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....)