My fellow AirBNB’er is still waiting for his UN visa to work on the ground in Libya. In the meantime he’s working remotely from the Tunisian office and needed a place to stay short term while he worked out a longer term plan. Fascinating guy, a shutterbug par excellence, and yet another reminder that while the world sometimes seems bleak, there are good people actively making the world a better place.
Here’s a fascinating tidbit he told me about Tunisian Taxis just as I was headed to the airport: cabs have a little light on them that can turn green or red. A RED light means the cab is free and a GREEN light means they are occupied and NOT available. This was something so counterintuitive to me that I thought about scribbling it on my hand to remind me as I flagged one down. Chris’s theory was that green was good for the driver and red was bad. A worldly traveler to places both exotic and mundane, Chris said this was the only country he had found that reversal. I had only ever heard of an effort in China during the cultural revolution to make a red light mean go as the party color should symbolize progress and momentum. After a short lived effort, and a dramatic rise in traffic accidents at intersections, the party decided to go green again.
To kill some time and see some sights I only saw in passing, I wandered back to Sidi Bou Said. This is the famed blue door district, replete with artisan souks and souvenir tourist shops. It was a dreary day and stil early so not much activity… but sometimes that’s what I like when strolling aimlessly. I’m not a big fan of crowds and pushing and shoving.
I walked here yesterday after the marathon for a food coma inducing linner. I hadn’t planned on making it linner but they just kept bringing plates and, well, welcome to Tunisia.
This is a beef and lamb mixed plate of Kamounia Agnieau. It didn’t look like the picture but that’s because I realized as plates kept materializing that I was supposed to combine them.
This afternoon I’m at the place I meant to go yesterday as it was Ons recommendation. It’s called Rais Labhar. I like it even more as unlike the other places I had ducked my head into, there are ZERO ashtrays so perhaps that universal symbol of a cigarette with a slash they’ve got up is for real. I like to breath and taste my food, not suck down second hand smoke.
This is ojja merguez. It was listed under “les entrees chaud” and features a spicy Tunisian sausage.
With the extra spice it was deliciously hot … and it’s steamy temperature certainly fits the translation of hot entree.
While walking back to my AirBNB I met a gentleman who was walking to the train station who really wanted to chat. He didn’t speak English and my sub-7th-grade French I was only so helpful. And yet I’m pretty good at context and charades and so was he. He was able to convey by pointing at my bottle of Coke Zero that soda is bad for me. He held up his cigarette and with an “aussi” he realized he wasn’t one to talk and we laughed together at killing ourselves with chemicals.
I wish I’d taken a photo with him but it was such a weird moment I kinda want to only remember it in my mind. A digital image felt like it would steal from the moment.
As I packed up the last of my stuff and was leaving, Ons cat Coco got out into the fenced courtyard. I hadn’t pulled the front door shut, the keys returned on the kitchen counter. I knew I wasn’t supposed to let her out of the main gate and she was fine in the courtyard but I didn’t want to lock her out in case it started to rain.
So once again I tried dog whispering to a cat. “Here, Coco! Here, Coco Coco!” And that darn cat embraced her inner cat and completely ignore me.
I tried mimicking going back inside. I tried patting my legs to call her. I even went so far as to approach her to try and sheepdog here her. “Meow Lion Cougar!” I said, translating the sheep speak from Babe, the best talking pig movie ever made. Nothing. Eventually she scurried back inside promoted by as far as I could tell absolutely nothing.
I closed the door and texted Ons to tell her Coco was secure.
It took a bit longer than I would have thought to get a cab. As I walked to the road, I saw several red lit cars zip by. But of course once I got to the roadside proper it was nothing but green.
After about five minutes I got this guy. I’ve never drifted in a Peugeot before; never Tokyo drifted in anything really. But this guy seemed to think he was Vin Diesel’s long lost Tunisian brother. We zoomed along and the meter said 6.500 dinars. But with baggage fee it should’ve been just over 10. I paid him 15 because he “couldn’t make change.” It’s amazing what English cab drivers know.
Quick digression on cab fare baggage surcharges. This has always bugged me. It’s bugged me when I’m abroad and when I’m in my home country. It’s a scam. Because if “four rides the same as one” then up to four people would have paid one fare. But me alone gets to pay more because I have a bag? What if I put a mannequin’s head and some plastic arms and legs on my bag? Would I still have to pay a surcharge or would that be two passengers riding for one?
Sure, sure. Customs might look askance at my bag filled with body parts but wouldn’t that be worth it to save a buck or two?
I got lost even trying to check in. I needed desk 48. There were desks 1 through 38 and a sign for desks 51-68. There were missing numbers and I couldn’t find them. People kept telling me downstairs but I didn’t see anything other than rental car counters, money exchangers, and cafes. Eventually i found it via a poorly lit labyrinth of … well, it wasn’t *really* under construction but it wanted you to THINK it was under construction/renovation, implying it would be better someday and just put up with this inconvenience for your time being. But it was always going to look like this. One could tell. It was construction-chic.
I checked in at desk 48 and got my boarding pass, but the security checkpoint wasn’t open yet. I found that one out the hard way. I walked in and was shooed out. I apologized and the guard said, “it’s not a problem.” It’s the one time I was glad to hear it. He even shook my hand and told me, “Welcome to Tunisia!”
Gate C means … I don’t know… there’s only Gate 1 and Gate 2.
We are 45 minutes late taking off. I don’t know if it was a maintenance issue…
…obviously sometimes you need to RE-Duct Tape. It’s not SuperGlue, y’all.
That’s no space station. It’s the moon.
Djerba. It’s an island. And home to Luke Skywalker and a crazy old wizard named Ben Kenobi. Plus Watto, Sepulba, and Jabba The Hutt. And sand people. And jawas. And the rancor. And Hammerhead. And Greedo. And Salacious Crum. And… and…
Mohammed and Nadir are my guides. I am the last one off the plane so they were as relieved to see me walk out as I was to see them standing there.
I told them how excited I was to be doing this tour. Then I told them several more times. They said I’d be even more excited when I saw where they filmed the space movie. Mosaic Tours said the guides were great and would have great insights into Tunisia as a whole. They knew where things were filmed but weren’t as familiar with the movies necessarily. As I think I’ve said before – I can handle the movie contexts solo if they don’t mind me geeking out.
I’m already geeking out and we haven’t even started.
As we got into the Toyota 4×4 that be transport me to a galaxy far, far away, Mohammed told me they only needed to buckle in the front, that I could go without a seat belt. (Note to Mom: I buckled anyway),
My hotel for the evening was 10km away and took us through Melittla, a name which perfectly suits a little village.
Nadir told me there are three main cities in Djerba, an island approximately 412 square kilometers.
Houmet Souk is most important city and is where I will be tonight.
Midoun is the second
Ajim is the third, and has the ferry to the Tunisian mainland… and is also where Star Wars was filmed.
So for me, Ajim is the most important city… and in order to get the proper spellings for the cities I went to Wikipedia which felt oddly verbatim like what Nadir had told me in the car. It being WikiPedia, maybe I’ll make a revision that puts Ajim as # 1.
My hotel is the Hotel Marhala and is pretty much EXACTLY like how I imagined a hotel in Tunisia night be.
I wandered around the town snapping photos. I have a feeling there will be a lot of photos and very little culling of shots.
My tour includes half board, so breakfast and dinner is included. And I cannot fathom having lunch ever while I’m here.
I’m detecting a pattern to Tunisian meals. There are A LOT more plates than you’d think.
When the charming manager of the hotel seated me in a private alcove table for one, I realized the single supplement is to cover the fact that there should be more people on this tour. There are a lot of family and friends I wish were here to enjoy this with. But since they’re not, I’m just going to embrace the surreal and for the next six days try not to think about calories or running or anything and view the sheer decadence of this all as a new normal.
I thought this was a pretty sizeable dinner…
Turns out it was the APPETIZER!
May the fork be with me.