On Friday January 29th, we rewarded ourselves with a day trip to the city of Kairouan. Considered the fourth holiest Islamic city, many Muslims will make pilgrimages to Kairouan much like they would travel to better-known Mecca. Although we weren’t on a spiritual journey, we made the trek for a glimpse of our own.
Every part of the day was a bit of an adventure. We started by taking the train from La Marsa to Tunis. Next task was to find the Moncef Bey louage (shared taxi) station. Locals informed us that this would be the quickest and cheapest way to travel long distances, like to Kairouan. We hailed a taxi and told the driver our destination. He nodded and replied with one of the two English word in his vocabulary, “five dinars.” Dylan recognized that we were being taken advantage of and refused. He instructed the driver to turn on the meter (required by law). The driver grumbled, gave in a little, and lowered his price: “three dinars.” Upon insistance from Dylan, he reluctantly turned on the meter and we were on our way. Twenty blocks away, we paid under one dinar and entered the louage station.
The louage station was insane: hundreds of large white vans in a huge warehouse, people milling everywhere, and men shouting destinations while funneling customers toward vehicles. We paid for our tickets, climbed into a van with six others, and within ten minutes we were on our way. (The louages leave when full, not on a set schedule. It doesn’t seem to take long.) During the ride, Jenna listened to PRI podcasts while Dylan read from his Kindle (typical commute entertainment). Considering we were expecting a three-hour ride, we were pleasantly surprised 90 minutes later when it seemed we had arrived (we asked another passenger in broken French just to make sure it wasn’t a pit stop).
We stepped onto the streets of Kairouan with camera and Lonely Planet in hand. Due to the many famous sites frequented by tourists in Kairouan, a system was set up allowing all to be seen with a single ticket. We headed toward the Mosque of Uqba, or the Great Mosque, to get our tickets. Now, it’s Friday, remember? Friday is a particularly holy day to Muslims so of course when we arrive at the Great Mosque (arguably the reason to go to Kairouan–besides the carpet shops and famous pastries) it is closing in a mere ten minuets. We catch the end of a tour (in English!) from a nonchalant distance, snap a few photos, and are promptly shooed away for the arriving devout Muslims.
Over the next few hours, we wander aimlessly through Kairouan’s medina snapping photos and enjoying a gorgeous sunny day. Spaghetti aux fruits de mer and couscous fuel us for the afternoon. With no particular plan, we hope to run into a few more of the sights we paid 19 dinars to visit (we never do). Originally thinking we may stay over night in Kairouan, we reevaluate our plan and decide to head back to the louage station. Feeling like pros, we find a van and soon we are on our way back to Tunis. Tunisians are naturally generous and a fellow passenger shares pastries with an appreciative vanfull.
This day marked the first of many intended day trips, both for sightseeing purposes and to capture video and photos for projects assigned by Karim. Weather permitting, the next stop will be the Roman ruins of Dougga. Stay tuned.