I have a few early observations about cycling in Tunisia, which I shall set down here as amusement for those wise enough never to do such a thing and as warning for those stupid enough to try.
1. There are some red lights that Tunisian drivers obey. This came as something of a shock, I must confess. Obviously, as in any country, this doesn’t apply to taxi drivers.
2. The biggest risk for accidents comes from pedestrians. As the sacred cow in India, the Tunisian pedestrian is apt to wander into the road without warning, causing sharp braking all around. Other risks include taxis swerving kerbside to pick up passengers and the presence (in Tunis) of tram rails, neatly tyre-width sized for maximum danger.
3. There are other cyclists in Tunisia. But in this country, bicycles are mostly used for going the wrong way up one-way streets.
4. Despite this, I did notice that in Tunisia, one cycles on the right hand side of the road.
5. Tunisian sense of distance isn’t highly developed. I asked a local: “How far is the Olympic stadium?”
(The Olympic stadium at this point is at most 3km away – I checked on a map later.)
Answer: “10 kilometres.”
In fairness to the chap telling me this, he probably understood:
6. If you are cycling without a map and without a compass, expect to ride at least three times the distance to your destination, probably up hill, certainly into a head wind. This applies not just in Tunisia.
7. Thanks to the relatively meagre state of Tunisia, alcohol-wise, there is very little to fear from smashed bottles of Heineken on the side of the road. However, thanks to the relatively meagre state of Tunisia’s finances, there is plenty to fear in the form of pot-holes, unifinished road-works and mysteriously dumped piles of cement.
8. An important aspect of Tunisian driving etiquette is a sort of conversation undertaken by use of the car horn. Unfortunately, with just a bicycle bell, I’m only talking to myself.
9. A blonde, long-haired, white man on an apparently modern bicycle is an unusual sight in Tunisia. I’m not sure if they were admiring glances, looks and stares, but the general opinion was “w’allah!”
10. Other than these observations, cycling in Tunis is not unlike cycling in London. One needs ones wits and a healthy dose of good fortune to come back alive, but when one does, great celebrations are in order. Put celebrations on stand-by.