Our last few days in Monastir were very pleasant. We visited the large weekly market outside the "Port de Peche" and discovered a Frenchy-shoppers' paradise, with acres of tables offering used and new clothing at bargain prices. We decided not to buy a Berber carpet, and later wished that we had. We celebrated my birthday by finally touring the Ribat and the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba and by having dinner in the local restaurant "Al Hambra," where the meal was so good that we didn't even mind that it was accompanied by non-alcoholic beer instead of wine. I swam at the beach with Francoise, whose English vocabulary seemed to be growing at ten times the pace of my French vocabulary. We bought 5 liters of very special extra-virgin olive oil from the local cooperative, delivered to the dock by Hamed. We realized the limitations on the liberties of Tunisian citizens when Hamed had to leave his identity card with the police before he was permitted to board our boat. We were saved the cost of hiring a diver by Tom, who dove under our boat in his wet suit and freed our prop from a string/rope combination that the previous berth-holder had inexplicably used to tie the two lazy lines together. We tracked our mileage on my running GPS and discovered that between running, errands and trips to the shower we had logged over 13 kms in a single day. We developed a great fondness for harissa- the hotter the better. And after one last trip to the market to stock up on the delicious dates and raisins that I have been eating like candy, we stowed all our gear to prepare for the passage to Malta.
We hated to say goodbye to Tom and Liz on Feel Free- we wish they were travelling east instead of west.
Fortunately, we will be able to follow their journey, since their cruising logs are posted regularly on the Boat US site. Check out their postings at www.boatus.com/cruising , they are wonderful writers!
For those who might be thinking about cruising to Tunisia, a few parting thoughts about Marina Cap Monastir. Since we have to leave the boat unattended for over six months of every year while we return to Canada, the choice of an over-wintering location is always a big decision. Securing a space can be challenging, so we have to make the choice months in advance, without an opportunity to check out the marina in person. This year, we also needed to remove the boat from the EU, to avoid receiving a very big VAT bill. For us, Marina Cap Monastir was an ideal choice- it is sheltered, safe, well-run, inexpensive and outside the EU. The opportunity to see a bit of Tunisia was an added bonus. But most long-term cruisers actually live aboard their boats during winter, so amenities, climate and opportunities for on-shore travel and entertainment are important. Would this be a good place to spend a winter?
For a large community of French cruisers, the answer to this question is a resounding "yes". By early May this year, Marina Cap Monastir was already fully booked for the winter of 2010. With French as the second language in Tunisia, French cruisers can feel right at home and receive most of the amenities they would find in southern France, at a fraction of the cost. The savings are dramatic. For example, the cost of a marina berth for a 12 meter boat for a full year is 1783 dinars-roughly 1000 euros. (You could easily rack up 1000 euros in marina fees in less than a month in some parts of Europe.) Thanks to a bread supplement universally provided by the Tunisian government, the cost of a baguette is .190 TD- about 0.10 euro! In-season vegetables, fresh fish and chicken are very inexpensive; potable tap water is readily available. The winter climate is typically favourable (although reportedly that was not the case this year, when the weather was wetter and windier than usual). Tunisia's beautiful scenery, exotic culture and ancient historic sites are at your doorstep.
So what's the downside? Those who don't speak French might find this location a bit lonely, since this winter there were reportedly only four people in the entire marina whose first language was English. You will perpetually fight a losing battle to remove the fine coating of Sahara sand from your boat. You will have to do without a few minor luxuries, like parmesan cheese and prosciutto. Internet access can be sporadic and inconvenient. Boats can't be stored on the hard for extended periods (although this may be feasible at the Port de Peche). Otherwise, the biggest annoyance is attitudes toward westerners, particularly for women.
The pleasure of my morning run was frequently soured by irritating whistles and calls of "Ah, ma gazelle.." "Amour.." etc., which in view of my grey hair and baggy T shirts seemed patently ridiculous... until I heard that local men often try to hire themselves out for a night of "entertainment." Ugh. I observed that the local young women typically wore long pants and long sleeved shirts when they ran, regardless of the temperature. They looked quite lovely with their long braids slung over their shoulders, but surely this can't be healthy in the heat of the summer?
Exasperating "scam the tourist" routines are also an ever-present annoyance. Although the majority of vendors are honest and friendly, some will shamelessly inflate prices by ten times or more when a tourist approaches. Others try to lure tourists to commercial locations by masquerading as helpful citizens. Variations on the theme of "I'm the security guard from your hotel" include "Don't you recognize me madame? I'm the waiter who served you dinner last night.." Fortunately, those who fall for these lines will probably suffer nothing worse than an unplanned visit to a carpet shop-and there are some lovely carpets to be had in Tunisia!
Overall, the petty annoyances pale beside the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the countryside and the rich history and culture. We are leaving with some regrets, knowing that even after a combined total of nearly six weeks in Tunisia, we have barely scratched the surface. But time marches on, and we have only five weeks remaining before returning home in mid-June. Onward to Malta! (Stay tuned for Rick's blog on arriving in Malta, to be posted soon....)
A sailboat can't take you to the Sahara desert, but it can get you close enough that 230 Tunisian dinars ($193 Can) per person will pay for a three-day trip to the desert and back, including a chauffeured four wheel drive, accommodations and all meals. At 7 a.m. on Friday morning, we meet our driver-guide Hamed and our three travelling companions Serge, Pascal and Francoise, on the street outside the marina. Pascal and Francoise had helped Serge sail his 16-meter motorsailor from their home port in southern France to Monastir, via Sardinia. After several days of sanding and varnishing teak, they are ready for a break. Some might not consider travelling 1300 km in three days to be a break, but the sights and experiences in the Sahara desert and its environs would be an unforgettable experience.
First stop, El Jem- the third largest coliseum in the Roman world, built in the third century AD and now surrounded by souvenir stalls with persistent vendors and seedy cafes where male clients pass the time smoking hookahs and drinking mint tea or coffee. We are back in the car within twenty minutes, with our sights set firmly on southern Tunisia.
Imagine...seeing the lush fields and orchards of the north gradually dwindle and disappear. Driving past buildings and bridges built by General Rommel and visiting a subterranean Berber home in Matmata, where the lifestyle has changed only marginally over the centuries. Seeing the vast Sahara that we read about as children and feeling like Lawrence of Arabia riding through the dunes on the back of a camel. Visiting the dunes at sunset and encountering a nomadic woman dragging a snarling fennec (fox) puppy on a leash. Searching for seashell fossils on desert plain, miles from the sea. Seeing the cave where Rafe Feines left his beloved in the film "The English Patient." Seeing the miracle of the miniscule desert flowers that bloom in the sand during spring. Driving for miles along a "chott" where the reflections from the salt crystals in the dry desert lake trick you into believing that you are seeing a vast sea.
Imagine...three days with hardly a word of English spoken. Hamed is a wealth of information and thankfully he speaks French slowly and clearly so that we can understand most of what he says. When we do not understand, he translates an explanation in English, which we quickly realize is more difficult to understand than the French explanation. Our French companions initially do not attempt to speak to us in English, but as the days pass we begin to communicate in a mélange of English and French and enjoy each others' company immensely.
In the interior courtyard of a subterranean "troglodyte" dwelling, two young children who have no toys innocently play with a small captured bird and we are certain that the bird will not live past sunset. Hamed invites us to turn the heavy granite stones that the mother uses to grind the flour for the family's meals and explains that this is a regular daily task rather than a demonstration. The home is clean, tidy and surprisingly bright, but it could easily serve as a movie set for a Bible story. Hamed knows the family well and tells us that the wife works endlessly, the husband not at all. This, he says, is a common state of affairs among the Berbers.
Near Douz, we have reached the edge of the Sahara. We see Bedouin tents and herds of goats, sheep and camels. We stop to collect some "Roses des Sables", the beautiful rock formations that form in the sand and look like flowers. At Douz, we are offered the option to take a ride on the back of a camel¬ - in fact an Arabian dromedary, which Hamed clearly reveres as the finest of all animals. Hamed assures us that the "dromadaire" has human-like emotions and is more reliable than any GPS for finding a waypoint. Serge and Pascal have no interest in a camel ride and since it does seem a bit touristic we almost give it a miss, but Francoise says firmly that she must go- never in her life will she have another opportunity to ride on a camel. Rick and I decide to accompany her while Serge, Pascal and Hamed wait in the café. The operators dress us in Berber-style tunics and headdresses and we are led out onto the large dune with our three camels tied in a mini-caravan. As we rock along over the dune, a man in a brilliant royal blue Berber costume gallops past on a glorious-looking horse. The fact that this has certainly been planned for the enjoyment of tourists does not detract a whit from our appreciation. Francoise cannot stop smiling and says "One forgets everything here". Rick and Francoise decide that they will have a cigarette as we ride and as she smokes, Francoise asks us what the English word for "chameau" is. "Ah", she says, "Like the cigarette. I am smoking a Camel on a camel".
When we reach our hotel in Souk Lahad near Kebili, we have been on the road for over 12 hours and have driven over 600 km. The hotel is a meandering complex with pleasant Moorish-style rooms where the beds are mattresses on raised ceramic tile platforms. At dinner, Serge (an aeronautical engineer) presents us with a physics problem- if a glass is filled to the brim with a mixture of half red wine and half water, how can the red colour be removed completely, without spilling the contents?
On Saturday, a 6 a.m. wake-up call allows us enough time to complete a six-hour itinerary before lunch. Our first stop is educational rather than picturesque- a visit to a station that pumps geothermally heated water from a depth of 1700 meters, then cools the water by allowing it to spill over a grill within a tower. This water is used to irrigate plantations and greenhouses in the desert. We drive for miles along a road that crosses the chott (a dry salt lake bed) and stop to stretch our legs. Standing at the edge of the chott, we debate whether the little buildings that we see in the distance are real, or merely a mirage. When we stand upright we can see the buildings clearly, but as we squat they gradually disappear. We ask Hamed, "Ca existe?" "Non, ca n'existe pas." (Rick still insists that "ca existe". Moi, je suis certaine que ca n'existe pas. )
We drive pass an oasis, receive considerable instruction from Hamed on how to plant and care for date palm trees and visit a botanical garden and a small zoo. We learn that lions were native to the Atlas Mountains of Tunisia and wish that the pair we see penned up in a small area were still running free.
Our program is less ambitious today. We reach Nefta in the early afternoon and make a brief stop at a viewpoint overlooking the corbeille (a deep gully /oasis filled with palm trees and a huge public swimming pool built when Habib Bourguiba spent a winter in Nefta) before checking into the Hotel Bel Horizon. We are pleased to find spacious rooms, a large swimming pool and inviting decks with views of the chott. After lunch, we retire to the bar for coffee, where Serge presents the red wine problem to Hamed and the bar tenders. As we leave the bar, they are pouring water into a wine glass and having an animated discussion in Arabic.
After a few hours of repose, we meet Hamed for a visit to the old town, where many of the women wear long tunics with a band of blue colour near the waist. In the past, the bands varied in width depending on the marital status of the woman, but this practice has been abandoned in favour of a single standard width (a fact that perhaps reflects the improved status of women in Tunisia). After a glass of mint tea, we drive into the desert to see the sunset. As we wait for the sun to drop, Hamed shows us how the desert sand always accumulates on the north side of the plant-if ever you are lost in the desert without a compass or a dromadaire, this knowledge will help you find your way home. Francoise points to the desert plants and asks "What could one eat here?" Hamed replies that nowadays, the people who live in the desert mostly go into the villages to buy food. So ends the lesson on desert survival skills.
A cloud shields our view of the sunset, so we are preparing to leave when Rick spots three people coming over the dunes in the distance. Hamed shrugs, says that they are nomads and heads for the car. Just as we are about to buckle our seatbelts, an older woman dressed in traditional garments comes running over the dune, dragging a very unhappy fennec puppy on a chain. She rushes to the car and displays her wares- small woven purses obviously made from whatever bits of cloth she could accumulate, and some small bracelets and necklaces. She gives us beseeching looks and repeats "un dinar, un dinar". I buy a small bracelet and Francoise buys a necklace and purse, but our best acquisition is the photo that Rick takes of her before we drive away.
At dinner, Hamed announces that he and the bartenders were able to solve the wineglass puzzle in less than an hour. Rick and I are still mystified. Eventually, we convince Serge to give us the solution. (You will have to wait until we get back to Halifax for the demonstration.) After dinner, we retire to the bar/"discotheque" for mint tea and some dancing. It is interesting to see how the young Tunisian men are happy to dance alone, with each other or with older women if they cannot find a suitable dance partner among the young women.
At 7 a.m. on Sunday we are already in the car for the long drive back to Monastir. The landscape changes dramatically as we approach the mountains, with sandy plains running toward craggy peaks. We make a brief stop at a deserted Berber village (one of many that were destroyed by torrential rainstorms 40 years ago) and search for fossils on a stretch of desert outside Chebika. Accompanied by a local guide, we walk around a "tourist trail" near Mides, where the views of the gorge are dramatic. Small children and young men appear around every corner, selling white rocks that crack open like eggshells to reveal sparkling crystals inside. The guide points to the film setting for "The English Patient" and leads us along a rocky path to a small waterfall. Serge makes the entire walk barefoot, much to Hamed's chagrin.
As we leave Mides, we are only eight km from the Algerian border and we pass a customs station, National Guard posts and numerous police checkpoints. We stop for coffee on the road to Gafsa and the folly of barefoot rambling becomes very clear when Hamed spots a small viper on the rocks outside the café and attacks it with a piece of palm wood. In the process, the viper makes a journey around his ankle that leaves all of us with racing pulses, but the viper is eventually trapped in an empty water bottle and left behind as a conversation-starter for the café's next visitors.
The drive to Kairouan is long and tiring even for us and Hamed must surely be exhausted. We reach Kairouan (the fourth holiest site in Islam) at 5 p.m. Non-Muslims are not permitted into the courtyard of the Great Mosque after noon (nor into the interior of the mosque at any time) but we get a good view of the courtyard and a glimpse of the interior from the roof of a nearby carpet cooperative. Kairouan would be an interesting travel destination in its own right, but today we have only a glimpse.
On the final leg to Monastir, Hamed shares some final pieces of advice for navigating through life in Tunisia- how to ensure that you receive your change from the "Taxiphones" (payphones), where to buy the best olive oil at the best price, how to avoid over-paying in taxis and various other pearls of wisdom that will prove very useful in the days to come. He becomes wistful as he talks about his life in Tunisia and his dream of owning his own house - and I realize that I will be sad to say goodbye. In three days, he has given us a glimpse at the history and culture of his fascinating country. As often happens when traveling, it is unlikely that our paths will cross again. Fortunately, we do not yet have to say goodbye to Serge, Pascale and Francoise, as their boat is tied just steps away from ours at the marina.
Our brief glimpse of the desert leaves us thirsty for more. We will see what the next few days bring, after the boat jobs are completed. As always on this adventure, we ask ourselves whether we should stay and see even more or move on. We can be sure there are more wonders to explore in Malta, Syracusa and points further east.
Ma' as-salaamah et à bientôt.....
04/22/2009, Monastir, Tunisia
You've probably heard the joke that defines cruising as "working on your boat in exotic places" - it describes our lives here in Monastir just about perfectly. Consequently, we are very happy. Rick likes nothing better than working on the boat, I love being in exotic places. All is well.
Mr. Mrad arranged to have the boat hauled only two days after our arrival. To get to the travelift dock , we had to maneuver out of the impossibly tight spot we'd been assigned for the winter- but Mr. Mrad's men obviously have had lots of experience with moving boats in close quarters and with their help everything went smoothly. Even more impressively, they had us back in the water within 48 hours, with the bottom painted and the hull waxed. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to match their efficiency, so everything above the water line is still shabby and everything below deck is in disarray. So far, Rick has rebuilt the radar leveler mount, repaired the windlass, repaired the starboard nav light, jury-rigged another fitting on the water lock drain (because the one that Mom and I drove all the way to Harrietsfield to pick up the day before we left didn't fit) and started to tune the rigging. I've mostly been scrubbing and organizing- it took the better part of a day just to get the sand out of the water tanks. We aren't sure what happened- maybe we forgot to filter the last batch of water we took on in Sicily or maybe a deck fitting for one of the tanks is faulty- but it was a nasty mess. That's all fixed now, but the remaining to-do list is still daunting. I doubt we will get away from the dock before the end of the month. Neither of us feel any particular pressure to leave in a hurry- our marina bill is payed until August and, when we aren't working, we are enjoying the experience of being here. We are also really enjoying the company of Tom and Liz, Canadian cruisers who have been sailing the world for 24 years. Aisling is currently moored beside their boat, "Feel Free".
Although we spent ten days in Monastir in September, we really didn't see the town at its best. Ramadan is not the best time to visit a Muslim country. Also, we were very busy trying to get the boat ready for the winter and the extreme heat made it difficult to cope. In spring, it is completely different. We have had some rainy days, but also some sunny ones and the temperatures have been pleasant. The marina is located in a very beautiful area where the Ribat (an old Islamic fort) overlooks a sandy beach. Our morning runs take us along the water, past a beautiful old mosque and a graceful white-domed building that provides a stunning contrast against the sandstone cliffs. One morning, we ran behind the marina in the opposite direction and discovered a site with ruins that we later learned dated back to 3000 BC!
I find some reason to go the market every day. Just outside the market building, mounds of rose blossoms and stalks of a blossoming plant that looks and smells like a lemon geranium are on sale. (Yesterday I asked a woman what they were used for and she explained that they steep them in hot water to flavour cakes and also to make a tea that is used to treat fevers.) Many of the elderly women do their shopping wearing "sifsaris"- a type of cloak that is worn over the head, almost like a nun's habit- but they use them to cover part of their faces by gripping the cloth in their teeth. Much of the centre court of the market is occupied by the fish mongers. They shout out the types of fish they have available and wield their cleavers so energetically that anyone who gets too close will be spattered by blood. They keep large barrels of water behind the counter to rinse their hands and any coins returned as change are damp and fishy! The perimeter of the center court is rimmed with vegetable and fruit stalls- everything fresh and unbelievably inexpensive. This week, strawberries are 1.8 TD (about $1.60) per kilogram. All the vendors are male; many wear small flat topped red caps (if anyone knows what these caps are called please add a comment to the blog). In the alleys that lead back to the street there more fruit and vegetable stalls, butcher stalls (selling chicken, beef, lamb and goat) and spice stalls. I have finally figured out the money and prices (and a system for guarding my wallet) and every shopping trip is an adventure.
There is much more to tell, but it will have to wait for another blog. We'll be leaving early tomorrow morning for a three-day tour into the interior of Tunisia. We'll see the amphitheatre at El Jem, some Sahara sand dunes, an oasis at Nefta and Kairouan. The tour was arranged through the marina and we will be sharing a 4X4 and driver with three other cruisers. We don't usually do organized tours and travelling on a set schedule will be a bit of an adjustment, but the idea of having everything organized for us is quite appealing!
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At 0900 h on Monday morning we were downstairs enjoying the joyless breakfast provided by our hotel, but by 0945 h we were back in bed for a nap. Our body clocks were still set on Halifax time- so it was after 11 when we finally left the hotel. Although the skies remained overcast, the heavy rain seemed to have ended, and we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Sidi Bou Said and Carthage. Since the price to do a tour by car was 70 TD (about $60) compared to 1 TD per person each way on the metro, we made the obvious decision and walked down the avenue Habib Bourguiba to the Tunis Marine metro station.
Between the clock tower and the station, the avenue Habib Bourguiba was lined with colourful flower stalls. Photographs of the current Tunisian President, Ben Ali, were displayed at about every ten paces. The mid-day traffic was being directed by a beautiful Tunisian policewoman in full uniform, including a peaked cap and motorcycle gloves with deep cuffs. She blew her whistle and waved her arms with great authority. Women have a greater degree of freedom in Tunisia than in other Muslim countries; most do not veil their faces and many do not wear headscarves. In spite of that, true equality is probably not the reality. Even though the avenue Habib Bourguiba looks almost Parisian at first glance, closer inspection reveals that the tables in all the sidewalk cafés are nearly entirely occupied by men, by day and by night.
The metro system in Tunis is an above- ground electric rail system, inexpensive and efficient. If only we had something like it in Halifax! Our train arrived just minutes after we bought our tickets and the ride to Sidi Bou Said took less than half an hour. Sidi Bou Said is famous for its charming white and blue Greek-style buildings, bougainvillea and ocean views. With the tourist season not yet in full swing, the streets were very quiet. The view from the cliff overlooking the sea probably wasn't at its best, since the heavy rain and high wind during the weekend had stirred up the water. The shallow sections closest to shore were a chocolate-milk brown rather than the deep blue we might have seen on a calm sunny day. In any case, Rick was more interested in scoping out the marina below the cliff (almost all power boats with only a few cruising sailboats) than in looking at the view. After wandering aimlessly into a few shops and checking out the menus of a few restaurants, we decided to move on to Carthage for lunch. On the way down the hill to the station we were aggressively pursued by a street vendor who so desperately wanted to sell me a bracelet that the price dropped from 35 TD to 3 TD at warp speed. At 3 TD it was probably a good deal but by then I was too annoyed to buy anything from him. Later, I felt a bit sorry for him since it must be difficult to make a living during the low season and the problems with the world economy are undoubtedly causing a downturn in tourism.
Our plans for lunch in Carthage were "derailed" when the ticket agent at the metro station could not change a 10 dinar bill, so we decided to have shwarma and falafel sandwiches in a cheap restaurant near the station- not bad, but not as good as our favourite Lebanese restaurant in Halifax. After paying for our lunch, we had enough "petite monnaie" to buy our tickets to Carthage Hannibal station- which is just three metro stops from the Sidi Bou Said station. Following the excellent directions provided by a giggling teenager who seemed very pleased to demonstrate her English skills, we found the Carthage site easily. After paying 10 TD for two tickets that we assumed were the full-access tickets described in our guidebook, we discovered that we had in fact bought tickets to see the "Acropolium", a cathedral (now deconsecrated) built in the 19th century in memory of the French king Louis who died in Carthage during the crusades. The building was not particularly noteworthy- and did we really need to know that Louis' body was boiled in wine and his flesh shipped to France? Louis was eventually canonized, in spite of a nasty rumour that he hadn't died at all, but had merely jumped ship to enjoy the aesthetic pleasures offered by Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.
Eventually we made our way to the entrance of the Carthage museum, where we had to purchase new tickets (8 TD each) that provided access to the remaining historic sites. The museum was fascinating, with both Roman and Carthaginian artifacts. Many of the household objects on display dated back to over two thousand years ago, before the Romans destroyed Carthage. My personal favourite was a display of fragments of wine jars, stamped with the dates the wine had been produced!
The Carthaginians have captured our imaginations since we first encountered stories of their power on the Iberian peninsula. Carthage is said to have been founded in 814 BC by the Phoenician queen Dido (from Lebanon) and the settlement eventually grew to become the major power in the Mediterranean. Hannibal, the famous military leader who crossed the Alps with elephants, was born here. Models and maps of early Carthage on display in the museum gave us better insight into the marvel of their highly-defendable port. The inner port was entered through a long and narrow bustling commercial harbour where goods being shipped to and from other Mediterranean ports were loaded and unloaded . A narrow channel linked the commercial port to the inner, circular military port, which could hold over 200 war ships on its dry-docks and quays. This probably explains why it was only after three wars spanning more than a hundred years (between 263 and 146 BC) that the Romans finally defeated the Carthaginians. By that time, they were so fed up with fighting them that they leveled Carthage and salted the earth. The Romans referred to the Carthaginian civilization as "Punic" and Roman historians claimed that the Carthaginians practiced ritual child sacrifice (a claim disputed by some but very likely true given the existence of numerous child burial sites). Eventually, the Romans returned to establish their own great city on the site of Carthage. Today, although little remains of the original Carthaginian settlement, one small section known as Hannibal's quarter survived in the rubble beneath the Roman city and has now been excavated. It was a surreal experience to stand beside the ancient walls, stare out over the old Punic port at the Mediterranean and think about the great civilization that once existed here.
There is more to be seen at Carthage, including a Roman theatre, Roman baths and the sanctuary of Tophet (one of the aforementioned child burial grounds) but we ended our tour at Hannibal's quarter and took the metro back to our hotel for an early dinner at the Café Andalous. Although the ambiance in the restaurant is pleasant and the waiter was very friendly, the food was mediocre and we realized that we should have gone back to the neighbourhood Tunisian restaurant where we could have had a better meal for less than a quarter of the price.
The next morning the skies were sunny and I had just enough time for a last walk down the avenue before loading our luggage into the taxi for the 90 minute drive to Monastir. Tunisia is pleasant in springtime, with wildflowers in bloom and perhaps a little less garbage along the roads than we remembered from our drive to Tunis in September. We arrived at the marina, got our bags over Aisling's bow with the driver's kind help, and climbed onboard with a bit of trepidation. A gas can had leaked five gallons of gasoline onto our teak deck (thanks heavens no one lit a match!), the hanging locker in the forward cabin smelled a bit mustier than usual and there was almost enough Sahara sand on the decks to start our own private beach, but otherwise things looked good. Unlike last year, both the engine and the fridge started on the first try. "Spike", the cactus that Wally and Martha bought for us in Cartagena last year, was still alive. As we gradually unpacked the bags and stowed our belongings, we made various happy discoveries- 35 euros stashed in a little handbag (gotta love it when that happens!) a sealed box of All-Bran (almost as valuable as the euros), two jars of aioli, a bottle of our favourite French salad dressing and a bottle of Spanish cava. It will probably take us over a week to get everything cleaned and sorted out, but it's great to be back onboard Aisling!