket of water. The courtyard also served as the laundry and clothes drying area. It also gave access, via steps, to the roof.

Our host’s name was Khalil Ashami and his wife was Aida. They had three daughters and four sons but only one son was living at home. As elsewhere in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, Arabic was everyone’s first language with French being number two and English a distant third. Despite having studied French at school for about 5 years our French was very limited, even worse than the English of many locals we met. Khalil was a retired schoolteacher and had a smattering of English—better than our French. Aida had no French let alone English but despite this we got along fine and shared many jokes.

On arriving at our destination we were offered, and gladly accepted a rest in our twin bedroom. Later in the evening we wandered down town with Khalil who had a part time job as an accountant in a local warehouse that was involved in the distribution of Danone Yoghurt, etc. While he was at work we wandered round this part of the town including the modern “Yatoo Supermarket”. In contrast to Libya, the “Check-out Chicks” were female and not wearing headscarves. Indeed most of the female shoppers were also scarfless. We subsequently learnt that in the early days of Tunisian independence the first president had forbidden the wearing of headscarves. Currently women may wear headscarves but schoolgirls may not, although quite clearly this was not being enforced. We were told by some young adult girls that in response to the growing materialism and perceived anti Islam attitudes of the West, women in Moslem countries were becoming more fundamentalist and increasingly wearing headscarves as a form of protest.

To fill in a little time before tea we wandered into an adjacent very upmarket furniture shop. The salesman, who had excellent English, tried to interest us in a lovely 5-piece bedroom suite for $3500. A bit heavy for our backpacks but he assured us he could arrange transport home for us. . It was quite dark by this time but we felt quite safe walking the streets, as there were numbers of other people around, including teenage girls. As usual, the local coffee shops were patronised solely by men.

At the appointed time we returned to Khalil’s workplace, he collected some tubs of yoghurt, and we then walked home together to a delicious meal of chicken and macaroni. Of course we were also offered some yoghurt and B discovered that he had brought home two different kinds. He had observed that she did not have sugar in her coffee so brought home unsweetened yoghurt for her. This thoughtfulness was typical of most of our hosts.

After the meal Khalil and A went to the computer in another room while Aida and B watched TV in the main living room. None of it was in English or French but we had many laughs. There were divans in the room but the place to sit was on cushions on the floor which suited B’s short legs. Aida was, however, concerned that she may be cold and brought a heavy plush blanket to keep her warm. As the evening advanced she also brought many interesting nibbles—nuts and sweets.

Tuesday November 13
Sleep in this morning till 0800. A braved the cold shower while B resigned herself to a “Lick and a promise”!. Actually she had what her friends in Sri Lanka call a “body wash”! For breakfast we enjoyed lovely fresh baguettes together with a mixture of home grown honey and olive oil. Aida insisted she do our washing in her washing machine.

On the previous day, when we were at the Libyan-Tunisian border, A had accidentally got a nasty cut on his leg from a half open car door. We tried to buy a bandaid at the “modern supermarket” but they did to seem to know what a bandaid was! Khalil was very solicitous and insisted on taking us in a taxi at his expense to his friend who ran an “Infirmary”. A’s leg needed no more than a bit of a dressing, hardly a visit to the doctor’s surgery. Once again we were not allowed to pay for the medical charge. At least we managed to buy some meat and groceries for the family in return.

Before lunch we went for a stroll around some adjacent park land and local farm plots on the edge of the built up township. This enabled us to inspect Khalil’s beehives, the source of the honey we had enjoyed at breakfast. During the walk he explained that there was a lot of political controversy about the swallowing up of farming land for housing development.

Although Aida had no French, let alone English she had a good sense of humour so we were able to share jokes and develop a good relationship with her. Sign language goes a long way! It was wonderful that Khalil had some English but it was frustrating that we were not able to learn more from him about the country, customs, etc., because of language limitations.

Aida’s sister joined us for our lunch of couscous, meat, vegetables, and salad, finishing off with tasty miniature fresh pears. Of course all the rules for travellers says don’t eat salad, but it is impossible to refuse the hospitality of one’s hosts. We were constantly a source of embarrassment that we had such small appetites compared with those of our hosts.

As with nearly all the homes in North Africa this house had a flat roof where people often sleep in summer as it is cooler than in the house. From the roof there was a good view of the surrounding houses, nearly all with their satellite dishes. Looking further we had a bird’s eye view of the adjacent wadi, the farm plots we had explored before lunch, the many piles of dumped rubbish and, of course, Khalil’s bee hives.

Khalil then suggested we go to the beach so we set off by taxi a few km to a beachside suburb but, apparently, it was not quite where Khalil had hoped to be. Despite this we went for a long walk along the golden, sandy, deserted beach. It was pleasant and relaxing along the beautiful deserted Mediterranean and we imagined we could see Malta, where we had been a few days previously, in the distance. One item of interest was the eroded remains of a German pillbox from the Second World War on the water’s edge. It was not hard to imagine the German soldiers on the lookout for invading allied forces. Khalil was also delighted when we helped him collect cuttle fish skeletons to take back to his budgies. We met only one other person on the beach, a fisherman who was standing beside his boat.

As was so often the case due to language barriers, we were not sure where we were heading. We walked about three or four km down the beach heading towards abuilt-up area so we thought that was where we were heading and that would be where we could easily find a taxi. However, after an hour’s walking, we turned round and headed back to where we had come from, from where the taxi had dropped us. We thought perhaps Khalil had arranged for our taxi to come back after an hour or so to pick us up. Instead, we returned to where we started but, as it was a rather deserted place, there was no sign of a taxi. So we walked for another hour until we got back to civilization where we found a taxi to take us home. We had certainly had our quota of exercise for the day.

Fortunately Khalil had a computer and Internet connection in his home, so we were able to follow up our successful and unsuccessful contacts for the next few days in Tunisia and Algeria. Several times over the past two days Khalil had tried in vain to contact by phone our pre-arranged Hospitality Club Host in Kaiuran where we had planned to spend the next two days. Finally we made contact only to find our host, a teacher, was tied up with classes. In one way we were disappointed but on the other hand it meant we had two free days to relax on our own. The Lonely Planet Guide Book spoke highly of a coastal resort half way to Tunis called Mahdia, together with a recommendation of an attractive and favourably priced Pension and so Khalil kindly phoned a reservation for us for the next two nights.

.In the evening we exchanged family photos. They showed us a hundred or more photos of the recent betrothal celebration of their daughter. The daughter’s dress was magnificent—white with red features–and looked like something from the Arabian Nights. The food looked delicious and the guests obviously were enjoying themselves. On previous overseas trips we had taken a selection of photos to introduce our hosts to our family and life in Australia. On this trip we had made up a personalised calendar for 2008 with a selection of photos for each month depicting activities in different seasons of the year. We left one of these calendars with Khalil and his family, as also with all the other hosts with whom we stayed.

Wednesday November 14
Farewells this morning from our kind hosts. B received 2 kisses from Aida but A received four!!

Khalil had kindly written in Arabic the name of the local bus/luage depot so that we could give it to the taxi that was to take us there. All worked well. The bus depot was more organised than usual with tickets actually being sold at a ticket office rather than just paying the luage driver. Moreover we only had to wait about 10 minutes until the bus was full and ready to go. Although we were heading to Mahdia we had to divide the journey in two stages: first to Sfax and then to Mahdia.

With typical Arab hospitality the lady beside us kindly offered us a candy which we were happy to accept. Unfortunately language difficulties precluded any satisfactory conversation.. Half way to Sfax we had a break for the driver to have a smoke, as fortunately there was no smoking on any of the buses. The countryside we passed through looked very dry, but what impressed us was the degree of closer settlement. Although much of the vegetation was stunted saltbush there were frequent olive groves and even cereal crops. We also saw a few almond and one fig orchards . As in Libya it looked as if even this dry country could support more productive agriculture than at present. There were frequent villages as well as the houses scattered along the road. Apparently there was reticulated water from Goodness knows where, as there were water towers in all the villages as well as occasionally in the countryside. The villages and towns, unlike those in Libya, had few, if any, high rise buildings which made them appear much more relaxed and friendly.

Sfax is the number two port city in Tunisia. We only stayed there long enough to change buses but what remains in our memory were the huge heaps of rock phosphate, large rail yards, long goods trains and a heavy veil of pollution hanging over the city. The changeover at Sfax was very smooth. Having bought our tickets at the ticket office, a man led us past dozens of buses to ours. Without his help we would never have found the right bus, as there are no indications on buses of their destinations. The driver did an impossible job squeezing all the passengers’ luggage into a tiny space at the back of the luage. Having succeeded in closing the back door we immediately set off, as we were the last passengers needed for a full load.

On the next stage of our trip to Mahdia we again passed through very arid country but passed frequent side roads going to modern beach resorts, as Tunisian beaches are very popular destinations for European tourists. Mahdia is also a popular beach resort but most tourists stay in the New City. We had, wisely, chosen to stay in the Medina in the old city, at the aptly named Hotel Medina. Naturally, the Bus Station was close to the New City so our first task on arrival was to find a taxi driver to take us to our hotel. . When he dropped us we could see no sign of a hotel but, on seeing two lost backpackers, a nearby shopkeeper kindly directed us up a side street to where we saw the sign to our hotel.

As we walked to the entrance up a lane decorated with flower pots and small shrubs we decided we had chosen well. In the foyer was a small built man wearing a chechia who warmly welcomed us and took us up to a double room on the first floor opposite the bathroom and toilet. We liked the room but he told us to leave our things and come and explore further on the top floor, actually the roof. Here we found clothes lines, tiled benches, a toilet, cold shower and two twin rooms. We preferred the first room and happily returned to it. Our only problem was a very vocal cat that decided she too liked us and the room, so we had to outwit her every time we opened the door.

By this time B was suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms as she had missed her elevenses drink. (“Not true” says B, all she wanted was a hot drink and coffee is the easiest to find for a non-tea drinker!) Following a special request from A our little man kindly made a special cuppa for B —at no charge. Thus fortified we went out to explore the old town. It was a lovely old style town with a main walkway lined with tourist souvenir shops but very few tourists. We enjoyed a bit of bargaining and thought we did well purchasing a couple of pashmina scarves to take home as presents. We also found postcards cheaper than anywhere else so many of our friends and relatives now know where Mahdia is!

Although by now it was mid afternoon, we found a little fish restaurant where we again shared a fish meal. What was more significant about this restaurant was that the waiter brought us a bottle of water, which in retrospect we realised was not a freshly opened bottle. Two days later B went down with “Delhi belli”, which we attributed to this unsterile water. A went down a few days later. The stronger sex!!

As we wandered round the town we passed many coffee bars all patronised only by males. We also saw a lady carrying fresh fruit and vegetables and she kindly showed us how to find the very big fruit market where we replenished our supply of bananas, as well as buying some oranges and local dates. Satisfied with our purchases we headed “home” and left our exploration of the town for the next day.

On returning to our Pension B took the opportunity to wash her hair. There was a “telephone shower ” in the bath and, initially, hot water, but after half a minute it went cold—not a rare experience—much to B’s chagrin. A had a shower later in the evening and it was piping hot!

After an evening snack in our room we went for a pleasant walk along the waterfront then back home for an early night

Thursday November 15
Our bedroom window looked out onto the large tiled lightwell which, we discovered when we went to breakfast on the ground floor, was actually the walls of the courtyard. We were living in what had originally been a traditional courtyard home so, of course, all meals were served in the tiled courtyard. As winter chills had not yet arrived, the courtyard was pleasantly sunny and, as you can see from the photo very attractive.

Fortified by a good breakfast we set off to explore the town but first we walked through a narrow vaulted passageway 50m long in the Fatmid city wall into a newer part of the town. What we wanted was stamps for our postcards. You would think this was a simple enough activity but the only nearby place that sold stamps had them in such small denominations that we would have covered the card with stamps and nothing else. Eventually we were sent on what proved to be a long walk to a bank which also sold stamps. During the walk we discovered a Supermarket (“mini”) and passed a school which was apparently co-educational but there was no obvious fraternisation between the sexes.

Eventually we returned through the tunnel and paused to savour but not to buy the various spices on the tables.

Before we go any further it is probably important to explain the geography of the area. The Mahdia Medina is situated on a peninsula. Our hotel was midway between the two sides near the beginning of the peninsula. This meant it was possible to walk from the hotel to the beach on one side then follow the shoreline right round the peninsula and return to the hotel from the other side. This was what we intended to do as the distance was quite manageable. First, we followed the shoreline to an attractive café that descended down the cliff face to the water. Because the café was blue and white we almost felt we were in Greece. The dining areas were found at various levels as we walked down the stairs and we finally chose a level with very attractive views of the coastline and where we could watch a local fishermantending his nets. Before leaving we walked down the final flight of steps to the water level and enjoyed watching the waves crash on the rocky shoreline.

We were now ready to continue our walk along the coastline. Our next stop was to be a visit to the Borj El-Kebir, a large fort built in the 16th Century over the ruins of the original Fatmid walls and dwellings which can still be seen outside below its walls. The fort is very bare but this lack of ornamentation and artefacts helps emphasize it size and bulk. It has a commanding position and from its towers you can see the whole peninsula below you. The bulk of the town lies to the west while to the east and the Cap d’Afrique you can see the Fatmid port, the lighthouse and a huge cemetery where people visited the graves and goats grazed.

We had now effectively reached the end of the peninsula so we returned home alson the sea on the other side. Here we found that we were in a residential area where there were many very attractive homes facing the sea. Eventually we turned inland and passed the souvenir shops where we had bought the cheap post cards and scarves the previous day. Then we moved across to a parallel street where we met another seller of scarves who had, the previous evening, offered pashmina scarves at half the price we had just paid. Today it was different. Yes, he had scarves at that lower price but they were not pashmina. After a lot of haggling we agreed to buy two more scarves at a certain price. Unfortunately we did not have the exact money, so the shopkeeper asked us to follow him as he would go and get change. It turned out that his family had a second shop and that was where he was going for the change. When we arrived the shopkeeper pressured us to buy yet another scarf in lieu of receiving the change. Anyway to make a very long story a bit shorter, he was more effective in pressuring us than we were in resisting him and we bought yet another scarf instead of the change. Actually it was half the price he had been asking. He moaned and groaned but he could have given us the money so we decided he was still making a profit. We were happy because they were small and light to carry, and it did sort out a number of presents that we wanted to bring back for friends and relatives.

Friday November 16
After a pleasant two days R&R at Mahdia our next destination was Tunis. On learning that we had the option of going by either train or bus we thought a North African Train ride would be a good experience but,when we were told that the train left at 0500, we decide to take the luage! When we left the hotel for the streets we found that Friday was market day in Mahdia and we were amazed at the hundreds of street stalls selling every imaginable thing both new and second-hand.

The luage depot was only a short taxi ride from our hotel and fortunately the luage heading for Tunis was waiting for only four more passengers before being ready to depart. As we headed north towards Tunis the countryside became a little more hospitable although there were extensive areas of salt flats along the coast. We also passed through a few larger towns such as Souse and Monastir (where we had originally planned to stay with a Hospitality Club Host) then our fairly good road became an excellent toll road so that we arrived at the busy Tunis bus depot around noon.

We had arranged to ring our Tunis Hospitality Club Host on our arrival, so A went looking for a phone while B stood guard over our baggage. Having found a telephone office (called a “Taxi phone”), A returned to Bto find her in a great state of agitation, because, while he was away, she realised that she had left her handbag in the luage. In it were our plane tickets and camera, as well as all the notes about our trip, but fortunately she had her passport and credit cards in a separate holder. Unfortunately, as she was some distance from the depot itself she could not leave the baggage to go looking for the handbag. When A arrived back, we both returned to the bus depot to see if there was any chance of finding our luage and the bag. As was typical at bus depots, there were hundreds of people milling around and dozens of luages all looking the same. In desperation we told our story to one of the drivers who had stopped to ask us what was troubling us. Not surprisingly he didn’t seem to understand our English-French-Arabic and started talking on his mobile phone. Naturally we were very depressed as we had no idea which luage had been ours and were prepared to write it off as experience, when we saw a man coming towards us with the “petit sac” in his hand. Not surprisingly B gave him a big grateful hug. Our helpful driver had understood and had contacted him by phone! Now B is looking for a bright coloured “petit sac” as the black one tends to merge into the surroundings.

Having found the handbag and the phone we now rang our Tunis Host, Foued who was currently at work but told us to get a taxi to “The Golden Bowling” near “Le Lac”. We found a taxi and described as best we could where we wanted to go. He didn’t seem too sure where we were talking about so we called Foued again to get him to explain to the taxi driver where we were to meet. Unfortunately we couldn’t get through again, so we headed off anyway. As we neared the suburb “Le Lac”, we suddenly saw a big bowling alley (Golden Bowl) so got out taxi to drop us there. We were a bit worried, however, as it did not say “Bowling”. There was no one to be seen there let alone our Host. After a wait of 15 minutes or so we found a guy who explained that there was another Bowling Alley just down the road. He kindly stopped a taxi and explained to him where we wanted to go. Instead of taking us “just down the road”, we went on a 20-minute drive to an affluent suburb and a 5 star hotel called “The Golden Tulip”. Fortunately the commissionaire there spoke good English. We explained where we wanted to go and he then explained to our taxi driver who took us back the way we had just come, to the “The Golden Bowling” less than one km from where we had started. The driver was very apologetic and we compromised by halving the fare on the meter.

We made our way into the “Golden Bowling” and not surprisingly, as it was now well over an hour since we had called Foued, he was no longer waiting for us. We asked the receptionist if there was a public phone nearby, to call him again, but no! At that stage fortunately the Manager came along and very kindly offered us the use of the centre’s phone. We called Foued again and he told us he would collect us in half an hour or so as he was still at work. The manager again kindly led us into the restaurant where we enjoyed a much-appreciated lunch.

As promised Foued arrived on time and took us to his home in the very upmarket suburb of La Masa (quite close to “The Golden Tulip” we had recently visited) where we received a very warm welcome from his wife, Adibia. The unit was on the second floor and was large and well appointed. We were given the girls’ room which also served as their playroom so it had lots of toys and a large TV. As usual we slept on the floor on mattresses. This meant that they could be rolled up and put out of the way thus providing the girls with space to play. The bathrooms were both Western and we even were able to enjoy hot water.

After a pleasant chat with Adiba it was time to collect the two children Marylyn 10 and Mariami 5 from their private schools. We were then taken for an extensive drive around this historic part of Tunis, including present day Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, the ancient Phoenician Port, The President’s Palace, the French colonial Cathedral, etc. By this time it was quite dark and the two children had fallen asleep in the back of the car.

After a welcome meal of pasta and salad we appreciate the hot shower and the mattresses on the floor of the children’s play room.

Saturday November 17
Today was Mariani's 5th birthday and she was to have a big birthday party in the afternoon. .Foued, who had to go to work today, had planned out for us an itinerary to include the major attractions associated with Carthage of old, which we had briefly seen in the dusk the previous evening. First thing in the morning Adibia kindly drove us to the neighbouring suburb, Sidi Bou Said, which was the starting point of our sightseeing. (When we had almost arrived at our destination, we realised we had forgotten our camera and had to return for it.)

Having been left on our own we wondered if we would ever find our way home, but as usual, although a new town is very confusing when you first arrive there, after a short time one begins to feel quite at home.

Where Adibia dropped us, near the top of a steep hill, was a very popular tourist spot with the usual gaggle of tourist shops and many tourists, mainly Tunisian.This was the first and just about the only time in North Africa we experienced rain. Actually it was only a heavy drizzle so we did not get wet through and we had come prepared. What was more of a problem was the after effects of the un sterile water we had drunk at the fish café two days earlier in Mahdia, as B succumbed to an attack of “Delhi belli”. Despite this we wandered around this area and walked along the top of the cliff to admire the sea view far below. Then we headed down to the bottom of a cliff where we found a chemist who provided some very effective medicine. A was to follow her example a couple of days later.

Foued had suggested that, after having visited the sights of Sidi Bou Said, we should go by taxi to visit the old Cathedral about 2 km away. Despite the drizzle and B’s tummy we decided to walk, as we would see much more walking than from a taxi. As we passed the Presidential Palace a number of police cars appeared and the police tried, rather ineffectually, to hold up the passing cars. A few minutes later several big limousines emerged from the palace gates. Of course, we did not know if it was the President himself or some lesser mortal.

Further down the road we began to wonder if we were headed in the right direction so checked at a petrol station. They reassured us we were certainly heading in the right direction for the Cathedral. As the Cathedral was at the top of a big hill (Byrsa Hill) we eventually headed up a side road hoping this was the right decision. The distance seemed too far and there were more houses than we remembered the previous evening so we asked directions from a passing lady motorist who started to give us directions. Then she paused, told us to get in her car and drove us the last few hundred metres, which was up quite a steep hill, to the Cathedral itself.

The building had been dedicated as a church to St Louis in 1884 when Tunisia was under the French . Since independence in 1955virtually all the French have left, the erstwhile Cathedral has been deconsecrated (1964) and is now an empty, but restored, shell occasionally used for concerts and exhibitions. In fact it is no longer called a Cathedral but rather ”L’Acropolium”—literally “The building on the hill”.
The Cathedral was huge and imposing. Inside the restoration work is still continuing and it looks rather like an empty shell but there were still many treasures to see—174 marble columns with capitals decorated in gold; the small square sections of the ceiling each decorated in wonderful colours by Venetian artists; the 284 stained glass windows created by Edouard Dideron, nephew and adopted son of Napoleon III; and the altars and chapels beautifully adorned with mosaics, frescoes, and goldsmiths’ works. One side altar is dedicated to St Augustine who, we discovered, was known as St Cyprian in Africa. We hope our photos convey some of its former beauty.
Adjacent to the old Cathedral was a museum with its treasures beautifully presented and documented. You may enjoy seeing the”boozy Silenus and Maenad” and the baby bottle from the 4th century BC. Outside the museum, stretching down the hill were many ruins, reminders of Carthage’s turbulent past. Founded in 814 BC by the Phoenicians it grew until its population, at its peak, was approximately 500,000. It is not surprising that Rome saw it as a dangerous competitor and thus started 100 years of Punic Wars which ended in the defeat of Carthage. The Romans then laid waste to the whole of Carthage (146 BC), sold the people into slavery and symbolically scattered salt on the area. Eventually Rome re-established the city (44 BC), levelled the top of the hill that we were standing on and set up their capitol and forum. All this was destroyed after the fall of Rome.

Well satisfied and sated by so many reminders of two different pasts of Carthage we headed home on foot although it was still mid-afternoon. On the way we passed some interesting curved structures which we eventually discovered were the La Malga water cisterns which were Carthage’s main water supply dating from Roman times. The reservoir was nearly 1km long and fed by a huge aqueduct that brought mountain spring water 132km. Here too we discovered that the Greek name for the Phoenicians was Phoinix.

On successfully finding our way home without getting lost (Bis the regular resident navigator) we were in time to participate in Mariami’s birthday party and discovered that here too children like loud “music”! There were numerous children and their mothers, most of whom had quite good English so we had some interesting conversations Adibia’s twin sister, Efef, was among these. Her husband was a French Canadian.

When Foued arrived home he was disappointed that we had not seen as much as he had planned for us so bundled us into his car and took us to see the Antonine Baths. By this time it was after the 1700 closing time but Foued talked very authoritatively to the guard who let us in. The baths are on the seashore and the gardens were delightful. We raced round the ruins and were impressed, especially by a 15m column that gave some idea of the height. Then it was off to the Amphitheatre which, in its heyday held 40,000 people. It was quite atmospheric to sit in the twilight and imagine a theatrical performance in the past.

One of the interesting things we became evident as we walked around Carthage was the extreme bitterness that the Romans felt towards the Carthaginians after the latter were defeated in the third Punic War. They completely levelled all signs of the Carthaginian culture and replaced these with Roman structures.

Sunday November 18
This morning we were to set off from Tunisia and head for Algeria. Although Algeria and Tunisia share a common border, for political or security reasons, there are no regular train or bus services between the two countries. The only way to travel between the two countries is by shared taxi.

Once again Foued was very helpful, found a taxi for us near his home then instructed the driver to take us to Le Place d’Afrique in downtown Tunis, from where we should be able to find a shared taxi to Algeria. In addition he wrote out in Arabic that we would be looking for a taxi that would take us to Annaba, the first major city within Algeria, about a 6 hours drive.

When we arrived at the Place d’Afrique at about 0800 we were quickly directed to a taxi, with a nominal seating capacity for four passengers, that would take us to Annaba. The immediate problem was that we were the only potential passengers. (Perhaps no one else was silly enough to want to go to Algeria!). After we had been waiting for about an hour and a half without any additional passengers appearing, we decided that our only option was to pay for the two extra empty seats. Just as we were about to tell the driver our decision, another passenger turned up, so we had to pay for only three seats.

Although we had thoroughly enjoyed our six days in Tunisia we were happy to be on our way to the next phase of our adventure.