Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Tunisia Quick & Dirty

I'm currently waiting for it to be time to take a cab to the airport, and killing said time in the Internet cafe looking at a big sign over the computer which reads "Il Est Strictement Interdit de Consulter Les Sites Prohibes." So far I've discovered Flickr, YouTube, and (for some reason) The Atlantic don't make the cut. Facebook is OK. This and the huge pictures of the president everywhere make this otherwise fairly friendly and relaxed country feel a bit like 1984. On with the observations - I hope I don't offend whatever Tunisian intelligence agent is monitoring this.

1. There is Tuna Fish everywhere. They put it on everything - a big handful with your fries or on salad. There's huge industrial cans of it sold at corner kiosks. One time they used the oil from a Tuna can as dip for the bread instead of Olive Oil.

2. Bread is everywhere and is basically free. It's subsidized and price-controlled, and I they can't give you enough of it. You get free bread with basically anything you order anywhere.

3. Food, in general, is not that good, and there is absolutely no correlation between price and quality. With the possible exception of couscous dishes, the Tunisian standards would be pretty par for the course in America. However it is incredibly cheap - a huge meal at a restaurant never runs more than 5 dollars, and can easily be had for more like 3. Toothpaste, on the other hand, costs about 12 bucks.

4. Desserts and pastries, though are great, and generally involve some wonderful combination of Pistaccio and Honey.

5. I cannot tell if I've eaten Camel. We tried once and failed, but may have done so a few other times without trying.

6. There are stray cats everywhere. People generally like them. It's sometimes acceptable to feed them scraps at a restaurant. There are no stray dogs.

7. One of the country's best experiences is getting twisted into various WWF-esque holds by a burly Tunisian man in a sauna. This is called a "massage" and you get it along with a vigorous scrubbing with a scouring pad. For you wrestling fans, holds including a sitting full nelson and a surfboard. It is actually wonderful and worth the 10 dinars we probably overpaid.

8. Running your hand through the Sahara sand is one of life's more wonderful tactile experiences. It's like dipping your hand into a mound of cool silk. You want to bathe in it until you realize what the aftermath would be.

9. There is a strange, almost hypnotic desire to walk straight into the desert and just keep walking. I have no idea if this is just me, but my hunch is it's not.

10. There is cell phone reception in the Sahara, or at least there is up to about 10 kilometers outside of town.

11. It might just be that I've never been in a large Middle-Eastern city before, but the Tunis Medina is an amazing place. Without context, if you were dropped there at night you would probably think it was one of the spookiest, most dangerous places on earth. The incredibly dark and narrow twisting streets are made darker by the fact that many of them are covered over. Farthi, a perfume store owner who grew up in the Medina, explained that he and his friends used to race over the rooftops from one side to another, but never completed a race because someone always got hurt.

12. Speaking of Farthi, drop by his perfume shop right by the Great Mosque if you're ever in Tunis. An impromptu tour of rooftops, the inside of the Koranic school, craft shops, and other nooks and crannies was well worth the 30 dinar I ended up dropping at his perfume store without complaint.

13. Don't try to tour the rooftops by yourself at night. The shops in the Tunis Medina mostly sell crap now, but there's still high, high quality jewelry in some of the souks. They have guard dogs patrolling the roofs after the shops close.

14. For some reason, Tunisians seem to have a thing about how they're better than the Algerians. "Not like in Algeria" was a common phrase when extolling the virtues of Tunisia.

15. If you are into ancient Rome visit Tunisia, not Italy. There are incredibly well-preserved ruins, including a giant Colloseum (used in the movie Gladiator) in El Jem, as well as entire hilltop cities often interspersed with older Punic ruins. And unlike Rome, entrance will generally cost about 3 dollars, without a fence, guard or "keep off" sign in site. Now, you can't exactly take the subway to these places like you can in Rome - our journey involved three van trips and quite a fight with an unscrupulous driver - but at least in the off-season there will also generally be about 3 other tourists there - the Star Wars sets get way more tourist traffic. The only exception is Carthage, which is much more of your standard European tourist experience. Even though there's not a whole lot to see in terms of ruins, getting a sense of the geography of the ancient city and port was really cool.

No comments:

Post a Comment