01-05 February 1997
We arrived in Tunis to join HMS Birmingham, thankfully the whole thing was relatively uneventful except we where chased along the jetty by people trying to check our visas. They managed to catch up with us and we were meant to have had our visas stamped at the airport. We had no idea what was going on but it all got sorted out eventually.
Tunis is a bit crazy. On our first night into town get we got accosted by a man who promised to show us all the sights of Tunis in a night, having been continually hassled by all and sundry up until this point we decided it would not be a bad idea to get ourselves a minder of sorts and it worked. What we didn’t know at the time was….. “next stop….. the casbah zone”.
We were dragged through endless alleys deeper into the heart of Tunis and I am not scared to admit that coupled with it being near midnight and not another person in the vicinity looking remotely friendly I was getting goose bumps. Listening to our guides endless chatter about a king, a big bed and lots of women in it we persevered for what seemed like an eternity. We finally reached the big bed which was very big but there was no naked women which was a bit of a let down. We were told that the king who had owned the bed had had a lot of women in it which is a different thing entirely.
Our untiring guide motivated us into going to the roof where we could see most of Tunis or at least in near pitch blackness most of the lights in Tunis were visible from where we stood. It was actually worth the entire journey just to see it.
It was at this point we then started our decent back into the casbah and the old saying “no such thing as a free ride” started to resonate around inside my head. We first payed a visit to a rug merchant who proceeded to unroll enough rugs to line a bridge to Sicily, the rugs were all very nice but for two young sailors with no money they were a bit too expensive. After much haggling, mostly with himself our illustrious rug dealer must have realized that his time would be better spent cultivating money trees, we where on our way again.
On and on into the casbah night we trod, at no point did we ever consider going our separate way from the guide, it would have been like eating your compass in the Sahara. I did notice that we spent an awful lot of time visiting cousins of our guide who all happened to own perfume or tobacco shops. By the time we had got half way back we were convinced the guy was related to everyone in Tunis.
Just before we left the casbah to breathe real open air again we where offered some hubbly bubbly which considering neither of us smoked was another non-starter. We walked for a few yards and we seemed to magically stumble out onto the street where we began our journey. This meant it was time to bid our guide a fond farewell and I was uncomfortably aware that we had not bought anything at all which is probably how he makes his living. We tipped him and he seemed rather pleased with this, we were just glad to be alive and back in the general vicinity of where we left off.