Thursday, 11 May 2017

ORY to TUN (or Getting Rocked by the Kasbah !)

What's a Kasbah?   I don't know either, but maybe you'll find out by playing THIS SONG in the background?

So I'm going to a NEW place today.  Nothing new about that (although it has been over half a year that I reached a personal NEW destination when I stepped on the tarmac in Luang Prabang) and after having done this a few times I am confident that I'm NOT going to fall off the edge of the earth !

BUT, before flying to Laos, I at least could watch an episode of No Reservations or Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain.  Same in Vietnam. or Cambodia, Or Istanbul.  Tony had been there and created a 40 minute video summary to ease the culture shock for me.   

So What a shock: NO video of Bourdain exists for Tunisia !  I'm going to make it there before Tony and his camera crew, LOL.

It's dark and it's drizzling !
I managed to get another hour of sleep in and the clouds have uncovered one corner of the sky, tendency increasing, so I won't get wet on my way to the airport.

I'm really liking the light-show on display over Paris ..
Or is my judgement clouded by alcohol (Another empty one !)

I leave at 8:00 instead of 8:30 and that is a good thing.  The first of 3 legs of the journey to the airport is easy.  Just take the Metro.  

 When I get off the Metro I have to pee. BADLY. McDonalds is CLOSED. So is Burger King. MERDE. The receptionist at a little 3* hotel is my saviour this time.

Then I have to take the tram. I didn't even know they had those here.  The last leg is the worst.  At the stop of the Orly Bus I learn that tickets must be bought at the tram station. Run back. Pay 8 Euros for the bus ticket. Run back.  The bus arrives and it is FULL.  It takes 5 minutes for 20 more people to cram into the FULL bus.  The fullest bus I have taken in my life !  A true Sardine Express.

My face is so close to the camera because there just wasn't more room, LOL
 There is a benefit though.  Since it is physically IMPOSSIBLE to get to the ticket stamper in the bus, my ticket is still a virgin and I can take it on the way back !


Scary moment, the gorgeous woman behind the counter asks me "Is this your first time to Tunisia?"  and then proceeds to ask her counter neighbour whether I would need a visa to visit Tunisia.   Memories of Hong Kong Airport just before a to be missed flight to Hanoi flash into my mind !  OH NO, not again, PLEASE.  I thought I DID check the visa requirements and there were NONE.  And that's what her counter neighbour tells her as well.  Pheeewww. Disaster averted ;-)

YES, Paris Orly has smoking lounges !
Orly is building. And all the workers seem to be the same colour
10:50 My flight was just called !    In French, but I still understood EXACTLY what they were saying, LOL.  I'm going on this flight without my shaving foam, body lotion, and tooth paste, all of them were confiscated by security, LOL. No worries, all the containers were actually over 100 ml, I was just going to try whether one of them would survive the scrutiny.

Anyway, I'm excited and a little scared at the same time; I'm sitting at Paris Orly Airport and they just announced that my flight is now ready for boarding.  I already lost my skin lotion, shaving cream, and tooth paste (Yeah, I know, they were all over 100 ml, LOL) at security check.  It's already odd being in a country where almost no-one speaks your language (Yesterday I had to speak French to find out that my booked hotel room wasn't available and to understand the directions to the replacement hotel), but 'THIS will be something MUCH DIFFERENT, LOL.   I'm flying to friggin Africa.  OH, I'm SOOOO excited ! 

OF COURSE, more line-ups in the tunnel ...

... and in the plane's aisle
Just like yesterday's train, people's inability to check their luggage and their insistence to drag it into the crammed passenger area, combined with their inability to find their assigned seat or their unwillingness to accept their assigned seats leads to the plane departure being delayed by 25 minutes.

True to tradition, I am asleep during take off.  Some nice soul lowered my table though and placed a customs & immigration form as well as lunch on it.  Lunch? On a 2.5 hour flight?  Don't let Air Canada hear about that, they might just improve their service. On second thought, NAAH ! No way Air Canada will improve, LOL

It gets worse:  The fig cake in the top left is to die for ! The salad in the bottom left contains Tuna with a taste I haven't tasted in more than 10 years.  And yes, these are REAL ALMONDS in the chicken dish on the bottom right, and judging by the taste, the sauce must have cherries or grapes in it.   YUM !

About 15 minutes before landing the plane runs into turbulence.  Yes, the WORST turbulence I have ever experienced in a plane.  Of course, my seat neighbour (female in her late 40s or 50s) throws her hands up and begins to scream.   NO, NOT in the roller-coaster "is this fun" manner but in a panic-spreading "We're ALL going to DIE" manner.  I show admirable restraint in NOT telling her what I think of her. (insert smug grin).
Then I get my first glimpse of Tunis.  Kind'of beige-ish !

13:05  (That's CET WITHOUT summer time, i.e. an hour earlier than Paris)

I step out of the terminal building. I'm in friggin Africa!

It's warm outside but the sky is actually the same colour that I had doubtingly watched out of the plane window.  A very bright grayish beige.   My guess is air-borne Sahara sand, because the colour is too evenly spread from horizon to horizon for it to be smog. But then you never know.

I had read warnings not to pick the taxi drivers right outside the terminal building because they would turn their meter off and cheat both foreigners and locals.   But then I've tried the local bus stop already, but all I found there was an empty bus, lots of people waiting outside the bus, no driver in sight, and not even ANY kind of signage to indicate what the bus number could be or where this bus might be going.

The taxi ride takes about 35 minutes and the cabby charges me 40 Tunisian Dinar.  That's CAD$ 22.   I don't even care whether I just got ripped off because that is CHEAP by Canadian standards !  That's also a very easily remembered currency conversion rate, just divide everything by TWO to get the CAD equivalent.

I tell the cab driver to let me out in the middle of no-where and trust my GPS to guide me through the narrow streets to my B&B. Check-in is trivial and I get to enjoy the ocean view from the balcony:


OK, that's enough culture shock for one day. NO, don't get me wrong, I'm liking it, but I can wait for more until tomorrow, LOL.

There is a Monoprix Express supermarket on the main street.  But it's NOTHING like yesterday's Monoprix in Paris, believe me.  I won't even touch the variety of food on offer in comparison to Paris, the one thing I notice RIGHT AWAY:  There is no wine aisle.  WTF?  Ah well, they must sell some somewhere.

On the way back, I step into a kiosk and point at my pack of cigarettes. The guy shakes his head and it takes some Babylonian babble to figure out that he is trying to say NO WINSTON cigarettes HERE.  He tries to sell me Marlborough, but I manage in my worst French to say "Pas des Americains! Le cigarettes plus populaire ici?"  I want to smoke what the locals smoke.   

He actually smiles and hands me a pack of what I wanted to buy in the plane already:  Mars Gold. For 3 something Tunisian Dinars.  That's less than CAD$ 2 and that means that the Euro 15 price for a carton in the plane was exorbitant.  

If you're going to Tunisia, just buy your smokes in regular stores, that's cheaper than ANY Duty Free abroad, in the plane, and even here at Tunis airport !

 4 puppies against 1 cat:  The cat bears with an air of nonchalance.
 It could just scratch their eyes out if it wanted to ;-)

I get back to my B&B and proudly tell the owner that I managed to buy cigarettes and that now I am looking for wine.   His eyes widen:  "You want to buy wine?"  "Cigarettes is easy, but wine ...".  OMG, PLEASE tell me he is kidding.
Nope, he is NOT.  There is only ONE store in town that sells booze. And apparently it's a semi-clandestine affair hidden behind the Carrefour, which in turn is located halfway across the lovely town of El Kram. About 2 miles he says.  TOMORROW is Friday, day of prayers, and even that place will be CLOSED.  I'm already having a fit when he adds "And today it closes at 16:00.   After he shows me the location on Google Maps, he joyously exclaims "You better run, my friend !"

Things I do for booze, LOL.

Time to do my best Storm Trooper impression ....

Rush to Main Street (it isn't really called that ;-), speed past the Monoprix, turn right at the roundabout.  The Carrefour should be on the other side of the roundabout but it isn't.  MERDE.  The whole time I'm FORCING myself NOT to look at my watch, but when I can't see the Carrefour there are 8 minutes left until 4 pm.  Keep walking, keep walking.  THERE is the Carrefour.  A few guys smoking outside "Pardon, je cherche un magazin pour acheter du vin". The grin at me and one of them even walks with me around the corner despite the calls to stay of his friends.  THERE IT IS. But what is it.   A guy outside leads me to something that looks like the ticket vending area of a Vietnamese Railway station, only you can't see the people behind. It's a solid concrete wall, with 3 openings the size of a briefcase.  Mr. Frontman relays your order to the back, some mystery employee in the back puts your order on the counter and then you pay.  The whole time you have no idea who works behind the counter, all you see is the middle man in the front AND the other customers.  I instantly feel a bond with the other guys who have rushed here just before 4 pm the day before Prayer Day.  You'd think there would be a LOOOOONG lineup, but there are only two other men there now.

I am DEFINITELY NOT in Kansas anymore, LOL

I get a regular bottle of white wine and a 1/2 L bottle of Boukha, the local 36% Eau de Vie (Water of Life, LOL) distilled from figs. Less than 30 Dinar, i.e about CAD $ 15.  WOW. That's good percentage bang for the buck ! 

Maybe you can see the determined relief in my face after I have secured my booze supply, LOL

On the way back to the hotel, I buy moisturizing lotion (I can feel myself dry up ;-), toothpaste, and shaving cream, to replenish the items that airport security robbed me of.

  Half an hour later, I realize that I should have bought ANOTHER bottle of wine, tomorrow is Prayer Day after all !  And after a few sips I do realize that the Boukha is something I could really get used to ;-)

What I still can't get over:  Since getting in that taxi cab at the airport, with all that running around through my local town back and forth:  I have not seen a SINGLE tourist.   I'm sure that will change during a visit to the ruins of Carthage, but it still strikes me as VERY ODD, LOL.


I've had to adjust my habits again; I'm paying in a different currency; I'm living a different life; I'm seeing how other people lead very different lives from the ones I'm used to.   Despite or maybe BECAUSE all the things I've witnessed today and the strange obstacles I've had to overcome, I am very glad I came here.

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