It was a drizzly, dreary day in the port suburb of La Goulette, and we were glad we weren't trying to finish a marathon to Tunis this morning. Instead, we were ready for our evening ferry and our kind hotel hosts allowed us to hang out in the lobby long after we had vacated our room. We used their internet, journaling and talking to family far into the afternoon. Tyler also installed our new steering stabilizers, which we hope will make parking easier.
While our bikes were safely secured in the hotel storage room, we had our last meal in a Tunisian restaurant, walked through the rain to various offices to attempt purchasing ferry tickets, and ambled along the seaside road watching the waves break literally inches away from us.
At 7:30 PM we said goodbye to the hotel staff and rode through the misty night over to the ferry port, just a few hundred meters away. Though the boat wouldn't leave for hours, already there was a mob surrounding the ticket booth, and we took our place in the horde. Oh Tunisia. An hour later, we managed to reach the front of the "line" where we purchased our tickets.
After another few hours of playing cards, changing money, and spending our last handful of dinar and millime coins on pizza, pastries, Orangina, and BBQ flavored Bugles, we moved our bikes over to where another "line" was forming at the entrance marked "departures". People were already perfecting their tactics for line-advancement, chomping at the bit to be the first to board the ship. Tyler trumped them all by shamelessly wheeling his bike to the very front (not shown in the photo below).
I disapproved of this blatant cheating, but justified the behavior to myself because I knew what a pain in the ass lay ahead of us. When two guards removed the flimsy gate and a mob of people swarmed the police check area, I was glad we were in front. At a small booth, an officer flipped through our passports and looked at our tickets before waving us and our massive bicycles through.
Next stop—security. As we did when entering Tunisia, we had to tear our bikes completely apart to send each item through the x-ray conveyer belt. Off came the bungees with their sleeping mats, water bottles, walkstools and other loosely packed items. Off came our small front panniers, and our giant rear panniers, the handlebar bag and our backpacks, jackets, and scarves. Oh how I longed for the one small, black, wheeled suitcase of sleek, sophisticated world travelers!
After successfully ferrying all of our panniers through the machine, I noticed that a stern security officer had kept one pannier to himself. Tyler finsished assembling the bicyles while I dealt with the matter since the officer was motioning for me to come over to where he waited disapprovingly. Pointing at the pannier, he made gestures which I took to mean I should open it for a search. Fully anticipating a very long, drawn-out, inefficient process of boarding the ship, I calmly proceeded, unflustered.
As I unhooked the fasteners I peered around to the side of small pannier where we had marked its contents with a sharpie. A small black "S" contrasted with the white reflective patches, indicating that this was the snack pannier. What on earth could they possibly want with the SNACK pannier!? Were we not allowed to export the tasteless spongy Tunisian snackie cakes that fueled our cycling?
Ever the patient subject, I removed the pannier's contents under the steely gaze of the officer and set them one by one onto the security counter. A banana? Keep going, he indicated with a twirl of his pointer finger. Ummm okay. Two snack cakes? Two hard-boiled eggs we snatched from the breakfast buffet? Leftover spaghetti looking like zombie food in a plastic sack that the waiter had given us as a doggie bag? Chocolate bars, a squeezy plastic honey container, a bottle of ketchup, and a few cracker packets all made their way onto the counter. Even our spare tubes which we had recently purchased were squeezed in there for some reason. Were they the cause of the search and confusion? Nope.
Finally I reached my hand in and felt something cold and metallic. As I pulled out the mysterious object I finally realized what was going on. (Oooohohoohhhh, Mr. Officer… that giant deadly weapon?) Somehow with our recent hotel stays and time away from the bikes, our panniers were woefully disorganized and our friggin' huge steel bowie knife (the same kind the Marines use!) had made its way into the snack pannier! Woops…
At first the man confiscated our knife and refused to give it back, saying, understandably, that it was dangerous. Nevertheless, we weren't willing to give up our wood-chopping, brush-hacking, meat-cutting tool of destruction that easily. With patient and hopefully charming prodding, I managed to have the superviser called over to discuss the situation. He was friendly and smiley and completely understood when I explained that we didn't actually intend to kill people with our deadly weapon. He agreed to wrap it up, write Tyler's name on it, and have it waiting for us when we arrived in Palermo. Cool!
Boarding the ferry was another long process halted intermittantly by numerous passport and ticket checks every few meters. We smiled and breathed deeply, calmly accepting our place as others grew frustrated and tried pushing their way through the mob to no avail.
Finally we were allowed to roll our bicycles into the boat's garage, bungee them to a railing, and make our way with the others to our pullman seats. We quickly claimed a pair right by the window and tried to get comfortable. With bright lights illuminating the room, the noise of the ship's engine rumbling beneath us, the obnoxious blaring of TVs on the wall, and uncomfortable children's whining, we tried to get some sleep on our long ride to Palermo.