Crazy Connections and a Surprise Visit to Tunisia

Trip Start Mar 16, 2004
Trip End Jun 13, 2004

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Flag of Italy  ,
Thursday, March 25, 2004

I was up at 6am on Tuesday 23rd March for an early morning cycle to the airport, 5 km away. The manager and some of Tex other residents were already up. The hostel also houses workers. It took just under 30 minutes to pack Tex bike and gear for the flight before checking in. The plane left on time at 8.30 and we flew quite low over Cyprus for the very short hop to Pafos before continuing to Stansted.

We arrived early which was just as well for I had to wait an hour for the bike to reappear. I checked in with Easyjet for the flight to Naples and went through the departure gates. I was hoping to see the news headlines in weatherspoons on the TV at 2pm, but someone changed over to the cricket as they were about to begin!

Once again the flight was on time all the way. We landed at dusk so I was able to make out a little of the countryside. Fair play to the two airlines, they never charged me for the bike. I spent the night in the airport waiting for first light. I read more of The Good Soldier Schweik, a very funny book, and got more sleep than I thought I would.

Shortly after dawn I reassembled the bike in the car park. This time the large chain ring at the front had been damaged in transit, quite bent and three teeth blunted. The chain wouldn't flow, so I reached for my little set of pliers. I managed to straighten the ring enough so that it worked, but there is still quite a kink in it.

It was a cold morning with depressingly heavy showers, so I pulled on the waterproofs before tackling the Naples traffic. As usual all signs lead to the motorway, but I eventually found the right road. a police woman kindly wrote the names of all the villages I needed to head for on a piece of paper. She, like everyone else I asked, spoke virtually no English. So don't believe people when they claim almost everybody speaks English!

I find the coast road and am heading in the right direction. However I am making painfully slow progress between trying to avoid the motorway and sheltering from the heaviest showers. Whilst sheltering from a hailshower in Torre de Greco I decide to take the train the rest of the way. There is only one ferry per week and this is it. A middle aged business man in the same doorway does speak good English and gives me directions to the station. He was at pains to warn me to be careful not to end up on the local train that goes around Pompei.

I find it easily and get the ticket in a small shop. I have to stand with the bike in a large space at the end of a carriage after hoisting the bike up the steps. It was easier getting down the steps in Salerno.

The port was easy to find, I just cycled towards the large ships. Salerno is a nice town, located between the sea and the steep hills behind. The weather was still terrible, grey sky, heavy hail and waves pounding the shore. I think I actually cycled into the navy base by mistake. I turned around and cycled out. SOme strange looks, but no one said anything.

At the civilian harbour I found a hut saying Grimaldi, the name of the ferry company I'm looking for. It wasn't the ticket office, but a worker told me to follow him and got into his car. He drove off and I sped after him along the port road, containers piled six high either side. I was doing a respectable 25km/hr and I think he drove slow for me. He stopped outside another portacabin with a sign saying, Grimaldi Biggleteria and check in.

Inside i got two surprises. The bad news was that I couldn't buy a return ticket on the day of departure, singles only, bang goes the budget. The good news was that the Eurostar Valencia called to Tunisia before stopping at Malta. Two nights on board not one as I had assumed.

I went off to get some food for the voyage. I returned at four as instructed and spent an entertaining couple of hours watching crazy Italian dockers simultaneously unload new cars and containers of a huge ship. One guy dressed like a getaway driver from a 70s film speed of backwards faster than the others raced of forwards. Another docker skidded a forklift up and down the ramp as he had poor grip on it. Despite a few near misses there were no accidents.

The ship didn't actually sail till 10pm, two hours late. On board I found my cabin which I shared with two Tunisian truck drivers. They were really nice guys.

The sea was very rough, but I slept through it all. Spent the day reading and chatting to various passengers. We docked in Tunisia at 4pm,four hours late. Apparently one engine failed during the night and we sailed on with just the one engine working.

I was able to go ashore for a couple of hours. After fighting off the taxi drivers who wanted to take me shopping to the bazaar, I walked along the beach a while and explored the town by the port. It was bustling, children playing football in the street, packed coffee shops, food market. My limited impressions of Tunisia were very favorable.

As I headed back to the ship a cavalcade of about 30 classic cars passed by, all French and Italian registrations. They looked as if they were heading for the Sahara. I wonder if they'd give me a lift??

Back on board ship I spent a few hours in the restaurant chatting with some English passengers before going to bed.
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