For some reason we assume Tunisia will be different. After all, it’s Africa –a place we’ve been imagining since our childhood and a completely different world. When we started toying with the idea of an extended journey around the world, every plan ended with Africa; we felt that we’d need a world of experience to prepare us for negotiating the continent’s challenges. In our minds we’d have to graduate. Everything would be different – the language, the politics, the people. The rules. It all seemed a little too far from where we currently sat as travellers. The step would be too high and, rather than learn, we’d succumb to fear.
A few days before our overnight ferry from Italy, riots erupt in the streets of Tunis. Watching the flames from our room in Palermo, there’s a brief moment where I reconsider our plans. Fear may find a way in, but curiosity leaves no room for it to stay. To our south, Tunisia is still reeling from its Jasmine Revolution which saw the ouster of Ben Ali, leaving a nearly year-long void in political leadership. About a week before we arrive, the leader of the opposition is assassinated, threatening to send the country into chaos once again.
As quickly as tensions flare, a calm seems to follow and filled with nervous energy we make our way to the ferry where a group of Greek adventure riders help quell everyone’s fears with ouzo, stories and plenty of laughs. Only one of them has been to Tunisia and it’s on his yarns that we all feel fleeting relief. With the rumble of the engines we make our way to Africa sleeping on the deck of the ferry.
The border is as stressful as we expect. There’s a gaggle of fixers, ‘donations’ and a new level of chaos that we’ve not experienced. It’s thrilling, exhausting, eye-opening and challenging…
Beyond the gates Tunisia quickly defies any fears we’ve been harbouring. In a matter of minutes we find ourselves returning waves to passersby and chatting in French with locals at the ‘lights. It’s only a matter of days before we spend our first night as a guest in the home of a wonderful couple we met on the ferry, sleeping in their bed after refusing our offer of sleeping on the couch. That night, while we sleep, a neighbour rests in his van next to our bikes, making sure they won’t be tampered with. When we find him in his makeshift hostel we feel completely humbled.