September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

By Liz Tosoni

Not long ago, in a log called “The Joy of the Side Trip,” I wrote that one of the many benefits of sailing to foreign destinations is traveling inland to see the sights at your leisure, “Cruising is about passage-making and landing and for so many sailors, ‘the being there’ is just as important as the ‘getting there.’” Well, here we were Tunisia, North Africa, a compact country only slightly larger than Florida, or about half the size of Italy, with a world of sights to be seen.
There was a good tour being offered that included a driver/guide and covered 1,300 kmilometers of the country in two days and three nights, but Tom and I thought that would be too rushed and too confining and besides, we always prefer going at our own pace. We discovered that there’s a railway network throughout the country and if there isn’t a train, there are louages (shared taxis) to be had, making it easy and cheap to get around. We bought “Carte Bleue” train tickets at 42 dinar (US$30) per person allowing indefinite first-class train travel for one week, and away we went, leaving Feel Free safely tied up in Cap Monastir Marina next to neighbors Rick and Bonnie aboard Aisling I, from Halifax.


Bonnie and Rick of AyslingI kindly kept an eye on Feel Free when we went on our road trip.
  Interesting what Paul Theroux in his book, The Pillars of Hercules (1995) said: “Tunisia is another Mediterranean island surrounded on one side by water, and on the other by pariah states: fanatic Libya on the southeast, blood-drenched Algeria on the west, and the blue Mediterranean on its long irregular coast, scalloped by gulfs and bays.”

Where to start though? We learned that for a small country, Tunisia has an amazing array of geographical diversity with pure desert in the south, including many isolated oasis towns, shady oak and cork forests in the north, weird salt flats or seasonal lakes known as chotts in the center and between these extremes, lush citrus plantations, huge fields of olive trees, table-top mountains and green rolling hills. “I’ve always wanted to see the Sahara. We’ve come all this way and here’s our chance,” said Tom. I quickly agreed, so that was that.
The first day of the trip, we arrived in Douz, a town on the edge of a sea of sand that is the Great Eastern Erg, the northernmost reaches of the Sahara. To get there, we first stopped in Tozeur where the architecture, like the lives of the people, is largely traditional. Many of the buildings are made of handmade bricks the color of ocher, some protruding in ornate geometrical patterns on the walls. Their shapes and motifs are repeated on local carpets and shawls.

We learned that this traditional decorative technique we saw on the brickwork of Tozeur is also practiced in Iran. Just outside the town of Douz, Tom finally gets to walk on the Sahara.

After Tozeur, there was a louage to Kebili and then another to Douz. Our shared taxi zoomed over a smooth causeway through miles of what appeared to be a giant skating rink, but in fact it was an enormous flat field of salt crystals. The road runs through the chott, which shows up on the map as a lake but is actually dry for nine or 10 months of the year. Our journey continued among forests of date palms, then an ocean of sand, pock marked by clumps of green vegetation.

Monsieur, madame, voulez-vous a camel ride?

Douz is an amiable kind of place calling itself “the gateway to the Sahara” but still very much a tourist town. It doesn’t matter who you meet, you’re always viewed as a customer.

We wanted to get off the beaten path, get away from the vendors and touts, see a bit of the real Tunisia. So we set off by louage for the town of El Faouar, home of the Ghrib who, until recently, were a nomadic people, breeding camels, goats, and sheep. We read that they have partly abandoned their nomadic lifestyle but many continue to live in the traditional way.

It must have been blowing 25 knots when we arrived, the fine desert sand like baby powder filling not only the air, but every orifice it could settle into – ears, nostrils, hair, even mouths if you opened too wide. A filmy layer covered our faces and necks. Now we understand why these folks enshroud themselves in full body Aladdin style garments! We, in our western wear, were the only impractical ones in this surreal world. 

In the desert towns like El Faouar, the people are covered head to toe for protection from the sand. En route, the wind picked up. Looking out the windows, it could’ve been a snow storm in the prairies if you didn’t know you were in the desert!

El Faouar is a small town with a simple square, the usual assortment of shops, humble houses, some poor, some modern, a few goats and sheep wandering about, and curious kids. We were determined to have a good wander and look around so we headed into the whirlwind of sand. “Allo, arretez!” someone was shouting to us. Turning around we saw a man running our way. “Ou allez-vous?” (Where are you going?) he asked. Luckily, our school French was coming in handy. We told him that we were going for a walk. He told us we shouldn’t. “Le vent est tres fort. (The wind is very strong.) C’est dangereux pour vous.”  OK, OK, we get the message. He suggested we at least head away from the wind and so we did. “Bonne chance!” he said as we changed direction. He must have thought the two westerners out for a promenade were a bit nuts!

Then we came across some kids with a pup. Wait a minute, that’s not a dog. What is it? The boys came closer with their pet and sure enough, it was a fox, a desert fox. We learned that they had found it abandoned and would release it when it got older.
fox

These boys found this little desert fox abandoned and plan to release it when it’s older.

One thing led to another and we started meeting other members of the extended family. Then, we were invited into the house of the boys’ young aunt and uncle. They proudly showed us a bedroom filled with gifts of carpets, clothing and brassware on display. It turns out that they are about to be married and their wedding ceremony will take place in one week’s time. We had heard that weddings in Tunisia are extraordinarily public celebrations with pipes and drums and feasting and dancing going on for days. Our young friends told us (a little French, a little English, a little sign language, you know) about the “Danse de la Chevalure” in which the women remove all their jewelry and head coverings and parade before the assembled men and musicians. To the beat of the music and the encouragement of the crowds, each dancer whirls her long hair round her head faster and faster. Over several hours the women gradually drop out and the dance ends when only one is left on the floor. We later found out that this is one of the few places where the dance is still authentically performed.

We gave each of them a Canadian pin as a wedding gift (that’s all we had with us) and then there was the invitation for tea, then came out freshly made French fries and French bread, and talk, talk talk, then the invitation to stay the night and of course, the wedding. Quelle domage (too bad) it was one week later! The wonderful Tunisian hospitality is alive and well indeed and we were sorry not to be able to enjoy their company longer than we could.

After El Faouar, we started making our way back north. I was intrigued by what I’d read about the pit dwellings of Matmata and it wasn’t too far away so that was our next stop. Unfortunately, since Hollywood found Matmata and used it as the setting for Star Wars in 1977, it is very much a tourist town, but is fascinating anyway. Five thousand people live in the subterranean troglodyte dwellings consisting of a courtyard dug straight down into the soft sandstone with rooms excavated into the surrounding walls.

With the virtual absence of above ground buildings, Matmata looks deserted as you approach. Closer inspection reveals the underground ‘craters’ that still house five thousand people.

With the virtual absence of above ground buildings, Matmata looks deserted as you approach. Closer inspection reveals the underground ‘craters’ that still house five thousand people.

The leisurely but long train ride to the capital city of Tunis to see the world famous mosaic museum, the rubble of ancient Carthage and the quaint seaside town of Sidi Bou Said marked the end of our little road trip. Luckily, the food poisoning both Tom and I picked up in Tunis didn’t hit us until back on board Feel Free! Now we are healed, enjoying our own food, happily at anchor on the north coast of Tunisia, slowly making our way west. We are “on the road again”, the watery road that is, viewing the world not through the windows of a train or a louage, but through Feel Free’s windows.

Now we are back on board Feel Free, sailing along the beautiful and verdant north coast of Tunisia, slowly heading west.