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Africa » Tunisia » Monastir
October 20th 2012
Published: November 6th 2012
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After a few days in Tunis it is now time to move on, Mo and I sat in a coffee shop along the Ave. Bourquiba waiting for my next Couchsurfing host to show up, Ussema. Eventually he turned up and we took a louage(shared taxi) to Monastir where he lives while finishing up his training in Dentistry. 2 hours later we arrived in Monastir and I met Wael, Ussema's roommate, these guys are very easy to get along with, and speaks very good English, and very very funny. We went for a swim in the early eve, as the beach is just minutes away, the water was cold so actually it was only Ussema who swam. After a nice dinner, their friend Nizrin picked us up and we hung out at a local watering hole near the waterfront, some good conversations. Nizrin is not your typical Tunisian, a very strong woman, she rebels from the limitations imposed on her by her religion and culture, Tunisia like most Arabic countires is a male dominated society and hearing a fresh insight on the other side of the spectrum(that of a woman) is a welcome respite. I was told I will meet more of their friends and classmates over a dinner in a few days and I look forward to hearing how the young professionals here struggle to make a decent life for themselves after the revolution.

Slept well and next morning I was in the University clinic with Ussema, he introduced me to all his peers, if only language barrier does not exist it would have been a very fun conversation. About an hour later Wael calls, he is picking me up, he has no classes in Medical school, they are on strike! So off we go to the medina and souq and local fish market of Monastir, as we walk down the medina we saw the striking doctors and Wael summoned me to join in and we followed them all the way to the train station!They were yelling out protest slogans, I was there for the ride!Then after we separated from the group,we had this very delicious fruit drink whose name I cannot remember, chunks of fresh fruits, like a smoothie. I am liking Wael we have the same interests: food! After a long walk to the harbor front we took a cab to this fabulous restaurant where we ate excellent seafood, octopus, small fried fish, and of course grilled fresh fish. we were both stuffed when it was over. Then the rest of the afternoon was spent tagging along with Wael, going to his school checking if his peers are still on strike, they are demanding higher pay from the government I think...

In the evening after dinner we went to a local coffee shop where football is on and in the smoke filled room full of men, people order their sheeshas and strong coffee, I usually am lucky if they have mint tea, though it says Salon de The. The next morning I went with Wael to his university, the strike is dwindling down and he has a class in the morning but for some reason he decided he wants to skip class and he instead went to Sousse with me! we took the train which was delayed. We got on the wrong train, heading for Mahdia, we waited for the Sousse train , it's an old ramshackle train and smelled of pee inside the cabin but served it's purpose, it got us to Sousse. we checked out the medina which was bigger and nicer than the one in Monastir and is busy, a handful of tourists appear here and there as we explore the maze of streets within the medina, the souq was full of souvenir things, and I bought some ceramic tiles and cheap knick knacks. We had lunch at a cheap eatery that served a soup called leblebi, you break a bread into small pieces put it in the bowl then you hand it to the cook and he puts a ladleful of thick soup, it was actually delicious, I ordered a good serving of chicken couscous to complement it. A walk in the waterfront after helped in the digestion. We met up with Wael's good friend, turns out I actually had communicated with him on Couchsurfing months before, he picked us up and we headed to the port area of El Kantaoui for a stroll in the harbor, Sousse is a big city and lots of intastructure for tourists but its not my kind of place, hordes of package tourists abound.

Upon returning to Monastir we got ready for the evening dinner in downtown. Ussema assembled a dinner get together with his Dentristry classmates and me and Wael tagged along, everyone is super nice and tried to practice their English with me, they want to know why I travel, how is Tunisia so far, etc. I have to shake hands and kiss cheek to cheek with everyone! woman and man, well that is the custom here so I play along. After dinner Waled, one of Ussema's friends started playing music on the piano/synthesizer, soon everyone is singing and dancing Arabic music, they tried to teach me belly dancing moves but my body says no, I envy the guys who sways and dances efforlessly. The evening eventually finishes off as the restaurant closes at midnight and we headed to a bar for more drinks and merriment. I noticed that in bigger cities a number of young people drink alcohol and you can find bars and dicso houses, and Monastir is no exception.

Next up is a visit to El Djem and Kairouan. El Djem is the location for the 3rd largest colloseum in the Roam world and it did not dissapoint, from Monastir I have to take the louage to Sousse and then hop on to one that goes there. Arriving in El Djem I was a bit disoriented, I can see the colosseum from the parking garage but havent a clue how to get there, I asked the driver but he just motioned, go there.. So I walked down to the center of the city the colosseum always on my left and suddenl it was in front of me, past numerous tea houses, it was enormous and had a great time taking photos. The 3 other gringos with me on the louage were already there, how the heck? I was ahead of them, only later I realized there was a short cut, on the way to the Archaeological museum, since they spoke French they were able to get directions from the locals.

Now back in Sousse I then transferred to another louage this time to Kairouan, where you will find the Great Mosque of Kairouan (Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba) it is considered as one of the most important monuments of Islamic civilization as well as a worldwide architectural masterpiece, founded by Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi in 670 CE, the present aspect of the mosque dates from the 9th century. The Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba has a great historical importance as the ancestor of all the mosques in the western Islamic world. Arriving in Kairouan's louage station I tried to find the bus station which LP says is next to it, I asked around they keep pointing me outside, eventually I found it after a merry go round search, it is actually 2 streets away tucked in a nook, grr.. the Lying Planet strikes again. The reason i was looking for it is I am trying to see the best way I could get to Tozeur the fastest, at the bus station, the helpful security guard helped me sort out the bus schedules, there is only one/day! and it leaves at 5pmish.. from Sousse it was 3:30pm, now at least I have options.

Took a taxi to the medina, I only have half hour to have a quick look at the great mosque before it closes, so I rushed, meanwhile this guy keeps following me explaining things to me, he took upon himself to be my guide, I tried to ignore him, a polite no thank you I can show myself around didn't help, I know his tricks, so when he says go this way, I go the other way and deliberately move at a snail's pace. He got tired of it and left me be but was again outside the mosque gate waiting for me, he urged me to follow him to the center of the medina, you are going the wrong way he yelled at me, until he left me alone. I of course got lost trying to get to the the heart of the medina, I asked a nice man selling some snadwiches and he told me to get out of the wall and count the entrances, the 5th one he says is it, and true it was. The main drag is where all the shops were, I had lunch first then went on a shopping spree for the famous Kairouan rugs/carpets, a small one costs 50 dinars of hard bargaining, I bought 2 and the guy asks for 5 dinar tip for coffee, tired and exhausted I just gave the money and left not knowing if I got a good deal at all. I decided I had had it, its hot and am tired so I did not see the other attractions,such as the Aghlabid basins. Took a cab back to the loauge and headed back to Monastir via Sousse. My last night with the boys Wael made a really delicious meatball pasta with harissa, incredible taste, that's why we get along very well!

In the morning I took a louage for Sousse, headed to Tozeur via the town of Gafsa, sad goodbyes to my buddies Wael and Ussema they had been an excellent host. I will miss the good home made food and the pomegranate tree in the yard, the fruit was delicious!


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Monastir

yummy lunch of kefta at Restaurant La Plage
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Monastir

Bourquiba tomb
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Monastir

my host, Ussema
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Monastir

train station


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