Crazy African Taxi Drivers....Day 42
Tunis Travel Blog› entry 25 of 30 › view all entries
Our ship arrived in Tunis sometime around 1 pm. After lunch, we met our Coloradoan table-mates, Bill and Paulette, by the ship's gangway. We had earlier conspired to share a taxi/guide into the city, as the port is actually quite some ways from anything other than industrial ugliness. Once on land we were greeted by a group of ambitious taxi drivers waiting like vultures for the hapless tourists to arrive. One approached us, took Bill for the ringleader, and began haggling. It was hard to understand him, but he was very animated and ultimately likeable in a scary kind of way. Bill, unsure of his progress with negotiations, started looking at the rest of us for some support. Eli, seizing his moment of glory, resumed the haggling. Not many people are aware of Eli's secret hobby of amateur negotiating, but he relishes his opportunities. Whether or not the price that was finally agreed upon was a good one, we may never know, but nonetheless Eli was proud of his monumental achievement. And so we set off.
Thus began the taxi ride from hell. Our driver, named Amur, was quite the character. He spoke in an odd mix of english, german, french, and arabic, often mixing words of all four languages in the same sentence. He was very jovial and good-natured, laughing uproariously at everything, but quite frankly seemed a bit crazy. To say his driving left something to be deisired would be a huge understatement. In his incessant chatter he frequently craned his head around his shoulder to speak with the backseat passengers, seemingly unconcerned with the road (which at this time was a freeway with cars and trucks going maybe 70 mph). He seemed to think that the painted line markers were just a suggestion, and in fact he clearly preferred to straddle them. The horn was a means of good-natured communication with most other vehicles, and he happily waved at all the cars he wove between. This maybe is common road etiquette here, who knows.
Then we arrived in the city of Medina, which is one of the trio of cities that actually comprise Tunis. Most people (at least sane people) would have carefully eased their way through the crowded streets full of vehicles. But not Amur. And most sane people would have decided not to risk driving down the super narrow streets (more sidewalks really) that were enclosed on both sides by tall buildings. Or if they were feeling adventurous enough to give it a go, most people would have gone very slowly, especially in the face of bustling pedestrians and bicyclists. Amur seemed to consider it their duty, not his, to give his car the necessary room to squeeze by. It's no wonder his car was quite dented on all sides, a fact which we were much more acutely aware of after the trip, not before.
I will say this about the guy: he brought us quickly (and safely, somehow) to our destination of a tiny little alleyway where he fearlessly parallel-parked while we all cringed. Our taxi driver now assumed his guide mode and led us a short way to a small square in front of a building that we were told was "The President Ali". We can only assume that it was a building built for the President of Tunisia, but we couldn´t really tell. Our guide then energetically pushed us into position for good pictures. He then set off for another tiny alley and gestured for us to follow - quickly.
He led us through a picturesque middle-eastern style shopping district - tiny alleys with stone canopies added sometime after the original construction. The walls were lined with purses and jewelry and clothing of all sorts. All the store owners stood in front of their wares and tried their best to pull us into their stores. But our guide was on a mission, and helped discourage the salesmen from slowing us down too much.
We arrived in a large store with many rooms of the type of goods we had seen on our way there - clothing, rugs, purses, trinkets of all sorts, drums, and more. Jenni was led to a bench in front of a rug-loom and was tutored in the art of rug making. Then up we went to the roof of the building. From here you could see the whole city as well as the intricate network of wires running everywhere over the roofs of the old buildings. It was a wonderful site, but the sun and heat were unbearable, and we quickly descended back into the cooler (but not comfortable) temperature of the shop.
It turns out that the shop that we were in was a famous for rug-making and our taxi driver guide was friends with the owner. He must have often brought tourists to this store, because the owner was quick to greet us and invite us to shop for rugs. We were seated in a wonderfully air-conditioned room, while the owner had a young man bring in a number of rugs for us to view and walk on (we were strongly encouraged to take our shoes and socks off!). The rugs were quite beautiful, if a bit fancy, and quite inexpensive compared to what we would pay in the states for comparable rugs. Unfortunately, we don't have a need for rugs at this time, so we politely declined. But afterwards we shopped for a while in their main store area, which as previously mentioned had all sorts of goods. One highlight was that Amur eagerly picked out all manner of head adornments for Jenni and unabashedly dressed her up time and again. She helplessly withstood the brazen attention with good humour, giggling and smiling, too polite to tell him to stop. Of course Eli simply stood laughing and took lots of pictures.
After the store, Amur (who was on a serious mission - dawdling was NOT an option for this guy!) led us to more open-air market type areas where we perused all sorts of items. The shop owners, eager to have Americans looking at their wares, were tenacious to say the least. The act of simply admiring some item was enough for them to pull it out and start the haggling process. Not actually wanting the item seemed to be inconsequential to them, it was just a matter of the right price. It was often incredibly difficult to disengage from these poeple, who would not take no for an answer. Good selling tactics, I suppose.
Finally getting our fill, we were brought back to the parked car and we steeled ourselves for the nail-biting ride back to the port. On the way out of the city we passed many impressive buildings and beautiful sights, which was much different from the tiny cramped area of the market we were in earlier. Once again we managed to safely arrive in one piece back to the ship. We bade farewell to our crazy, but fun, taxi/guide Amur, paying him his due amount.
Dinner was fun with our American friends, recounting the madness to Dan and Margaret the Michiganians (what exactly does one call residents of Michigan?). Afterwards we went to a flamenco-dancing show on board the ship, and later had a nightcap beer at a piano bar with the Americans and an Aussie we met named Freddie. To bed.