I wrote this post before the recent terrorist attack on British holiday makers in Tunisia. I actually finished writing it on the day of the shootings on the beach. I didn’t hit publish, because I felt it would be inappropriate to have a piece about enjoying the country in light of the terrorism. In a recent discussion with fellow bloggers, I was convinced otherwise, and would love to hear your thoughts about it.
A few years ago, we visited Tunisia, which is a country at the top of the African continent, in between Algiers and Libya, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. The weather is lovely and the landscapes varied within in the country. We saw brilliant scenery and archaeological sites, while having a great time on holiday.
Tunisia is a great destination for people who like to do something on holiday. We took two bus trips while there – both organised by the company TTS and sold by Thomas Cook. We were told that TTS was government regulated and so the tours were the best way to visit Tunisia. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly the case that the tours were professional and great value for money. I’m going to tell you about the tour named Sahara Explorer in this post; we have also taken the Past to Present tour, which is shorter and more pretty!
We saw El Djem – one of the best preserved, third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It’s so cool to see!
On another visit to Tunisia, we actually caught the train here from Sousse, and it cost hardly anything. The thing that really struck us about Tunisian trains was their punctuality; the train is scheduled for 12:43 – it comes at 12:43 and not a minute late or early!
Entry to the amphitheatre includes a ticket to the museum nearby, too, and you can see some fabulously preserved mosaics. How they transferred the little stones to the museum would surely be an interesting story. Alas, I don’t know it, but I’m in awe of them doing it!
From El Djem we travelled to Matmata, which is the set of a part of Star Wars, but actually where there are a few Berber houses in the caves of the desert. We were lucky enough to be allowed in a couple of the houses, and they were cool and whitewashed. The yards were where they cooked, washed laundry and kept animals. It was a very interesting place, but to be honest, I felt as though I was intruding in someone else’s house (which I was, I suppose!).
On we went on our journey, to ride a camel through the Sahara. We were “warned” before we got onto our camels (have you ever ridden a camel? – very uncomfortable!) that we may bump into some horsemen. If we did, we must not take photographs of them, and if you did and were caught doing so, you’d have your camera taken by them. So. Yes, we saw the glamorous horsemen, wearing black with silver trim, all very romantic. I don’t have any photos, but they were very cool, in the Elvis sense of the word.
Do you see this bag in the photo below? It was free with a magazine. It was a thin tote, very handy for carrying our water, and each morning while on holiday we would pick up a couple of snacks from our breakfast buffet for later in the day. We often picked up hard boiled eggs, and this day we had two white eggs and a couple of bananas along with our water bottles. We took that bag in to El Djem, to the Matmata caves, on the camel rides, and then we went for a little horse ride to the date farm.
The date farm in the oasis of Tozeur was really interesting. They showed us how they got the dates down from the trees (a boy climbs up and chops the bunches of dates off!) and told us all about the two different types of dates you can buy in Tunisia. I don’t remember the names except for deglet nour, which is apparently the best.
Then we got back on to the coach. We were sat on the back row, and after a little while we decided to eat our afternoon snack – the eggs and bananas we’d picked up at breakfast. Those bananas hit the spot, then after a slurp of water we cracked the first egg on the handle of the seat in front of us… tap tap… egg everywhere! These were not the hard boiled eggs were thought they were – they were raw! So, they’d been on quite a journey in that free-from-a-magazine flimsy fabric bag but survived. We found this out by only cracking open one egg. For some reason we decided the second egg needed looking after (even though they’d clearly survived quite a lot of jiggling around) and so I sat with it cradled in my hand until we got half way to our next destination, when I fell asleep and it rolled out of my hand and smashed on the floor of the coach.
We went on to the canyon of Tamerza, while the sun was on its way down, before heading to our hotel for the night.
The next day we were up and out super early, and went to see the sun rise at a salt lake at Chott el Jerid. The ground was pink and white, and although we were really tired, it was beautiful to see in such light. The Disney documentary The Crimson Wing reminds me of this place, but really only because of the heat and the salt, I guess – no flamingos in Chott el Jerid (if you haven’t watched that movie, do look out for it; it’s sad but the cinematography is brilliant).
Then on we went to a 4×4 jeep ride to the waterfall oasis of Chebika. There we walked through some trees, along a twisty-twiney path to the waterfall area. It was so beautiful. There were a few Berber men at the pool of water, and one of our fellow tourists approached one, saying “pull my finger.. ” You know what he did when the Berber man grabbed hold of his outstretched digit. Yep, pffffttthhhppp! Well, that was the funniest thing the Berbers had seen in a long time, and the tourist’s finger was pulled repeatedly to get him to fart over and over. Boys, eh?!
We had a terrific time on the tour. We made a few day trips from our hotel, also, including to the medina in Sousse. You can get the tuc tuc from Port el Kantaoui to Sousse very cheaply, and near the tuc tuc rank is a small zoo.
We also caught a taxi to Monistir, and while there saw the fort el ribat, and the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, who was the first president of Tunisia. The mausoleum has a beautiful interior and a small museum about his life and legacy. He did a lot to fight inequality in Tunisia, and we were told, improved education in the country massively, among other social reforms.
I have to say, I love social history and anthropology more than dry old rocks, so I found the information and artifacts of Habib Bourgiba very interesting.
Tunisia was our holiday destination of choice for a few years. We said, while we were there, that it would be a great place to visit with children, though I guess that it will be a very long time before we head there with our boys, in light of the recent terrorist attack.