topics: Port of Tunis, economy, agriculture, border crossing; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: October 17–18, 1997

Breakfast/Lunch: Our breakfast meal — which occurred at lunchtime — of our favorite French pastries (pains au chocolat and croissants), was served as a sweet au revoir to France.

Dinner: In one corner of the cafeteria on level six of the Liberté (our ferry boat), we made a picnic feast consisting of two kinds of baguettes stuffed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, two kinds of goat cheeses, two kinds of ham (both pork and wild boar!) and what was left of the Yop (a yogurt drink). Our Leatherman multipurpose tools were our silverware, plastic cups from Ferryterranée — the ship company — were our glassware, and plastic bags were our porcelain. We had brought all our food from France, so we wouldn't be forced to rely on the expensive (and not very tasty) boat food during our 24-hour stay on board. Well, we did buy some bottled water to help wash down the food.

Food of the Day: Chaussons aux pommes

Chaussons aux pommes are a semicircular French pastry made from a thinly rolled round of puff pastry and then folded over a filling of stewed fruit — in our case apples, the most traditional version. Sometimes the apple filling is even served warm! Like ours was. The sky also was perfectly blue! A happy moment for the BikeAbouters.

Word of the Day: Gilet de sauvetage

Gilet de sauvetage means "life jacket," important words to know when on a ship. Ours gilets were stored in huge white boxes on several decks. Also important: the room and hallway walls of the boat are equipped with various maps showing the exit routes on all decks and giving instructions in the event of an emergency.

Person of the Day: Madame Nabila

Madame Nabila works at the Hotel Manon, the place where we slept while in Marseille. Born in Tunisia, she is now living and working in France, and is one of the friendly hotel staff who made us feel so welcome. When she heard that our group was going to Tunis, she immediately gave us the address of her sister, Nasha, in Tunis, who apparently makes fabulous couscous (or so Madame Nabila assured us) and would help us find our way through the Tunisian capital. Madame Nabila, thank you! Being handed from friends to families, and following their recommendations for places to visit, is one of the methods by which we gather information about a country, as well as map out the actual route we will take. If, dearest readers, you know of places which can host and eventually guide the BikeAbouters through cities, or if you know of organizations, schools, or individuals who would be interested in meeting and exchanging with us as we pass through their countries, please don't hesitate to email us at More detailed information about how you can help can also be found on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

Group Dispatch, October 17–18

picture of andrEa

First and foremost, we invite you to read some basic and useful information about Tunisia.

And now, back to our dispatch.

Friday morning, the 17th of October, we were busy with last-minute preparations for our departure back to Africa. Yes, again Africa! On our way to the port to catch the overnight ferry to Tunis, we made a few stops, putting together enough food to feed five hungry IJs for 24 hours (our boat ride would last for a full day!).

It was almost 1:30 p.m. when the boat finally departed. We waved goodbye to Marseille from the deck, sitting on some white life jacket containers and eating our breakfast/lunch. The sky was a perfect blue. France slowly disappeared behind us and there was nothing but sea ahead.

Entertainment in the second class section of the boat — the class in which we were traveling — consisted of only three things: (1) watching television on one of the at least twelve sets in the cafeteria; (2) drinking coffee and playing cards (which was what most of the many Tunisian men were doing); and (3) sitting in a corner with a computer (plugged into an outlet, see the Tech Fact of the Day), eating dinner, and deciding on an itinerary for Tunisia. Obviously, we choose the last option.

Most of us were busy working on our "personal projects" — another part of an IJ's job is to make an individual contribution to the Web site — sharing special interests/skills with you, adding our own perspectives on things.

In the evening, when we were finally kicked out of the cafeteria, we all returned to our cabin. To save money, we had stuffed five of us into one four-person cabin. Lucky andrEa got the floor this time (we're taking turns) and, despite a calm sea, had rumbling dreams she was asleep between snoring haystacks.

On Saturday the 18th, we landed in the Port of Tunis, 10 km (6 mi) east of Tunis itself. The port is called La Goulette. It functions as one of the major gateways to Africa. Tunis, part of the green belt of northern Tunisia, or the "bread basket" (as the ancient Romans once called it), offers a range of attractions from lazing on beaches (not for us now, IJs are hardly ever on holiday!) to exploring the medina and the ruins of the once-powerful Carthage. Since we will stay in the Tunis area until Friday morning, you will find more than one dispatch talking about our metropolitan adventures in this World Heritage City with more than 700 listed monuments (see also UNESCO's Medina of Tunis site and the World Heritage Cities site)!

But we were not yet really in Tunisia. We still had a one-and-one-half-hour customs procedure to go through. We lined our bikes up behind cars loaded down with everything from refrigerators to livingroom furniture, and had to fill out forms declaring that we were not importing any couches or other major appliances. But we made it through and cycled into town. click to view a photograph

After storing our bikes and luggage at the house in which we were lucky enough to be hosted, we returned to the center of town to check train schedules. Happy to escape the car-dominated streets, we took the city's tram (250 Tunisian dinars each, or about 25 U.S. cents). After figuring out the necessary train information, we ate dinner and set off on a self-guided tour of the medina. The medina is the original city of Tunis, built on a narrow strip of land between Lake Tunis and the Sebkhet Sejoumi salt lake. It's an area of a million colors and smells.

However, it was already getting dark, so we returned to our host's house and turned in. We decided that we had come pretty far today. Even the time had changed. (Unlike in Morocco — see the Tech Fact of the Day from October 4 — in Tunisia, the clocks are set one hour ahead of GMT. See World Time Zones for a map, or try the Timezone Converter.)

P.S.: andrEa needs to tell you a secret: The color of the trams in Tunis is green. Green things make her happy.

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