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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TUNISIA

SARANDE PARTING SHOTS (Logan note:  this should have been in the Albanian section but I'm digging through my notebook and discovering parts I missed.  That's what happens when I don't have an editor.)

Like many beach/ocean side towns I've been to, Sarande is a bit grotty and a bit expensive.  I suppose it's because "hey, we've got the ocean!"

If you're not the kind of person who spends a lot of time in or on the water, it's a two or three day town at best.  So why did I remain here for so long?

First, one secret to nearly all seaside towns is the further you go from the water, the more the price drops and quantities of food and drink increase.  Lodging prices drop slightly as well.

Second and more significantly, the Albanians were really nice people.  I didn't meet one who was unfriendly.  Running into that sort of kindness is amazing.

The hotel I stayed at has day laborers hanging out in front.  For those not familiar with the concept, these are very poor men who hope someone will drive up and select them (or a certain number of men) to do a project.  They then get paid a nominal amount of money for the work.  None of them spoke more than five words of English.  Despite that, one of them wanted to buy me a coffee.  I retailiated by buying him a rakia.  Despite having communicated with all of these men with nothing more than smiles and nods for a couple weeks all of them wanted to shake my hand and tell me 'goodbye' when I had my pack on and was headed out.

The lady who sold me the bus ticket even agreed to convert my LEK for EUR and gave me a decent rate.

Like Bulgaria and Macedonia, I feel that if you are traveling with other people and not staying for long, people will miss out on what makes these countries so special.



ENTRY TO GREECE (Logan note:  this should have been in the Greece blog but I was out of my mind with sleep deprivation when I typed that up so missed it.  Sorry.  If a book editor ever takes an interest and wants to make this into a book they can move it so it looks coherent.  Which I'm often not.)

At the Greek border, I was moved up to the front of the line.  I was standing in the middle and the bus driver decided "This guy should be up front".

It probably worked out better for them they did that.

The male Greek border guard spoke very little English.

Guard:  (Bit garbled, sounded like "I like you")
Logan:  "Did you say "I like you?...(pause)  I like you too."

Both that border guard and the one sitting on the other side of the hut started laughing their asses off.

After that, it is amazing how much faster both lines went.



BORDER CROSSING TIPS

Always greet them in English and stick to that language. Even if I spoke the local language fluently, I would just use English when crossing the border.  This causes a lot less questioning, bag searching and so on.  Obviously, if you are actually from that country or they are fluent in English, this won't have the desired effect.

If you can get a border guard to smile or laugh YOU WIN.



FIVE TRICKS TO DEALING WITH FOREIGN MONEY (this is an article that could be dressed up and appear in MyFiveBest however I suspect the owner's computer suffered a meltdown.)

1.  Learn if there is tipping and how much.  People from the USA are the only ones who tip insane amounts.  Most countries either have no tipping or just round up to the next higher amount.  5.11 becomes 5.25 or 5.5.   Some rare cases, maybe 6 but not often.  In countries other than the USA, wait staff are paid a regular wage rather than being expected to live off their tips by evil employers.  If you over tip in foreign countries, you just drive up the prices for everyone.

2.   Keep a day wallet.  If your daily pocket money is say $50 (in whatever local currency you need), that is the only money in there.  This helps keep you from going over budget.  Also, in the unlikely event you get mugged, this is all the money you seem to have on you.

3.  Your credit cards and reserve of money go in a secure pouch worn under your clothing next to your skin.  This makes it fiendishly hard to pickpocket.  In warm climates the pouch will quickly smell worse than your feet so having a secondary one to use while the original is being washed is a good idea.  Some people complain this is uncomfortable but it is less uncomfortable than losing your wad of money, credit cards and passport.  There may be times you need to sleep with this on.

4.  Learn the conversion rate then change it to something more simple.  If the conversion rate is $1 is 1.71, make it 1.5.  You can probably do that in your head.  If not, carry a very basic calculator or use your phone.  If you make the conversion rate 1 = 2, the money will go faster than anticipated rather than a bit slower.  Use whatever works for you but keep it simple.

It's amazing how much of our happiness can be traced to the movement of these little pieces of cloth or paper.  Which seem on the whole not to be either happy or unhappy about it.  Bastards.

5.  Get your money converted before you reach the border if possible.  Coins are completely useless as soon as you reach the border.  In some countries, this is a horrible thing because a coin can equal a couple of dollars and if you have a bunch of coins you either have some expensive collectibles or are out thirty bucks.  Some currencies are tied to the dollar or euro.  Generally, these are worth nothing when leaving the country of origin.  Also, some currencies are illegal to remove from the country.  In general, it is best to convert your money to dollars (if headed home to the USA) or Euros if you want money that has actual value.   At some banks, they won't convert money unless you have an account there or can produce an ATM receipt for their ATM.   Keep your receipts and use ATM's that have actual working banks attached to them when possible.



WEIRD LOGAN SHIT

Has anyone else noticed the 'hit' in 'shit'?  I'm sure there is a funny joke in there somewhere.

Drip coffee (read as 'standard American') doesn't do it for me any more.  Can't stand the taste of the stuff.  Tastes...  Hollow.  These days all I can drink is either the 'muddy bottom' coffees (Greek, Turkish, etc), espresso style or Nescafe.  Amazing how your tastes change when you travel.



BACK TO THE NARRATIVE - ITALY TO TUNSIA

So I'm in Italy and needing to get to the docks.  That sounds simple - but was it?

Hell no.  I think I may have actually had a heart attack en-route.

In Italy, the land of misinformation, I am told the metro didn't start until six AM.  Get there and oh look - it seems to have been going for awhile now.  Super.  I'd wanted to get an early start to make sure I didn't miss the ship and get stuck in the 'money vampire on my neck sucking sucking sucking!' country.

The subway takes a bit under an hour to reach the Spawn Pit of All Evil, also known as the main train station.  This is where the most horrible Italians who are as persistant as flies hang out.  The taxi drivers.  After fending several off (they follow you around you know) I managed to heroically battle my way to the train.

Typical Italian cabdriver...

There didn't seem to be a stop for the port town listed.

Immediately I went to my default of 'harass the locals for information' until I found the correct train.  Was it labeled?  You bet your ass it wasn't.  Turns out it was going much further and that town was the one labeled.  Not really helping the tourist there.  After getting agreement by people not on the train and those on the train that this was the correct train, I settled in for the hour ride.  That would put me there at eight in the morning, a scant four hours before the ferry is scheduled to leave.

Some people are a mystery to me.  They are the ones who think leaving no time between when they show up and their transport leaves is OK.  They want to mess around, sleep in, play with their phones and cry like entitled babies when they get there five minutes late and discover their transport left on time.

Not this guy.

Logan is delighted to sit around bus stations, airports, ferry terminals and any other place needed to ensure not only he is on time but one of the first to get said transport.

Sometimes things fill up and there is no more space.  And 'shit happens'.

Could have been my ferry.  It wasn't but if it were, I would have the decency to pretend to be surprised.

So, I get off the train in the port town.  Yeah.  No names of these towns because a) though it sounds exotic, I know you don't care and b) I can't find them right now.   I ask someone where the port is.

By now, I'm speaking pretty basic Italian.  It's not really that hard.  You can't just put on an Italian accent and say things like "Momma mia, pizzeria!"  That's pretty insulting.  Funny, but insulting.  Assuming you've got a little bit of Latin and pay attention, it's a refreshingly easy language to pick up bits of without studying.

Port is "porto".  Not really that difficult.  Not rocket science, that would be 'scienza missilistica'.

With all my junk I now had a choice.  Hike the reported 1.5 KM (that's about a mile for those still back in the stone age with measurements) or get robbed by one of the taxi drivers for ten euro or more.

I decided to walk.  That way, I could pick up some water and breakfast as well.

Wrong choice!
Something like this generally goes on in my head when I am wrong but there is usually someone around who wants to act it out externally as well.  Very kind of them.

Found a store and was doing the absolutely hilarious knocking over boxes with my over sized backpack on as the shop keeper hustled to sell me a couple liters of water and one of orange Fanta so I'd leave his store.  Well, hilarious to everyone aside from the shopkeeper and I.

Bought some chocolate filled croissants as well.  Those can pass for a breakfast food here.

Then I waddled over to the docks.  By the time I got there, one of my legs was beginning to feel like it was going to give out and I was covered in sweat.

At the ticket office, I was told "No, this is the small boat dock.  You want the OTHER dock."

The phrase "Are you fucking kidding me?" does not translate so I just gave one of those 'death head grins'.

Except I didn't need a mask.  And am a lot fatter.

The poor girl started apologizing and I did my best to dial down my intensity.  Not her fault I don't know what is going on.  Or that this town needs more than one port.

So I had to hike at least two kilometers.  More.  (Editor note:  I checked and it is close to 4 KM total distance.  This does not include me wandering around looking for more locals to ask where 'el porto' is.  Yes, I am aware that 'el' is probably more correct in Spanish but in the condition I was in, it didn't matter.)  The worst thing is that while I was walking, this song kept playing over and over in my head...  (Editor note:  That is a freakishly weird video.)

Arrived to what I hoped would be the correct port and was stopped at the gate.  Turns out I couldn't go the last ten meters until the 'shuttle bus' came and collected me.  They don't like people walking around in the port.

I was a tad bit upset.
Well, not quite this upset on the outside.  Nobody can out over-act Shatner.

Another guy who was waiting for the shuttle asked where I'd walked from and he looked freaked out when I told him from the train station.  Had to wring my bandanna out twice to get most of the water out of it.

My legs were twitching a bit and I had to keep one of my knees a bit straight so it wouldn't collapse under me.

Not doing well physically.  I'd bought a cane back in Macedonia but lost it on one of the buses within a couple days.

When I finally was permitted to ride the vaunted shuttle bus for a very brief trip and deposited in front of the windows, both of them said "Check in".

This about stopped my fucking heart.


There was no time left to go get a ticket elsewhere.  After waiting an hour for the shuttle bus and doing my own personal 'Trail of Tears' (ed note:  The Native Americans had it much worse but Logan was overly emotional at this point) there was only an hour left until the ferry departed.

Fortunately, they were able to sell me a ticket for 75 euros.

All that remained was to pass through customs and on to the ship.

The guards of the great frontier...  Were not there.

Nobody knew where they were.  They were suppose to be there, guarding the border and weren't.  Even the port guards had no clue where they were.

The boat (named Zeus) was there and loading up.  It was obvious it was going to leave on time and...no boarder guards.

By the time they showed up, it was really tempting to do a Fat Bastard.

Because I did have a turtle head poking out and it was making me all emotional.

But that doesn't translate into Italian well and the border guards didn't seem to speak any English.  So I just hoped for speed.

Which I didn't get.

They took so long with my passport concern it would be rejected and me being told I'd have to remain in the land of money rape became a very agonizing concern.

Turns out they were just fascinated with why it was three times the normal size and how many stamps were in it.  I think.

My passport was stamped an I was allowed at last to limp/stagger onto the ferry.  After a quick trip to a bathroom that had no right to be that disgusting before the trip had even begun, I was given a new choice.

The promised land.  Don't get me wrong - I'm sure Italy is great.  If you're rich.

To lay claim to either a section of the couch or an electric outlet and chair.  There was no way to get both so I chose that latter.

Yes, this means I got to sleep in a pretty uncomfortable chair for the evening.  Joy and happiness were mine.

Fortunately, I was so tired from the previous exertions that sleep came easily.  Unfortunately, those same exertions had made me stink like the homeless person I am.

Since there was no wifi to be had on the ship - and I wouldn't have paid for it anyway since ferries haven't figured out that giving customers free wifi just enhances their image because they are back in the stone age - I just watched several shows I'd saved up for times like these.



OTHER ROOMS ON THE FERRY

Like many other ferries, this one had what I think of as a 'stupid tax' room - a casino.  You usually see a couple grim looking people in there giving their money to the machines.  The people never seem to be having any fun nor do I ever see anyone actually win anything.



OTHER PASSENGERS

As one would expect, there were a lot of Tunisians aboard.  They were very kind to me.  One offered me half of his breakfast (an orange or something that looked like one), another offered me water, etc.

In digging through my bag to make damned sure I spent all of the euro coins I had, I discovered three large coins of no real value from other countries.  After a great deal of discussion, I managed to give them to a father to give to his kids.  The kids must have played with them for a good ten minutes before they disappeared.  I felt validated.

Talking to Tunisians is a bit difficult for me.  Although some speak English well, most speak Tunisian, French and Classical Arabic.  And my French isn't very good - yet.  (Editor note:  It will never get very good.)



TUNIS RUN AROUND

Yeah.

It was ugly.

It all started with a cab driver as most ugly stories do.

For ten dinar (about $7) he assured me a hotel room with wifi for under 30 dinar.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a "lie".  But I figured what the hell.  I can risk seven dollars.  After Greece and Italy, it was a gentle buttfuck.  He even went so far to say if he couldn't find me a hotel then the ride was free.  Cab drivers will say about anything to get you into their taxi.

We then proceeded to go to five grotty hotels which were completely booked up of anything less than the 50+ dinar ($30?) rooms.

Screw that.

Eventually, he just kind of pointed at one and gave me a 'there you go'.  Not only did he still want his money but he wanted a tip for stopping at so many.  He got 5 dinars, bargained down from ten.  He did work his ass off, true, but the whole 'result' thing was kind of lacking.

Now they did have two different rooms in this shithole he directed me to.

In one, there was no water at all in the bathroom.  At all.

The second one had some electrical problems.  Like when you turned on the lights or ceiling fan BIG FUCKING SPARKS SHOT OUT.

Wish I was making this shit up.  I just looked at the guy who had shown me these two rooms.  He only shrugged.  He could give a shit.

Well, fuck Tunis!

Fortunately, I'd done a bit of research and discovered a town called Hammamet.  Wasn't sure how far it was from Tunis but it was about a fourth the size (half million people) and much cheaper on the internet.

Screw it, lets go there.

Because I  just didn't feel like I've done enough hiking with all my gear lately, I did another kilometer or two.  I get weird muscle spasms in my legs from time to time from this kind of abuse.  It is super awesome.

Asking around (en fran├žais) I discovered there was a louonge (shared taxi) headed to Hammamet.

The taxi driver earlier had assured me it was 10 dinars for these.  Also a lie, it was half that.  I paid for two spots, one for me and the other for my bag.

"Allons-y?"  I asked the cab driver.  ("Lets go?") and off we went.  Yes, that totally came from watching Doctor Who and yes it does work though it is a bit old fashioned of way to say it.  But I couldn't remember any others in French.

At last the patented Logan Luck (TM) reasserted itself.  Sitting on the same seat on the other side of my computer bag was a very nice man who was half British and half Tunisian.  He not only directed me to a hotel but escorted me there.

And that is where I am typing from right now.

I spent last night in what was the largest room I've ever been in.  Sadly, I didn't get any pictures.  Unfortunately, it was located overlooking their restaurant where - you guessed it - they played music incessantly until after 10PM or so.   Not only that, but the pollution off the street (no emissions testing here) can choke a donkey.

Like this one.  And yes, this donkey is actually one from the streets of Hammamet.

So now I've moved to a smaller room.  It's not perfect but should suit me for a month or so.  Honestly, I've not seen a lot here that makes me want to stay in Tunisia for an extended period of time.  However, I do still need to get my airline ticket for JNB at some point...

I met the manager who took me to a place to get my clothing cleaned.  That was great until the lady asked my religion and when it wasn't Islam got a bit huffy.  I always claim to Buddhist when on the road - better.



PRICES (Hammemet)

Small beer, 2.5 d
Large beer, 5 d
Laundry, 5.5 d
Water, .6 d
Fanta, liter 1 d
Room, normally 35 d but will be negotiating tomorrow if I like it.  My objective is to get it down to 20 d (a bit over $10 per night) so that I can afford to stay here for awhile.

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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