Since our disturbing encounter with Mohammed, we've been slow to re-enter the free-camping world. Instead, we've been exploring other lodging options. Namely, the Youth Hostel. Neither of us has been to a youth hostel since we were single teenagers; we were curious to see how things would go trying to check in as a couple in Tunisia.
Our first hostel was in Sousse, and we were astounded by how much paperwork we had to fill out just to spend the night. Our very, very serious receptionist demanded photocopies of our passports, asked to see a marriage license (which we don't have), and had us each fill out several forms separately. All of these items contained our passport information and the man painstakingly checked and re-checked that each document matched the next and that all of those matched not just the photocopies of our passports but the actual, physical ones.
We then waited while he filled out, v e r y s l o w l y, several more sets of documents and asked us for clarification on some of our answers. To me, pointing at the little space on the sheet marked "Profession" where I had filled in "Receptionist":
Him What is your profession?
Him What kind? You work in a hotel?
Me No, an office.
Him How many people? Lots of people?
Finally satisfied after a twenty-minute inquisition, he gave us our key and showed us where we could stow our bikes.
The next hostel was in Mahdia. Our friendly host booked us in over a holiday when the place was supposed to be closed. When his boss Hazim arrived, very upset at his employee, we watched as he carried on an enraged conversation that ended with him chucking his phone across the room. Eventually we became very chummy with Hazim; he even gave us a piping hot baguette on the morning of our departure!
hostel hostile experience was by far the most comical of them all. After leaving a lovely free-camp (our first since Mohammed), we rode just shy of 50 kilometers to the city of Sfax. The ride was uneventful, save for meeting two friendly boys who pumped gas into our fuel bottle for us and some really friendly smiles and waves from nice people in the countryside. The terrain was mostly flat, with some baby hills that I found to be abnormally difficult and irritating.
According to our guidebook, Sfax is much more wealthy, businessy, and "no nonsense" when compared to the rest of Tunisia. If only we had experienced some of that special Sfax attitude today!
When we rolled into the hostel at 1:00, we were met by a very serious, grumpy elderly man standing guard outside the door to the reception office. Hands clasped together in front of his body, he stood and stared at us. And stared and glowered and glared as if we had no business being in a place who's sole purpose is to accept people like us.
When I tried ask him about a room, he informed me that we'd have to come back at 6:00, when the night guard arrived. Though he clearly worked at reception, he apparently could not check us in, and so we'd have to come back later. Several other people came and went before we left and they all said the same thing. How so many people could work there without knowing how to check us in was astounding, but we agreed to come back at 6:00 and cycled off in search of a place to hang out. We found the lovely Cafe Jazz, with delicious pizza, great service, and free wifi.
It was dark when we made our way back to the hostel and found our staunch man, hands still clasped in front of him, still scowling, in exactly the same spot as he was when we left. It was 5:55 and I went up to inquire about a room. Again, the man told me it wasn't 6:00 yet and the night guard arrived at 6. Five more minutes, no problem. Tyler and I waited, eating our leftover pizza from Cafe Jazz and laughing about the absurdity of the whole thing while the hostile man continued to stare and scowl.
At six o'clock, the staunch man went inside the reception office, turned on the lights, and proceeded to book a lone man into the hostel. Our hostile man was the night guard? Baffled, we went up to the desk and inquired about a room for the umpteenth time. Some magic must occur when the hour and minute hands point straight up and down because suddenly, we were allowed to check in! We filled out another mountain of forms, paid 7 dinar each, and thanks to a super friendly woman, even managed to get a room just for the two of us. Finally up the stairs, we closed our door and burst into disbelieving laughter. Ahhh Tunisia.
I took a few pictures the following morning, this is our home for the next few days: