Don't be misled by the title. We actually sailed away from Tunisia three weeks ago, but it would be a shame not to write at least a few words about our brief stop in Monastir. It's a place that we know well, having spent time there in 2008, 2009 and 2013. This year our visit was short, with our main goal being to take Aisling briefly out of EU waters. The passage from Trapani was quick but bumpy, especially for the first 12 hours. I was grateful when the seas calmed down, and the payback was a brilliant starry night.
Arriving in Monastir is always interesting. One is never sure what "gifts" the police and customs agents may expect. Some like whisky. Some like wine. Some ask for money. This time, the officers wanted our expired flares. A strange request, but good for us, since disposing of expired flares can be complicated. With the formalities behind us, and the contents of our wine "cellar" intact, we got Aisling settled at her assigned berth, which was alongside the dock behind one of the tour boats. The advantage of being tied "side-to" instead of our usual "bow-to" system is that it is easy for us to climb on and off the boat. The disadvantage is that it is equally easy for unwanted guests to hop onboard. During our stay, we found the corpse of the biggest cockroach I've ever seen on the floor underneath one of the hatches. Quite dead and dry as tinder, but still horrifying. I took ten deep breaths and told myself that it had probably been dead when it blew in, so wouldn't have had the chance to lay any eggs. Lesson learned; keep the screens in the hatches! Later, and even more horrifying, I found a set of tiny footprints on the cabin top. Fortunately, with three weeks behind us, I can now say with some confidence that we didn't have any extra guests with us when we left.
Things in Monastir hadn't changed much since our last visit, although perhaps there were even fewer tourists. The sales pitches of the vendors in the medina had almost a touch of desperation, which was very sad to see. On the other hand, mid-September is not the ideal time to visit Tunisia, with the thermometer soaring to over 35 degrees during our visit. Perhaps business will be better during the winter and spring. And during the weekend, the cafes in the marina and the little boys selling tiny bouquets of jasmine were getting lots of business from local Tunisians.
Early one morning, we went for a run up the hill behind the marina. We'd always been curious about the ruins on the cliff above the water, and this time there was a guard on site. I suppose that guarding ruins, even ones dating back to Roman times, gets a little boring at times , so he seemed happy to give us a tour of the site. He certainly had a few surprises to show us. There were several deep storage wells (which he explained were used for storing grain in ancient times) and a beautiful mosaic still partially buried in the sand.
His "piece de resistance" was a human skull, which he uncovered with a flourish. A Roman, he said. (Hopefully a very old one.) Tunisia has so many treasures.It looked like perhaps someone is finally excavating the ruins, so perhaps we will eventually learn more.
Later, we walked through the town to the medina and market, where the sights and smells let us know that, even though Sicily was barely more than a stone's throw across the water, we were in very different land. You certainly wouldn't see anyone leading a camel down the streets of Trapani!
On the other hand, the desserts in the local bakery were as fine as anything you would see in France.
The market was as wonderful as we'd remembered.
When we took a break at a little café, we almost forgot that we weren't in Italy. Except that the price of a cappuccino was about a quarter of what it would have been in Italy. And that the men in the back room were smoking hookahs. And that we were sitting just across from the Ribat, the 8th century AD fort where the movie "Life of Brian" was filmed.
I was enjoying being back in Monastir, but Rick was getting edgy. It was too hot, and he was convinced that my wardrobe choices were offending the local men. Moreover, the friendly woman who runs the laundry warned us that tomorrow would be hotter, the next day even hotter and the day after that hotter still. At the beach, local women wrapped in long sleeves, trousers and headscarves bathed alongside elderly Europeans in bikinis and thongs.
After only three days, the weather forecast looked perfect for a sail to Sciacca. Although it was a bit earlier than we'd planned on leaving, the thought of getting back to the relatively cool temperatures in southern Sicily was sounding pretty appealing. After one last visit to the Medina, and one last visit from the customs agents, we were on our way. I wonder if we'll ever be back in Tunisia? I hope so.
(To read about our earlier visits to Tunisia and our drive to the Sahara select Tunisia under the quick links on the right-hand side of the page. The previous posts will then be displayed underneath this one.)