We were surprised that the knock on our door for shift change came at 6:45am, an hour later than we expected. It was already light out and the city of Hammamet was visible along the Tunisian coast. We had crossed a time zone so Sylvie & Jeremy decided to let us sleep the extra hour – how kind! Stephen soon came up on deck and helped me identify markers on land. The night crew had slowed our pace to allow us to enter at light, however this meant our lit markers were no longer flashing. Another lesson learned – it may be better to enter an unfamiliar harbour while markers are still lit & visible. I got my bearings and headed for the well-marked harbour entrance.
As skipper, I was at the helm. With a bit of guidance from Stephen and light winds, the boat motored quite smoothly up to the “Quay d’Accueil”, Welcome Quay. We secured the bow and stern then hopped onshore in Tunisia!
We would soon discover that clearing into Tunisia was a rather bureaucratic process which involved the harbour captain, police and customs. We went inside with our passports and started the paperwork. Thankfully John & I both speak french which helped immensely. After about 45 mins we were good to go but not before a baksheesh passed hands. I was surprised that the officials actually asked John & Stephen for a “gift”. The officer seemed a bit disappointed with the pack of Camel cigarettes that John handed him. We later learned how cheap they are in Tunisia so it wasn’t a great gift. After stopping at the fuel dock and filling up (using a spoon to open the gas cap), we then were escorted into our berth with me still at the helm. I was quite pleased with how smoothly the boat manoeuvered. We had arrived!
We were fortunate that Stephen had been to Hammamet about 3 years previous and had met a friendly couple, Duncan and Kim, local British ex-pats who lived aboard at the marina. They were the unofficial marina masters and gave us pointers on where to find the showers. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to have a warm fresh-water shower, put on clean clothes and have clean hair again. It’s the simple things in life, right?
Then John & I headed off for brunch with Stephen & Anna. The local area would be considered touristy with several large hotels and numerous restaurants but since Arab spring, has lost quite a bit of its “sparkle”. We wandered to a local restaurant and were pleasantly surprised at the full breakfast that we could order for about 3 euro – eggs, muffin, french bread, fig jam, honey & tea/coffee. The waiter was super friendly and even ran to the local bank to exchange our euro into Tunisian Dinar when the cashstop wouldn’t work for us.
We enjoyed our leisurely breakfast and then headed into the nearby “mall” where numerous vendors had staked out an area to display their wares. John & I did our best to not buy beautiful Persian rugs. The vendor was extremely persistent, gave us a free good-luck bracelet made from yarn, offered us very low prices, told us the rugs were made by local Berber women, and even offered John 3 camels for me! At one point he positioned his lady helper to hold a rug so that she blocked the doorway, our only exit, pretty clever. We resisted buying but it certainly was tempting.
When we re-joined Stephen & Anna, she had just bought a new handbag and shoes. Stephen explained that Tunisians believe if they make a sale with their first customer of the day, they will have good fortune all day…so that’s why we were being offered such irresistible prices for the carpets.
After a quick stop at the grocery store, we headed back to the boat. It was sweltering hot with the humidity so John wanted to relax but I was still keen to explore. Jeremy & I decided to head off to the nearby beach so I could swim in the waters of north Africa (coming from east coast of Canada there’s something really exotic about that notion).
Once we were in the water, we were both rather shocked at how dirty it was. The beach hadn’t seemed to be too bad where we entered the water but as we walked further along the beach to find a lounge chair (decent resort-style lounge chairs, free for use), the garbage became worse. We found a nice couple chairs with a thatch umbrella and relaxed. A while later as I was enjoying the sound of surf with my eyes closed, I heard Jeremy say, Christa, look”. When I opened my eyes I almost fell off my chair…a camel was walking by about 10 feet away! A man led his camel around the beach and gave rides. I went to chat with him and discovered it was only 20 Tunisian Dinar for a ride on Alibaba the camel – I had to do this! Neither Jeremy or I had any cash with us so we headed back to the boat.
When everyone heard what we were planning to do, they all wanted to come along for the show. Anna had never been on a camel either so she wanted to ride as well. After 3 tries, I finally got a cashstop to give me Dinars (actually had to use my visa). While I was fighting with cash machines, John met a man with a falcon that he let rest on his arm…which he then said would cost a small fee. The man was quite upset when John wasn’t willing to pay him for the stunt.
Back at the beach, we waited for our turn to ride Alibaba. He was really good natured and not very old. His owner kindly warned us to hang on tight as the camel started the process of unfolding his long legs to stand. Anna was behind me and absolutely loved every minute of it! She giggled the entire time which made it even all the more fun for me. The ride wasn’t terribly uncomfortable but I certainly wouldn’t want to cross the Sahara by camel.
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