The nitty gritty details
1000+ kms over a month in April 2003. I had hoped to spend April 2003 riding my trike thru Libya but in the end I spent the time riding my trike thru and into neighbouring Tunisia
Getting ready to go:
Apart from the usual ride training to get the legs ready for pedalling day after day there were a few things to do:
Maps: I took the Freytag & Berndt 1:800, 000 map of Tunisia, this map has pretty good city maps of Tunis ( including Carthage), Sousse and Íle de Djerba
The Office de la Topographie et Cartographie (OTC) in Tunis has a really good 1:750, 000 map of Tunisia
Whichever map you use, some of the smaller (good biking) roads are not so clearly marked, expect to get lost in the back blocks
Visa: Not everyone needs a visa; most Western European and/or American visitors don't have to bother. For those of us who do need a visa, Tourist Visas are valid for 30 days and in many cases can be bought at the point of entry. My visa cost 3 TD at Tunis Airport, payable in local currency only and as you can't import TD this is a bit of a catch 22, but the officials are very pragmatic and let you wander off to change money elsewhere in the airport trusting that you'll return...
Getting an extension is said to be a hassle, but 30 days in such a small place as Tunisia should be plenty anyway
B/trike: I was going to say something like bikes and planes don't mix but I've said it before so I won't...
I flew Thai and Royal Jordanian on this trip and both required that I box the trike. The Greenspeed GTO trike can be deconstructed easily and this time around I used a bike box from Qantas, They're a bit wider than the usual box from the local bike shop. I was able to leave the box at a hotel in Tripoli so that I could reuse it for the return flights. But this was not to be. Still in the Tunis souk, a guy 'made' a box (out of a couple of refrigerator cartons) for next to nothing. The box ended up pretty bashed about but the trike was relatively unscathed with just a few minor plastic bits broken when Thai chucked the box about in Bangkok - I watched from the plane as they 'loaded' the box and decided that this would be the first and last time taking the bike with Thai
RJ weren't fabulously concerned with the weight of the bike box, and Thai gave me an extra 10 kg weight allowance
Vaccinations: The list of recommended shots is scary. Hepatitis (both A and B), tetanus, typhoid, rabies and on and on it goes... As my shots were OK I didn't bother this time around - notice a pattern here?
Once you're there:
Accommodation: Hotels are cheap and cheerful although not all towns where you may expect to find a hotel in fact have any. The prices are usually set by the "season", the tourist season that is. There can be big differences between high + low season prices
In April I was able to stay in relatively upmarket places, even in heavily touristed areas, at very reasonable rates. Nothing like a bit of luxury...
In general, the cheaper Tunisian hotels, even the Medina flop houses, are clean and comfortable ( well, compared to, say, Egypt for example)
Food: You'd best like tuna... it's ubiquitous
In general, food is great! Not just cheap and filling, but tasty too! Tho you'd also best like spicy food as well, the local hot stuff, harissa is hot hot and also ubiquitous, appearing at breakfast, lunch and dinner
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll be in paradise with honey or syrup soaked pastries filled with nuts or creamy sweet cheese. The patisseries also have a brilliant assortment of pastries and cakes - a left-over of the French colonial days I guess
Bottled water is available cheaply, everywhere as are fresh fruit juices. Beer and quite palatable wine are also widely available
Money: Changing cash or travellers cheques into Tunisian dinar wasn't hard but with travellers cheques not all banks etc dealt in them, not really a problem, just that finding the right bank branch can take time
Credit cards are OK in more upmarket places - and of course in the well-defined 'tourist' places. Never seen so many Europeans in one place outside Europe...
ATM's were reasonably well distributed throughout the whole country
Roads: Tunisian roads were mostly well paved and often there were nice verges but there were also plenty of times I saw pretty rugged pavement, no verges and sizeable drops off pavement edges. Of course out in the backblocks the roads are more like a collection of patched potholes
Traffic: Despite the usual exotic traffic hazards, like camels on the road, getting around wasn't too bad
Compared to Sydney drivers, Tunisian drivers were extremely well-mannered and polite, even the taxi drivers. Maybe the heavy police presence has something to do with this, but whatever the reason, riding, even on main roads in heavy traffic was something of a dream run
In the towns and villages, there were plenty of bikes and drivers were accustomed sharing the road. Traffic cops were unbelievably friendly at the many roadblocks. They occassionally wanted to see my passport but mostly they were more interested whether I had sufficient water
The bits I didn't like? As usual, any speed or yield sign was taken as advisory rather than mandatory... except around the now mostly un-used road blocks that dot the roads. Smoke belching vehicles of all descriptions were too common, not pleasant when you're sucking down air trying to pedal up an incline, and some of those climbs were awful. Took me 5 hours to do the 40 odd km from Jendouba to Ain Draham, but then on the other hand I'm not good at hills anyway
Sandstorms were problematic more for breathing than in relation to traffic, but on occassion, visibility got down to less than 100 m, and that was scary
The most frequently asked questions:
By folk outside Tunisia: Is it safe for an - insert your nationality - to go to Tunisia?
Short answer = zillions of European tourists can't be wrong!
As Lonely Planet says, in Tunisia it's often difficult to remember that you're in an Islamic country and so even tho I was there in April 2003, remember that time? - when George Dubbya attacked Saddam? - I found absolutely no problem with solo travel in Tunisia. What I did find were friendly, open people and a safe secure environment
By folk inside Tunisia: Why did Australia attack Iraq?
Somewhat unusually, a direct 'political' question - maybe it was just the time, I don't know - but anyhow, many Tunisians had a far greater understanding of the situation than was evident in Oz when I left, and more than a few even knew who our PM was. (Quick now, who is the Prime Minister of Australia?) Anyway, the question really stretched my limmited French + Arabic language skills - it also taxed my cognative skills, just why Australia invaded Iraq was beyond rational debate anyway