Linda's Blog—Travel and Art

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    Coffee, Water, and Dinars

    image of coffee urn, coffee, and Tunisian dinar

     

    TRAVELING ALONE, PART 9—Coffee, Water and Dinars

     

    I am addicted to coffee. There, I said it. I love it, I drink it all day, and when I don’t have it for a while, I get a very bad caffeine headache. So, when I’m traveling, I need to take this into consideration. 

    My solution? Starbuck’s Iced Coffee. Easily dissolves in warm/tepid/cold water. Perfect. One pack will give me at least 3-4 cups. 

    In packing for my trip to Tunisia (and Rome, since I would also be there), I bought 2 boxes. That would be more than enough to take care of my early morning coffee for the whole trip, if it was not available where I would be staying. Never assume. 

    I packed, repacked, packed again, finally fitting everything into my suitcase and carry-on. I never had to use it in Rome—breakfast was early (with cappuccino, thank you very much), and then I had it available all day long on the streets, finishing at dinner. 

    The day I left Rome for Tunisia, I arrived at the airport by 10 am, but my 12 noon flight did not leave until late in the evening, and if you read my earlier blog (“I Will NOT Get Out of This Taxi…”), you know I did not arrive at the hotel in Monastir until about 10 pm, maybe later. I was beyond exhausted, and collapsed into bed. Slept soundly until I woke up at 5 am with a horrible caffeine headache. The kind that can make you sick. Really sick. I was in this situation because I did not have coffee the previous evening, and once your body is used to a certain regime for caffeine, it does NOT like to do without. Seriously. 

    Congratulating myself on having the forethought to pack those packets for iced coffee, I got up to get them from my luggage. They were not there. Not in the the ‘cube’ I used to put some snacks and OTC meds like aspirin. Not in a hundred other places I looked. Nothing. I looked in my carry-on. Nothing. I looked again. Still nothing, only now I was really sick. I would get over it, in about 6 hours—6 miserable, nauseated hours. 

    This was my first full day in Monastir; and they had a full day planned for us—breakfast at 7, meet the mayor and other dignitaries, tour the fort (which they opened just for us), visit the burial shrine of Habib Bourguiba, the man who brought democracy to Tunisia. After dinner, a show. And alway, the beach. I COULD NOT BE SICK.  

    Finally, just for giggles really, I checked my purse. ONE packet. One. For the entire trip. Like finding gold. I tore open the pack and actually shook some of it directly under my tongue (because did I have a spoon? No. No, I did not), swallowed (several times, because despite the fact that it dissolves in cold water, it does not dissolve INSTANTLY), and laid down. 

    After about an hour, it worked. I didn’t feel great, but I was able to dress, go to breakfast (have some real coffee), and meet all the artists (who had had the ‘meet the artists’ meeting the night before, which I missed. See “No, I Will NOT Get Out of This Taxi…”). 

    I Need A Regular Supply…

    Made it through the day fine, and had a great dinner. But I also found out that coffee was only served at breakfast. I really wanted to have some coffee in the morning when I got up, which was about 2 hours before breakfast, and I wanted to save the rest of the coffee packet, for another emergency. 

    So, every night, after the evening’s events, I would go into the bar a the hotel, order an expresso, pay a few dinars, and take it back to my room for the next morning. I certainly got a few looks from the men in the bar, but no one bothered me, except to occasionally ask me where I was from. 

    At the time I bought the expresso I would also purchase a 1 liter bottle of water. This was also very important because the locals recommended that we not drink the water out of the tap. I used it to drink, and also to brush my teeth. I would fill my smaller plastic water bottle to carry with me during the day. 

    This practice was not cheap. The coffee was several dinars, as was the water. Maybe 7 dinars altogether. I did this for over a week.

    On Finding Cheaper Water, and Money…

    One day, on a rare free evening, many of us were sitting around the lobby, just chatting, and someone mentioned going to the ‘convenience store’ for water and snacks. What? Wait—What?

    Yes, just about two blocks away there was a real convenience store with cold water, snacks, simple food items, newspapers, etc., just like you would find anywhere, but on a smaller scale. And for a LOT less money. A large bottle of water was less than one dinar. 

    I got directions, and the next day walked over, enjoying the beautiful scenery, a brilliant cobalt blue sky (which ended up being one of my best paintings EVER), and watching the people and children walk around.

    When I got there, I picked up the water, some yogurt, and snacks. I took all to the counter and asked, “Bekam hada?” which is Arabic for “How much is this?”. He looked at me, I looked at him, and he just wrote the amount down in his best Arabic numeral writing (that is to say, what WE use). Pretty smart—He was prepared for most visiting European nationalities this way. I had the cash, paid him, and was on my merry way, congratulating myself on accomplishing this, and kicking myself for not inquiring about such things earlier. I also knew the exchange rate, so I knew that the prices were good. By the way, most items had prices on them, I just needed to add them up. The prices were written in what is used in the Middle East today, now called Eastern Arabic numerals (which I can read).

            chart of arabic and hindi (persian) numerals

    I did this at least twice more, and saved a lot of money. 

    The other way I saved money was to exchange it at the hotel’s desk. I had gotten some in the airport at the ATM machine (MUCH cheaper than a moneychanger), but at least once more I needed more Tunisian dinars. The concierge knew the current exchange rate, had the amount I needed at the desk, and did not charge me extra. I had my money exchange app (XE.com, a GREAT app), so I knew the rate as well. Very convenient, and economical. 

    Oh. And the coffee I had packed for my trip? It was waiting for me on the sofa when I returned. Ready for my next trip.

     

    Lessons Learned:

    •  Important items should be in your carry-on. ESSENTIAL items should be in your purse (men, fill in whatever it is you use instead of a purse)

    • Ask questions! Where do the locals buy water? DO the locals buy water? (Maybe it’s not necessary)

    • Shop local when you can, not tourist. Great for the economy, better for you. Helps you to know the REAL place

    • Know the  exchange rate, so you can make intelligent purchasing decisions

    • Know how to read the local currency and numeric system. The vast majority of shop owners EVERYWHERE are honest, but still....

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