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Homewoods in Tunisia 2010 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

The Homewoods in Tunisia 2010

Helen and David Homewood
March 2010

Just home from 2 months in Tunisia, we had a ball!

Here are a few pointers while we can remember them. We will post a more complete blog of our actual trip when we can get the camera to talk to our rather old computer.

Lots of amazing Roman and pre-Roman Punic remains - amphitheatres, whole ruined towns with very nice mosaics both in-situ and in museums (sites such as Dougga, Carthage, Thuburbo Magus, Bulla Regia, Sbeitla). Most towns have an old Medina with interesting souks.

Long Mediterranean coastline with excellent beaches of fine sand.

Interesting desert hill country with troglodytic dwellings in the S.East (Star Wars was filmed near Matmata), and the northern tip of the Sahara in the S.West with oases of palms, dromedaries etc.

Most people speak some French, though not that much, but enough for you both to get by. Much less German and Italian spoken and not much English. All road/town signs in French, but not all govt buildings etc.

No campsites. Only half a dozen towns have them, which has a plus, in that you can park more or less anywhere, rather like an HGV. There are parkings everywhere, mostly unsurfaced, so at first they look like a piece of rough ground.

Good places to park include ports, with the yachties; museum carparks; near the Gendarmerie or "sureté" as it is called; open ground on a headland or by a beach. If in doubt ask the gendarmerie, the port police, or the museum night-watchman. Some ports charge a few dinar (1 TD =0.5 Euro), you might need to tip someone a dinar, but often not.

If you need a campsite, hotels are happy for you to use their carpark and their facilities, for around 20 TD.

Campsites, where they exist (Tozeur, Douz, Kebili, Gafsa, Nabeul, nr Bizerte) may well not display a sign, and "camping" which means campsite as in French, also means a park/recreation ground - if they don't exist, no-one knows what you mean, even taxi drivers.

Jane and George Swindail give a list of campsites from 2006 on Magbaz website.

The French campingcar.enliberte.free.fr has a list of BTS (a pun on a sort of GCSE, meaning Beaute, Tranquillite, Securite) where they have parked up successfully.

It feels very safe. The idea of parking up just anywhere in much of Europe would be unthinkable, but you quickly get used to it in Tunisia and in 2 months we wild-camped all but 5 nights. Very few campervans, we met perhaps a dozen - unlike Morocco where there are thousands of French vans. Some groups of Italian motorhomes. Plenty of European tourists in hotels in holiday resorts along the coast.

Pedestrians all walk in the road all the time and pavements are mostly blocked at some point. People cross the road without looking, (it is normal to use your horn, just a warning "bip") so speed limits in towns are 30 kph (20 mph). Enforced by speed bumps! Really massive ones, as you approach most villages or towns, originally painted in yellow stripes, and with signs, but inevitably not always . . . Stick to speed limit or below, and both be on the look-out whenever you near a settlement. (We seriously bent our bike-rack, and shook all the screws out of the wardrobe frame before we learned the rules!) Also some nasty potholes.

But the standard of driving is generally good as nobody rushes and they all make allowance for pedestrians and donkeys, flocks of sheep and goats.

Motorways are v.cheap if not plentiful, and have a loo and water tap just after the "péage", so you can empty cassette / fill water tank.

Otherwise half-fill with fuel at garages, include a tip, and ask to fill with water. They may have a loo, too. Ports also have facilities, as do museums.

Some towns have dry-cleaners/laundries ("pressings" as in France), which do laundry by the kilo, or the machine-load . . . or park up on a headland and rig up a line.

Some taxis run on LPG, and with an adapter you can get your propane cooking cylinders filled - our problem was to find a garage with both LPG and an adapter. Best to have your own. Anyone know where we can get one, they aren't legal in France? List of some garages with LPG on Swindails blog (Magbaz website, see above).

A German we met was cleaning his fridge burners weekly, having exchanged his German cylinder for a Tunisian one, but he had no trouble with one filled with LPG from garages, and neither did we.

Very cheap destination. Small all-purpose shops everywhere. Wonderful fresh fruit and veg, organically grown. Flat Arab bread or French sticks. Butchers shops and separate shops for poultry. Best bargains were chickens roasted on a spit, in a supermarket, or in front of a poulterer's or a café (TD 5 to 10). We bought a small pressure cooker as "lambs" have walked miles with the flocks and are not too tender! Fuel around 1 TD (0.50 Euros) per litre. Internet cafés everywhere 1 to 2 TD / hr.

Go to a supermarket early on (Monoprix, Champion, or Magasin General - at least one in all sizeable towns, except Douz) and make a note of prices. Imported foods such as cheese are dearer. Milk is very good quality. Yoghourt in little pots, but also a yoghourt called Raieb, which is very nice. No need to bargain in shops, only in souks. It helps to ask prices (e.g. for fruit) before starting to buy.

Alcohol in some bars/restaurants (particularly tourist areas), or in 1 large supermarket per town, often in a locked room, so ask if you don't see it, and not for sale on Fridays. Prices as France, but wine is dearer. There are "caves co-operatives" in some places, including one called Domaine Atlas at Bou Argoub, just off the M-way S. of Tunis. Wine there around 5 to 6TD per bottle.

We didn't eat out much, but that is just us. A French couple we met had eaten out consistently for 6 weeks, and had no problems at all. We washed all veg and fruit well.

Lots of police everywhere, stopping vehicles and asking for their papers, but you are an honoured and much-prized visitor, they even salute you, and wave you on, so wave back.

Customs formalities are a bit long-winded, but they have a lot of over-loaded Tunisians returning from Italy to deal with, and are unlikely to search you for excess alcohol - might be an idea to stow it in unobvious places. They asked if we had a camera, we said Yes, but not a particularly good one. They made a note of our GPS (pretty useless there) presumably so we wouldn't sell it before leaving.

Children wave and smile at you, and might ask for a pen or a dinar, but not always, nothing like Morocco. You are not hassled by hawkers and beggars, mostly people take no notice.

Quite a lot of litter in some places, but less than Morocco or Greece, we thought.

Dress is mostly Western amongst young people. Older generation often wear long garments (women); dressing gown-type garment (burnous) over trousers etc. (men). In many villages the women have their own local style of dress.

Women would attract attention in short sleeves, low necks, shorts, anything tight-fitting, except in areas with lots of tourist hotels, such as Sousse, Hammamet, parts of Djerba.

We crossed from Genoa, as GNV are much cheaper than SNCM/ CTN who run the crossing from Marseilles. Cheaper still would be Civitavecchia etc. or Palermo. 450 Euro each way from Genoa inc. cabin, 135 Euro each way via Palermo inc. cabin.

For some reason it was cheaper buying a ticket in Tunisia in dinars for the return trip, by around 20 Euro, haven't worked that one out yet.

You cross into La Goulette, the port of Tunis, quite a nice little suburb and only 5 minutes from Carthage, which is a comfortable place to park up, and one of our favourites - a mix of smart white villas amongst trees and architectural sites.

As you see from the above, very like Morocco in many ways, but more prosperous, and actually we much preferred Tunisia.

The fact that there are so few campervans and campsites means you are on your own when it comes to breakdowns/repairs etc.

As everywhere, backstreet garages were wonderfully helpful, but David had to be inventive mending a bike rack, a leaking shower tray, a collapsed bed. A small group of friends might like to travel together . . . But we were fine, in fact.

Helen and David Homewood