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The louage driver pointed to a busy smoke-filled bar and said, "there's the hotel." On entering, I felt as if every drunken eye was upon me, and was it just me or had the music and conversation come to an abrupt halt? I reached the bar, and enquired about a room, the confused look on the barman's face becoming a wide grin. He sent an elderly man to go off and find a key, for some unknown reason located at the other end of town, leaving me standing in the middle of the bar feeling very awkward. I needn't have worried, as the drunks were all very amiable once one of them had broken the silence and asked where I was from...still, I won't pretend it wasn't a relief when the elderly man returned and led me to a room upstairs.
The hotel part of the bar was actually quite a surprise...someone had obviously tried to make an effort, with some fake mosaics on the walls, tables and chairs and flowers in the hallway. The bed was an old wooden contraption, not the most comfortable in the world, but the door locked and the sheets were clean. I even had running water from a tap in the corner, although being at 1000m above sea level, it felt as if it was straight from a mountain spring.
The unique quality was probably my fellow guest next door. That evening I sat writing at one of the tables in the hall, and every so often, an old man, covered head to foot in dozens of blankets, would shuffle out of his room, have a coughing fit, then shuffle over towards me. I'd say salaam, he'd stand looking at me for a few minutes, then shuffle off back to his room. This happened quite regularly, although by the fifth time I did manage to get some sort of reply to my salaam...his mouth opened a little, a grin perhaps, or a grimace, it was hard to tell. He might even have been passing wind.
I'm sure the hotel is fine for women, but you do have to make your way through the raucous bar below, something a Tunisian woman wouldn't dare do.
A room at the Maktaris will set you back 12TD (April 2007: GB£1 = 2.5TD)
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