I feel like Tunisia
A country between two giants
The official tourism slogan for Tunisia is "I feel like Tunisia". Neighboring country to the east, Libya, doesn't have one as far as I know. However Algeria to the west says: "Tourism for everybody".
You might think Tunisia is a small country? It certainly looks that way as it is situated firmly between two giants. The coastline of Tunisia is 1,148 km (713 mi) and a precious gemstone for tourism. The overall population is around 11 million people and that ranks them as the 79th most populous country in the world. By size Tunisia ranks 93rd in the world. However between Libya (14th largest) and Algeria (10th) you simply can't help other than to get dwarfed. Okay, enough about size...
It was time to seek some fresh air and make a change. So I left Malta. I have nothing against Malta. Actually I can't wait to go back some day. Besides, my hosts were amazing! I just needed fresh air and new opportunities and Tunisia was next in the list. So how did we get from Malta to Tunisia? In spite of what some of you thought logistics was never the issue. There are daily ferries (expensive) from Malta to Sicily (Italy) and weekly ferries from Sicily to Tunisia. And reaching Tunisia wasn't even a bureaucratic challenge. Tunisia welcomes tourists and I needed little more preparation to enter Tunisia (with my EU passport) than to show up and say hi. The reason for staying in Malta for so long was out of tactical consideration and it didn't exactly work out the way I wanted it too. Cut your losses, learn and move on: I feel like Tunisia.
Sicily is beautiful with its fields, mountains and Mediterranean Sea.
It was an early 04:00am wake up in Malta for my 04:30am taxi to the port. Boarding went smooth and we left Malta around 06:00am. Two hours later we docked in Pozzallo where from a bus got me to Catania around 10:40am. I rushed to the train station and bought a ticket for a 3pm departure to Palermo. Then 20 minutes later I realized that I could join a bus to Palermo at midday and bought that ticket too. At this point of the story I would like to remind you that I hadn't had much sleep and perhaps generally also just aren't all that clever. While on my way back to the train station I was dreaming about getting my money returned for the train ticket. Keep dreaming sweetheart! That door was most definitely closed! It was "just" €13.50 so no massive disaster, however a stupid little thing nonetheless.
A few minutes later a smile appeared on my face as I had a wonderful and strikingly beautiful idea! "Pay it forward!!" I imagined everything in my head: I would charmingly return to the disgruntled lady selling tickets and suggest she kept the ticket for the next person requesting a train fare. This way the ticket would brighten up a strangers day: "free ticket? For me? How wonderful!!" I felt it went well with the motto of the Saga and we all lived happily to the end of our lives. The woman behind the counter gave me the same attitude as if I had asked if I could borrow money: "NO, NO, NO - not possible!!" she said with all the charm of an old cat in a dumpster. And I went: "No, I don't want money back. For free. For freeeee" and she went: "NO, NO, NO...not my job!!" and I thought: "that didn't go at all like planed..."
Palermo by day.
What do you do with a valid ticket you don't need? Give it to a homeless man? Wait near the line until someone orders a ticket? Stick it to the wall or a billboard? Nope, none of that would work and I was getting late for my midday bus departure. The ticket went into my pocket and I concluded that a stranger is a friend you've never met before but not everyone is ready for that yet.
Palermo by night.
Around 3pm I had reached Palermo and having walked 45 min through the beautiful city I reached my accommodation for the night. By chance a Danish fellow working in Rome was there too. So we decided to have our dinner together. Before leaving we met a US American who joined us and the three musketeers were formed! We found a nice restaurant and I had Italian food in italy. The waiter mocked me a bit for ordering water and no beer nor wine.
The next morning I got up at 08:00am, had my breakfast, packed and walked about 30 minutes to reach the port. After several hours, in classic Italian structured chaos, the other passengers and I were allowed to board. Smooth sailing and the good ship "Catania" reached Tunisia at around 11pm. In effect I had spent hours traveling between Catania (town) and Catania (ferry). There must be a joke or a riddle in there somewhere? Happy to have reached Tunisia I followed the other passengers towards immigration. Immigration decided they wanted to speak to me and as a result I officially stepped into Tunisia around midnight. Ignoring the taxis I went searching for a wifi connection which I found at a hotel about 25 minutes from the ferry. I discovered that my accommodation in downtown Tunis (capital) had not been confirmed and settled for a night at the hotel which had provided me with wifi for free.
The next day as I was having breakfast a man entered the dining area and headed straight for me. The man was Aymen, a friend of Mohammed Ben-Brahem, whom I know from visiting Maersk in Djibouti. I had been communicating with Aymen via email but had missed that he would come to the hotel. Fortunately I had finished eating and was just going through my emails when he arrived. Because during the Ramadan I really try my best not to tempt those who are fasting. It is not necessarily something you need to observe. I just think it's cruel to eat or drink in front of someone who might be hungry or thirsty. Several Muslims have meanwhile pointed out that it's no problem because "they are used to fasting 1 month a year". All I can say is how I would feel about someone enjoying something I'm trying to stay clear of.
Aymen is a rock solid fellow who immediately suggested that he could show me around greater Tunis. Apparently Aymen had sent me an email I had overlooked. In the end it all worked out. I quickly packed my bags (I have some experience with that) and drove off with Aymen. First stop was the airport because I needed a SIM card. Can you taste the irony of the location?
Afterwards we went for a spin through the beautifully green Catharge area and made a stop at Sidi Bou Saïd which is absolutely charming and boasts some spectacular views of the Mediterranean. After telling about how he was planing on making a few arrangements for me Aymen dropped me off downtown to meet with my host. I had picked my downtown accommodation through AirBNB and it didn't get cheaper than $12/night.
$12/night is still quite pricy for a $20/day budget. However Tunis appears to be rather expensive when it comes to accommodation. I was hoping for a $5/night dorm room somewhere but couldn't locate one. Amen has rented an old apartment in downtown Tunis and the location is spectacular. He is an artist and an online gaming designer. The room was rather basic but was all I needed. The toilet and bathroom sink were functional and I've spent months bathing out of a bucket before. After my first night of warding off mosquitoes I solved that problem by buying some repellent. Hygiene in the apartment didn't appear to be the main priority but still I've seen a lot worse. Amen was great! Such an amazing personality and he was more than happy to help me in any way he could. One night we headed out for Iftar together with a few of his friends. Iftar is the meal/celebration which follows after the sunset during the Ramadan. Another night we sat and enjoyed one of his mothers home cooked meals which he had thawed it up and heated it. After my prebooked 3 nights at Amen's castle he offered me a discount if I wanted to stay longer. However that did not become relevant just yet because I was introduced to Habib who is a good friend of Yussuri, which is another friend I made in Djibouti. What are the odds? 2 separate connections in Tunisia made by 2 separate connections in Djibouti!
La place de la Kasbah (seat of government).
Anyway, Habib picked me up one evening and took me for a spin. He runs his own logistics company (www.tandem-logistics.com) and after getting to know each other we decided it could be fun for his staff if I came by and told them about the Saga. Quite like Aymen, Habib is also very well connected and not just talk. In fact I have found that at least 4 different Tunisians have made promises to me which they have kept. Habib then mentioned that he could offer me a 3 night stay at a 5 star hotel near the beach? I thought he was joking but he wasn't. At first I felt like I couldn't accept such a gift but Habib ensured that he knew some people and that it wouldn't be a problem at all. So with Amen's squatter style apartment as my alternative I was happy to accept.
Just found out I don't have a photo of Habib? But here's his staff :)
The next day Habib picked me up and brought me to his office. I met the staff and made my presentation. I don't really need a map for my presentation but it is helpful. Habib had told me that he had a map I could use. He didn't say that it was wall to wall! Afterwards I was dropped off at my 5 star hotel at the Regency Tunis. Good stuff!
My 5 star hotel is right on the beach. However the view was a little...well...eh?! ;)
Something else which happened before moving into my 5 star palace was I finally got to meet Gunnar Garfors. Gunnar is my Viking brother from another mother. He is Norwegian and holds a rather impressive profile: he visited 5 countries on 5 continents in just one day, a Guinness World Record. In 2013 he completed visiting every country in the world, as the youngest hobby traveller ever. And in 2014 he visited 19 countries in just one day, another world record. Garfors also published "198", a book on his travels to every country in September 2014. We had been corresponding together for several years and knew of each other but this was the first time we would meet.
Finally met Gunnar. Great guy. Do you think they made it?
Gunnar was in Tunisia do to make a new Guinness World Record by visiting 6 continents in 63 hours. Thereby breaking the former record for FASTEST JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD VIA SIX CONTINENTS! You could argue that it is crazy. In fact perhaps you should. It's a lot of effort and a lot of money to get it right. Gunnar wasn't alone for this record run. He had teamed up with a group of other people including a rockstar and everything is sponsored. A few nights after we met the http://recordrunworld.com/en/ team left to begin the attempt from Algiers in Algeria. Previous attempts have all been set to start and finish in Cairo, Egypt, so this is quite interesting. The difference between success and failure comes down to minutes. If you have a minute then check out the webpage.
Inspiring, educating and entertaining at www.maersk.com in Tunisia.
What else do I want to tell you? Well I guess I want you all to know that Tunisia appears to be super safe. The people here have been really kind and forthcoming. Maersk Tunisia extended an invitation for me to come and present the project at their office in Migrene near the port. Counting on my fingers I guess that makes it the 11th Maersk office I visit and the 13th talk for Maersk's employees. It's always a pleasure to present for Maersk as the Saga is such a grand logistical challenge and that goes well hand in hand with the worlds largest container shipping company. It is also Danish which makes it redundant for me to explain where I come from.
Here im hanging with Ali on the left and Abdelhamid on the right. Two more very kind Tunisians who I was happy to meet.
Yeah, I guess that will have to do for today. I'm happy that I made the transition to Tunisia. It's a good place to be and I see a lot of opportunities here. It's a country with a lot of history and most importantly it was also the country which presented some of the settings for the very first Star Wars movie from 1977: A New Hope ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - well connected
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga