The Fat Kid Diaries: Week 80. Tunisian tales.

Week(s): 80
Ending: Sat 10th January
Starting: On a ferry somewhere on the Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia
Ending: Tunis, Tunsia.
Km’s covered: Approx 300km loop of NE Tunisia

It’s been a wonderful week of relative warmth back in Africa exploring Tunisa (a country which has for some reason always intrigued me) bookended by two memorable  (for not all the right reasons it must be said) ferry trips across the Mediterranean. It’s certainly obvious why Tunisia’s beaches attract sun starved Europeans in their droves, but it’s also a country of fascinating history, some great quiet rural areas that one could easily confuse for parts of Italy, decent food, welcoming people, pretty good cycling conditions, and now that it has relative political stability, it’s probably likely to see an increase in investment and general business activity (I would guess).

Not so wonderful, despite the best efforts of Mohamed Ahmed (thanks again for the introduction Lucy and Justin Roberts), Aymen and Ernest, and an interesting trip to the Libyan embassy, was the news that Libya would after all be a no-go this time round, despite throwing everything at it. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but with no one except myself willing to accept responsibility for my safety, the final dim hope of visiting the country was extinguished…probably a fairly strong sign that under the circumstances, some fates are better not tempted!

Anyway, as so often happens, this apparent set back opened the door to the Fat Kid’s plan B, which means taking the ‘scenic’ route to Cairo via Sicily and Malta, which quite incredibly is also the most economical alternative to cycling through Libya, and a lot more interesting than just jumping on a flight from Tunis to Egypt, my last African country of Lettie’s Ride, and one I’ve been dying to visit for as long as I can remember.

The Fat Kid was also very spoilt with a stay at the Sheraton Tunis to start the week, a world away from the recent humble, cold and damp accommodation I was getting used to, and not only was the visit a complete physical and mental reboot, I had the pleasure of spending time with, and getting to know Christian Tomandl…the hotel’s generous, warm, and super interesting GM, whose passion for life and adventure was absolutely contagious, and it reminded me once again to be grateful for proper conversation…which, thanks mostly to my complete lack of a second language, has been somewhat intermittent at best during the last 18 months!

Christian also invited me to sign the hotel’s guest register, which may not in itself sound overly special, but when you consider the Fat Kid was the first to do so since 2012 or 2013, and when browsing through previous entries from Henry Ford, most members of the Kennedy dynasty, and seemingly every significant industrialist, president, prime minister,  prince, sultan, king and queen of the last 50 or 60 years, it highlights just what an institution this grand old hotel of Tunis is, and why Christian’s kind gesture was one of the most humbling moments of my expedition to date.

So thank you Christian, and the whole Starwood family once again; from Marilize and Rob at the Westin in Cape Town, to every other GM and staff member of the various hotels I’ve been lucky enough to visit en route, thank you for your support in all it’s forms; it means more than you can ever imagine!

I would also like to thank Graeme Bradley from the SA Embassy in Tunis for taking the time out to meet with me, and for his fascinating insight into the region and life in Tunisia…as well as for the SA flag pin badges which proved a massive hit!

On the subject of thanks, special mention to my friends at DHL for facilitating my various logistical challenges, in particular this week the transport of Lettie…from Michelle in Cape Town, Moez, Mustafa and Ahmed Tiar in Tunisia, and Ahmed Fayez in Cairo, the hands-on support has been exceptional. Also thanks to Geoff Walsh and Mohammad Al Jamea in Saudi Arabia for assisting in exploring opportunities to obtain a visa to visit the kingdom on my way from Egypt through the middle east…it would be a wonderful addition to the itinerary!

And on that note, a big thanks to my Middle East fixer and great mate Ant Moore for your assistance too in helping trying to get the Fat Kid into Saudi Arabia (and for re-subscribing to the Fat Kid Diaries after a recent controversial un-subscription!).

During my wanderings around Tunis, I was lucky to stumble upon the ‘Stade Rugby’ – Tunisia’s equivalent to fortress Ellis Park? With my normal sense of curiosity, I was compelled to do a bit of research into Tunisian rugby, and as such, this week’s Fascinating FatKid Fact is that the Tunisian national team is coached by a South African – a certain Danie De Villiers to be exact. Good luck to them, hope they become a powerful force in African rugby!

And that reminds me, this week saw the count down clock to Rugby World Cup hit 250 days-to-go…and 250 days riding until the Springbok opening game…exciting to think about, but also a bit of a reality check…the body and mind starting to show some hints of wear and tear after the accumulated rigours of 80 weeks on the road!

Finally, a quick note of best wishes to Lettie’s Ride ambassador, Kevin Vermaak, and his ABSA Cape Epic team for their inaugural Snow Epic which begins this week in Engelberg, Switzerland…no doubt it will be a roaring success!

Apologies for the lack of pics due to some technical shortcomings, but for those on Facebook and interested, I’ll try post a few pics there later in the week (relevant links below)

Cheers till next week,

Lettie and the Fat Kid.

Keep in touch
Twitter @RonRutland




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