As I left the airport for Tunisia, I was more than a little sceptical about what I would meet at the other end. The three and a half hour flight from East Midlands to Enfidha, Tunisia was one of sheer panic and worry for someone who had never ventured further than Greece for a holiday destination, but I was somewhat pleasantly surprised at what I found the other end. Here’s my handy how-to guide for getting around Tunisia.
The wall of heat that I was welcomed by in Tunisia was certainly a relief after the bitter conditions of England’s past five months. Immediately I noticed just how friendly the people were. You know when you’re at an airport in England and they ask for your passports in that dulcet tone which is accepted as our British ‘charm’? There was absolutely none of that in Tunisia. Here’s my first encounter with passport control here:
“Good morning my friend, may I see your passport please?”
“Thank you so so much, welcome to Tunisia, have a lovely time.”
However, as I made my way through the airport to collect my belongings from baggage, I noticed a different side to the Tunisian ‘friendly’ approach. When you fly with a travel company you get to the airport and are then transferred to your accommodation by a coach put on by that company. Here, we found our travel rep standing with clipboard in hand but on his left was a Tunisian man wearing shabby overalls which had the word ‘porter’ written on the back. As our coach rep told us to make our way to coach 174, the porter, cleverly eaves dropping on his words tried to grab our suitcases before we had any time to react and bundle them onto the coach for us. Luckily, we had been warned about this and did not let go of our luggage, as the so-called friendly porter will open out his palm in expectancy of a tip for his work after he has done this.
After that exchange, we were certainly more cautious about what we did during our stay in North African culture. If you are naïve, you can get in a real muddle with the locals, as I was told by Dave Dearing, who was staying at the same hotel as me.
Mr Dearing said: “I only went for a walk into the little shopping area but I ended up coming back with a brand new leather jacket and a pair of sandals, both of which I didn’t need.”
“They [the Tunisian salesmen] will con you into buying everything and anything but they’re so sickeningly charming that you fall for it because you expect them to be genuine.”
After hearing this, I thought it was only fair for me to go and see for myself what all the fuss was about. My investigation proved to find some very conclusive evidence. I stuck out like a sore thumb as I wandered dozily through the marina of Port El Kantaoui, dressed less like an investigative journalist and more like Karl Pilkington; which I suppose worked, perhaps because they didn’t suspect what I was doing? Here’s my first encounter with a Tunisian sales person:
“My friend, my friend.”
“You want to come in? Not buy just browse.”
“No thank you I’m fine.”
“What is your name? I’ll write your name in Arabic, come, come.”
After this, I walked away rather more hurriedly than I had approached the shop; as I saw him reach down to pick up some kind of silver bracelet which I assume would have soon been on my wrist along with my name in Arabic. To be fair to the guys at the marina, they are only trying to sell their stock and you cannot blame a man for doing that. The constant bombardment and persistence was less than desirable and more than any other part of the Tunisian culture, that would be the one thing I’d tell you all to watch out for.
Overall, the weather was wonderful and even in the first week of April it was HOT. The food was terrible, though, and I found myself eating nothing but pizza for the entirety of my stay. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a choice it was just very peculiar for somebody who likes traditional food to be asked to eat speciality Tunisian dishes each night. The Southern Tunisian ‘chicken in the pot’ was the only cultural delicacy I enjoyed, despite it being basically a fancy Nando’s.
The roads were a real state, too. The amount of litter cast aside was terrible to see, but when you pull back the first layer of dirt you can see that there are some real highlights to Tunisia, a country of cultural prosperity in the future I’m sure.
So on the whole, not too many complaints about my Tunisian experience.
My advice to any of you considering a venture into a new world would be this:
1. Be wary of people asking you to do something, it will NOT be free of charge, despite what they may tell you.
2. Embrace the culture, because it won’t be like anything you’ve seen before but you may only go to Tunisia once in your life, so make the most of it.
3. Remember that Tunisia is still a third world country trying to develop after a lot of political animosity in recent years.
4. Don’t expect to go for a quite walk, you WILL be flagged down by endless taxi drivers beeping at you and slowing right down in an attempt to get a cheap fare. Think Crazy Taxi meets kerb crawling.
5. If you get into any difficulty with the locals, simply wave your hand in acknowledgement and say “no thank you”, they won’t pester you if you just keep walking.
And of course, enjoy your stay!
Welcome to Tunisia.
3 stars ★★★✰✰