Trip Report: Tunisia, Nov. 2022

Old Jan 30th, 2023, 03:43 PM
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Trip Report: Tunisia, Nov. 2022

This is the second trip report for our travels in October-November 2022. It’s not that time the time abroad was longer, on the contrary it was shorter than our normal travels, but the locales were so different that it suggested such a split.

Since Tunisia was the reason for this trip, the essential cost information is given here because it was this part of the trip that decided the main costs. For example, the convoluted travel from the U.S. to Tunisia suggested a stop in Europe on the way over. Moreover, the cost of a RT from San Francisco to Tunis and back, with a stop in NYC would have cost about twice as much as what we actually paid.

Here are the costs for two of our ticketed travel:

SFO to London, and then Marseille to NYC via Frankfurt cost $1762.14
London to Tunis cost $152 for the Eurostar, $294 Air France to Tunis
Tunis to Marseille: $194 with Nouvelair
NYC to SFO: $857 with Alaska Airlines (end of Thanksgiving week)

Total of basic cost for going from location to location, some local costs to and from airports not included was $3,106.34.

The original intent was to fly from London to Tunis with TunisAir. But our travel agent (used first and last time for lack of creativity) told us that TunisAir refused her credit card as payment (it was otherwise accepted) and having heard a horror story about this airline (Trip Notes: 3 Nights in Tunisia) we did not think that the alternative offered—to pay with a check—was viable. I quickly worked out the alternative of taking the Eurostar in the morning to Paris and catching an Air France afternoon flight to Tunis. I also found an alternative to TunisAir with Nouvelair to get to Marseille at the end of our tour. The differential in cost between flying directly from London to Tunis and my alternative was minimal.

We traveled with Sicily Tour (https://www.sicily-tour.com/) and Mosaic North Africa for $5800, topping over $6,000 after following the suggested tips for guide and driver. The tour is offered by Sicily Tour whose owner traveled with us, and he contracted Mosaic North Africa for the local guide, transportation, accommodations. The tour lasted two weeks, including arrival and departure day. We arrived a day early and left a day after. The tour costs included pick up at the airport and taxi service to the airport. There were quite a few meals for which we had to pay even when we were in a group. But the cost of living being what it is in Tunisia, that simply was part of our daily pocket money expenses. For example a meal at our first hotel’s restaurant, rated Tunisia’s best restaurant by https://worldculinaryawards.com/awar...est-restaurant for what it’s worth, cost us a total of $57 for a meal around a big platter of grilled sea and turf. A total of $12 to $20 was the cost of our food when we had to pay for our lunch or dinner. In the more ordinary places food is not that varied. One satisfying item is the grilled fish, usually sea bream served whole. The size of the fish suggested a farmed fish, but usually well prepared in that it was still moist; once I had it fairly dry. Chicken is also a common stand-by. Lamb and beef tend to be more expensive. We had three “expensive” meals on the trip: the introductory meal on the first day, which took place in the same restaurant and was a take on traditional food, and our farewell meal that took place in an old palace in the middle of the Tunis medina. Our first lunch in the medina introduced us to brik. In Tozeur we had the opportunity to try camel meat cooked in clay pots. It did not taste that different that I could identify it as foreign meat; by comparison, lamb is easily differentiated from other meats. For the rest, food was quite ordinary. The one food discovery for me was brik, a very thin, brittle pastry that shatters with each bite, which, if well made, contains a running egg in the center; but is at time closer to a hard-boiled egg. Unless traveling on a very strict budget, one does not need to worry about spending money on food. Even shrimp which tends to be expensive is quite affordable compared to dollar or euro costs. Tunisia is on the dinar. Main dishes in restaurants cost about 16 to 30 dinars which comes out to $4 to $7.50.

Obtaining cash is not a problem. Any decent sized town has a bank with an ATM and there is a standard fee of 10 dinar for any withdrawal. We prefer cash to credit cards for our daily expenditures so I am not in a position to say whether credit cards are widely accepted.

The tour was essentially a tour of UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as Dougga

https://flic.kr/p/2o3jykH
and a few potential ones, be they ruins such as Sbeitla

https://flic.kr/p/2o2jbX3
or local cultural curiosities such as the fortified granaries. As warned by friends, Carthage is less than expected having been covered by Roman structures. The most impressive ruins are the Roman baths which makes one wonder about the ecological effect of such large baths requiring a tremendous amount of wood to heat the water and the air of some of the bath rooms. But the more limited ruins of the island ship repair site was very interesting. Kerkouane, the other Punic, i.e. pre-Roman, site we visited was at the very end of the trip. None of the ruins are higher than 4 or 5 feet, and the town was built for artisans. The town faces the sea but there is no natural harbor near-by. There is evidence of a two story dwelling on that site.

We covered a fairly large part of Tunisia, and probably went as far south as allowed. It is my understanding that the southern part of Tunisia, i.e. its part of the Sahara, is under strict military control.

Here is a map of the tour, with some slight variations (we visited Kerkouane on the peninsula just south of Tunis and omitted Houml Souk between Tataouine and Gabès).

https://flic.kr/p/2oa7Qw7
The tour was excellent. I would recommend it to anyone wishing to visit Tunisia. Tunisia is not that large, but arranging for transportation to some of the remote sites could be a problem.

The trip report mentioned above was dismissive of some Tunisian tourist sites: “Star Wars sites, made-for-tourist desert experiences” but accepting their existence as popular a-historical tourist sites does not eliminate their intrinsic value. I did take the camel ride option, and that was a waste. A 20 minute ride sufficed for a life time, and did not add much to my impression of the Tunisian desert. On the other hand, an afternoon excursion to the mountain desert, while very limited and artificial given that the village had been destroyed by a flood and relocated so that what existed was ruined walls and the buildings dedicated to tourism (café, souvenir shop, etc.), gave us a glimpse of a settlement located by a spring forming an oasis with its palm trees.

https://flic.kr/p/2o2hRmi
Later on the same excursion, close to the Algerian border, we had a brief view of a village in the high mountains. It also was a Star Wars site:

https://flic.kr/p/2o2jgVj
Similarly the ksar granaries

https://flic.kr/p/2o2koTX
and the mountain granaries

https://flic.kr/p/2o2kHRe
are remains of a past culture (some of it artificially preserved for tourism, such as a visit to a Troglodyte home—what tourist pay to visit it is part of their income)

https://flic.kr/p/2o2hYwR
whose cultural value is not destroyed by their association with a movie. It is as if Roman ruins were used in a film about the fall of the Roman empire thus negating their value as the cultural remain of a by-gone civilization. It is difficult to tell what is there just for the tourist—for example the kitchen as I saw it was in exactly the same order as in the stock picture found on the internet:

https://flic.kr/p/2o2kLYb
But what would be the point of having a bathroom with modern toilet and sink (glimpsed but definitely not meant as part of the visit) if this were uniquely for show?

It happens that I wrote these paragraphs on the day that the NYTimes on page 1 of its daily International section printed an article about Chenini where the mountain top granaries are located.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/19/w...&smid=em-share

The article is true to the present but not to the past as I heard it from our excellent Tunisian guide. According to him, the granaries were originally dug out of rock over a period of time to hide them from marauders. From a distance, the granaries blended into the mountain side. I assume from this history that the very visible white mosque did not exist when the granaries served their purpose. It was further explained to us that the village was not at the base, that these granaries were somewhat regional, and maintained a few guards as lookouts. If they saw marauders arriving, they ran to alert the villagers of the upcoming raid. The villages were some distance from the granaries, which allowed the marauders to take some food, but not too much as they had no intention of fighting the approaching villagers. The storage spaces were modified over time, like burying amphorae up to their necks in the ground so that only a laborious time consuming ladling system could be used to retrieve the oil stored in them. Perhaps the establishment of a village at the base of the hills was the ultimate modification before modern conditions led to a de-population of the area. I entered in a discussion with the tour leader about this, and he agrees with the article but says that the relationship between villagers and raiders as described by our Tunisia guide was accurate. I see a contradiction there, but can offer no proof of it. Research on the web only tells me that the first granaries date from the 12th century.

The Troglodyte housing we visited was on the other side of Tataouine and had more extensive agriculture as seen by all the berms built to retain any water flowing down from the mountain.

https://flic.kr/p/2o2hYga
If using Sicily Tour, one will obviously see this area. And if going without a tour, arranging a visit of that area from Tozeur to Tataouine is very worthwhile. But I can’t say anything about how to make the necessary arrangements since these things, including last minute hotel changes, were taken care of by the tour guides. Similarly, it is not easy to find restaurants which feature unusual foods. When we were on our own, we ate the more common meals. Once we tried to go back to a restaurant that we passed while visiting the medina of Tozeur but I could not recognize the alleys at night, and our driver who recognized us as we were attempting another entry into the medina stopped us and invited us to join him in a restaurant on the main avenue of the town, along with the Tunisian guide.

Tunis is an interesting city. Aside from the main alley of the souk leading to the grand mosque, it is not particularly touristy. Off that alley, the goods sold are predominantly for the local population. The European section of the town has architecture ranging from Art nouveau style to Brutalism. All this within walking distance in the center of town. The city also has large neighborhoods with partly completed dwellings with rebars sticking out on top awaiting the savings of the family member working abroad to pay for the additional story; as also seen in Mexico and other exporters of labor in the world.

All the hotels were clean, but they differed in quality. The Radisson Blu is a standard international hotel. The Tozeur hotel fitted our style best—a small tourist hotel with reasonable laundry prices. The Troglodyte hotel did not impress me— we had a room whose bathroom door could not be closed, whose bathroom window could not be closed, and in spite of having the bed in the back of the cave, my wife complained of the cold because of the open window. As I tried to lock the door to go to dinner, the lock started sliding out along with the key. In defense of the tour, it was a last minute alternative for a legitimate reason that I have forgotten. The romanticism of sleeping in a cave escapes me. The Hotel Royal Victoria lost a great deal of its luster since it was changed into a hotel around 2000—threadbare carpeting in the hallway, a leak in our bathroom coming out of the floor.

The flight to Marseille was uneventful.

This is the album for this part of our trip: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAgExt which will include all the sites and towns that we visited.

Last edited by Michael; Jan 30th, 2023 at 03:52 PM.
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Old Jan 31st, 2023, 01:58 PM
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Thanks for this fine report Michael. Not many of us have been to Tunisia and it was interesting to read about your trip.
Fave foto: your Sbeitla shot with the temple framed by the arch.

I am done. the Tunisian Report
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Old Feb 5th, 2023, 12:31 PM
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I'm the author of the trip report you cited (with the TunisAir horror story). You certainly covered more of the country than we did -- and spent far longer there. The troglodyte caves look particularly cool!

I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to see other people go to off the beaten path countries, and Tunisia should get a lot more publicity than it does.
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