“Are you really sure that’s a good idea?”

Posted on January 30th, 2010 by Nico

... was the question of several concerned friends, the day we left The Hague on our year-and-a-half cruise to Singapore. Our friends were concerned about the day of snowboarding we planned to do, while in the small ski-resort of Flumserberg with my parents.  We are glad to report no broken bones, no torn ligaments and no frostbite.

South we drove that first day, slightly dumbstruck after the emotional farewell gathering; through The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, to arrive in Germany around 8 PM. Knackered and still not comprehending that we were really on our way we did not take in much of the landscape. The incessant rain and snow contributed to a feeling of relief when we sat down for a hearty south-German meal of ‘broccoli-auflauf’. The next morning the weather had cleared up, and the remaining drive to meet up with my parents provided beautiful vistas of the Swiss mountains. That evening we enjoyed Swiss hospitality, and the next day we took extreme care boarding down the slopes for the last time the coming years. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and are extremely thankful to my parents for all the fun, laughter and conversations we had! We will see you in Oman!

Fiona started without a hitch the next morning at minus 10C, after being cleared of 15cm’s of fresh snow. Another goodbye, and off we were to Italy. Through the Swiss alps, the Gran San Bernardino pass, left at Lugano, past Milan and south towards Pisa. The recent downpours and subsequent flooding of the area around Viareggio caused some delays, as well as the craving for Nilo’s (best sugar free ice cream of Italy), who was closed, typical. Just in time for ápee (apperitivo) we reached Orzignano where Diede, Ceci and Dirkje live. The evening went by way too fast: visiting their new project (an English school), eating amazing pizza at their local hangout and talking about all our plans and dreams. Lunch the next day (and ápee, dinner and after dinner drinks...) were courtesy of Nikki and Ruth Arocena, Cecilia’s parents. Another warm welcome and an incredibly difficult goodbye. We take Ruth’s and Nikki’s advice about life and living to heart and will think of them frequently when things are getting us down, or luck is not on our side.  With pain in our hearts (and heads after last night excesses), we said goodbye to Diede, Ceci and Dirkje the next morning. A bit sad, knowing that we will be not be in Orzignano to see Diede and Ceci’s expected daughter, we turned Fiona towards Sicily.

Finally, unfamiliar ground, and the realization that from this point on we were really on our own. The superb Italian auto-strada (slightly sarcastic) allowed us to progress to an hours drive from the ferry to Messina. Our family warned us that the south of Italy, especially Sicily, is slightly different from what we expect of Europe. How true this turned out to be when we drove off the ferry in Messina the next morning. What a mess! After the worst traffic ever (this place makes driving in Damascus a breeze), the breathtaking scenery along the route to Palermo made up for it all. Her beautiful outskirts provided a great last night in Europe. A pizza, a bottle of Prosecco and a youth hostel on the beach ensured a well-deserved rest before the crossing to Africa, the Dark Continent...

...dark mainly because we did not arrive until 23.30. The crossing went as expected, apart from the five-meter high waves and force eight winds. The ferry bucked, swayed, and made that gyrating movement normally performed by professional belly dancers. The Tunisians where not impressed though, as indicated by faces turning white and soon green! Anyone who has ever been around the seasick will confirm it rubs off. A quiet spot on a couch in a corner provided a place to lie down and this way we managed to get to Tunisia without throwing up.

Our first encounter with African custom officials and border crossings turned out to be less daunting than expected. Maybe Tunisia is used to foreigners arriving with cars, as the process of police checks, import paperwork and visas took only an hour and a half. Mind you, I’m not being sarcastic now. What we did encounter as expected were the inevitable tricks to get some baksheesh. That, cueing for stamps, and being sent from window to window will have to become a part of travelling for us...

As I write this, the memories of our search for a hotel at 01.00 that first night, resurface. Dark alleyways in a seemingly deserted town... but that’s another story. Tomorrow we will drive into Libya, and I will have to start seriously writing about Tunisia. For now let me tell you the first three weeks here, driving south to Libya, were filled with surprises and clichés.

 

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