Road Trip in Tunisia – A Car, Two Clumsy Traveller and the Desert

We still have to leave and we are already late. The day started with a Matrix-style awakining, the bottles of wine Vadim brought the night before left on the table. The bottles, not the wine.

Shall we leave? Shall we stay? We leave. A little adventure on the road before quitting Tunisia. A car, a travel companion, a few destinations in mind, no fixed plans. Yes, let’s leave.

Tunisia road map

Friday – The flight from the capital

The first at the wheel is me. Traffic in Tunis is dense and frenetic. I avoid the cars assaulting me from both sides like Luke Skywalker running from the clones on his X-wing starfighter. After attempting to kill half a dozen pedestrians, I eventually gain the highway.

After a couple of hours we arrive at Sousse, a charming little coastal town very popular among tourists. We leave the car at the seafront and walk to Residence Jeunesse, a budget hotel with comfortable rooms and good service.

We do not perform as brilliantly for dinner, but in the end everything goes well: after roaming like starved zombies, unable to choose a place among the little variegated offer of restaurants, we end up at Le Bonheur and feed ourselves on a couple of tons of cous cous, washing it down with litres of beer.

Sousse, Tunisia

Saturday – Heading towards the desert

Early waking in the morning – 10 o’clock – and we instantly jump in the fresh and clear waters of Sousse. Ritual photos, awkward and unsuccessful approach with two Russian tourists, and we are ready to go.

Vadim lets off his frustration for the ruinous attempt with the ladies on the beach on the wheel, and in less than one hour we arrive in Kairouan. We are immediately received by good old Jakub – who we never met nor heard before – and take a tour in the Great Mosque of Uqba. Jakub just wants us to feel welcome and only asks for a postcard from our hometowns. Sure. But when we enter a traditional shop of handcrafted carpets I make myself disappear ninja-style, while poor Vadim comes out fifteen minutes later. With a carpet under his arm.

Charged with new frustrations, my travel mate tele-transports us to Gabes (over 200 kilometres in less than two hours on the unsteady Tunisian roads). We roam the town for half an hour just to realize that the picture we had in mind – another charming coastal town filled with happy people – does not apply to reality. Gabes is grey and sad, and we decide we deserve better. So you challenge the incoming nightfall and head towards the desert.

We arrive in Matmata, in a wonderful troglodyte building carved in the rock, the Marhala Touring Club Hotel, and share a few beers at the bat with other travellers and adventurers coming from all over the Arab world.

Sunday – Driving in the desert

We wake up in our troglo-room and start yelling at each other as for recent habit. Once again, we are sensationally late.

It’s my turn to drive, and it’s like a dream come true: on these land that my driving instructor Luke Skywalker fought the Empire directed by George Lucas, I skyrocket through nothingness, just the rocks and a few camels to testify our presence.
We are headed west, far from the sea and mass tourism. We stop in Douz, where a few days ago the state of emergency had been declared because of some clashes, but we don’t witness any upheaval while buying some provisions.

We then arrive to Tozeur, picturesque town where everything is built – or at least covered – in dark-brown bricks. We take a tour in the ancient medina with a local guide and in less then two hours are ready to leave again.

We quickly cross through Kasserine – which does not attempt in any way to hold us – and arrive in Sbeitla. There is an archaeological site here, but we will never see it because we are always late and… well, because our organization generally sucks. But we are welcomed very warmly in the humble but respectable youth hostel, eat a couple of excellent sandwiches with some funny and sociable guys, take an apple flavoured sheesha and go to sleep happy and satisfied.

Monday – Back to reality

I guess I can’t call it being late if it happens systematically every day, anyway we don’t even bother to discuss it and take to road to Le Kef. While advancing the landscapes changes from dusty desert to fertile fields. The wester area did not see the development Bel Alì imposed over the coastal regions, and are still rural and peaceful.

Le Kef greets us with an old acquaintance: the Tunisian traffic. After parking the car, we climb the medieval walls end enjoy an interesting view over the whole town. But in spite of our cultural enrichment, today’s highlight is reached at lunch with another spectacular cous cous.

While getting to Tunis to give back the rented car, a last thrill is given us while paying the toll on the highway. We lost our ticket. We look frenetically for it all over the car, while the young collector keeps shouting at us in Arabic. After ten minutes we declare defeat and get ready to pay the full amount: one dinar and a half, about 70 euro cents.

Le Kef, Tunisia

Useful information

Holders of EU driver’s license can drive in Tunisia without further papers.

For our road trip we rented a comfortable sedan car for three days for 200 dinars (about 100 euros). In Tunis is a good deal, but outside of town more affordable prices may be available.

Speed limits in Tunisia are 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 out of towns, 110 on the highway.

There is only one highway in Tunisia and small toll is required (usually from 500 thousandth to 2 dinars, about 1 euro).

The road conditions differ greatly depending on the region. In the south-west area of the country there are often holes and speed-bumps.

Seat belts are compulsory but generally neglected. Alcohol tolerance is zero. Tolerance towards western tourists, instead, is very high.

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A degree in journalism and a professional limbo ranging from press offices to newspapers, magazines and finally the web. I lived in Verona, Zurich, London, Cape Town, Mumbai and Casablanca. I hate flying and I love jodel music. And when I grow up I wanna be a cosmonaut.

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