Charlie takes Sfax Medina by storm

Charlie sniffs the meaty goodness in the medina

Dave the motorhome is parked within the walls of another Youth Hostel, this time he’s at the Maison de Jeunes in Sfax (N34.73485 E10.74727). Twice today I’ve been so glad to see its little sign sticking out into the road, however tomorrow it is closed for a national holiday so there was much humming and harring when we tried to book in for two nights. The result, we can stop two nights but must leave tomorrow at 8am and return at 6pm. The cost? Well initially it was free, I suspect we looked a bit too surprised as the guys then consulted their Arabic price list. 4TD was the deemed price, we said OK, then ‘per person’ was added, OK again, then ‘per night’ was added – from free to 16TD in a few seconds!

We watched a bit of Star Wars last night, but only the scenes showing locations we’d been to. Obiwan’s house was nowhere near the sea and the bar was surrounded by other round topped buildings, not apartment blocks – they were all totally unrecognisable thanks to the magic of the movies.

Ezzedine the proactive sheepskin seller in Gabes
Ezzedine the proactive sheepskin seller in Gabes

This morning as I went to fill in our fiches (forms that you need to complete at every place you stay, with your passport details) and pay, Jay was joined by Ezzedine who had trundled his motorbike into the camping area complete with a couple of sheepskins to sell. Jay had already had been given quite a bit of the sales patter by the time I arrived, but I got the best parts – a game of tug ‘o’ war with one of them to show how strong they are, a flame on the back of one to show it’s real sheep (this I could already tell by Charlie’s obsessive interest) and much brushing and rubbing of the wool side. It was such a good show that we had to buy one (oh and they were really soft and lovely). We haggled him down just a little bit and were more than happy to pay 20TD (around £9).

Charlie does a quality check on the sheepskin - yes it's real!
Charlie does a quality check on the sheepskin – yes it’s real!

Of course bringing a dead animal skin into Dave, no matter how much it has been cleaned and scraped, does have a certain affect on Charlie. The poor beastie has spent the entire day sniffing around. He knows there is a sheep hidden in Dave somewhere. We showed him it to see his reaction, which was to initially sniff, then lick, then try to eat it. So right now it’s hidden from him and we hope to keep it that way.

Starbucks will never catch on here with these roadside tea sellers on the scene
Starbucks will never catch on here with these roadside tea sellers on the scene

Leaving the youth hostel we had to once again tackle the market which lined the street between our sleeping spot and the main road. All went well, turning right along the river the road was nice and wide – then parked cars appeared. As it narrowed, the goods from the stalls spilled into the street, as did the people looking at them. Soon we were stuck. We weren’t the only ones, the flow of bikes, scooters, taxis, horse and carts and vans going in the other direction were stuck too, because we were stuck. Multiple people joined in with hand waving trying to squeeze us through the gap. Normally I’d jump out and take control, but in this case I was needed to hang out of the passenger window and gauge how much stock we’d take with us if we carried on. It’s not often I shout at Jay ‘No stop or we’ll break a seven piece pasta set!’ or ‘Left a bit or we’ll take out those glass cups and saucers’, but on this occasion it was called for. Slowly we inched our was through, worried looking pedestrians taking refuge among the boxes of goods on the pavement, until we reached a section almost wide enough for us to turn the wheel in – then we were out, on the P1 and heading north to Sfax.

Water collection day seems to be Saturday
Water collection day seems to be Saturday

Saturday seems to be the day things happen in Tunisia. Each water pump had a queue of at least three tractors waiting to fill up their tankers with H2O, roadside cafe BBQ’s were smoking, surrounded by hanging sheep and goat carcases  some still dripping blood onto the pavement, and trucks full of an extraordinary amount of ‘stuff’ hurtled past us on a mission to delivery their goods (maybe to get back in time for some sheep on the BBQ).

Firing up the BBQ and hanging the meat ready for the Saturday cafe rush
Firing up the BBQ and hanging the meat ready for the Saturday cafe rush
These poor sheep much know what's coming as they sit outside the butchers - still they were luckier than their mates down the road who had to sit under one of their own hanging about them.
These poor sheep must know what’s coming as they sit outside the butchers – still they were luckier than their mates down the road who had to sit under one of their own hanging above them.

We only hit one stretch of roadworks today, but once again most of the surface had been removed for a good few kilometres. Without a cone in sight the traffic was slowed by the fact that there was only one very narrow strip of rough old tarmac, everyone else was on dust and rocks. The tarmac switched allegiance several times, we sighed with relief when it was under Dave’s wheels and shuddered when it swapped over to the southbound traffic.

Free for all in the roadworks - multiple overtaking!
Free for all in the roadworks – multiple overtaking!
Modern art sculpture in Mahres beach resort
Modern art sculpture in Mahres beach resort
The beach is full of people collecting some sort of food instead of sunbathing
The beach is full only people collecting some sort of food instead of sunbathing

Reaching Sfax the volume of traffic increased, a lot. We were thankful that our destination was on the outskirts, in the same direction as we were approaching from. The only problem was that our Michelin map has towns as a dot – not very helpful, however our Rough Guide book has city centre maps in it, you just have to try and work out when you’ve reached the edge of it. I finally managed to suss where we were as we were on a roundabout with cars going in all directions (literally, several drove up to it and double backed onto the next approaching road rather than going around it!). Much beeping and waving and we made it off onto the right road. A couple hundred metres and we’re at another roundabout, this time it was grid-locked. Eventually the bored looking policeman in the middle started blowing his whistle and sort of directing the traffic, but it was still pretty much a free for all. Pulling off the roundabout was the first time I was so glad to see the little red and blue sign for our destination.

Dave in situ at the Youth Hostel in Sfax
Dave in situ at the Youth Hostel in Sfax

After getting booked in and a spot of lunch we set off to explore Sfax medina (old town). Our Rough Guide says it’s different to all the other medinas in Tunisia – virtually hassle-free and a thriving community place, no tourist tat or tour groups here. We found ourselves at the entrance by the old Kasbah, which is now a little museum about Tunisian buildings and how they are made. We paid our 4TD each and 1TD to take photos – Charlie was welcomed in and free – then wandered around the exhibits for a very short while before heading up onto the ramparts to look down over the world. It was great up there, although some of the wooden steps were a tad rickety; one at a time on these I think!

Jay studies the different building materials and floor coverings in the Kasbah museum
Jay studies the different building materials and floor coverings in the Kasbah museum
Sfax Kasbah
Sfax Kasbah
Charlie worries for Jay's wellbeing as he tries out some rickerty steps onto the roof of the Kasbah
Charlie worries for Jay’s wellbeing as he tries out some rickety steps onto the roof of the Kasbah
View from the Kasbah roof - telecoms and religion sit side by side
View from the Kasbah roof – telecoms and religion sit side by side
Peace and quiet in the Kasbah, and a glimpse of the busy world outside
Peace and quiet in the Kasbah, and a glimpse of the busy world outside

After exploring the Kasbah we set off through the narrow alley ways of the medina. Piles of second-hand clothes strewn over low tables changed to fabric stalls with the whir of sewing machines coming from doorways. Soon we were in the new clothes and shoes bit with proper looking glass fronted shops. All along we’re followed by the sound of kisses being blown in Charlie’s direction. Hands reach down and stroke him as he passes, one woman picked him up and waved him around to her friends shouting and smiling. Young men would stop and ask Jay loads of questions about him, while getting in lots of strokes, one even crawled out from under his veg stall for a stroke – all of this and only one request to go into a shop and look at their goods. No hassle, just lots of love as well as stares and giggles.

Charlie entertains - with the help of sandwiches
Charlie entertains – with the help of sandwiches
Charlie makes friends in the medina
Charlie makes friends in the medina

Another turn and we’re in the fruit and veg section, I pick Charlie up and turn to see a woman being knocked flying by a scooter – a bloke nearby throwing peanuts at the scooter driver as he ploughed on. The crush of people was too much, with Charlie in my arms I headed for a gap by a stall and lost Jay. Standing on a step I waved, a bloke outside a shop saw me waving and pointed to Jay – it was a bit like the scene in the tube station in Crocodile Dundee as a message was passed along to the foreign face in the crowd ‘she’s over there’. Fortunately it wasn’t so crowded that Jay didn’t have to climb over everyone’s shoulders to reach me.

In the food part of the medina
In the food part of the medina
Charlie sniffs the meaty goodness in the medina
Charlie sniffs the meaty goodness in the medina

Heading for a gap between stalls we found ourselves in Charlie’s favourite section – MEAT! Pooch is quickly picked up again as he strains to get to the sweet smelling intestines. The stall holders laugh and joke about him, we tell them he wouldn’t be good to eat. Trying desperately to get away from the food we end up in the fish market, slipping and sliding on the wet tiles as we scuttle around the edge and out back into the main throng of clothes, sunglasses and watches. The medina finally spits us out, but we don’t have a clue where we are. Guessing (and vaguely following the sun as we had parked to the west of the medina) we find ourselves wandering the streets. With no street name signs and about 90% of all other signage in Arabic it was difficult to navigate, nothing looked familiar.

Above all the stalls it's a beautiful open space
Above the stalls it’s a beautiful open space

I spotted a roundabout in the distance, that would have road signs and give us a clue which direction to go in, as we approached it, it looked familiar – if a little less busy. It was the roundabout outside the Youth Hostel – the second time in a day I was glad to see its sign.

Name the brand?
Name the brand?

Tonight the heating is on and Jay’s heading for a shower before cooking up tea – with only two carrots left our supply may finally be used up tonight!

Ju x

PS – The vote on if Jay should cut his hair ends tomorrow night, vote now if you haven’t already!

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