Freestyling in Tunisia

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August 10th 2006
Published: August 11th 2006
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Sahara DesertSahara DesertSahara Desert

Early in the morning returning to Zafranne.
When I had first planned to come to Tunisia I thought that it would be a short ferry ride from Italy and a refreshing break from Europe. It was a very refreshing break from Europe but the ferry ride proved much more difficult to organise than I had previously thought. We wanted to take a ferry from Salerno but soon found out that the only ferry was full. It went via Palermo in Sicily though and there were free seats from there to Tunis. We tried to buy tickets but it was "impossible" we were told. We quickly went to the train station and took a train to Palermo. As we had a few hours headstart on the ferry so we arrived early and ended up sleeping in the train station. The next morning we went to the port and found that the ferry was actually full and there was a waiting list... We put our names down on the list and hunkered down for the long wait. After 2 hours of waiting they started to sell tickets. This continued on for another 2 hours and then finally we were at the front. It was then however that they ran out of tickets... We couldnt believe it! They had 1 ticket but couldnt get us all on the ferry. As Dan had a flight out of Tunis in a few days we thought he should take the ticket so he got on and JC and I travelled on to Trapani (A town on the West coast of Sicily, about as close to Tunisia as you can get by land). We were told that there was a ferry there the next morning. We slept in the train station again and then went down to the port nice and early the next morning. It turned out that we had been given incorrect information and there wasnt actually a ferry that day... We were assured there was a ferry the next day and that we woudlnt have any trouble getting tickets. By now we were annoyed, exhausted and most likely very smelly aswell after 2 nights in train stations so we decided to splurge and got a room in a 1 star hotel. It was beautiful to have a shower and then collapse into bed for my first real sleep in 3 days.

The next morning we got to the port really early
Tunis MedinaTunis MedinaTunis Medina

These really beautifully decorated doors are very common in the Medinas around Tunisia. I developed a bit of a fetish for them and was constantly stopping to take photos, much to the annoyance of Dan and Justin.
to find a long line at the ticket window. There was one other Italian guy but the rest of the people there were Tunisian men. Tunisians put a whole new spin on the concept of "lining up". As people joined the back of the line they would pass their passports to the men at the front and they would buy them a ticket. We did our best to discourage this practice but it is very hard to assert any real authority surrounded by so many people. An hour later surrounded by all new people and not much further forward in the line we dicided that we had had enough. We pushed our way to the front and shoved our passports under the counter. Surprisingly this didnt seem to annoy anyone and about 20 minutes later we had our tickets... We then had a big hug and did a little dance outside the ticket office to the amusement of everyone there but Im sure if they knew what wed been through they wouldnt have looked so confused. :P

Arriving in Tunis we took a taxi to the centre of the city and met up with Dan straight away which was
Tunis MedinaTunis MedinaTunis Medina

Entering into a house in the Medina for a bit of an insight into how life used to be in the past.
really lucky as we were over 3 hours late... Even though it had only been 2 days it felt like ages since we had seen him so we all had a good time catching up on the last few days.

The next day we took a bus to Sousse, two hours south of Tunis. It is a very touristy town on the coast but had a beautiful white beach so we really wanted to go. We had a great time there playing classic catches and mucking around with some Tunisian kids who wanted to be thrown around in the ocean. The next day we moved on through El Jem to Sfax. We spent a few hours exploring the amphitheatre in El Jem. It is better preserved than the Colosseum in Rome and we all agreed that it was much nicer to visit. We also had it pretty much to ourselves so that was really special. In Sfax we spent quite a while relaxing and smoking shisha with some locals. Two guys spoke very good English and we chatted for a long time about Tunisia. It was interesting to hear their thoughts and feelings about the country, most of which
El Jem ColosseumEl Jem ColosseumEl Jem Colosseum

You should be able to see Justin and Dan standing where the seats are.
were very negative. The next morning we explored the medina (which is meant to be the most authentic medina in the country) and then Dan had to leave to go back to Tunis where he had a flight the next day to London. This was quite a sad goodbye as we had all had such a good time together in the last 2 weeks!

After seeing Dan off at the train station JC and I took a taxi (van) to Kebili. On the way we came across an accident that looked like it had only happened a few minutes before. There was an identical taxi to ours lying on its side in the middle of the road with its roof smashed in. There were lots of people all around and some of them were bleeding quite badly. An ambulance arrived soon after though so I hope everyone was ok. This didnt seen to have any effect on our driver though and he continued on at 140 kmhr recklessly overtaking on blind corners and hills... Thus we were very happy to change taxis in Kebili. We met a guy on this taxi called Sadek and after talking to him for
El Jem ColosseumEl Jem ColosseumEl Jem Colosseum

It was amazing to have it pretty much to ourselves! You would never get that in Rome.
a while he invited us back to his village, Jemnah, for the night. His cousin was getting married and they were in the middle of the week long marriage ceremony. We thought that this sounded like a great experience so we gladly accepted his offer.

Jemnah is a small village between Kebili and Douz and after arriving in the afternoon Sadek showed us around introducing us anyone and everyone it seemed! In the evening we went back to his house and had a delicious meal of couscous and potatoes. Then after showering and putting on a new shirt he doused us both in perfume (I think we still must have smelt quite bad... :P) and we were ready to go to the marriage ceremony. We walked to his Uncles house and took a seat to one side trying not to intrude as much as we could. All of the women were sitting on the floor on mats in one place and the men were spread around the yard sitting and standing. There was a band with drums and the Tunisian equivalent of bagpipes and they started to play soon after we arrived. A few minutes after they started playing

Somking shisha with some guys we met in Sfax.
a few men slowly made their way out into the centre of the yard and started a slow dance, spinning around with their arms outstretched. It was kind of similar to Dervish Whirlers but definitely had its own Tunisian flavour. We watched this for quite a while getting a bit of a feel for the way they were dancing and then Sadek came and got us both to join in. At first we felt very foolish as there were easily over 300 people all standing around watching but after a while we just enjoyed the dancing. It was the second night of the wedding ceremony so only men were supposed to dance but at around 2am most of the men left and the women joined in. We ended up staying there dancing and drinking tea with the men until 4am and then thought that we should call it a night. We took mattresses up onto Sadeks roof and slept there as it was much cooler. It was a truly amazing experience and we were so happy that we agreed to go back to Jemnah with Sadek!

The next day we hung around until midday but then thought that we

In the butchers section of the medina.
should make tracks so after thanking Sadek and promising to send the photos we had taken we caught a taxi on to Douz. In Douz we cashed out and went from the totally authentic experience of the wedding in Jemna to signing up for a touristy Camel Trek into the Sahara. This turned out to be much less exciting than we had both thought it would be so Ill just brush over it. We were taken to a hotel in a town called Zafranne and at 7pm we joined a group of about 10 people and rode a camel each out into the desert. We watched the sun set over the sand dunes, which was very nice, and then continued on to the place we were going to be sleeping for the night. As we got closer we could hear the drone of a generator and then we saw electric lights and cars so yeah not exactly the authentic desert experience we were looking for. The reason I had such high expectations was because I had read Michaels blog on Camel Treking in India, so if you want to read a really interesting and incredibly funny story check it out.
Sadek, Brahim and meSadek, Brahim and meSadek, Brahim and me

On the roof just before we all went to sleep.
Tuning into Triple J in Rajasthan

The next morning JC and I took a taxi to Matmata and spent the night in a troglodyte hotel called the Sidi Driss. A troglodyte is a house that is built entirely under the ground. The groud acts as an insulator and keeps the house cool even on the hottest of days. This particular hotel served as the set for the Lars Homestead in Star Wars. There were only 3 other people in the hotel that night so we had it pretty much to ourselves which was cool. We explored around and took lots of photos sitting where Luke has dinner and where Anakin and Padme sit in the new films. It was all quite tacky but we really enjoyed it :P and had a great time. In the morning bus load after bus load of tourists began to arrive so we couldnt get out of there fast enough.

Gabes was our final stop, after 2 months of on and off travel together, so that was a bit sad. We visited the Souk (market) and bought a few gifts for people and also tried the local Hammam. The Hammam is where the local people go about once

A Japanese guy we met called Takash. Really cool guy and we actually bumped into him again in Matmata a few days later.
a week to have a really good clean and massage. Firstly you sit in a sauna for about 15 minutes and then you lie down on the marble in the baths. A really brawny guy comes in and gives you the massage. Now I thought that a Thai massage was pretty brutal but this took pain to a whole new level. My limbs were bent and pulled in unnatural ways and my back cracked in protest every time I was jolted. My back is actually still sore from when he walked up and down my spine cracking each vertebrae! But dont let that turn you off, it was a great experience and I felt cleaner than I ever have before. :P

Sadly the next day I caught a ferry back to Italy and that ended Justin and my travels together. Looking back we have had some really great times over the last 2 months from the World Cup in Germany, to the Bull Running in Spain and bungy jumping in Switzerland. I look forward to our next trip together, hopefully not in the too distant future!

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


JC and EsquilaxJC and Esquilax
JC and Esquilax

My camel was called Mojo but he didnt do a very cool happy dance...
Desert RosesDesert Roses
Desert Roses

Really cool sand formations.

You can see all of the Troglodytes spread out throughout the town.
Sidi DrissSidi Driss
Sidi Driss

Where Luke has dinner and Anakin sits when he returns to find his mother.
Lars HomesteadLars Homestead
Lars Homestead

For all those Star Wars fans out there!
Dinner in the Sidi DrissDinner in the Sidi Driss
Dinner in the Sidi Driss

This is the courtyard used in the film.

11th August 2006

golly gosh
u were at tatooine!! lucky boy (with a door fetish)
11th August 2006

Better than a Friday night at home
Hey Joel, your travel tales enlivened my very dull Friday night at home, I think I am as sorry you have finished your jouneys with Justin as you are!
11th August 2006

Fast Work!
Wow! You got your blog up so quickly Joel! Fantastic adventures. I loved the photo of the camel shadows and the sand roses reminded me of the ones we got from the Namib Desert on our travels there. What a privilege to have an insider's view of the Tunisian wedding celebrations!
11th August 2006

oooh yeah
Yeah, that Justin sure is a totally awesome guy. Probably one of the best guys in the WORLD! So undeniably cool and also so ridiculosly attractive...
12th August 2006

Fantastic blog
Joel, your blogs just get better and better mate! Loved the photos (great doors! =P), hearing more about the ferry ordeal, and the story about the wedding feast in Jemnah... That sounded amazing, what an experience (more than makes up for the dodgy camel trip hey?). Looking forward to your next blog, as always. =) And if travelling in Europe gets too expensive for you, you could always join me for some adventures round South East Asia instead?! =D
15th August 2006

Hey Joel. It was cool to read about the wedding you went to, lots of bridesmaids no doubt, eh? Too bad about the camel ride but at least you got to see the south of Tunisia and the Sahara. Have fun in Eastern Europe and keep the blogs coming. Dan
23rd August 2006

Sidi Driss
Hiya we are heading to Tunisia in a couple of weeks and wonder how much it costs to stay in Sidi Driss, your photo's look great! Is it a backpackers or a Hotel ie price per night/showers etc?? Any advice would be great!! Cheers Kel
23rd August 2006

Re: Sidi Driss
Hey Kel Great to hear that youre going to Tunisia, youll love it! The Sidi Driss cost 16 Dinar per night with breakfast included. (Dinner is an extra 5 Dinah and is a great couscous and meat meal with omelettes and watermelon) I was with one friend in a 6 person room and I think there were only about 5 other people spread out throughout the whole hotel, most of them backpackers. It seems that package tours dont include sleeping at the hotel but at about 9am the bus loads of tourists start arriving and continue throughout the day. I became part of the set, and their photos, as they watched me eating my breakfast in one of the smaller rooms above the courtyard... :P Hope that helps! If you have any more questions just email me on
27th August 2006

Thanks Joel, we have travelled through both Morocco and Egypt - in both places found it easy to just hire a car with driver to take us around to where wherever, do you know if this is easy and if it is cheap to do in Tunisia? We like having the flexability of not planning but don't have the time to do the buses/trains etc (on 4 week break from Aust). So any other info about getting around would be great!
27th August 2006

Re: transport
Hey Kel most of the time we got around on louages these are combi vans that do most routes. if i remember the colours right its yellow stripe-regional, blue stripe-between bigger towns and red stripe-the long hauls between major cities. you sometimes have a wait a while until the louage is full but i think we waited max 30 minutes. Apart from buses which seem pretty infrequent this is about the only way to get around. and its pretty cheap too! :P
28th August 2006

Camels forever!!
Top blog! Loved the stories and photos. You didn't mention camels as a means of transport for those enquiring!!! Perhaps you should promote these too!!!
28th August 2006

Re: Camels forever!!
From my little experience I would rather walk through the Sahara Desert than ride a camel! :P
30th August 2006

camels 'been there done that'
yes, we had considered the camels but we did that in Morocco......once is enough!! (I am sure you will agree!)

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