Saturday, June 30, 2012

Irony and 2,000 Year Old Baseball Stadiums

2012 06 30
Begun on the Train (confort class) from El Djem to Bir Bouregba
where we grab a cab to Hammamet Yassmine  My wife just corrected me on the word "confort" but this is French and that is how they spell it on the ticket

The Coliseum at El Djem is in unbelievable condition
A Skydome by any other name is just as pointless
In the ceaselessly growing list of things about which I could care less two items have always figured high: sports and "historic" buildings.  I want to play sports not watch them but I am not very coordinated so I don't.  "Historic" is just a phrase describing something that once was useful but is no longer.

So how did I find myself standing amidst a 2,000 Roman Coliseum preserved in many parts in near perfection?  Well, start with the Budget Committee.

This is one impressive coliseum.  Standing in the rooms where the gladiators would wait for their entrance queue there comes upon you an eerie feeling.  You share the tension of the men standing in mute alarum waiting to enter the killing grounds.   It is just like watching the scenes from the movie Gladiator.  You remember the first fight where the slave was so frightened he lost control of his bladder?  It felt like I was in that room, looking out at the field of battle.

Remember this Room from Gladiator
it or one of several others was in the movie
Wait a minute.  I was reliving the emotions generated by the movie Gladiator.  Being in the coliseum at El Djem was triggering moviemotions in my psyche.  Nothing was real.  There was no psychic communication with the spirits of men sacrificed to public spectacle.  Hah!!

As I learned on our return to internet most of the coliseum scenes from Gladiator were filmed at the coliseum in El Djem so in fact I was actually standing in the cell shown in that terrifying first scene.  Pretty darned cool.

They are Setting the floor up for a concert later this month
Life of Bryan was shot here too but not everyone is a Monty Python fan.

Remember This From Life of Bryan
I liked the marble barrier separationg
the reds from the golds.  

Now this coliseum is the third largest in the Roman Empire seating 35,000.  It was built in a town of 15,000 people  30 miles from the next nearest settlement in the days when you could only get around by horse.  Why?

Connie Readies Herself For Battle
Like modern day sports facilities Rome built coliseums to demonstrate to the barbarians the extent of its technical prowess, its determination and its wealth.  What use is the skydome, the silverdome, the georgia dome or the superdome.

Sports fans will love to hear that the Atlas mountain lion was made extinct by trappers/traders from Visibulis (near Fes in Morocco) who trapped and sold these great animals for the games in Rome and Thysdrus which is what El Djem was called in the "old days".

Still, admission was 8 Dinars and we had to pay 1 Dinar to take pictures.  No guards, no barriers, no crowds.  We were free to walk around anything that was not unsafe.  Try doing that in Rome.

For lovers of useless artifacts this was a major find.

What about the Irony?  That came with the line "Constance this was a super experience.  I am so glad I came".  And I meant it.

Or is that more irony?

But the day was not over.  We ended up with a big win.  The ticket to the coliseum, costing all of 8 Dinars also bought us into a Tesserae Museum, one truly unexpected treasure.  Here are displayed a few hundred Antonin mosaics saved from the ruins of Roman homes.  These mosaics are unbelievable in their degree of preservation.

Romans Liked Their Art Graphic
and all done in tiny coloured stones
There is a museum in Tunis called the Porto which has infinitely more mosaics but the display in El Djem is perfect.  Most of them still in place built into floors and onto walls. We found ourselves walking on mosaics created by skilled craftsmen two thousand years ago.  The museum had been expected to be a total dud but it turned out to be unbelievably rich in detail and high in quality.

Kudos to the curator here boy.

African Influences Rome

Best Mosquito Repellent Ever

2012 06 30
Hammamet, Tunisia

If it were a commodity discomfort in Africa would be sold in only one size: the Super Big Gulp.  As intensely averse to discomfort at any level as I am, Africa is posing a problem.  Somedays are better than others.  Take yesterday for example.

Another in an endless stream of sun filled, intensely hot days on the boat yesterday saw all the hatches and windows full open to enhance airflow.  Any wisp of air movement was critical.  

Daytime was merely uncomfortable.  Nighttime brought hazards.  As dark approached the risk of attack by marauding gangs of mosquitoes increased in inverse proportion to the rate of failing of the light.  

Mosquitoes can be a problem in Africa.  Their bites carry illness like Dengue Fever and Malaria and West Nile virus, maybe even tooth ache.  About any of that I know nothing.    However they also leave itchy residue when they bite and to that I can attest.  

In Africa after they feed on you mossies leave a small hard ball of poison under your skin.  You can actually feel it.  It itches like crazy.  Half the time the bite infects and you end up with a centimetre of watery blister  that itches worse than a simple bite.  You cannot scratch the blister.  Things get messy.  Yuck.

So as has become all too typical in the Mediterranean basin life is a matter of choosing your discomfort: sleep in an oven or suffer itch and disfigurement from mossie bites.  Ask me sometime why I think people cruise the Mediterranean.  I dare you.

Yesterday we found a high tech solution: an app for our Blackberry Playbook called "Expel Mosquito".  It cost $2.50.  This app causes your Playbook o generate a high pitched sound  repellent to mosquitoes.  Desperate for airflow we tried it.

It worked.  Last night we left every porthole and hatch and the companionway wide open with no netting to restrict airflow.  "Expel Mosquito" ran on the Playbook all night long.  

Not one mossie attacker came on the boat all night.  Not one.  Even our usual "closed window with mosquito net over the companionway" approach never achieved a zero rate of exclusion of mossies.

It is only a single night's test so the data are incomplete but it is our first night mossie free in a long time.  An impressive beginning.  

Looking further into it this morning I find the app is now available for Android phones and tablets.  

I don't really care if Apple ever gets it. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shopping for Fan for Our Fridge in Tunisia

2012 06 21
Hammamet Yasmine, Tunisia

This is where the Bus Driver Dumped us in Tunis
Not Sure Where it Was
We took the picture to show a taxi driver
in case we needed to get back to it.

In the end the job of replacing the fan on our refrigerator compressor took only 30 minutes and three days.  Thirty minutes was on the job labour.  Three days was how long it took to find a replacement fan.

Such a Tiny Package
Such an Enormous Noise
Naturally the fridge started to exhibit signs of ill health just hours out of Menorca.  The thing was squealing like Skipperbob on income tax day.  It was embarrassing.

Knowing nothing about refrigeration we tried ignoring the problem thinking it might just go away.  This is a time honoured and truly stupid response to problems which we never fail to implement.  How stupid?  We were sailing our boat to one of the hottest destinations we have ever been.   Screech, screech, bloody screeeeeech.

Luckily for us Adler Barber fridge uses the ubiquitous Danfoss compressor.  When I was finally driven to look into the problem it was obvious the problem fan was a simple 120 mm computer cooling fan.  This is an off the shelf part in any computer store in North America.

Among the joys of travelling is the fact that you are never in North America.  Standard off the shelf computer fans are neither standard nor off the shelf in Tunisia.

A day of fruitless looking in Hammamet, the town neighbouring our marina, and another wasted on the internet decided us on taking the bus to Tunis.  We did not believe any of the twenty four computer shops and repair depots in Hammamet when they told us no such a fan could be found in Tunisia.

[An aside: when searching the internet for a part in a country that speaks French you must use French terms.  Searching for "fan" on Google Tunisia will not produce many or, in our case, any returns.  Searching for "ventilateur" gets a much better response which is still thoroughly useless.]

So it was off to Tunis, capital city.

To do this we took the local bus from marina to Hammamet centre ville.  There we grabbed the intercity bus to Tunis.  

The Metro Station at Tunis South -
You Pack the Cars Like the
Japanese Bullet Train 
On the way to Tunis, after a short chase, the police pulled our bus over and gave our bus driver a ticket for talking on his cell phone while driving.  After getting the ticket the driver got back on the bus, put the bus in gear and dialed another number.

Arriving in Tunis at the Tunis South depot (I know, where?  We had no idea) we found ourselves a bit misplaced.   In Tunis the bus station was not downtown where we expected it would be.  That is the old North America problem kicking up again.

 Acting on a hunch provided by the dubious woman at the Information booth we took the #6 metro car, standing room only, to Centre Ville Tunis.    Arriving at centre ville we found the Gare de Tunis, the main train station.  Our overly chatty bus driver on the way in decided us to take a train back to Hammamet.

At the train station we found  tourist information booth.  It had no maps.  Well, it had one colour map but there was only one copy and no one could remove it.  The info booth was handing out photocopies of their only map of Tunis which had been reduced to fit A4 paper.  The miniaturization had blurred all the street names into black smudge. The very nice woman in the information office gave us a copy of the map with no street names and directed us to Galerie 7 for computer parts.  Galerie 7 was a big shopping centre we were told.

We passed the main post office while looking for a fan
Yes, that is Razor Wire.  I Did Not Photograph The Armed Troops
Posted at every door.  It seemed wiser not to.

Uur unreadable map in hand we walked a few miles in search of Galerie 7 only stopping when we were half an hour past the "big" shopping centre.  Retracing our steps we missed the "big" shopping centre again.  Galerie 7 turned out to be little more than an alley with a couple of computer vendors.  Oh, and no cooling fan.  One shopkeeper directed us to Athens Street which was he assured us "the only street in Tunis where they sold the big stuff" like our 120 mm fan.  Puzzled by the smudges of street names he circled a spot on the map for us to find.

By now it was noon and the sun was high and hot.  Into the 40s celsius.

We walked past the street with the big stuff because the stores selling the big stuff were actually on "Sparta" street not "Athens" street.  The mistake disclosed a certain contempt for Greek history and geography residing in the computer guy.

Our Cafe Was Close to This Incredible Tree
Unable to continue further in what was then 45 degree heat (and no that is not after the humidex, they don't announce the humidex in Tunisia fearing it might cause public panic) we grabbed a table in the shade and ordered a coke, a beer and three litres of water.  We gulped it all down and ordered two more litres of water.

Rehydrated but still wilting we returned to the point where had last given up our search.  By total fluke we picked the wrong street and ended up on "Sparta" street.  Totally wrong and completely right.

First shop we entered was selling the correct size fan - 120 mm x 120 mm.  The fan they had ran on 220 volts AC and we needed a 12 volt DC fan. They had no 12 volt fans in that size.  We inquired if they could order the fan in a 12 volt model.  

[A further aside: Asking a store to order something for you is as stupid a question in Tunisia as it is in Spain.  No one orders anything for anybody.  That would be called customer service.  If you plug the phrase "customer service" into Google Translate and ask for the French translation your computer starts to laugh at you.  If you ask for the Spanish translation the word "SIESTA" flashes on your screen then the computer quits working.  It shuts down for 3 to 6 hours. ] 

Cost for the 220 volt fan, not that we could use it, was 17 dinars or about $10.

As we exited the shop we noticed a fan of suspiciously desirable dimensions in the display window of the very shop we were exiting. Looking into the window we saw that the fan would be 120 mm if we scraped the 5 mm of accumulated dust from its cover.  It was 12 VOLT.  OMG.  We had our fan.

Re entering the store we informed the staff that they did in fact have the fan we needed.      A clerk retrieved the fan from the window.

"Quel prix" we asked (what price in pigeon french).  The clerk looked to the tiger lady who manned the cash register, clearly the bosslady.

"Quarante huite Dinar" was the answer after brief repartee between tiger lady and the guy standing besider her.  She wanted 48 dinars or about $30 for this lost treasure of a 12 volt fan.  Rather steep pricing for a fan they did not know they had, which we found for them, which was years old and which was being compared to a superior fan for which they had just asked $10.

Wise to the ways of Tunisian trade I countered.  "Vingt" was my comeback.  I offered them 20 dinars or $12 which was about what we would have paid in Canada for a quality fan.  Quality was less of a concern at that exact moment.

The tiger lady's eyes stared a black onxy challenge at me.  "Quarante Huite!" she responded sharply.  She was firm at 48 Dinars.  Clearly she thought we were desperate for her fan.  I thought she was a bit ungrateful.

Now I needed the fan but we were hot and tired and I was weary of the Tunisian business model. "Stuff it" was my final bid and we left the store.  That bit of rebellion felt good even if we knew we might be defrosting every piece of meat in the freezer shortly after we got back to the boat.

Half a block down the street we came upon another shop selling sound equipment.  I agreed with Connie that this would be the last store anywhere in Tunisia which we would enter in search of a fan.  What chance was there that a sound shop had a 120 mm computer fan?

The store had a wall full of the correct fan in 12 volts.  Price?  15 dinars or $9.

The Train From Tunis to Hammamet Had Airconditionng
Here it is working hard while we travel at about 60 mph.
We bought two, just in case.  Then we staggered to the train station, drank another 3 litres of water and rode the train to Hammamet town.  Arriving at Hammamet town we climbed on the  bus and took off for Nabeul.  It was two stops before we realized we were going the wrong way - headed away from Hammamet not towards it.

It was four more stops before we found the energy to do anything about it. 

Next morning the fan was swapped out in less than 1/2 hour.  Thank you Danfoss.

Here is the costing for our days outing.

local bus to Hammamet town: 0.570 dinars
bus to Tunis South:                 4.200
metro to Tunis cenre ville:      0.300
Train back to Hammamet:       4.600
bus to marina:                        0.570      10.240 dinars or $6.00 CDN per person, $12.00 total

seven litres mineral water:      8.400 dinars
beer                                      5.000
coke light:                             1.800     15.200 dinars or $9.00CDN


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

American Ebay Vendor: "Ships Worldwide" not including these 86 countries.

My Adler Barbour fridge is dying, at least its fan is.  Searching for a replacement I came across this vendor on Ebay.  He ships "worldwide" but his world barely gets past the US border.

The vendor goes by the name of ELOOT. You can find his store on EBay.  Here is his shipping policy:

Shipping and handling
Item location: Los Angeles, United States
Shipping to: Worldwide

Excludes: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the, Congo, Republic of the, Cote d Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Macau, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan Republic, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Haiti, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Turkey, Yemen

The Price of Cruising

2012 06 19
Hammamet, Tunisia

Our daughter Lindsay, firstborn, entered the world on this date several years ago.  Today we have relived the events of that momentous day in our lives, one of the four most important.  She is not here and while she is fully grown and has her own life I want nothing so much as to be with her even for a few minutes. 

Our younger daughter has just sent a song that reminds her of her parents and the poignancy of the James Taylor lyrics and his perfect minimalist accompaniment brings me close to tears.  

Son Jake is readying himself to challenge an exam in advanced algebra in two days.  This is a course of study he avoided as a youth but has come to embrace as both useful and interesting.  It is a critical time in his life.

Maudlin perhaps and fuelled no doubt by the fading genetic memory of parental responsibility but somedays cruising is just not what a person wants to do.

Sometimes you miss your family.

Schengen Rules force a month's stay in Hammamet

2012 06 19
Hammamet, Tunisia

Meredith Moored in Hammamet - Steps from the Cafes
Adding up our passport visas Connie and I calculate that we cannot legally reenter the Schengen zone for another month.  Schengen Visa rules make it difficult to almost impossible for sailors to cruise the Mediterranean and stay legal  on the residency requirements.

This situation is the result of the much vilified Schengen visa rules that limit the stays of most non EU citizens on Schengen zone soil to only 90 days in every 180 days.   For sailors wishing to visit the Mediterranean on their yachts it is almost impossible to honour these rules.  Since landing in Azores we have travelled over 2000 miles as the crow flies and we have another 1500 to go.  If we were crows.  

Certainly sailors can put into non Schengen ports: Gibraltar, Morocco and Tunisia but this opens up a whole other world of difficulties.

Liking Hammamet we have decided to stay here in Tunisia until our Schengen clock is restarted and we are allowed to return.

Increasingly I ask myself whether it is worth it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Multilingualism Kind of Creeps Up on You - That or it Creeps You Out

2012 06 18
Hammamet, Tunisia

Connie at the Salon de The de Paris -
Of All the Things Spain Has Given Us
We Like the Cafe Life Most of all
An actual conversation from this morning at the Salon de The de Paris just off the Hammamet strip:

BC (to the waiter): Je desire un cafe con leche por favor

Me: Connie, its French here not Spanish.  Un cafe au lait.

Connie: Oh, right.  Sorry.  Un cafe au lait.

The waiter looks at me for my order.  I gesture to my wife.

Me: Dos por favor.

Ali Bob and the Tunisian Thieves: Forty Ways to Lose Your Dinars

2012 06 17
Underway from Cap Bon to Hammamet

Meet Habib: Taxi Driver or Thief?
Is There a Difference?

Let me quote to the best of my ability from one of the travel guides to Morocco which we stole from Pirate Bay: “You do not tip the taxi drivers in Morocco; they have to learn to live on what they steal from you”.

A loose reading of the above will disclose that there is a great deal of ambiguity here. Moralists we are not. Fun we are having. Doing business in Tunisia requires a different approach.  If you like moral certainty stay at home and watch some Jimmy Swaggart reruns.

If you arrive at Sidi Bou Said in a state of inviolate naivete, as we seem to have done aboard Meredith, you will come to financial grief in the tourist traps of Side Bou Said.  Here are some of the various ways we found ourselves beaten by Tunisian vendors.

The Taxi Cons

Having ridden taxis in Fes, Morocco we were hardly virgins as we stepped into the elegantly coiffured Habib's faded yellow machine. By the time we stepped out we could have run a roadside brothel in Vegas.

Somehow his quoted tour of Carthage at  “quarante dinars” fee (TD40) morphed into a demand for TD100 by the time we were returned to the marina. We were familiar enough with taxi procedures to know you always settle the price before you climb in the cab but we had done this. Apparently it is not always enough. Matters were resolved amicably enough which meant we ended up getting ... well you know. (Vegas & whorehouse are your clues)

Habib by the way was quite taken with his own photo; he stared at the one above for a good three minutes before returning the playbook to me. I think he would have framed his own image and hung it as a shrine in his cab if only the playbook could print.

It did not end there with the taxis.  Next day we taxied into Sidi Bou Said town and I asked about the fare before we got into the cab.  The driver assured us "I am metered" so you have no worries.  Cab 2 fare was TD5.66 (about €3 so no big deal)

On our return we grabbed a third cab whose driver was silent about fares.  The fare on his meter was TD1.18 for the exact same trip, point to point.  

I have no idea how Cab 2 rigged the meter but we were going uphill in his cab.  Maybe there is an inclinometer built in or something.  I am definitely not ready for the big leagues.    

The "METERED" Fuel Con

The Pickup Truck has a big Tank
in the back.At Least I Hope It's Fuel.
The Port Captain arranged a fuel delivery for us. The marina at Sid Bou Said does not have a fuel dock no matter what the Imray Guide says.  Fuel cost TD1.20 per litre and there was a TD65 delivery fee.

Fuel Seems very inexpensive.

According to the meter on the fuel truck I took 130 litres.  By the hour meter, and my fuel consumption is extremely constant, I needed 80 litres.  

Again I have no idea how the guy rigged the fuel meter.  But it cost me.  I paid TD221 for 80 litres of fuel.  That is the same €1.37 I was paying in Spain.  

The "My Computer Doesn't Work So I Cannot Print a Receipt" Scam

This one at least is kind of obvious.  The Port Captain tried two times not to issue receipts to us for monies paid to him.  With no receipt there is no evidence we paid anything and the money can be pocketed without threat of discovery.  This does not affect us directly because he is ripping off the marina but when you travel between marinas they can ask for proof that you paid your last marina bill.  If you do not have the proof trouble ensues.

The Baksheesh Scam

Again we came to Sidi Bou Said knowing full well we would encounter baksheesh culture.  We did expect there to be some honour amongst thieves however so we were disappointed when the Port Captain so readily threw us out when the Italians arrived.  I know they represented a whole new fertile field of bribes but we paid good money in good faith and I sort of think I got ripped off.  My bribe should have bought me more peace of mind.  :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thrown Out of Marina Sidi Bou Said

2012 06 16
Written in the Gulf of Tunis enroute to Cap Bon 
(from Sidi Bou Said from which we were evicted)

Le Tren Papa, Le Tren
Our Train to Tunis - Cost $1 each, first class
Our stay at Sidi Bou Said marina did not go as expected.  After our slick handling of the baksheesh process we figured we were set for a nice stay.  We were undone by two facts that plague corrupt bureaucracies: 

  1. when your success with officials depends on what you pay them you are only safe until a guy with a bigger wallet comes along;
  2. corrupt bureaucracies are filled with patronage appointments which means you get a lot of deadwood and useless bodies plugging up the process of government

Thh Budget Committee Prepares
to Enter the Market
Our second morning at the marina we took a nice walk about the town of Sidi Bou Said. 
The doors in Sidi Bou Said are Very Nice

After a pleasant two hours of bazaar shopping and scenery viewing we happened upon the train station serving Sidi Bou Said.  Let's catch a train to Tunis we decided in a very spur of the moment mood.  

First class fare on the TGM, an electric tram was TD2.400 for the two of us which is about €1.5 or $2.  It was Friday, muslim day of rest, so shops would not be open and the city would be less crowded.  

Leaving the train station in downtown Tunis you are presented with a miniature Champs Elysee complete with faux Eiffel Tower and an enormous treed boulevard filled with shops and cafes. Tunisia is very french and this part of the city,  designed and built by French engineers and architects, is very Paris.

In the Distance You can Just See the Faux Eiffel Tower
Signifying the Beginning of the  Boulevard
As part of our lovely walk around the pedestrian malls of central Tunis we discovered the police station had been cordoned off with barricades and armed guards.  No tension was discernable and the police were talking and laughing amongst themselves and with passersby.   It did not make an impression until later.

 Our return train to the marina was crowded and hot.  Although uncomfortable everyone seemed to be in a buoyant mood and we were engaged in lively conversation.  Everyone in Tunisia seems to have visited Montreal or have family who has.  Discussion centred on our very high opinion of Tunisia.  One family asked us back to their home for dinner.

Imagine that.  On the strength of a twenty minute meeting on a train a family asked us into their homes.  This impressed us very much with the people of Tunisia.

This last request had to be withdrawn regretfully when the family remembered a curfew had been ordered by the police.  A demonstration in Tunis earlier that day had gotten out of hand and the police had ordered the curfew.  The cordon around the main downtown police station was intended to deter any suicide bombers from a more serious attack.  

All of this was explained to us in simple unemotional terms: it was just usual goings on.  Everyone agreed that the police were doing a good job and that relations were good.  

Dinner it was agreed would not be possible with the curfew. Still it was a warm and inviting offer by very generous people. In return we invited them to the marina to go sailing the next day. They too declined.

Tired after a long day we returned to the boat and headed to bed early.  

Next morning we were woken by a marinero pounding on our deck.  He informed us we must go.  A bit disconcerted we discussed whether we should object but decided we had had enough of Sidi Bou Said and were happy to leave anyway.

Then the marinaro informed his office that the "bateau Americain" was leaving.

Before leaving I had to see the Port Captain to settle our bill, get proof of payment and a return of our ship's papers and then go to customs to pick up our travel papers.  There I learned we were being thrown out because a small flotilla of Italian yachts was inbound for a prebooked celebration and they had no room. The marine staff thought we were an American boat and decided we should be first to go.  

There is no question in my mind that we were being asked to leave because the morons at the marina thought we were American.  Americans are undeniablyl personna non grata in this country.

Then the Port Captain tried to fake computer troubles so he did not have to issue a receipt to me for the marina fees.  Pretty much sick of the crappy treatment I planted myself in his chair and told him I would wait.  And for the next hour I did, wait that is, while the port captain stared blankly at his computer screen and did nothing.  

Finally two marineros entered the office in a very agitated state. From what I could determine there was a problem with “bateaux Italienne” or italian boats and he needed to do something about it right away.

The Port Captain looked at me as I shifted my not inconsiderable bulk deeper into my fairly comfortable chair.  I pointed to the receipt book and suggested he could give me a hand written receipt if his computer was broken.  With an enormous sigh the man pushed the enter key and my receipt was printed.

You understand of course that if the port captain had not issued the receipt there was no need for him to account for the marina fees I had paid.  I deem it unlikely the funds I paid would have made it to the marina coffers had I not got my receipt.  I needed the receipt to prove to Hammamet that I had not run out of Sidi Bou Said without paying.  

As we sailed out of the marina we saw three Italian flagged sailing yachts anchored outside the entrance. No sooner was our nose out the entrance than one of the boats weighed anchor and made to enter.  Over the next hour we passed another half dozen Italian yachts all headed to Sidi Bou Said.  There was no room for those boats.

The Port Captain was a fool.  He booked a big flotilla into his marina and then forgot about it until the day they arrived.  His greed with the marina fees was a measure of the man.

The morons who appointed the port captain missed the first rule of patronage: If you have to give a job to your idiot lazy brother in law make sure that the job he gets is as simple as he is.

Hammamet is a far superior marina at which to enter Tunisia.

Meredith Meets Baksheesh: It Was Going So Well Until They Kicked Us Out

2012 06 17
Hammamet, Tunisia

Caveat: this describes our experience at Marina Sidi Bou Said.  It does not happen like this at Hammamet.  We know because we came to Hammamet when Sidi Bou Said kicked us out without warning.

If We Hand't Been Turfed from Sidi Bou Said
We would have missed this stunning sunrise at Cap Bon this morning
Prior to our arrival at Sidi Bou Said we had been alerted to the fact that the system of tips, bribes and government corruption known generally as “baksheesh” was in full effect at that marina. An angry 2010 letter posted on noonsite described the marina and its port police and customs agents in most unglowing terms.  Sadly nothing has changed since that letter.

Having generally led a sheltered and uninspired life we decided it was time we experienced baksheesh on our own.  Viewed by us as a cultural abherration we had to admit we were woefully inexperienced at manouevering in a corrupt system. It would be, we hoped, educative.

So entering Tunisia at Sidi Bou Said was to be an education for us.  We decided we wanted to be players not victims and gain some useful insight into how to deal with officials seeking bribes.  

Every time we get an education it costs us money and this was no different. Interestingly it cost us less than it did the writer of the noonsite letter who chose to be disapproving and grumpy.  Our approach was simple and resembled my approach to poker: take as big a roll of bills as we could afford to lose and be prepared to lose it all.

Here's how it went:

After our exuberant welcome to the marina described earlier marina staff gestured us to a nice well protected slip at the end of the slipway. They patiently waited while I brought Meredith slowly into the slip and helped us tie up.

When we were done securing bow to in a laid Med mooring the staff were waiting. I inquired as to customs and immigration. “Of course” they replied, “we wait to take you there. First you pay us and then we go”.

Well that was easy. No uncertainty as to expectations. I attempted to slip them €5 but they were horrified. “Not here, Not here” they excitedly explained and then pointed “cameras. We go under the camera and you pay”. Aha.

Entering the Port Captain's office we signed in and handed over our ship's papers. The Port Captain kept our Certificate of Registry. He explained that he would return it when we paid our account and left the marina. No hint of a bribe or request for same.  I guess he did not have to.  He had a hostage.

Next we had to clear customs before the port captain could finish signing us in.

In the Customs and Port Police office, which adjoins the port captain office, a ream of paper was put to pen and multiple copies of forms flew in all directions. For the Customs Official we swore a Customs Declaration listing every bottle of wine and beer on the boat, the number of firearms and a detailed listing of all electronics onboard.  They wanted details. 

The Customs Declaration should have been called a shopping list.  For the Customs Officials that is.  What the declaration does is alert the officials as to what goods they might be able to shake you down. (I indent the official's comments)

Reading from my newly sworn declaration the customs officer commented “It says here you are a lawyer.” With this the Customs Official looked up at me and gave a knowing grin.  I was not sure if I should be pleased that as a lawyer I was deemed intelligent enough to know what was coming and how to play it or if I should be dismayed that as a lawyer he knew I would be familiar with the tawdry and the underhanded.  In any event I confessed my crimes against society and acknowledged my profession.

You were last in the port of Valencia in Espana?”.

I did not demur.  I hate answering statements.  If a guy wants to ask me a question, fine.

So then you perhaps would have some nice Spanish beer on your boat perhaps that I could try?”

Pretty slick eh? He segued his way right into a harmless request to try a beer. Of course I had just filed a customs form stating that I had six beers onboard. 

I decided to have just a little bit of fun.

No, I am sorry, I do not have any Spanish beer on my boat”. With that I fixed him straight in the eye with what I hoped was a twinkle in mine.

The man's facial muscles went  rigid. Gone was his welcoming smile. His eyes fired up and it was apparent he was not pleased. I decided there was no time for more play.

However I do have some really good Dutch beer, Amstel, that I think you should try. It is far better than the cat's piss they make in Spain. I don't drink that swill.”.

Instantly the man's face reformed and again I was being addressed by Mr. Congeniality. “Dutch beer?” he mused. “That might be nice”.

Great I will bring some over. Let me know what you think. I am pretty sure you will like it. It would be nice to get another opinion”.  You see I was offering not paying a demand.

There is no need to bring it over. These men”, he gestured to two guys standing in the corner “will board your boat for inspection. You can send the beer with them”

So the touch was made before the customs inspection. Give the guy a hard time and he would direct the degree of difficulty of search to be imposed.

His was not the only discretion involved however. Accompanied by the port police agent and thecustoms agent I returned to the boat. Once aboard the two officials stood in the salon looking uncertain. I complimented them on the efficient process in the office and explained that in Canada the customs men could be rather overbearing and difficult. I expressed appreciation for their conduct and I handed them each €10.

They smiled for the first time. We talked for a bit about beer and wine and then I dug out five Amstel from the fridge for them to take to their boss. I discretely placed it in a grocery bag. Discretion is my middle name.

We all returned to the customs office to retrieve our passports and finally back to the port captain to complete his paperwork. That was dealt with smoothly and as we left his office I palmed him €10. Discretion was still my middle name.  And I wanted to ensure the safe return of my ship's papers.

In total it cost us about €50 and five Amstel Beer that we had had on board since Melilla.  The beer was well past its "best before" date.  

The way we engaged the process seemed to work.  All the officials were happy and helpful after the process.  Our boat avoided a potentially destructive custom's search and it only cost us €50.  The grumpy old letterwriter to Noonsite ended up paying €100 and he suffered a very hard time.

Three days later, without notice or warning, the marina evicted us.

What Happens in Sidi Bou Said Stays in Sidi Bou Said: Meredith in Hammamet

2012 06 17
Hammamet, Tunisia

 36 22.39 N
010 32.75E

View From Our Cockpit in Hammamet
Sidi Bou Said Is Well Known for Its Doors
Here is One, well two actually
You are going to read some stuff in later articles about Sidi Bou Said.  I am publishing it because it happened.  Pretty much exactly as it  happened, except if I could change a detail to make myself look better or tell a better joke.  That said we do not want anyone taking away the idea that we are anything but impressed beyond measure with Tunisia.

Our arrival at Hammamet was effortless.  We emailed a request for reservation which was replied to immediately.  As we came in the entrance a man in a dinghy led us to our slip and helped with tying up.  He then took our papers to the office and got our entry card for us.  Finding out we would like wifi he returned to the office, a fair hike, and returned with the necessary card.

Wifi here is the best wifi we have had anywhere in Europe.

Our Anchorage Last Night at Cap Bon
For the record Sidi Bou Said, for all its troubles, had the second best wifi we have had in Europe.  Tunisia is a third world country but they have Spain and Portugal to shame in communications both internet and blackberry.

Here is why we would hate for anyone to take only bad thoughts away about Tunisia: we love it here.   What you read about in the next few posts happened in Sidi Bou Said and are, we believe limited to Sidi Bou Said.  These things do not happen in Hammamet.

Also we would not want to hurt the feelings of the people of Tunisia we have already met.

This is written just minutes after we tied up in Hammamet Yasmine Marina.  Normally a ten minute process this time it required almost an hour.  Our neighbour to the West it turns out is a Human Rights Avocat (lawyer to the Americans).  Imagine being a Human Rights Avocat in a new democracy such as Tunisia.  Before the change of government the man was an enemy of the state.

In the brief hour, while we tied up our boat, we were fast tracked through the Tunisian experience with democracy and it was a seat of the pants ride told by a man who rode shotgun on the whole affair.  He is most happy that his brother, an exiled militant until the regime change here, has been reunited with his family.  A more humane reasonable and unassuming man I have never met.

It was humbling and I do not humble easily.

The same is said for the people of Tunis whom we met on a tram, the best way to meet anyone.  If you want the real deal that is.  No showy BMWs in the driveway, no flitting about with time filling social projects, on the subway you meet people moving to and from work, school and medical care.  People doing everyday things and with everyday outlooks.

In our opinion Tunisia is outstanding for its people, their quiet intelligence, their obvious compassion and their humanity.

On the tram I had a marvellous chat with a high school student who wants to attend medical school.  She wondered about applying in Canada and I gave her the sad truth that our government has shut down most of the programs that allowed for training of out of country students.  I also explained that it was not the belief of the people of Canada that this should be so and that most of us thought training students from other countries was a very good idea and a way to form communication links that would benefit all our countries.

She understood when I explained that we had a hard line right wing religious fanatic for a prime minister and that she would have a difficult time getting medical training in my country.

However I offered to put her in touch with a Cuban Epidemiologist we know who also teaches at medical school.  Cuba has a more enlightened approach to medical training and she would get a good reception and good training there if she should pursue it.

People around us talked, they in broken English and we in broken French, about the curfew and relations between Canada and Tunisia.  It seems everyone in Tunisia has been to Montreal or has a close relative who has been.

So what happens in Sidi Bou Said stays in Sidi Bou Said.  It does not happen anywhere else in Tunisia.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Welcome to Tunisia

2012 06 15
Sidi Bou Said (North Tunis), Tunisia
The Marina Seen From the Top of the Town of Sidi Bou Said

It was certainly not what we expected.

A full day on the Gulf of Tunis had left us totally impressed with the location of the old Carthage.  As we approached the marina serving Tunis and Carthage, located in a suburb named Sidi Bou Said, we saw immediately that it was chock a block with boats.  

Hopefully we thought, they had received our email requesting a berth.  It had been sent via winlink 2000 at daybreak when we confirmed the marina at Bizerte was closed for renovations.  We requested a slip not only for ourselves but also for French vessel L'Albatross which had similar intentions to ours.

Harbour Entrance to Marina Sidi Bou Said
If you look at the entrance you will see brown water
extending from the upper pier - this is silted almost shut
Stay to the West or port side as you approach.

To enter marina Sidi Bou Said you run southwards along the breakwater being careful to hold the 5 metre depth contour.  Once past the end of the breakwater about four or five boatlengths you turn sharply 180 degrees and begin your approach.  From the silting we saw in good daylight i would not try to "cut the corner" and try to go straight for the entrance. Running aground seems assured.  A nice wide turn is in order.  However do not let yourself drift to the west of a line extending from the west pier on the entrance.  Water shallows quickly.  

As we came northward into the marina it was impossible not to notice that the entire starboard side of the entrance was heavily silted. The brown colour of the water could be easily seen in daylight and pretty much confirmed that no unreported dredging had been completed.  This leaves only a narrow channel to make entry entry. Winds were running 20 knots just off the starboard bow.

Did I mention the swimmers? No? Well the deep water side of the entrance channel was full of kids, younger teenage boys teens, diving off the guard fence intended to keep them out of the marina. There were dozens of them, all having great fun. A harbour police officer was pulling them out of the water and helping them climb the fence for their informal diving practice.

Of course they needed the deep half of the channel in order to dive. It all made sense.  That we also needed the deep side was merely a detail to be negotiated.  We approached the school of swimmers slowly steering into a mass of screaming yelling laughing boys.

The Budget Committee did her best to alert the swimmers to our approach. The boys did their best to ignore her, displaying universal teenage distain for their elders. Of course at the last possible second the boys scattered like waterbugs leaving a clear path. I coasted through the swimmers in neutral for fear of grinding some poor child into hamburger with my prop. Our speed did not exceed 1.0 knot on the sailpast.

As we sailed past the boisterous swimmers they caught siight  of our distinctive Canadian flag.  Immediately the call went out and their were children everywhere yelling and waving.  “WELCOME TO TUNISIA” they roared.  

An exceptional welcome. Twenty One Guns could not have touched it.

Looks like a great visit in store.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Clearing Into Tunisia

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

2012 06 14

When I was finally permitted to sail out of Mahon (it no longer being Friday and all) enroute to Bizerte on the North West coast of Tunisia we started with a great forecast and indifferent weather.  But early on we got the sails up and it was bliss.

Over the course of the next three and a half days the sails were up and down, tacked and gybed, snugged and loosened two or three times an hour.  The wind when we had it was lovely but there was often little of it.  It required that we sail well and in our opinion we did.  The windvane was put to use, this being a long enough trip, and did itself proud.

The only bad bit of the trip fell on the second night when the winds were higher than forecast and from the wrong direction  and waves picked up beyond forecast.  We found ourselves unnerved even though the conditions were not too rough.  Discussing it we found we were both still apprehensive after the storm we endured crossing from the Azores to Portugal.  That night too the wind and waves began contrary to forecast.  Recovering our confidence at sea is a long slow process not yet complete.

Some slow bits in very light winds delayed our arrival in Tunisia by a full day.  Our planned 60 hour trip to cover 320 nautical miles took 86.   Enroute Bizerte was abandoned as a destination when we confirmed that the marina there was closed for renovations until the end of 2012.  No need to enter that harbour.

Instead we continued to Sidi Bou Said which is the oldest marina in Tunisia, located just north of Carthage and the city of Tunis.

On Meredith we have developed special clearing in procedures for third world countries and in Tunisia it lead to an efficient and enjoyable customs and immigration procedure.

In Tunisia on first entering the country you must report to the Port Captain with passports, Certificate of Registry for the Boat and insurance.  The Port Captain retains possession of your Certificate of Registry until you leave the marina.  Once preliminary forms are completed with the Port Captain you visit Customs and Port police.  You are not finished with the Port Captain and will return to his office once you are finished at Customs and with Port Police.  In Sidi Bou Said the Port Captain, the Customs office and Port Police offices are all within 50 metres of each other.  It is very simple.

At customs you complete a declaration asking for inventory of alcohol, firearms, electronics and other stores.

Once this is filed you are accompanied by two officials, one customs and one port police, to your boat for a search.  The search is efficient.

You then return to the customs office where a Triptique is prepared for you and placed in a file.  When we leave Sidi Bou Said for another destination in Tunisia we must attend at customs to obtain the triptique and take it with us to the next destination.  We also pick up our Certificate of Registry from the Port Captain which he gives us when we have paid our marina fees.

Sidi Bou Said was recommended to us by friends Benoit and Andree and we have not been disappointed.  We are minutes from Carthage, yeah yeah, I know it was totally destroyed, but there is a new one and little tiny bits of the old one can still be seen.

More on that later.

It was a pleasant clearing in and I will give you all the details later along with our approach to clearing in which has worked fairly well.  If you are new to it and wish details email me and I will provide some  specifics.  

 For now we will enjoy Tunisia which has been welcoming and helpful at every turn.

Preparing to Leave Menorca

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

2012 06 14

A final word on Menorca, which some perceptive readers have come to believe we did not enjoy very much, and then we are away to Tunisia.

Menorca, at least the bits we saw, were not terribly scenic.  It is a low island with some green on it.  Ciutadella was perfectly horrid in its approach to sailboats and I refused to visit a town that so clearly did not want me in it or near it.  Those who went by bus from Mahon mouthed the usual platitudes.  “It was nice” they all said.  That is the kiss of death for me, who is not a tourist.  I live in a place that is nice.  Not what I came to see.

Moored in Cala Taleuga, only a few miles from Mahon but as close as that welcoming venue would let us get, we put in at Es Castell for provisions, a nice smaller village with decent bars, an adequate grocery, the best green grocer we have visited in a long time and pretty good bakeries.  Internet is abysmal but this is Spain and that is the rule.  The Blackberry works just fine but I suspect that has nothing to do with Spain.  If Spain ever finds out...

The Budget Committee being the BC in every way determined we would go for a hike one day to look at a bunch of rocks.  These were special rocks I was informed, very old and piled up.  Apparently a pile of old rocks is considered a significant event on Menorca and off we went to find them.  In this adventure we were accompanied by Branco and Maggie out of Toronto travelling on Waterhobo, spelled H2OBO.  We missed a required turn and walked a long way before we realized it.  We realized we had missed a turn when our road came to an abrupt and unmistakable end.  There was an historical British castle which we thought we might tour in lieu of the pile of rocks which fort was called Fort Marlborough.  It was closed for renovations.     Our luck held and the lovely village in which the road ended, Sant Esteves, did not have a cafe.  We walked back to Es Castell.  The sun had not diminished.

Once in Es Castell we all cafed for a bit and then separated, the BC and I retiring to the boat while  Maggie and Branco continued on in search of historical rock piles.  While we sat with cold drinks listening to the incomparable Miles spinning Sketches of Spain they, allegedly, walked another three miles or so returning to their boat much later.  The rock piles were never mentioned so I remain suspicious.

That night Maggie and Branco organized a beach bbq and several cruisers managed to attend.  It seems the idea of an impromptu “let's get drunk and burn some meat on the beach” event is not well known in Europe.  Several boats declined to come when they discovered the event would not be catered.  Culture clash to be sure.  Those that came had a very good time and Connie and I had a chance to reconnect with George and Rachel on Jeannie of London (That Jeannie having the same relationship to George that our Meredith has to me).

Sailor Ed, who can only be described as “Captain Ron with a British Private School Education” was there to demonstrate the proper procedures for beach relaxation and to scout any possible female accompaniment.  Ed, who single hands Annette, is one accomplished sailor with seven Atlantic crossings and a few dozen broken hearts on his card.  He is done sailing the Atlantic he tells me with that disarming devilish smile.

Off to bed it was with everyone in good spirits once again.  For such a wretched place Mahon and Menorca for that matter has spawned an incredible number of fond memories.

If I were anyone but me I might have to reconsider.

Blackberry Really Does Rule

2012 06 14
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia (just north of Tunis and Carthage)

Here is a strong recommendation about phone and data communications if you are travelling around the Mediterranean: go Blackberry.

The first Blackberry phone and indeed the only smartphone I have ever owned was purchased a month ago in Valencia, Spain.  I got an  unlimited data plan for €4.50 per week and used the phone to download weather, navtex and grib files all through Spain and the Balaearics.  The phone provided rock solid email and BBM (blackberry messenger service) as well.  And listen to Bob: if you haven't tried Blackberry Messenger Service you should. Nothing parallels this marvel and I know I am a decade behind the times on this one.

When we moved the boat to Tunisia it took me ten minutes – ten minutes – to arrange new phone and data service.  I walked into a Tunisia Telecom store and bought a new sim with Blackberry data plan.  The sim cost €2 (actually TD4.50, ie 4.5 Tunisian dinars)  The data plan is unlimited and costs TD30 a month (€15).

The sign up only took ten minutes because the Tunisia Telecom agent had to type all my passport info into his computer and he spoke French not English.  No make that I spoke English not French.  His country after all.  My bad.

Because everything runs through a Blackberry server and my Blackberry ID the change was seamless.  All my email and BBM message history and all the applications I had bought from Blackberry remained intact after the new Tunisian sim was installed.

The transfer was seamless, instantaneous and inexpensive.

Blackberry is a great communications solution for multinational travellers.

Bob tested and approved.  Blackberry have paid nothing for this recommendation.  I think they may be too broke to pay promotional fees.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Weak Minds and Big Cowards: How to Properly Implement A Sailing Plan

2012 06 08
Cala Taleuga, miles from Mahon, Menorca

Three boats were planning to head southeast out of Menorca, departing next day just after lunch.  This allowed for development of  a promised change in wind direction.  Planning was a struggle as we could not get wind and waves to align properly and all of us were battle hardened enough not want to put ourselves in harm's way.  Being hardened in battle teaches you to avoid battles more than anything else.
That one boat spoke mainly French did not enhance the depth of discussion but it did nothing to diminish the intensity.

That was Thursday evening.

With the rising of the sun the French boat  dinghied over for coffee and a review of the morning forecast data.  Nothing significant had developed overnight but it did look as though we would find ourselves in three metre waves for a few hours.   We confirmed our decision to leave after lunch.

Before the crew of the other boat departed our cockpit our plans were changed and we agreed it would be better to leave as soon as possible as the wind was up from the north several hours before forecast.  Since waves were still out of the south although declining, this would put us in the “Agitate” cycle of the sea for longer than if we waited but hey the wind forecast was out six hours on the wind so maybe the waves would follow suit.

We dinghied over to the third boat to discuss our latest agreement only to find that they had decided not to put out until next day.  They were Corsica bound and thought the angles were better for them if they delayed.  We bid them adieu and wished them fair winds.  A bit selfish on our parts wishing them fair winds since their winds would be our winds but no matter.  It is the thought that counts.

A half hour passed busily as we readied for a long trip at sea: laying on jacklines, securing the unsecured, taking up the outboard and dinghy.  It is SOP on Meredith that we do not travel with our dinghy out.  It is collapsed, packed and secured on deck.

As I hauled the dinghy out of the water using our spare genoa halyard the boat that wished to leave immediately dinghied over.  They had spoken to the third boat and decided that rather than leave immediately they too would like to wait until tomorrow too.

Now the reason for the last minute change of heart on departures was inspired partly by a nasty cloud formation and attendant winds that positioned itself over us.  I argued that that cloud was a localized phenomenon associated with a passing low pressure cell and that it would move out along with the low.  In my dim reckoning that meant that by noon or a bit after the day should be sunny, clear and winds should be from the North.  Lows can travel quickly in the Med.

The Budget Committee pointed out that it was Friday and any journey commenced on a Friday was sure to come to grief.

That settled it.  Everyone was waiting for Saturday.

Six minds, state of the art weather forecasting and thousands of dollars of radios, computers and modems and our final decision is made based on a centuries old superstition.

All of us seem happy with our decision.