Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Driving in Tunisia

Whatever you do, don't get it into your head to drive in Tunisia. We tried and I am still shaking.

Driving with Sofine a day prior seemed fine and in fact there was little traffic, but he of course knows the back roads and unused highways.

When we told an old hand tourist from England who had come to Tunisia every year for 20 years that we were going to rent a car, she just looked at me and in a cockney chortle shook my hand and said: "Nice knowing ya!"

We rented a car at a very high price and were disppointed to find that it was a dilapitated and dirty Peugoeut with a very sticky clutch. It was also bereft of gas.

As I was the only one to bring my license I was to be the sole driver and to take us down 500 km to the Sahara and back. I decided to practice by driving around the Cap Bon pennisula before we set off on our epic journey to the desert.

So first I had to fill up the car. The guidebook had gone on about how cheap gas was in Tunisia. When I had already paid over $50 and the tank was still filling I wondered about the guidebook only to realize that it was British. Canadian gas prices are considerably lower.

So off on our drive. First off, the highways were ok but unfortunately one had to go through countless small towns and roundabouts in which you apparently, according to the same guidebook, must always give priority to the driver coming from the right regardless of who was there first.

It was then I decided that the writers of the guidebook must have researched it by going to say somewhere like Sweden, or maybe they just browsed the internet from the comfort of London.

My deferring to the right only got a chorus of honks, yells and slamming of hands against the steering wheel.

Earlier in the day, C had said to me, after I had a small tiff with the hotel receptionist; "You see red very easily Beth, I am much more calm and can deal with these kinds of things".

She had also said it was a pity she had not brought her license as she wasn't worried about driving in Tunisia at all.

Suddenly, as the honking started C was transformed into some weird monster passenger. She whipped around and, in this most patriarchal of countries, started repeatedly giving the drivers behind us the finger and screaming "Fuck you! Fuck Off!" continuing the gesturing as the driver turned off the roundabout.

Then out came the multiple mopeds racing in front of you just to slow down to a crawl. Next came pedestrians who just sort of wander around the street like in a daze up and down the middle, across, both ways. The guidebook said driving in Tunisia was like driving in Italy. This was not Italy. I have driven in Italy. Mind you this is also the same guidebook which said that the harassment women recieve in Tunisia is akin to the "low level" harassment of Southern Europe. It was then that I became confident, that the man who wrote the guide, had written it entirely while in Sweden. I could be sure that he had never walked down Habib Bourgiba avenue in Tunis while female.

Back to driving. No one keeps to any sort of lane and spends the entire drive laying on the horn. C's gesturing didn't stop and each driver who honked, meaning all, got the finger and shouts to "fuck off".

Worst was the terrifying Tunisian practice of tailgating followed by passing on blind corners. I didn't care about the guy behind me passing, it was the oncoming lane that had me scanning the road ahead, which meant I couldn't concentrate on avoiding the wandering scattered pedestrians or the mopeds zipping in from all directions.

After being run off the road once, I told C that we would go to Korba to see the flamingos which live in the lagoon there and then turn back.

Just as we arrived in Korba a moped raced ahead and cut me off only to slow to a crawl causing further honking from behind. C again started her insults and hand gestures, but this time the moped didn't ignore the two women driving along, and started to chase us and drive alongside yelling into the window.

The driver looked like the late Corey Haim in his heyday of 1984 when he was 12 and the passenger like what I assumed was his heroin addicted grandfather wearing an oversized Eminem t'shirt and chain smoking.

I think maybe 10% of the drivers in Cap Bon that I saw were women.

I stopped to try and allow the Corey Haim moped to pass. Instead he turned and pulled up right beside the and continued yelling. So did all the men who wandering in the streets. They started shouting too. At whom I was not sure, but I didn't want to stick around to find out.

"That's it" I said "and please don't give anyone else the finger" I pled to to C.

I turned the car around to return it having never glimpsed the promised Korba flamingos.

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