16 June 2013 | Monastir Tunisia
Mr. Mrad's travel lift broke down on Thursday. By the grace of Allah, Aisling had splashed back into the water just hours before this happened. Being stuck on the hard with the temperature soaring above 30 degrees by mid-morning is not my idea of a good time. What a relief to be floating again! I'm sure that Mr. Mrad and the owners of the boats in the yard are equally relieved that the lift was up and running again within a day.
Aisling looks great, with a fresh coat of paint on the bottom, the waterline raised and the hull polished. As I write this, Aziz is on deck, polishing the topsides and all the stainless steel-a job that is usually mine, and often goes undone. In this heat, it is not a job for the faint of heart, so the pleasure we feel about getting all these tasks dealt with is marred by the guilt of knowing that Aziz was probably on the verge of heatstroke by the end of the day yesterday.
It's too bad we can't be at anchor, but if we have to be in a marina (and we do for at least a few more days) this is not a bad place to be. To start with, the toilets and showers are not half a kilometer away as they were in Marina di Ragusa. The dock is lined with small restaurants where you can get an excellent meal, including wine or beer, for around $10 Canadian a person. Wifi is available in the tea salon -although we don't need to go there and drink endless cups of almond tea anymore, because we have bought a data plan for Rick's phone. There's a decent grocery store in the marina, and a larger one in the town. A baguette costs the equivalent of about 20 Canadian cents. At this time of year, the daily market has an abundant selection of fresh produce, and the variety and quantity of fish available rivals anything we've seen in Italy. We're parked right next to Paul and Gabriella, the couple who watched over Aisling when she wintered in Marmaris and Marina di Ragusa. I ate fresh dates with my breakfast this morning. All in all, it's very pleasant.
I'm not saying that it's perfect. There's a distressing amount of debris floating in the water around the boats. The cockroaches on the dock are large enough to be featured in a science fiction movie. We've already had one feral cat jump onboard. (I've told a few of them that I'd like to take them home with me, but I didn't really mean it.) And although the customs officer who checked us in didn't ask for money as had happened when we arrived in 2008, he did ask for two bottles of the good Italian wine that he'd spotted in our fridge. "One for me and one for my friend." At the end of the day, we watched him stow both bottles of wine in his car, so clearly his friend was out of luck. We just hope he shared it with his wife.
It's not easy to get good wine here, either. At the Lostania restaurant, where to our surprise the head waiter remembers us from 2009, Rick asks the server for a wine list. "Blanc, rosé et rouge "is the reply. "OK, blanc" Rick replies. The waiter disappears, but returns empty-handed. "Eh, rosé ou rouge?" We agree to try the rosé, but moments later, he is back. "Voulez-vous du rouge?"
The truth is, the small restaurants probably can't afford to keep an inventory of wine on hand. In some cases, the waiters will duck out the back door and buy the wine after a patron has ordered it. This was never a wealthy country, and the events surrounding the Arab Spring have hit the tourism industry hard. In the hotel complex that surrounds the marina, we see a mere dozen or so lights illuminated at night, which is probably no more than 10% of the total. The replica pirate ships the Sultan and Barbarousse still leave and return with dance music blaring, but there are few Europeans among the passengers. Yesterday, when a merchant in the medina called us "dirty people" because we did not want to buy his plates, I began to wonder if I wanted to be here myself. But then I reminded myself of the beauty of the country, the richness of the culture, and the many kindnesses we have been shown since we arrived.
After years of being ruled by a dictator, it may take some time for the Tunisians to get their country on track. Eventually, I'm sure they will. In the meantime, we're doing our best to support the local businesses (but obviously not that guy in the medina!) Now, where shall we dine tonight?