With our month long contract coming to an end we could see a glimmer of an escape plan forming with southerly winds forecast for at least two days, enough to get us across to Sicily.
We busied ourselves with stocking up the boat with fresh food; filling up the freezer with merguez sausages and tuna (now we have an excuse for not catching any), the fridge with so much fruit and veg we could hardly close the lid.
Last minute souvenirs were haggled over, although we still weren’t very good at it. As a home, Emerald was looking smart with two kilim rugs on the saloon floor, colourful throws to protect the upholstery, an oil burner for helping keep mossies away, pottery bowls and a new stainless steel kettle. Where we would store all this stuff whilst at sea hadn’t really been thought about at the time we were buying, but there’s always the forepeak ‘garage’.
We joined in with a Sunday BBQ with the other cruisers at the marina, enjoying chatting with a friendly and welcoming group. Colin added continent number five to his list of continents on which he’s now played his Yamaha guitar – Europe, Antarctica, Asia, South America and now Africa.
Scrubbed and Cleansed at a Hammam
When it comes to baring flesh in public, I definitely display my true British colours, harbouring a huge fear of being judged, and found extremely lacking, whilst naked amongst other women (and amongst men, obviously, but that is never going to happen). And despite having spent several summers in the Med where every size and shape of body is on display, I still feel self conscious in a bikini in public, never mind being completely naked.
However, I’d been intrigued by the Turkish baths whilst in Turkey, but never plucked up the courage to go. I now had a second chance to see what it was all about with a Tunisian Hammam, but it would still never have happened if not for the chance to go with someone in the know, the American lady we’d met on a louage journey and with whom we had become friendly during our stay.
So, the day before we were due to leave, Emerald all ready for departure, I was able to squeeze in a visit. You pay for the hammam and a little extra for a scrub – the equivalent to a few euros. Take a few dinars as a tip for the scrub lady too. There was a changing room for undressing down to just underwear remaining (knickers, no bra) although I’d been loaned a wrap to help me with my modesty issues. There were locked storage boxes for our possessions; not all hammam have these, I was told the receptionist would watch over any valuables in those places.
From changing room we entered into the steam rooms, wrapped in our towels, which were then left on hooks. In my head I’d been expecting pools, because of the word bath in Turkish Bath, but it was really just a large sauna. As someone with low blood pressure, saunas usually make me feel light headed, but this one was more relaxingly steamy than overpoweringly hot. We filled two buckets with water, one for our feet and the other to regularly dowse ourselves with cold water as we washed ourselves using an olive oil soap. The oily soap is beneficial as it helps soften the skin ready for the scrub.
By now I was feeling quite brave and removed the wrap! I actually felt more self conscious wearing it than not, as I stood out far more.
Next up was the scrub – it’s a good idea to bring your own, one of the hand mitt type works well. I was shown into a separate room and climbed onto what looked like a sacrificial slab of marble. I laid on my front on the blissfully cool stone and closed my eyes as the scrubbing began. The lady started at my feet then moved up my legs, using vigorous strokes, which despite being brisk, were not painful. Rising up over my body, very little was missed and once she’d reached my neck, I was rolled over. Now I felt a little more self-conscious but told myself the lady must have seen so many bodies before mine. And besides, I was enjoying the process, my skin tingling invigoratingly.
Front done, I was then asked to sit up on the edge of the table to finish off my arms and finally, a gentle pass over my face. I returned to the steam room, my skin glowing from it’s sloughing of dead skin. It already felt softer as I doused myself some more to wash off any bits.
The process was finished off with a shower (although not all hammam have this facility) before returning to the changing room again. There we refreshed with a cold drink and some fruit as we dressed.
With my body still a-tingle, we headed outside to hail a taxi to take us to our respective homes. I was so glad to have had this experience and glimpse into Tunisian life, and extremely grateful to our friend for guiding me through the process, which in the end wasn’t too scary!
Useful to take with you – enough money for the hammam and a tip, a change of underwear, towel, cold drink and fruit, soap and a scrub mitt (and your choice of taking a wrap).
Time to Leave
With southerly winds now blowing, it was time to leave which meant checking out of the country. We mostly prepared the boat for departure, then walked around to the marina offices. First stop was the police, where we filled out a form and had our passports stamped. Then next door to the customs office, where the officer there updated his huge ledgers. With paperwork complete, he then seemed quite reluctant to come around to our boat right then, but maybe it was a joke lost in translation.
The policeman and customs office climbed on board, not so easy as we were parked bows to. They came inside and sat down, the customs guy glanced briefly in the forepeak before declaring all was ok. Which was quick and no gifts were asked for. They departed by climbing over the guardrails onto next door’s boat (they know the owner) and using their passerelle, before standing on the dock in front of us. ‘Start your engine’ we were told. Erk! We really needed another 15 minutes to finish off our preparations, but there was no choice, we had to leave right then.
Perhaps we could blame it on the hurried departure, but having exited our berth with no issues, our good luck came to an end. With a tight space in which to turn in reducing our ability to build up any momentum, we couldn’t get Emerald’s bow turned through the now lusty wind and ended up being blown alongside an empty pontoon behind out berth. Great that it was empty, not so great that the fenders were set high from being alongside other boats and by the time we got them lowered, Emerald was sporting a new souvenir on her hull. Thank goodness we haven’t painted it yet. As we considered having to set a spring to get us off, a group of strong looking Tunisian men came running to our aid and gave us a great big heave, which combined with a load of forward revs from the engine, got us clean away. We called out thank you’s and headed out of the marina.
Here is a collection of information that future visitors to Monastir and Tunisia might find useful.
- After our problem with the mooring lines, we had no further issues. If you are planning to keep your boat there long term, we’d recommend checking the lines you’re given and replacing them with your own if necessary.
- Diesel – we filled up from the diesel pumps at the marina and have since experienced no issues with the fuel. We always have added diesel bug treatment to the fuel every time we put any in our tanks.
Internet & Phone Calls
We used Ooredoo as an internet provider, buying a SIM card for 3TD and a 30 day package of 25GB of data for 25TD. Once used up, you can add on another package. There are smaller packages available and there are a couple of stores in town where they can be purchased and set up where the staff spoke good English.
Phone calls within Tunisia are extremely cheap; we topped up the data SIM with 5TD to use for calls and still had most of it left even after making a number of calls.
I have a UK Vodafone package on my phone but roaming charges were astronomical for use in Tunisia, so instead we used Skype – they had a one month free trail for calls to the UK which worked out perfectly. Just remember to cancel before the month is up.
We arrived a few days before the start of Ramadan which had a slight impact on our time there. It wouldn’t stop me visiting the country again during this time, we’d just be better prepared for it.
- Eating Out – Followers of Ramadan fast during daylight hours so many restaurants and cafes were closed with a couple opening up in the evenings for a few hours. This was in contrast to our experience in Turkey when we were there during Ramadan. So we missed out on a few food experiences we’d have liked to have had. But on the plus side, we were able to experience an iftar – the traditional breaking of the fast meal. During our day trips we learnt to take food with us and try to eat it somewhere discreet so that we didn’t offend anyone with our eating. We also carried a bag of Jelly Babies for energy emergencies – they don’t melt in the heat.
- Travel – there is a different timetable in place for the trains and buses which impacted on some of our plans. There are also fewer Tunisian people travelling in general so tourist sites may be quieter.
- Food and markets – the markets are bigger and stay open longer during Ramadan. In Monastir, the household stalls around the outside of the fish market are not usually present. Ramadan is a time for renewing items in the home, so the stalls are providing for this. There was also a night market during the last week where people were out searching for new clothing for Eid ul Fitr, the celebration of the breaking of the fast.
- Alcohol – alcohol is not sold anywhere during this time. Some restaurants that cater to tourists will sell it; the L’Ostianos restaurant in the marina was one of these. Shops don’t sell it at all during this time.
Travelling by public transport in Tunisia was incredibly cheap and pretty easy. Being able to speak a smattering of French helped us out, but the majority of people we came into contact with spoke English too. At each respective transport station, people were very helpful and friendly.
- Louage – an 8 person shared taxi. They generally have a fixed destination, travelling between louage stations. Prices and destinations are displayed at the kiosk at the station; tickets bought either at the kiosk or onboard. If in doubt: ask. People were very helpful when we asked.
- Train – we used an intercity train between Tunis and Monastir, the seats in first class were large and comfortable. The service was busy so if you can get there early to get a seat then do so.
- Metro du Sahul – a dedicated line that runs between Sousse and Mahdia with stops between including Monastir and Monastir airport. The trains were suffering from some vandalism, however prices were cheap with a journey from Sousse to Monastir costing only 1TD.
- Tunis Tram – ridiculously cheap! A few pence/cents for a journey. Tickets available from kiosks at the tram stops.
- Tunis TGM – a dedicated line that runs between Tunis and Sidi Bou Said with stops for Carthage. Trains approx every 15 minutes with two classes of ticket available. We’d read that second class would be crowded so spent less than a dinar more for a seat in first. However, seats are not guaranteed.
- Taxi – cheap and perfect for making short trips around a town. Expect to pay a few dinars for a ten minute trip.
- Bus – there are many buses providing a service through Tunisia, from local to intercity, however we found it difficult to find out timetable information because of no online data and timetables at bus stations being predominately in Arabic.