Driving in Tunisia

Many moons ago,  I found myself working for a major oil company in Tunisia.   About 1km from the beach and it never rained, it was pretty nice.   I was part of the Project Management Team for a load of engineering modifications at an Oil & Gas Terminal.  All boring stuff.

There was a bit of a problem with our Engineering / Construction Contractor back in London, so the ‘team’ had to all head to London for a few months.  All of us that is, except a pal and I who recommended we stay at site and man the fort.  Any why not?  A beach in Tunisia knocks spots off rainy old London.  In addition to our team of two was Mick, – a Cockney geezer from our Engineering Contractor in London sent out to do a couple of little jobs.  Ha.. the fools!

With everyone gone, this left Geordie, Cockney and I to pretty much do what we wanted.  Of course, we did all the work we needed to do, but after work was play time!

Weekends saw us 100km up the road at a 5-Star hotel, melting on a beach sipping Margaritas and laughing about getting paid for this shit.

During the week, there wasn’t much to do. . An empty beach can get boring and the town was full of Tunisians.  Expats were few and far between.  So, we were left to make up our own fun.

First off, this being around 2001, not many Tunisians had mobile phones.  What they did have though, is plastic (toy) phones filled with bubble gum on sale on the local garage.  My pal, seeing this picked up the box and bought them all.  I didn’t know he had a sweet tooth?    My pal, a big Geordie just told me to shut my face and drive.

Now, the thing with Tunisia (and a lot of the North African Countries) is  there are a lot of people with nothing to do.  So instead of making their environment a little nicer by maybe picking up all the crap they throw everywhere  or fill in the pot-holes, instead, they decide to sit around.  A lot.

Pulling up to some traffic lights, Geordie grabbed the toy phone and started yelling into it.  In pigeon English so the ‘sitters’ could hear…  he’d shout ‘Yeah….. we’re driving now…  ‘Route de Gabes’ (the name of the road’)… he’d then look at a sitter and ask ‘Route de Gabes’? whilst pointing at the road.   The chappy would nod – understanding what Geordie was on about…  He’d then shout some more… ‘No.. route de Gabes you fookin moron’….  Making out that he is arguing.

Lights would then turn green, which was the prompt for Geordie to then shout into the phone ‘Oh fook off’ and then throw the phone out of the car into the air. – much to the amazement of everyone watching.   We were already on our way by the time the chaps realised we’d just thrown a mobile phone away and through my rear view mirror I watched a mass scramble to retrieve the phone.

Most of the time Geordie would just throw the phone on the road.. smashing it, but often he’d launch it in a hedge or over a wall.  Each time half a dozen Tunisians would all race to it.

I can’t imagine what they thought when they’d retrieve the phone to see it was a toy filled with bubble-gum.

After 30 odd phones, this gag was getting a bit too well known, so was the car, so we ditched the car and swapped it for one of the other 8 cars we had at our disposal now that our team were elsewhere.

This may sound tedious, but you have to believe me that wee came out from laughing so much.

Next up was the Land Rover Discovery.  This was an early model and was pretty crap.   We found that the water squirter housing on the bumper/fender was broken, so instead of jetting water direct onto the headlamp, it shot a perfect jet of water up in the air and about 6feet away from the car.  A beautiful squirt.  kind of like those fancy fountains in the Mall at Dubai if you’ve been.

Fun  awaited…  Driving into town.. we’d spy a group of people and hit the wipers.  The water would jet up in the air and land on people’s heads.  They had no idea where it came from.  One group of lads thought it came from a bunch of guys behind them, so promptly set about fighting with them.

Next up was the road workers.  As Tunisia is so hot in the daytime, road workers work at night.  So there we were… stuck in traffic… Squirt!!!  Without fail the water hit various workers who had no idea where it was coming from.  Especially as our windows were closed.  We looked like any other car.

However, as we were laughing so much, one gadgy heard us and was watching.  Squirt again… bulls-eye.. Another wet worker.  Only this time, the guy who heard us laughing was watching and came over to our car.  He was angry and holding a long paint brush for his road painting. With him shouting, Geordie and Cockney wouldn’t stop laughing – something had to give.   It was the Tunisians temper.  When the traffic was clear, we sped off giving one final squirt as the gadge set about painting the side of our Discovery.  As the paint was white and the Disco was also white, we didn’t care. In hindsight, we should have u-turned so he could paint the other side.

Heading back to base we saw some lads on a bike, so we decided to give them a squirt too..  These guys couldn’t figure it out either.  Until the 3rd time when the guy on the back clocked it.  Being built up area the kids gave chase and started banging on the side of the Disco.  Again, more laughing followed until some cops up ahead (they were everywhere) saw us and instructed us all to pull in.

Oops.  When the cop came to the window (with the kid) some talking took place.  The kid complained that he was all wet.  I just looked puzzled and acted like I didn’t know what was going on.  – while Geordie and cockney just wouldn’t stop laughing. The cop looked at us and then noticed our company sticker on the windshield.  It’s worth pointing out at this point that our company ‘donated’ used vehicles to the cops every few years to help the country in their battle to protect the peace.    Turning his attention to the screaming lad who was pointing at his wet hair, the cop did something that we were not comfortable watching.

The cop ran his fingers through the kids hair.  More than once.  And softly too!  Like you would a beautiful woman in a movie, or someone dying in your arms.  Whatever.  It didn’t look right. The cop was being very affectionate to the guy with ‘wet-look hair.    Turning to us (with a shocked look on our faces) he just said ‘GO’!    In our mirror I saw the guy lead the kid away.  Not sure what went on, but that’ll teach him to not laugh at us getting him wet.

Thinking we’d better get off the roads, we decided to head back to camp, but doing it ‘offroad’.  It’s a Disco, it’s what it’s built for isn’t it?.    Actually, no it isn’t.

We took a dust road and headed to camp.  All the bouncing around took it’s toll on the Disco.  The glove box door came loose, so Geordie threw it out the window.  Cockney decided that the floor mats were loose so chucked them too.  Followed by the headrests and fire-extinguisher. It took a little doing, but with all the vibration and a little help, the dashboard came lose too and that fell out the window.  You had to be there, but it was funny.

The next morning I got a phone call from a guy that worked for me, asking if he could borrow a car for a date later that night. He wanted to impress a girl.  Sure you can.

Getting in the battered Disco with half the interior missing and fresh paint stripes over one side off to work I headed with Geordie.  I told Geordie that Tarmak wanted to borrow the car tonight to impress some bird.  Looking at the car, we both bust out laughing.   It was then Geordie suggested that we run over a dog.  Yes, I know that sounds bad.  But let me explain. There were lots of dead dogs along the sides of the roads.  Tunisia was hot and there were dogs everywhere.   When a (dead) dog is lying in the sun for a while, they start to expand and get bloated until the point where they burst – leaving a terrible smell.    So, one of the dead dogs that we had been monitoring it’s progress for the past few days was enroute… so we ran it over!  I am not proud, but I am sure it’s what the dog would have wanted.  The stench was horrendous.  It was now all up the side of the Disco.

When I got to work, I handed the keys over to Tarmak and told him to return it with a full tank of gas.

–       He never asked to borrow it again.

With the Disco discarded, we took possession of a Land Rover Defender.  This was the beginning of September.

Our cockney mate had been summons back to the UK.. Something to do with buying watches and holidays to Barbados on the company credit card.

When the 9/11 thing happened, the expats were told to be on stand-by to do a runner!  Cars filled up with fuel, bottles of water and food – ready to escape into the dessert should it all kick off.  With Libyans all around us, tension was high.   Except for Geordie and I.  At the age of 26, maybe I was being a little immature?   I removed the ‘Defender’ badge off the back of the Land Rover and wrote ‘Attacker’ in big black marker.  We then printed off the American flag and put it on our windows.  Next up was to drive down the road to Libya causing mayhem with the Libyan lorry drivers.  Silly when you think about it.

With that behind us, we went to and from work without much incident.  That was until Geordie said we should try getting to our camp (about 10km away) without using any roads.  This sounded like fun if not a little challenging.   Off we set along dust roads and what we later found to be driveways.   Crossing some kind of field, we noticed a cable or string of some sort across our path.  That wouldn’t stop the Attacker so we went through it.  And many more.   The terrain was getting rough and after driving over a few bushes we then decided to do an about turn and get back to a dust road.  It wasn’t easy turning in the little field we were in, so it took a lot of mucking around… backwards and forwards.  It was then that Geordie noticed some guy walking towards us.  It then dawned on us that we were not on wasteland, but were indeed ploughing up this guys farm.  Oops.  No time to hang around and chat, we sped off driving across his field, through a hedge – knocking over part of his shed too.

The next day, we decided to take a little drive down to the deserted beach.  It was a nice beach and only a few little wooden huts populated it.  No one around.  With our mate Tarmak in the back we arrived at the beach.   Geordie asked if he could drive.  He wasn’t allowed to drive the company vehicles on the road as he didn’t have the required paperwork (advance driving).  Of course you can.

So, off Geordie set… speeding along a deserted beach and drove straight into a hut!  The ‘attacker’ was now sporting a busted windshield and some old shirt hanging off the wing mirror.

Realising that people could actually be living in these things, Geordie gave up on the idea of driving into them.  Instead he wanted to see how far into the sea he could drive.  It turns out, not too far.

In we went and in we stopped. The motor was running but we had sunk into the sand.  We were going nowhere fast.   Not wanting to get our Nikes wet, we escaped through the windows and sat on the roof wondering what our next move was.

The water was upto the bottom of the doors but the Attacker was slowly sinking.  The beach was deserted.  After 10 mins of trying to persuade Tarmak to take the blame, and that we’d continue to pay his salary after he’s sacked – we sent him off to get help.  Into the water he went and waded back to shore.

15 minutes passed.  The water was now upto the headlamps and the exhaust pipe was bubbling away under water.  There we sat on the roof, feeling rather stupid.

Could it get any worse?  Well, yes. Sitting there, on the roof with sea all around us, we heard a noise. No it wasn’t Tarmak with a recovery vehicle.  It was a fooking great Sea King helicopter.  Not sure what it was doing, but they obviously saw us when flying around to wherever they were going so decided to take a closer look.  They circled us a few times and then fooked off.  We were worried.  Last thing we need is to get a bill for a fookin helicopter rescue.

Realizing that we didn’t need International Rescue, and just to grow up, the helicopter flew off somewhere.    Then, another noise came.  Only this time is WAS Tarmak.  Walking alongside a JCB – he came to the rescue.  Where he found it and driver I do not know. Or care.

The Attacker was tied to the JCB and the impressive machine set about pulling us out.  It didn’t work.  The wheels were so deep that the cable pull just twisted the Attacker almost pulling it onto it’s side.  Various adjustments were made and several attempts at pulling.  In the end, Geordie, myself and loads of Tunisians that had appeared from nowhere were all in the sea trying to push.

Eventually the Attacker was dragged up the beach in a what I can only call a ‘twisted’ state.  Yet the engine was still running!  The doors were opened to let all the water out.  There was sand, sea weed and water everywhere.

Geordie pulled out a fist full of cash and paid everyone off.  We sheepishly drove off ‘crabbing’ back to base.   At home, we parked the Attacker (still with headlamps full of water) behind the Disco and selected another car.   This time we opted for the Pug 406.

Ever wondered how well a 406 can drive off road……

9 thoughts on “Driving in Tunisia

    • I’m not. I did a wonderful job for them!

      Besides, all the vehicles were handed down after everyone else had used them for years. We were the last department they served before getting scrapped.

  1. And people in the States wonder why prices at the pump are so high?

    I rarely lol at internet subs, but yours made me do that. Great sub! Brings back memories…

    Land Rover Defenders: great vehicles but high center-of-gravity and narrow tires can get you stuck easily. Fortunately, the outfit I worked for that used Defenders was in Turkey and far from any water, ocean or otherwise.

    Before that, was stationed in (wait for it)… S. Korea. Was in the last active duty unit in the US to still run the old M-151 jeeps around. We had the -A2 version with the intake and exhaust stacks for deep water fording. Beautiful little devils, you couldn’t break those things if you tried! Also, could run them at full speed down narrow back alleys where the MPs couldn’t follow!

    We also were assigned a couple of M-998 HMMWVs. Funny things about military Humvees, they’re built like a brick sh*thouse but the parking brake is built by the lowest bidder. Which is probably a good thing when your PA&E guy drives it out to your work site and parks it on a slope next to a field. As he hands you some more parts to complete the job and you look over his shoulder as the Humvee he parked begins its long, driverless meander down the valley for a half mile before face-planting in a big drainage ditch, you can think to yourself, “Gee I’m so glad my taxes paid for a driverless, out-of-control brick sh*thouse with a weak parking brake. Now I can relax and rest easy knowing that I can simply back our ride out of the ditch and casually motor my way back to camp with only minor dents and dog turds on the grill (Korean farmers like to use raw sewage to fertilize their rice paddies, and after the growing season the remnants usually end up in ditches and rivers).

    Good times, good times

  2. Price at the pump? Speak with your Government!! You should buy fuel in the UK, then you’ll complain!

    It doesn’t help when your car only does 16mpg either 🙁

  3. That was good, I thought when you loaned the car to co worker they would have suffered the rath of wet Tunisians as he hit the open road.

    I have many of vehicle born hijinx stories, but am reluctant to tell any in this forum for legal reasons… eh hemm, cough cough…

    Here is a short story and the most recent. Went out with the guys about 3 weeks ago. I hadn’t really drank in about 1 month. It ended up being one of those nights when very little alcohol brutally kicks your ass. I blame the shots of Jameson. I cant remember but I’m told I jumped my car several times off hills in SF, which is not that out of the ordinary, but followed by donuts in many intersections with the finale of reversing out of a Police sobriety checkpoint and successfully escaping with a car full of cheering drunk passengers… Ah, living life and risking lives. Im not proud of it but it happened, no reason to hide it now… Puked almost the entire next day while Wifey refused to speak to me… I could argue that if i was in Bkk i would not be behind the wheel of any cars, and only out risking my own life… Therefor life in farang land is more dangerous.

    • ROLLN… I remember one of your tales of the Camaro… I’d like to have been in that one.

      I used to live in Spain and woke up one morning wondering how the hell I got home.. and more importantly, where were my trousers and my car.

  4. Great story! You’ve lived 100 lives to our 1 :-(. Lost my virginity in an Alfasud to a Canadian girl. Guys and cars, they just go together.

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