An October cruise: Sardinia - Tunisia - Sicily

Part 3 - Sidi-bu Said  

Bizerte – Sidi bu Said (43 miles)

We notified the police of our imminent departure and set off for Sidi bu Said, with a robust Mistral, (NW), sending us briskly on our way eastwards. As we approached Capo Farina, the entrance to the deep bay of Carthage, the wind reached 33 knots on our stearn – not giving me time to even glance at the log to see our speed, but I am sure it was fast. Afterwards the cape played havoc with the wind, as all good capes are capable of, with gusts coming from all angles. After being knocked down horizontal by a violent gust, my wife said “enough” and got us to bring down the sails and proceed by motor, effectively spoiling our fun. The shallow waters of this bay, once navigated by the Carthaginians, who dominated all the known seas of the time, change abruptly from a deed blue to a pale green, producing a magical expectant atmosphere of further wonders to come.

Sidi bu Said is one of the prettyest towns of the Mediterranean, situated on the hill where once stood Carthage, the capital of the pre-Roman world. It was founded by the Phoenecians of Lebanon, as an outside trading post for their merchant ships, who planted colonies in this far western outpost, in Sicily and in Sardinia. Carthage was to become a powerful capital, ruler of the waves, defeating even the new rising superpower of Rome. It was only after a concerted effort of Rome and after having obtained blueprints of their destroyers, did Rome manage to build a navy capable of winning the Carthaginians, but also with the help of a betrayal. “Cartago delenda est”, Carthage must be destroyed and in fact the Romans hardly left two stones together. The impressive ruins that one can now visit in Carthage are Roman ruins, though you can still make out the Punic secret naval harbour, with its round automated docking spaces. In the Carthage museum you can see a reconstruction of this engineering wonder.

Unfortunately the local speculative real estate has had no respect for the archeological ruins and luxury villas have been built all over, including the Presidential Palace, so what there is to be seen, is limited to a few sites: the Roman villa, Emperor Antonio Pio’s baths, the Roman theatre, the Punic port. You need the museum ticket, which gives access to the other attractions and a taxi to move around (not expensive). The other main attraction is Sidi bu Said itself, which is up around 300 steps above the marina – a tough climb in the heat, but worth it. Take a torch for the descent in the dark, as there is no illumination.

You take the traditional mint tea at the main bar on top of the steps Caffé des Nattes, or a smoke at the “shisha” (narghilé) water pipe, if you indulge in such things. Another must is tea again, but at the lovely bar overlooking the bay and marina. It is possible to visit one of the most beautiful homes in the town, Villa Anabi, when the owners are not in residence, on the left going up the main street. The best restaurant in town and the most expensive, by any standard, is “Au bon vieux temps”, authorised, hear hear, to serve wine! There is a well-furnished supermarket in the lower part of the town.

The capital Tunis, is a 20 minute taxi ride and provides much to see, from the medina and casbah, to the Prado museum, with the world’s biggest collection of Roman mosaics.

We hired a taxi for the day to take us to Hammamet and saw a most modern marina and a string of five star hotels, almost Disneylandish along the beach, a striking contrast to the rest of Tunisia. The old medina is a real gem, but the insistent shopkeepers a real bore. Ceramics are well priced in nearby Nabeul.

The weather turned to the worst and the Sardinian and Sicily Channels were constantly swept by gales for over a week, so we had to put off our return. At one point my wife could not stay any longer, so she returned by air. My friend Oreste stayed on, hoping to help me sail back and in the mean-time, we continued sightseeing. We took a bus from Tunis to Kairouan, a three hour ride to the poor and arid south. This city has the most attractive souk that I have seen in Tunisia and excellent shopping prices. Here you can see the brightly clad Berber women doing their shopping.The return trip was animated by a flash flood that inundated the roads, which the locals took  all in their stride, wading through the waters in their office clothes.

I had a couple of electrical jobs done by a local electrician, who did an excellent, very professional job and I can recommend him to anyone in need: Najah Ben Hamouda, tel. 98349941, 71779162.

Seeing a break in the weather and a subsiding sea, Oreste and I decided to try leaving for Kilibia, early morning. However only a few miles out we encountered four metre waves, so we quickly decided on an opportune retreat to Sidi bu Said. Entering the marina, at 150 metres, we encountered the fishermen taking in their nets, right at the marina entrance! We proceeded slowly and were brought to an abrupt halt by an encounter with a net caught in the keel. I backed out, but was induced into error by the fisherman who waved me on. At the next encounter I erroniously put the engine into reverse instead of neutral and the net wound round and round the propellor shaft. The fisherman came and cut his nets free and quickly disappeared, as he knew it was forbidden to fish in front of the port. We were left in the sh.., with the wind blowing us into shallow waters. I dived below, but the visibility was zero. Fortunately the anchor held until a very professional help came from the marina, towing us in. Ali the diver spent an hour underwater cutting the nets free. All this excellent service was provided free of charge by the marina, though I felt a suitable tip was well justified. All other marinas please take note.

Well another day passed and Oreste finally had to leave because of a business appointment, so I was left alone. Fearing Capo Bon, after all the frightenting tales told me by the local sailors, I didn’t want to tackle it on my own so I asked for a professional sailor to accompany me to Sicily. With Nooman I went through all the local formalities, contract, legalisation of signatures, registration of the contract, police control and then I tackled the Italian Consulate for the visa, which was to take other days. But I couldn’t wait, the weather was now perfect and as Ali the diver volonteered to accompany me to Kilibia in Tunisia, I decided to at least get closer to Sicily. He arrived punctually at the boat in the morning, but asked me to accompany him to the police for the formalities. We went but were told that the Captain would arrive in an hour, but as it was getting late and I was already risking a night arrival, I said my goodbyes and took off on my own.

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    Copyright L. Camillo 2000