22.10.2009 - 28.10.2009
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THURSDAY 22 OCTOBER
We left the hotel at 9am (after the worst brekky we’d had so far – bad coffee and Madeira cake with fig jam??)
Toured the sites of Kairouan – starting with the Great Mosque
Then the Aghlabid Basins (pools built in the 9th century – but lets face it they’re just pools with water. Yawn)
Followed by the Zaouia of Sidi Sahab (houses the tomb of Abu Zama el-Belaoui (a companion of Prophet Mohammed who was known as the barber because he carried three hairs from the Prophets beard with him).
We then dropped by a town, Sahine, which was apparently ‘famous’ for its leather. Nour asked if we wanted to drop into a workshop – we all agreed thinking we were going to see leather goods being made. Instead we were ushered through a showroom into a backroom which had been set up as a cat walk and were treated to the most hysterical fashion show. Loud booming music and two models wearing the most terrible clothes. We were, of course, then meant to buy but I don’t think one of us spent a cent. It became even more apparent to us that Nour isn’t used to tourists like us who are entirely uninterested in crap like that. Unfortunately we’re rather uninspired by Nour and none of us have really warmed to him. I was compelled to photograph the moment - note Adrian's hair to the right of the photo.....
Drove up to Tunis – got there so early the rooms at our hotel weren’t ready so we did a quick walking tour of the medina, checked out the Great Mosque and houses of Parliament at the top of the medina.
Dropped our bags and took advantage of the free arvo to update the blog (apologies for the delay in getting Libya blog posted, people, but internet access has been really minimal and we’ve been on the move so much that it’s been hard to find the time).
Three nights in Tunis – staying at Hotel Maison Doree in Ville Nouvelle, a central french influenced hotel with gorgeous blue shutters and big rooms. Jud and I were happy.
The group went to a restaurant around the corner from the hotel and had a quick, cheap dinner……..
FRIDAY 23 OCTOBER
Up early for a long day – we walked up to the main transport square, Barcelona, and on Nour’s direction we jumped on a number 4 tram. Nour told us when to jump off and we then had a good half hour walk to the Bardo Museum along a main road and back streets and past another tram stop. We were all a bit pissed off as it was obvious we were either, not on the right tram, or he’d put us off at the wrong stop. When we were taking another turn through suburbia and he muttered under his breath ‘thank God’ we knew that he’d basically been lost and only found the museum by accident! I felt sorry for the non-walkers in the group as this really was an unexpected wander.
Anyway, found the museum eventually and Nour gave us a bland tour through (it probably wasn’t that bland but I was pissed off with him and didn’t want to listen to what he was saying!) The museum is currently being renovated but was an old palace and had some beautiful rooms. The museum was very good and the mosaics were really beautiful.
We then walked 200 metres around the corner to another tram stop and caught a tram through the centre to the harbor where we caught a train out of Carthage.
Ah Carthage…. Let me take advantage of the Lonely Planet so quickly summarise – Carthage was a great ancient city, inspiring legends, poetry and envy. Hannibal lived here, the military genius who the Romans were only able to beat by ensuring they never fought him. Virgil wrote his Aeneid about the tragic romance between Carthaginian Dido (who founded the city) and Roman Aeneas, and symbolized the battle to the death of the two civilizations.
It was an awesome place. The city walls were 34 kms long and it was famous for its navy. The city’s founders, the Phoenicians (from present day Lebanon) were exceptional business people – the historian Pliny credits them with inventing trade. The Romans trashed the Carthaginian city, and the Vandals destroyed the Roman replacement.
We’d been warned that there wasn’t a lot remaining and to use our imagination but it was much better than I’d expected. First stop was the Sanctuary of Tophet – a sacrificial site and burial ground for children. Apparently more than 20,000 urns filled with the ashes of a Carthaginian child have been excavated.
Walked past the military and fisherman’s harbor (the Punic Ports) to the Antonine baths.
The President’s residence lies on the boundary of the baths and you’re not meant to point your camera in the direction of his house….. Seems my camera has a mind of its own and here is a photo for your enjoyment.
We then walked past some beautiful houses with armed guards and high walls (Carthage is a rich suburb filled with important Tunisians and expats) to the top of Byrsa Hill – it was amazingly windy and we nearly got blown off the hill but it added to the atmosphere. It was the Punic Quarter of Carthage. The view over Tunis and Tunis Gulf was wonderful – it was a great contrast between the ancient and new worlds. The Grand Cathedral at the top provided a wonderful backdrop as well. Nour had told us the museum wasn’t worth it but a couple of us chicks checked it out anyway and there were some really wonderful pieces from 5th & 6th Centuries BC. It just boggles the mind to be looking at things that old.
That was the end of our tour of Carthage which really didn’t give us enough time to see all the sites – we didn’t see the amphitheatre and walked past another site which were obviously significant Roman villas but Nour didn’t even comment on it. Yvonne, Lisa and Elaine went back the next day to explore further which they really enjoyed.
We then jumped back on the train to Sidi Bou Said. Walked up the hill to the gorgeous white washed town with the obligatory blue shutters and doors (white and blue paint is all that’s require in coastal Tunisia) perched on the top of a hill looking over the Gulf of Tunis.
We had a mint tea in a terraced café looking over the harbor and coast – it was really beautiful.
Spent some time strolling through town admiring the bougainvillea and smelling my lovely jasmine bouquet that I bought from this little man - well, he's not little but you know what I mean.
Caught the train back to central Tunis and had a quick pizza and beers to cap off a great day.
SATURDAY 24 OCTOBER
Day off. Yay! Spent a good hour at the post office first thing sending off a parcel of ‘stuff’ accumulated on the road. Kate, Paul and Jud had sent a parcel on Thursday arvo so advised on the process. Advice was to get a box to pack it all in so I didn’t have to line up for a ‘carton’ at another counter at the post office and take along packing tape. I obediently went and found the perfect box at a lighting store the night before and packed it all up ready to go. But, no, I had to buy a ‘carton’ from the post office (hand gestures and actions couldn’t explain that I needed to buy a carton – I thought they wanted to cover my ‘carton’ with paper so it didn’t show that it originally held globes). It really didn’t help that I didn’t speak French or Arabic and the post office staff had a fair dose of French arrogance – it would have been bloody frustrating to deal with me and vice versa. Dealt with three different people and left having paid 17TD (which seemed awfully cheap so a box that was meant to be airmail but take 20 days – as Lisa said, “I’d hate to be on that flight!”)
Judith and Lee then showed Ryan, Adrian and I to the covered market – Ryan and I bought some supplies (cheese for me!!! A weird brie of some variety, mozerella and Ryan bought some great cheddar). Bought some bread (great baguettes) and some tomatoes, bananas, grapefruit (for brekky) and Ryan bought some harissa which I didn’t touch. It was a really wonderful market with so much more variety than any of the markets we’ve seen – pink lady apples, artichokes and the most fantastic fish market I’ve seen.
There was a fabulous stall selling honey and these fantastic 5 fruit smoothies with dates, bananas, plums, pear and….. ok, make that 4 fruits – the only other ingredients were milk and sugar.
Spent the afternoon in the medina wondering around having a lovely time. I'm on holiday after all. Found this wonderful, wonderful tiny antiquey, junky shop (yes, it reminded me of Dad’s museum so of course I was drawn to it) and the owner was this lovely old guy who didn’t speak a word of English but we managed to communicate fine thank you very much. I noticed an Australian WWII badge in the front window and then looked up….. And what did I see? For those of you who have read my post from Tripoli you will know that I was slightly attached to a silver olive tree with amber olives. So, what did I look up and see? That’s right people, a small silver olive tree. I made enquiries and he weighed the tree – he quoted me the weight times 14 which came in at around 300DT but ‘what is your best price?’ That is basically $AUD300 – already $200 less than I’d been quoted in Libya. I didn’t haggle too hard but we came to agreement at $175DT and I paid him $USD150. Can’t show you a photo as it’s been wrapped up to within an inch of its life and is, hopefully, safe and secure in my pack. As a teaser, until you come and stay and see it in person, here's a photo of the lovely mister man holding it in a plastic bag....
Jud, Ryan and I went up to Bar Jamaica at the top of el-Hana International Hotel to see the sunset – it was really beautiful but bloody windy and chilly so we went before they’d delivered the drinks (which were taking way too long anyway).
Had dinner at the hotel with Yvonne, Lisa, Elaine and Ryan – chewy beef smothered in this swimming pool amount of sauce. Should have taken a photo…. We drank a few beers (and I helped Ryan drink his figue rocket fuel) before chucking in the ear plugs to alleviate the trams below and 5am call to prayer.
SUNDAY 25 OCTOBER
Packed my pack (and just had to take a photo for those of you who are jealous of my organisational ability). Check out them apples....
We left Tunis and headed north - drove through gorgeous rich, hilly agricultural country. The landscape changed dramatically and got colder.
We stopped for lunch at the gorgeous coastal town of Tabarka – really laid back vibe with a gorgeous beach and a lovely promenade looking out towards the fort. We made a picnic lunch with the waves breaking around us and fisherman showing us their catch. Lots of coral necklaces on display and cork products which we walked past without buying, thank you very much.
Gorgeous harbor with picturesque fishing boats – apparently it’s a great spot for scuba diving. Had a mint tea with Judith, Lee and Ryan then jumped back on the bus.
Fabulous hilly drive 1km up into the hills through cork and oak forests to Ain Draham. Arrived at Royal Rihana lodge which is a French built hunting lodge, dumped our bags and went out for a walk with Ryan, Paul, Lisa and Bryan. I peeled off by myself – it’s autumn so there are lots of different mushrooms/toadstools, all the oak trees are loosing their leaves and the bark has been recently taken off some of the beautiful cork trees so their red trunks make a gorgeous contrast in the forest (the bark apparently takes 15 – 20 years to mature and there are some wonderfully old trees). I saw some wild boar tracks that looked pretty fresh and, as I didn’t even have my camera to use as a defense weapon, I wondered how far away the boar was and whether it was watching me.
This finds me sitting in the ‘salon’ in front of a fire (first time the entire trip I’ve taken my Birks off) surrounded by the group drinking beers. It feels like we’re in a ski chalet. There is another group in residence who are here on a hunting party – they had success today hunting wild boar so hopefully that’s on the menu tonight!
It was and we ate wild boar which was really tasty. The restaurant walls were filled with photos of successful bloody hunts and stuffed animals (that looked to be of English origin rather than Tunisian – pheasants and the like). There was a group of English school boys and their teachers who were on a trip to see the ancient sites of Tunisia.
We finished the night drinking copious amounts of Celtia around the fire and playing competitive games of ‘shit-head’.
MONDAY 26 OCTOBER
It was a gorgeously foggy morning and I breakfasted quickly so I could get out and take some photos of the cork trees and their red trunks – some of which had been recently de-barked and exposed their amazing red trunks. Amazing looking things.
We left our ‘royal’ restaurant and the town of Ain Draham. A gorgeous drive through the mountains. We stopped at the ancient ruins of Dougga – the only ruin that we’ve seen not on the coast. It was on the top of a hill surrounded by olive groves and farm land. Dougga was a relatively small town of 5,000 inhabitants – it’s fantastically preserved and wasn’t affected by the earthquakes of AD365 like so many of the coastal ruins. Wonderful theatre, mausoleum and Capitol – and a slave market area with fantastic views.
We stopped off for lunch in the nearby village of Teboursouk. Here’s a photo of lunch – we thought it was just going to be beans and salad but everything just kept coming out…. Olives, bread, chips, fantastic mixed salad, hot beans with onion and all followed up with a pear and apple for desert! Delicious.
We kept moving to Le Kef (The Rock in Arabic) and had a tour of the impressive Kasbah - and his beautiful mosque we had a view of from the kasbah which, incidentally, is one of my photos chosen by the travellerspoint website as a "randomly featured photo". Blowing my horn a tad but, hey, it's bit of a compliment.
I think you can check out all the featured photos on the travellerspoint website.
We then checked in to our hotel, Le Pins (The Pines) about 3kms out of town. Our fabulous driver gave everyone who wanted to check out town a lift in and I cruised around with Judy. It wasn’t a very touristy town so we got a lot of attention. This cool little kid found us and tripped around the market with us – he didn’t speak any English but we managed to get along just fine. He was munching on popcorn and when we came across the popcorn stand he introduced us to his mother and father and gave me a bag of his Dad’s popped corn. He offered one to Judy but we managed to convey that we’d share. God knows how much that man makes a day…. We bought our new little friend a bar of chocolate and said au revoir.
We wanted to grab a coffee somewhere but the coffee joints are a man’s domain and women are not necessarily welcome. We asked a stall owner who pointed us over the road but his friend gestured no, there was one down the street that would be better. Great. We started walking down the street and couldn’t find the spot so back tracked to the first place. It was a good recommendation that we shouldn’t necessarily go there as we were basically ignored. We managed to pull up a seat and it took Judy putting dinar down on the bar for us to actually be poured a coffee – even though the barista didn’t look at her the entire time.
Look, I wouldn’t call it a coffee but we wouldn’t have dared not drink it after daring to enter such an all male establishment. The sugar cubes were in a big bowl on the counter – you could just imagine men returning from the loo, grabbing their coffee from the bar, putting their hands in that there sugar bowl and spreading their toilety germs everywhere. But, hell, as if I was going to have that coffee without sugar – sugar was it’s only redeeming feature!!
We walked back to the hotel (which took us ever so long) – past the other recommended coffee shop which, of course didn’t have any women, but looked much more accommodating.
The hotel didn’t have a restaurant and we were too far out of town to walk back at night so Jud and I bought some pastry thing which was quite enough. A few of the others went in to town and I finished the night playing a game of shithead with Elaine, Yvonne and Judy.
TUESDAY 27 OCTOBER
We’d been prepped for a big day’s driving today – we left Le Kef at around 8am and headed south. Drove through some really lovely agricultural land before it slowly started getting deserty. Our first stop was the roman ruins of Sufetula in the town of Sbeitla. The view was pretty good from the road so I didn’t go in but the crew who did said they were impressive.
Bought a little necklace – red with silver things that reminded me of the musical instrument the Berber’s use, kind of like a small hand held cymbal. Posted a couple of postcards and it was time to move again.
Lots of amazing scenery on the way - photos from a moving vehicle are never great but this gives you an idea.
Grabbed a picnic lunch in the large town of Gafsa – didn’t spent a lot of time there but it a busy, bustling spot.
We arrived in the oasis town of Tozeur by mid afternoon – not nearly as long travelling as we’d expected which is always a pleasant surprise. Spent the arvo doing some photo downloading stuff and just getting my shit together.
That night Nour (our mediocre guide) pointed us in the direction of a restaurant not far from the hotel. I ordered a Tunisian Tajine thinking it was going to be a yummy concoction of stewed meat (maybe camel) and veggies served with couscous. Hmmm, it came out as this weird little thick round thing with egg, olives, tuna and I don’t know what the hell else. It was gross…. Served with the standard pomme frites and ‘salad’. No good at all – no one else’s was either which wasn’t a great last night for Nour.
There was a fantastic building across the road which looked a bit like a Kasbah. We couldn’t work out whether it was purpose built as a museum or whether it was originally a house. There were a couple of things to do – sound and light Sinbad the Sailor experience anyone? Apparently it was really good and Paul and Brian said the museum was the best they’d seen on the trip but Ryan and I slunk off for beers.
Found a ‘nightclub’ through a small side door and up we went. The bar was pretty western – music videos playing on wide screens above the bar and funny little booth areas. We nabbed one of those and a couple of Celestias. There weren’t any girls in the bar as clients – just bar maids who were the most scantily clad females I’ve seen for a while, much less North Africa. Gorgeous girls though and one of them was quite shy asking Ryan if he wanted to smoke a hubby bubbly. I went to the loo where I bumped into a couple more girls - and it became apparent that there may have been more to this establishment than meets the eye. In other words, there was a brothel upstairs!! It was fun though and we had a fun night.
WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER
Breakfast on the roof of the hotel with a great view over Tozeur and the palmerie.
At 9am a few of us went for a fantastic bike ride through the palmerie. The entire palmerie is privately owned by a few families – we rode down sand streets with high mud and daub walls, reinforced by palm tree trunks. The entrances to the ‘gardens’ were blocked by massive gates – one of them was open and our bike guide convinced one of the garden guards to let us have a look. The gardens were made up of squares with low mud walls filled with water. There was such a mixture of plants – jasmine, banana, spinach, chilli, citrus trees (slightly waterlogged), bougainvillea, fig, pomegranate, olive, herbs and, of course, date palms. It was so surprising. Did you know that palm trees need 500 litres of water a day to survive? That’s a shit load of water given they also need heat on their heads. Some of the dates had plastic bags covering the dates to protect them from dust, etc. I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s harvesting time so instead of walking along a city street and stepping on chewing gum, I’m walking along a sandy path treading on over ripe dates!
Here's a photo of Paul in action - and the group in front of one of the fabulous date plantation doors
We had such a fun ride except for poor Jud who got the dud bike – it felt like it had the brakes on all the time so not easy, especially if you’re a smoker! I offered to swap and could totally sympathise – it wasn’t easy to ride. There was no free wheeling in that bike, even downhill. There was one point, after Jud and I had swapped bikes, that we turned on to a smaller track with a shallow stream running up one side of the track and a date frond fence up the other. Jud somehow got slightly disorientated turning on to this track and promptly fell into the fence. All we heard was this dull thud and turned around to see Jud sprawled over the track and Kate laughing her head off at her. It was quite a tumble but she wasn’t hurt so we all had a bit of a giggle at her misfortune and the story, of course, was elaborated on as time went by – the river became a swollen raging torrent filled with piranhas, man eating crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank and, past the rapids, a pool full of hippos with Kate pulling Jud out of the water ‘by her teeth’ (we’re not really sure where that came from but gives a good visual), etc, etc.
Here's a photo of Ryan on a palm leaning over the aforementioned torrential river....
We rode back to the centre of Tozeur through the old town and medina. Dropped the bikes back and then I headed off to “Ali Barber’s Cave” with Kate, Jud and Paul. They had found this shop the previous day and were raving about it – not to be missed. It was filled with carpets and various berber treasures – they gave each of us a mint tea, dumped a chest of old jewellery on the floor and let us at it. There were some wonderful bits and pieces – most of it broken and very preloved. I bought a couple of gorgeous trinkets.
We stopped off at the most fabulous patisserie on the way back to the hotel and wolfed down a mini quiche for lunch. Met the group at the hotel and we were divided up into 3 4X4s and we headed into the desert. Passed herds of camels owned by the nomads (lots of ‘Camel Crossing’ signs) and some fantastic scenery.
Date palm branch fences trying to stem the sand tide.... Good luck with that....
There was a green tinge to much of the desert after the rains a few weeks ago but that wasn't really evident when we passed Chot el-Gharsa, the enormous salt lake.
We continued our journey in to the oases towns of Tamerza, Chebika and Mides in the foothills of the eastern Atlas Mountains.
The berber villages near the Algerian border were hit by torrential rain about 300 years ago which literally washed many of the buildings away. The remains of the houses still remain and look amazing perched on the cliff faces.
At this point we were right on the Tunisia/Algeria border so there were a few border control points....
We then headed overland (and rough overland it was too) in to Ong Jemel (Neck of the Camel) - pit stop, group photo and then we moved on.....
Watched the sunset over the sand dune at Mos Espa, a very well preserved Star Wars set. It was packed with tourists and totally surreal.
We headed back to Tozeur through Nefta and Ryan and I quickly jumped in a cab to get some alcohol before dinner. Bought some beers for the group and a bottle of Boukha for us at this tiny little hole in the wall outlet – they served you through a bank style grill. It felt very clandestine.
Had a delicious dinner at The Little Prince. I shared an omlette and tomato salad with Ryan and also got a tomato pasta – we’d thought the omlette and salad would be small but they weren’t and I really didn’t need the pasta as well. Everyone was really happy with their meals with a couple of “best meal I’ve had on this trip so far” tossed around.
Listened to some tunes on the roof of the hotel while enjoying a boukha mixed with fizzy lime and watching the stars. Great end to Tunisia.
I'd enjoyed the diversity of Tunisia - it's a small country with alot packed in.... the beautiful Med, the sand sea of the desert, the stunning cork oak forests in the north which get snow and fabulous Tunis. The french influence is evident everywhere and there are flights from France directly in to the main tourist destinations. And, yes, they are more geared to deal with tourists but, in doing so, seem to have lost some of their Tunisian soul. After spending these last few weeks in Tunisia I don't feel like I really know the country or it's people - and I think that's because they don't really know themselves. They've been an occupied country so you can understand why this may be the case but, I don't know, maybe I'm being a bit harsh but, I just didn't 'get it' from Tunisia. Saying this, I know I've been totally spoilt with all the things I've seen and done so, if you ever get the opportunity to experience this country it has alot to offer - jump at it.