Day 1 – 9/10/12
Crossing into Tunisia took a bit of time. We managed to get our visa on entry, but did not realise until later they had only given us 7 days. We had to explain about the carnet to the Tunisia customs people, but they were OK with it and after a bit of time stamped us in. We had to pay €20 for 8 days car insurance.
Then, the real delay started. A film crew was on site to film the customs entrance process and we could not proceed until they had finished. The poor folks in the 2 vehicles in front of us got a real working over; 100% inspection. Fortunately the customs chap who had assisted us got us through without too much fuss.
The pleasant drive continued, though we noticed almost immediately that the road condition was not as good as Algeria and that the volume of rubbish was much greater, which is a pity. It was not like that in the past.
We drove through to Bizerte where we had booked a hotel room for the night. We then made a side trip to Cape Blanc, the most northerly point in Africa. We have been to the most southerly point, Cape Agullus, some time ago. When we were in the west we did not think of this, so will not be able to complete the east – west.
Ray driving; N 370 17’ 42.9’’ E 0090 52’ 18.7’’
Day 2 – 10/10/12
We got up early to try and get to the Libyan embassy in Tunis early. Unfortunately there were bridge works on the way out of Bizerte, with only one lane operating. So we were delayed ~ 20 min.
On the way into Tunis we got stuck in a major traffic situation. There is probably too much traffic for the road system; however the situation does not seem to be helped by the driving habits of the local folks. In order to maintain optionality, drivers try to occupy as many lanes as possible. To a large degree this is done by sitting in on a lane marker. To counter this, other people form additional lanes. So, if the “freeway” has 3 lanes they will try and make 5 lanes, squeezing in between other vehicles. Then, there are the lane changers, like flies trying to move in and out of any space, or perceived space in order to get one car further advanced. Then, Avril’s biggest hate; those who use an exit lane or such to get to the front of a line and then make their way into the traffic flow. The police assist the traffic confusion/congestion by ignoring the engineered traffic signals and deciding to direct against red lights etc. The police do not seem to have much of an impact, as drivers will turn against their hand signals and just wave as they break the law.
With some sense of irony or maybe just plain sarcasm, the GPS asked; “do you want to swap to pedestrian mode”.
We managed to get to the Libyan embassy. Unlike in previous times we have visited Tunis, there is a lot of army around the streets in Tunis. We asked the soldiers in front of the British Council if we could park there and they let us – which was very helpful.
Access to the Libyan embassy is via 3 steps to a barred window. In front of the steps there was a reasonably large crowd, and in African style, queuing is not a natural instinct. However, Avril soon had them sorted out. When we got to the window - it turned out that Ray’s visa was waiting, but not Avril’s. Bugger. So, after some liaison with the folks in Tripoli who organised the visas (US$400 per person plus 45 dinars each!!), we decided to get Ray’s and they would work on Avril’s overnight. More queuing to get to ask for Ray’s visa. Then it took some time to get the folks in the embassy to understand that we only wanted Ray’s visa. After completing the form in English and handing it in, we were told it had to be in Arabic! A helpful chap, also queuing, completed the form in Arabic for us. Then, we queued again to hand the form in. Finally + 4 hours later, much of it in the sun, Ray had his visa. In addition we had made some new friends and Avril had at least got some African people to understand that when western people are about, queuing should be practiced!!
We the managed to find our way to the Kasbah to meet up with Steve (our nephew) and his family. Virginie is undertaking research in Tunis for her PhD. We had a nice lunch and went to have a look at where they are staying. They have 2 children – Nina (5) and Eliot (7 months) who are both very cute and well-behaved ( their parents and grandparents will be reading this!!).
Then we found our way to Sidi Bou Said. Mike & Caroline Rees (head of the local BG operations) had kindly asked us to stay. They have a marvellous house with pool etc. We had a very pleasant evening chatting over a delicious dinner and a few beers. Thanks.
Avril driving; N 360 52’ 12.4’’ E 0100 20’ 74.7’’
Day 3 – 11/10/12
After a good sleep in and practising patience, we got word from the agency in Tripoli that Avril’s visa should be available at the Libyan Embassy. Apparently the Tripoli agency had sent us an incorrect reference/fax number. So, we quickly grabbed a taxi and arranged for Steve (nephew) to join us there and translate our visa application into Arabic. Unfortunately we got there a tad late. The folks at the window were very apologetic, but the visa section closed an hour earlier this day.
We went back to Steve’s place for a bit to eat and then a visit to a shopping centre with his family and also to buy Nina a belated birthday present. It is always wonderful to spend time with family.
Day 4 – 12/10/12
We got an early lift into the city with Mike (who is always early to work!) and then on to the embassy. We wanted to be 1st in line to avoid queuing and hence miss the time bell again - we managed to achieve that KPI. Again, the folks in the window were helpful. When it looked like the visa section could not find Avril’s fax, the chap from the window grabbed her passport and went upstairs to search for it himself. The fax was there and some comparatively short time later we had Avril’s visa.
We offered the window man some cash as a thankyou, but he rejected this.
We then spent the rest of the day catching up on chores, emails etc.
Day 5 – 13/10/12
A very lazy day. We caught up with Steve, Virginie, Nina & Eliot for the afternoon. In the evening we went to a very nice restaurant with Mike & Caroline and their “other” guests, Fiona and Ben. With the menu, wine list and fashions, you would not have thought we were in a Muslim country.
Day 6 – 14/10/12
Mike got up to make us breakfast and then we were on our way. He had kindly arranged for us to stay at the BG village near Sfax. We were lucky to catch up with Paul Bartlett, a work colleague of Ray’s from days past.
We drove into Sfax for a quick look see, actually to find the Carrefour supermarket. The fruit & veg were not the best! We then had dinner (and a few beers) with Paul and some of his workmates in the dining-room, while watching English soccer and rugby!
Avril driving; 449 km; 5 hrs; N 340 40’ 49.8’’ E 0100 38’ 52.2’’
Day 7– 15/10/12
We got up very early and made the border in ~ 5 hours; 315 km. The road post Sfax is tar, but has seen better days.
Ben Guerdane, the town nearest the border has a real wild west feel. Black- market fuel is openly on sale (from Libya where is costs $ 0.10/l), there were people on the road waving wads of money (we changed the last of our Tunisia Dinars and some UK £), the stalls along the road had a very temporary look about them etc.
The exit from Tunisia was completed without any real delay. Customs wanted to know about our declaration for camera, computer, but we were not required to fill one in on entry.
We were very fortunate to stay with Mike and Caroline, many thanks. It was also great to catch up with family.
We had travelled around Tunisia in the past, so really did not feel the need to revisit sights etc.
Chatting to folks seemed to reveal that the revolution is still a work in progress. We were disappointed to see the level of litter - this is a downward step for the country. Still, Tunisia remains a very low hassle country and super easy to travel around.