Making full use of another rest day, we thought we’d try a bit of hotel blagging and headed for the Zone Touristique (tourist area!), where all the posh hotel complexes were. A world away from the hostel, this is more like it! A bit of blagging later, using media and documentary stories, we had got ourselves an all inclusive 4* one for £50 a night – right on budget. Bring on the buffets! I think that thought rocked Jon’s stomach too much, and we had our first illness of the challenge.
Actually tracking back, we think it was a dodgy draught pint from the afternoon before. I headed off to a live music bar with the two ozzies, which was good (although there were only about 10 locals there, and probably much better in the summer), and we spent the evening catching up on all our travelling stories – a nice break with different company, and away from Jon’s constant circular flow!
No days are easy on this challenge, so we shouldn’t have had this thought as we battered headwinds through a bleak desert landscape. There was nothing for miles around apart from regular shacks offering water and petrol (we think) from some horrible looking drums and plastic bottles. It took ages to reach the ferry, and as the landscape was the same, I just kept counting down the miles on the GPS – a sure thing to make it go slower!
We jumped on the short 10 minute ferry to Djerba island, and even avoided paying, saving a grand total of 20 pence! As we disembarked, the holiday atmosphere hit us, but still a tough 15 miles left to go. The hostel was really difficult to find, luckily someone guided us to the heart of the medina (town/ market centre), where it was located.
The manager, who Jon described as a Sith Lord from the Dark Side (Star Wars) which is ironic as it was filmed in Tunisia, didn’t know what had hit him when we had to use all the plugs in reception to charge the laptop, iphone, video camera and digital camera. Leads everywhere!
The hostel was basic to say the least and more rubbish cold showers, but our room was a cool little cave, although the walls crumbled the second they were touched. We were having quite a peaceful evening chatting to a couple of older Ozzie travellers, until a Tunisian school party turned up. Bedlam followed, with someone having a full body wash in a sink, in another someone’s feet, and they trashed the toilets.
After an unscheduled rest day, we could finally jump back on the bikes and off to Gabes - a mere 86 miler! We hit 32 miles in 2 hours (our best pace yet – not quite Cracknell and Fogel, but getting there!) We were really warming to Tunisia as we cycled through bustling market towns , the air smelling of spice and roadside BBQs. I don’t think Flossy was too happy that her friend Dolly has just been gutted and strung up above her. And to really rub her nose in it, one of Molly’s legs was already on a skewer and cooking on an oil drum BBQ next to where she was grazing on dirt!
The kids were on fire today (not literally, that was Molly!), running out waving and cheering as we cycled past, which gave us lots of well needed energy boosts along the way.
We rolled into Gabes and I turned my nose up at the first budget hotel Jon pointed out. I shouldn’t have as I spotted the Atlantic Hotel, a freshly painted blue and white building in the centre. The first impression was good, and after seeing the rate of 30 dinars with breakfast (about £15), it was a done deal. However, I think a previous guest had mistakenly used our bath as a toilet and our room was above a night time jet wash garage. (I’ll take Jon’s suggestion next time)
We got up early and headed straight for the Libyan embassy – it was weird being in a car for the first time in 6 weeks, and terrifying driving at the same time! We heard that the embassy could do a 1 hour express visa, but unfortunately we also needed an invitation number which we didn’t have. So we tried calling all the Libyan tour operators we could, but were struggling to get through and our tempers were getting frayed.
Back at the hotel, we hit the email and got an instant reply from Sami at Ocean Tours. It looked like we were making progress, and after speaking to him on the phone, we had a confirmed police escort and tour company representation through Libya. Now we just had to wait for the invitations and visas to be processed, which Sami said could take upto a week, but we were hoping for 5 days. A celebration Chisha was in order (Jon’s wish since we had arrived in Tunisia)
We left Monastir at 7.30am in thick misty fog – this isn’t right, we were boasting how hot it was yesterday, but it soon warmed up. We were getting used to vehicles carrying absolutely everything! One small pick up had 12 sofas piled up, another had 4 donkeys and we were both almost slapped off the road by a 6ft sheet of plywood this bloke was holding on his moped! Well he was clearly going to fast as a wobble or two seconds later saw the plywood snap in two, spinning off and hitting a brand new taxi (not many around in Tunisia). The driver was a little upset!!
Showing off and without a town centre map we tried to navigate into Sfax just on the sat nav, and when we thought we were at the hostel, we were actually 2 miles away. After 80 miles of cycling we were nackered and so settled on this hotel with free wifi (and Jon actually managed to negotiate a discount!)
When Jon finally got off the phone to big Dave , I knew it wasn’t good news. Unfortunately no progress had been made with either our visas or sponsorship for Libya. It was only 4 days away until we planned to reach the border, and we were now on our own.
We were kicking ourselves this morning after realising that we had left Jon’s sunglasses in the Internet cafe last night, and unfortunately as it was closed, had to head off without them. We had a 77 mile cycle today to Monastir, and now getting used to the 28 degree heat, our strawberry and cream tans were coming on a treat! Fully prepared for terrible roads, we were pleasantly surprised as they were 10 times better than the rubbish in Italy.
We arrive in a beautiful marina where we had booked the apartment for £25 at 3pm, so making use of the warm Mediterranean sun, we recorded a video for the TCC fundraising party at Host on Jon’s iphone. We then rinsed a restaurant’s wi-fi to send the video to Holly (60mb file) – gotta love technology! The best bit was being able to cook our own food in an oven instead of out of a trangier on a hotel roof or damp campsite.
The morning started with someone wanting to buy Jon’s bicycle for 10 dinar (about £5), and then someone wanted to give me his address so I could buy him a bicycle! Africa was seeming strange, but we were relishing our new environment.
We then set about trying to navigate out of Tunis towards Nabeul! Interesting to say the least and we were nearly squashed by 3 trams (admittedly we shouldn’t have been cycling on the tracks). Luckily we eventually found the right road and the 40 miles soon passed. We arrived in good time at the hostel, with a supermarket, pizzeria and internet cafe all in close proximity. Jon got talking to a friendly Tunisian, Sammy, who was working at the hostel in exchange for free accommodation – a cracking £4 each a night.
Sammy seemed pretty keen on catching up with us, so we agreed that we’d meet up back at the hostel after dinner. As he didn’t speak any English, Jon suggested that while he had a cold shower (they were freezing!), I should show Sammy some of the pictures so far. It was hard work, but Sammy seemed to be understanding all the places we’d been to so far. However when Jon joined us he quickly suggested that he did Thai massage and would we like one. We politely declined and tried to carry on showing the photos. But when I showed him a picture of me having a piss over the side of a cliff in Italy, he said something in French followed by the words; “sexy time”. Initially, we didn’t understand, but when he kept saying it, we realised he wanted a bit! We were out of there quick smart and if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had to put up with Abul the dive bombing mosquito who continued his cycling adventure with us.
Starting to come to terms with the fact that we have now cycled to Africa! (bar a couple of ferry crossings). Tunis is a hustling and bustling city, even on a Sunday. As we left the hotel to find the cheaper hostel alternative, we found ourselves in the thick of the market streets. Luckily another touring cyclist spotted us arguing like a couple of schoolgirls at the side of the road, and helped us navigate to the hostel. It was an amazing little ‘den’ of a hostel, and Jon and I had our own room off the central courtyard for a bargain rate of £10. All kinds of people were there including an annoying Canadian Santa Claus on his holidays (he said he was a seasoned traveller, so it made sense!) A little Chinese man who had been there a few weeks, and some Algerian boxer and his over friendly mate, who loved stroking Jon and my faces for the group photos!
After 1,970 miles, the day has arrived to leave Europe behind and head for the next leg of our challenge, Africa. Now there are markets, and there are markets, but I have never seen a ferry embarking like this before. One car had two dining tables & 12 chairs on its roof, another had a moped and larder fridge/freezer! The foot passengers weren’t much better either, each person trying to carry 4 large suitcases each. And that doesn’t include a blender, 36 piece tea set and a 40” colour TV (old style!). So much junk, it was unbelievable. On our sparkling Ridgebacks we fitted in perfectly. Stick out and sore thumbs are words which quickly spring to mind!
When we arrived in Tunis (late, about 10pm), all the luggage we saw going onto the ferry had to then go through the Xray machines. As you can imagine this took a while, although we were kept amused when a bloke was required to push his moped through the bigger xray machine – that was funny!
Now with a year of planning you would have thought we’d have a plan next – well we didn’t! We had no currency, no map, no hotel booked, and no idea where we were going. So we jumped on our bikes (it was 11.30pm by now), and headed for Tunis city centre. Not what we should be doing, and certainly not something I fancy on doing again. We had broken our first rule not to cycle blind in Africa, although not helped by the hostel which was fully booked. It was a 20km ride, and every second we had our fingers crossed for a hotel. Luckily we found one as soon as we hit the centre, and there seemed to be about 10 people working there who all wanted to help. There was also a party going on, but we didn’t want to cycle blind anymore. Despite a deaf DJ in the club below the hotel, we were so tired that we crashed out with the walls shaking and the beds vibrating!
We ate so much breakfast today, we added it up according to the hotels over inflated prices and worked out that we ate around €65 worth of food!
We then cycled 10 miles to a bike mechanic for a last check over on our bikes before Africa. We killed some time by trying to balance out the horrendous tan lines on our arms down on the beach – I actually look like a dodgy Neapolitan ice cream. Had a right touch though as the bikes were serviced and tweaked for only €40 total, which was brilliant. (wish we had put that saving into the wifi in the hotel!)
Spent the afternoon mincing about trying to find free wifi, but no success – at least I got my Smarties Mcflurry. A couple of supermarket Peronis helped too, and finished the day finding out that our waiter had lived in Bishops Stortford for 5 years – how weird is that!