We went to Tunisia to clear out of the EU for one day. That’s all it takes to restart what is called the VAT clock, or the 18 months a foreign yacht can stay in the EU without having to pay VAT on the boat, about 21% of the boat’s value. We have already paid tax on the boat to the US, so why pay it twice? It was really the only reason to go to Tunisia, but I’m glad we did.
Rather than try and rent a car and drive with Arabic street signs, not to mention drive with the most acrobatic style of drivers I have ever witnessed, we went on a car with Kais, from the Yacht Services agency. Seriously, Italian drivers from Naples better move over, there is a bigger beast on the road. The Tunisian twenty-something. Driving, shifting gears, texting, calling, Facebooking, photographing, all while driving at 100km per hour. Our tour was over 200 miles long. if you want to see our Google Earth route, you can click here:
Anyway, Kais was delightful company all day, even when he was asleep.
We had what felt like a complete tour of the Tunisian countryside with our first stop at Kairouan to visit the first Islamic City, founded in the Maghreb in 670 A.D.
Here we visited the two mosques, the Great Mosque, and the Mosque with Three doors. One of these is the actual first Mosque built, at the inception of the religion. I believe that the Great Mosque is the first mosque, as it was built at the onset of the Muslim religion. It is certainly the most beautiful I have seen. It seemed ornamented more than others I saw in Egypt and Jordan. Neal had to wear this cloth to cover his knees just to enter the courtyard. We were not allowed to enter the prayer room, as it is still used daily for prayers.
El Jem is the Roman Colliseum in Tunisia, the largest in North Africa and third largest in the world.
We had the whole place to ourselves! We toured the underground chambers, where beasts and beast fighters slept in small cages, and climbed to the highest point to see all of the city.
El Jem is now restored enough to be a concert venue for classical music and children’s choirs, but the surrounding town is pretty rough. I ate French fries for lunch, because nobody dies on French fries (or cheese pizza, but it was finished). After driving across miles and miles of small towns with entire sheep hanging to dry in the morning sun, I knew I would not eat lamb!! I played vegetarian and got chips. Afterwards, we toured the House of Africa at Thysdrus, the museum of wonderfully maintained mosaic art.
Then we went to Monastir, saw the Ribat:
Afterwards, we visited the marina. At the marina we met new cruiser friends we heard on the SSB morning radio check-in. I heard they were in Tunisia, so we drove a short distance, according to Kais, to meet them. It was about 60 miles, by my estimation, but we yelled “ahoy Silver Fern” at their boat, and we were at a bar having a beer within 5 minutes. Sailors are so friendly, they make all the seasickness worthwhile. Mostly.