Getting to Tunisia
26 Jan - 1 Feb 08
During our initial planning for this extravaganza we realised that we would most likely have to bypass Algeria to get to Tunisia because the border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed for more than 10 years. All of our experience told us that when we got on the ground and nosed around a little, the local arrangements would become clear and we would find our way through.
For once, however, our improvising ways failed us. Each plan investigated was found to be either too expensive or simply not possible. With all other options exhausted, we got a fast ferry back to Spain and headed north in a hurry to Marseille where we could get a ferry to Tunis. The Elephant is not the best machine for highway running but the1650km run was gobbled up comfortably in three days putting us unto Marseille on the afternoon of 27 Jan 08. This gave us a couple of days to kill before the next ferry and some important jobs to do.
"""Ice on the bike cover at an overnight stop near Barcelona was a sure sign that there be a long cold day in the saddle on the final leg up to Marseille."""
By the time our Moroccan leg was complete, the Elephantís tyres were pretty much gone. What little rubber was left quickly disappeared on the freeways up through Spain and by the time we arrived in Marseille the backend was feeling decidedly skittish. Our first stop, therefore, was the bike souq for a new set of Michelin Anakees; say goodbye to $550! We also took the opportunity to look at some new riding suits.
"""What the fuss is all about! For our non-bike friends, tyres are very important to bikes. They are under great stress on a big bike and wear out much quicker than car tyres. Riders can tell the difference between tyres through the seat of their pants in seconds and never stop talking about it. For the record the last set of Anakees lasted 19K back and 28K front which is he best wear I have ever had from a big bike tyre. This set should get us home at that rate."""
"""Marseille seemed like a useful, rough and ready sort of city. It had some nice public spaces and some very elegant streets as well as some very run down areas and more than its share of beggars."""
Our investigations with other riders took us to the Hein Gerick outlet to see the suits that were recommended. They didnít disappoint but at $1750 each for new riding gear we decided that the budget just wouldnít stretch that far at the moment and that we would put up with what we had. In hindsight we skimped on this important clothing before the trip and shouldnít have done so. After all, we wear these things all day, every day we travel.
"""This outfit was staying at the same pub in Marseille. I hadnít seen one before but some of our outfit riding comrades may have. The photo, taken in a dark garage, is not so clear, but it shows the common bike and sidecar chassis with central diff and drive shafts to two wheels."""
"""The front end shows the hub centre steering and fully closed two seat car. It was as wide as a small sedan. I couldnít see the engine and it had an alarm so I didnít poke around too much, but it seemed to have a small car engine and auto gearbox. The final touch was the HUGE camping trailer being pulled behind."""
We used the remainder of our time in Marseille to organise our Tunis ferry tickets, do some banking, catch up on correspondence and get used to dodging dog shit on the French footpaths again. We also caught up on a little sleep as we had declined to pay the extra $200 for a cabin for the overnight ferry to Tunis. We expected the trip over to be tiring, but we didnít plan on what happened next.
Our loading instructions were to be at the wharf by 1000 for immigration etc before loading at 1200 and sailing at 1400. As it turned out, we cleared immigration by 1010 and then sat in a queue for four and a half hours waiting to load. The day was bitterly cold and we were thoroughly chilled by the time we rolled on board. Seating conditions on board were similar to those on an aircraft, but as the ship was less than half full, there was enough room to sleep on the floor between the rows of seats and we both got more sleep than we usually do on a long haul flight.
"""Some cars got to these ferries loaded to the gunnels (to use a nautical term)."""
As I am travelling on an EU passport, I had no visa requirements for Tunisia. As an Aussi citizen, Jo was not so lucky. She had discovered that Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens could buy a 90 day visa at the point of entry for about $6 (all other non-EU citizens require a visa in advance). But when she presented her passport to the police onboard the ship, she found that it was not that easy. The police kept her passport and told her to report to the police post at the port to see about the visa.
"""A single strap over the seat is the best way to secure a bike. In this case I had to do it myself."""
Finding the police was no problem (they were everywhere) and Jo even located her passport again, but getting the visa was more difficult. We spent the next two and a half hours with the Elephant parked in the middle of the road and the two of us waiting while the problem (whatever it was) was sorted.
Eventually the passport arrived with a visa, at a price of $35 (for 30 days), and we were free to enter Tunisia. We rumbled up the causeway from the port and the Elephant wallowed into the teeming sea of humanity that is the city of Tunis.
Posted by Mike Hannan at February 03, 2008 05:32 PM GMT