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Date : 18th September, 2014
Time : 1h 5’ 0”
Total distance run to date : 300km
Run map and details : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/593928287
What interests you when you visit somewhere new? Do you like museums and ruins that have stood the test of time? Or do you prefer soaking up modern life and culture – however ephemeral they may be?
That’s the issue I face as I wonder whether to route my run via the glories of ancient Carthage. Or through the hustle and bustle of central Tunis on a Thursday morning.
The man at the hotel desk clearly favours the former. Not least because, as he rightly points out, the crowded pavements and streets of the city centre won’t make for an easy run. However, my almost insatiable curiosity for the here and now wins out over antiquity and Hannibal’s home town – and I head for the hotel exit.
And the first thing I note is that the streets are full of pavement cafes – as they had been the previous night when I went out for a brief leg stretcher. The clientele is exclusively male. Again as it had been the night before. The main difference is that there are now plenty of women around – but, in contrast, they’re all rushing around doing things. A testament to the universal truth that, when there’s a lot to be done, your average male can be relied upon to sit down and have a drink with his mates. (A vital habit, in my view, without which there would be no amusing banter and the world would not be put to rights.)
And from there I segue into the next gender stereotype. I’m not quite sure of my route and I stop to ask two women the way to the medina. Hang on a minute. I recognise that look on their faces. It’s the look of panic I see on Liz’s face when I’m driving, and she’s navigating, and I ask her for directions. At which point I’ll notice she’s holding the map upside down and we’ll proceed to our Annual Argument. An argument that only ends when the girls pipe up from the back seat to tell us that we’re going to bed early tonight as we’re obviously tired and that, in the meantime, we’re being sent to the naughty step.
Back to Tunis, where the two women have now conferred and, while they’re not quite sure of the route, they know the medina is a long way away. I’ll definitely need to take a taxi.
But surely the medina was only a couple of kilometres from the hotel – can I really have got so horribly lost in ten minutes? I run on in the same direction for another minute and ask another person – a man – the way to the medina. His response could broadly be translated as “Look, idiotic running tourist, it’s there – across the street.”
And on into the medina where the running is actually quite enjoyable as the stall holders are there but not, yet, many shoppers. I get plenty of encouragement – smiles, clapping and shouts of ‘hey, sportive” (at least I think that’s what they’re saying…). I find my way out of the medina to Bab el Bahr – also known as the Port de France – and run down Avenue Habib Bourguiba (sometimes referred to as the Tunisian Champs Elysee).
The running’s a little stop-go due to the crowds, the traffic and the barbed wire around some government buildings – a reminder that Tunisia is currently experiencing a degree of political tension. (Tunisia is going through a period of political transition following the 2011 revolution. After months of political stalemate and heightened tensions, a new constitution was agreed in January 2014 and a new technocratic government was appointed. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place on 26 October and Presidential elections on 23 November.)
And then I realise that Tunis has streets named after many of the countries of the world – which seems particularly apt for Run the World. I run down Turkey, up Yugoslavia past the Central Market, along Germany back into the medina, out onto France, left onto Paris and back to the hotel via the zoo. My Tunisian 10km was done and it had been great to see the city going about its business. The only downside was that I’d forgotten to take any pictures – hence the tedious photo above of me at the airport.
The North African leg of Run the World was now over. 4 runs in under 4 days ; more flights, transfers, borders and check ins than hours of sleep. Plenty of searing temperatures too. But 4 great cities in Marrakech, Cairo, Algiers and Tunis – with legendary pasts and fascinating presents.