Advantages Great sights and sun!!
Disadvantages Some heavy storms and risk of illness in september.
TUNISIAN TRAVELS PART 2For those of you who have read the first part of my tales about the recent holiday I had in North Africa welcome back! Newcomers should be able to read this as a stand alone op but its probably worth having a quick read of part 1 of the op (it was just to long to put in as one!) to get a rough idea of what I got up to for the rest of the time that I was there!
This section of my mammoth op is about the ‘safari’ I took in the south of the country for a couple of days via an organised tour operator. It cost about £140 per person to go on it and that included entry to all the places we stopped at, food, transport of which you will see there were several modes and overnight accommodation at a very nice hotel out on the verge of the desert. It was excellent value and if you do ever go out to Tunisia (or I would imagine any North African country) its well worth a look especially if you are on a two-week holiday like I was. Anyway I’m sure you all want to know what actually happened!We started the trip at some ungodly hour of the morning and had eaten breakfast and boarded the coach (with which we would soon be very familiar) before the hotel had even begun to stir. The coach headed south on the first leg of what would be a 850 mile round trip tour of the highlights of the south of the country. I was particularly looking forward to this as the North seemed like any other Mediterranean country so this was a chance to see the ‘real deal’ of African scenery and terrain!
The first stop was the Roman coliseum at El Djem (cue huge speech from tour guide i.e. it is 36 m by 999m and was built in 10000000BC by all the men in China blah blah blah!). I wondered away from the tour group and tried to imagine what it was like for the people involved. With all the tourists it was impossible to get pictures that convey the size and effect of the place by going up the stands and looking down on the milling crowds you could get some idea of the events that took place there (‘oh look’, my minds eye showed me, ‘a couple of lions chasing that US tourist who is in all your pictures!’). I also went underground into the bowels of the place where in the daqrk and damp the people prepared to perform and die for the enjoyment of the public (I wonder if this was how Derren Brown felt?). It was well worth the 50p I had to pay to use flash photography and I left there thinking if this was first up what next? Surely they save the best till last!The next stop was the Oasis at Tozeur I think but the order that I describe all this in may be a little out! This was a huge Oasis not like the little ‘3 trees and a pond’ job from the old French Foreign Legion films! It had 4 million trees and to get into the heart of it we were told you had to go by horse and cart (however locals were burning about in cars, trucks and scooters so that may have been a lie just to get us to pay for the horse and cart!). It was very pretty but really not very interesting once we had seen the old guy climbing up the side of a huge palm tree with surprising agility. We all applauded and tipped him but it was kind of exposed when one lad from our group gave it a try and did it just as well! Apart from that there was little to see or do so it was a relief when we left to head out once more!
We drove south towards the berber settlements around Matmata (berbers are the native peoples of Tunisia) taunting our coach driver all the way for being slow to which he responded with a series of breath-takingly suicidal overtaking manoeuvres on the relatively uncontrolled roads! We arrived there in one piece and were taken to one of the cave dwellings that people still inhabit. For a small fee we saw how they lived and I have to say it was all quite nice but not especially lived in as though the owners had a condo in the city as well and just came out here for the tourists. We did see others that were obviously used (some even had Sky!) and it was pretty surreal to see people still living in hand cut caves in the hills! Then a big draw for the Star Wars fan we went to Lukes house and farm out in the desert. This was just one of the film tie ins we saw (English Patient, Gladiator to name the most famous other 2!) and none of which really interested me! They just looked a bit pants!We then drove down to and checked into our hotel for the overnight stop before heading out to what was one of the main highlights: the camel train into the Sahara for sunset! This was a fantastic experience! We got onto our camels and had them booted upright and off we set. In broken French English and bits of Arabic we chatted with our camels owner who was more than happy to be taking pictures of us all in various spots. He was like a kid every anytime he had my SLR jumping around and zooming in and out like a clichéd photographer! We also took some of the sand from there, which is unbelievably fine and flows like water about the place! The sunset was also beautiful standing in a line all silenced by it and the fact that this was all there was for entertainment for thousands of miles! We drove back to the hotel all talking about how good it was or whining about a sore ass from the uncomfortable saddles and bouncing gait of the camels!
After a slap up meal and a quick late night swim for some there was quick stop at the bar (where we were treated to the sight of our driver getting lashed with the tour guide!) it was off to bed as we had a wake up call at 3.45am the next morning!RIIIIIIINNNNGGGGGG!! What oh bugger yeah its 3.45 and time to get moving! Down for breakfast then off on the coach to get to the middle of a huge salt lake to see the sun come up! The salt lake was odd crunching underfoot but we were all exhausted and no-one really cared. The sunrise wasn’t that great as with the clean air and lack of clouds there were no chemicals to react and give huge chunks of colour like we get. The sun wasn’t there and then it was! Oh well back to bed then! Zzzzzzzzzzz
Another day a new mode of transport we were offroad on the 4x4’s to go to the Oasis of Chebika where you got great views, particularly the old ruins of the town overlooking the new sprawl which made a nice contrast. This was not really enjoyed as got caught on one side of some rocks. The passage through was one way and we were trapped by about 15 minutes worth of foreign tourists who ignored me standing there for the whole time despite my repeated pleas in a number of languages for them to pause for one second just to let us back through! Hey ho never mind had a stale ice cream and got back in the 4x4’s for the next leg.We pulled up down a dirt track lined with the usual tourist rubbish, although heer I was offered live snakes and scorpions and advice on how to smuggle them back through customs! Making our way down a shingle slope to the ‘Grand Waterfall’ I was greeted with the most amazingly, fantastically SMALL waterfall. However it was nice to cool off from the desert heat underneath it so it was in the end much more fun than Niagra anyway where you were just cold and wet.
Unfortunately that was the last of the 4x4 legs so it was a straight burn back to the coach accept that on route we lost all but one other 4x4. Then the other one was pulled over by machine gun armed police! Instead of stopping to help our driver put on rap music sped up and sharply turned of the road into some rocks! Worried does not describe it. Luckily it turned out he was just following his usual assault course route back and it was pretty cool in the end (though we found out later he wasn’t insured and no-one knew where we were!)We got back to the coach early and having got all the way own into the Atlas Mountains in the South it was a long haul back up the hotel in the north. It became clear form the driver that he wanted to leave soon as him and another coach driver were going to have a wacky races style mission on the way back!
It was a long dull journey back broken up by our last two stops in some way. The first was a carpet ‘museum’ that turned out to just be a sale room for us all to get pressured in so not much fun to be had there. The second was the Grand Mosque at Kairouian the Muslim 4th holy city. Very interesting for some I suppose and there was a passing interest but so close to September 11th no-one felt like wandering off and we couldn’t go in anyway (can’t see a C of E church banning other religions from entering!) so it wasn’t the best! Saved the best till last indeed I thought to myself.Another few hours burn and we were back at the hotel, shattered, tanned but well chuffed. The trip was class and I’d recommend it to anyone who goes there or anywhere similar. It kicks roman ruin finding, sightseeing, camel riding ass! Thanks for reading if you got all the way through this. The rest of my holiday is on a different op just because of the sheer size!
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