Tunisia Sept 2005
Nabeul Beach Hotel, Nabeul
Airport and Arrival
Got up early, partly excited and partly needing to sort out the house after a lightning packing session. Janette dropped us off at the airport. We checked in and took to the serious task of reading the Sunday gossip mags and travel guide books that we had brought along – thanks Lisa and Craig!
1st Hiccup – plane delayed by ½ hour – other passengers grumbled, we took the opportunity to grab a burger! We eventually boarded and after some careful folding by Michelle I fitted into my seat and the flight passed quickly. (The in flight movie was the same as the one we saw on the way to Gambia!)
Monastir airport is small but efficient and we were soon sat in our transfer bus. Here we hit hiccup #2! A French lady had got on a bus to El-who-knows-where, problem being she was supposed to be on our bus and it took 90 mins to find the dotty old bat!
To cut a long story short we met the other bus and with the errant Antoinette now on board we hit the road. Strangely it still took longer to get from the airport to the hotel than from Manchester to Monastir!!
The room is actually a little bungalow terrace, a bit tatty and worn at the edges but very homely and with a lovely big comfy bed! It’s been a long day and we are shattered so night night!!
08.30 and the room is bright despite the shutters and curtains!! Ah well time for an explore and then breakfast! We picked up our wristbands (we opted for all inclusive and so this wristband was our ticket to food and drink for the week!). We had a quick nose around the hotel and it seems very nice, basic and a little tatty in places but clean and quaintly pretty. It has been built with a nod towards traditional building in the area with high ceilings and everything painted blue and white.
The pool area is quite big with a huge oddly shaped but very inviting pool and loads of sunbeds! We both groaned that this looked like it had the potential to be package holiday hell and totally different from our usual holiday, however the purpose of this break was to chill out and do very little and to that end this looked as though it would fit the bill. Breakfast was buffet style with everything labelled in French and Dutch, whatever we didn’t recognise we tried a bit of and decided if we liked it and if we would try it again!
We spent the morning by the pool, reading dozing and schlurping up the sun. Lunch was the same layout as breakfast so we adopted the same tactic of try little bits of most things and once again it worked out well! The afternoon followed in the same vein as the morning with a short walk down the beach to break it up – the sea here is soooo blue!
First impressions are good, the poolside entertainment crew seem friendly if a little full on and even the surly waiters can be coaxed in to a nod or (exceptionally) a smile! Most people are friendly, the hotel is fine, the food is filling the beer flows and all we have to do all day is relax and soak it all up!
Life is good!
Woke up to another fab sunny day. Card and presents opened, it was time for breakfast and a stroll into Nabuel. We had vague instructions from a number of sources all of which cited a number of lefts and rights, just not necessarily in the same order! We strolled into Nabuel centre but never got as far as the old town. Nabuel has a very transitional feel as if it is ready to become a tourist resort but it is not sure how to achieve this , or indeed if it prepared to accept tourists on any terms but it’s own!
Michelle was told to leave the tourist information bureau for wearing shorts!! Pretty disgruntled at being ignored and refused any information (including what to wear where!!) we returned to the poolside and took up lounging where we had left off the day before!
Now fully into the swing of all-inclusive we managed to thoroughly annoy the grumpy bar-man by timing our trips to the bar to coincide with every time he sat down or began to do anything other than stand by the bar . . . . . .. that’ll teach him not to smile on my birthday!!
In the afternoon we chilled in the room and then hit the beach, Damian plunged straight in . . . it was nice and warm, hence none of the gurgled curses that we now automatically uttered on jumping into the freezing pool!
All in all another relaxing day. Bed early as we have booked tickets on a bus tour down to the south of the country and on into the Sahara!
Sahara Trip: Day One
We were woken at 04.00 by a very happy Tunisian who grinned at us and then disappeared into the night. After a quick breakfast we boarded the rust and ancient coach that was to be our home for the next two days. The majority of people on the bus were French and at the extremes of the age range, half were in their early twenties and the other half were in their sixties. All were friendly and one in particular Arnoud, became a friend, to all and all round entertainer! Our outward trip was to be mainly down the coast and the return leg would be across country.
As we headed south our charismatic tour guide Mousaf, provided (amid brilliantly camp theatrics) a detailed and informative commentary in French and English on anything that he thought may be of interest, from recipes and geological titbits to in-depth descriptions of local farming practices and traditions.
Our first stop was at the Roman amphitheatre at El-Jem. As we approached the ruins of the amphitheatre dominated the view rising high above the rambling buildings that surrounded it. We explored the amphitheatre and soaked up the weight of the atmosphere and sense of history in the place and then all a little in awe boarded the bus and headed south once again into the Sahel, the outer edge of the Sahara.
The next stop was in Matmata where we toured a traditional cave dwelling. The troglodyte way of life is still prospering in this area and in this increasingly harsh landscape it make a lot of sense. Ironically these deeply religious and traditional people were much more welcoming and accepting of the different peoples and modes of dress that came to visit their villages. More smiles here than anywhere else in Tunisia. This region was used in the Star-Wars films and also in “the Life of Brian”. The scenery was remarkably familiar, indeed we were only a mile from the House used as the Lars farm in the Star wars movies!
Caves visited we squeezed back on to the bus and were taken to a lunch stop. This was at a Hotel in the Oasis of Matmata. It is weird to find prospering towns in the middle of this desert where there is nothing for miles and then a town pops up out of the desert, these towns are vibrant and full of mopeds and bright lights and people in local traditional robes walking alongside young people in jeans and t-shirts, all in an area sold to the world as the harsh edge of habitable Africa and the start of the Void of the Sahara.
Lunch was a traditional meal with Brik (popadum folded in half around a fried egg and then deep fried) , Camel stew with cous cous and veg and a fried sweet biscuit for pudding. Delicious!
Next stop was at the small outpost of Douz, the edge of the sand desert for a camel ride. Camels are ridiculous, there I’ve said it. They are clearly highly effective at being weird looking desert conveyances but the romantic image portrayed in books and on TV hides the burping, farting, poo-ing, wee-ing, grunting and chewing reality! Getting aboard and upright is difficult, however once this is accomplished and the ride is in progress, camel is a very pleasant and sedate way to travel.
Our final stop for the day was to be our overnight, en route the skies darkened and the heavens opened, in the desert, out of season we were treated to a massive thunder storm. Our romantic notions of storms in the desert quickly vanished as the roads turned to mud and then into rivers. Our driver clearly unfazed by the inclement conditions and the worst flood in living memory (apparently), simply gritted his teeth around a foul cigarette and urged the ancient coach onwards through the sometimes waist-deep water! When we arrived the hotel was busily bailing out and everyone was in good humour. Traditional buffet dinner and then bed.
Sahara Trip: Day Two
05.00 wake up call!! – We are on holiday for God’s sake!! After a bleary eyed breakfast we re-bussed and headed out across a vast salt lake for a spectacular sunrise (the lake was in Star Wars too!) As the sun rose we stopped for photos and the guide chuckled that he had never seen this much water in the lake at this time of year – made for great photos.
Second stop was the Oasis of Tozeur where we were taken on horse and cart rides and then all piled on board 4x4s for further exploration of the Oasis and surrounding hills. Despite having one of the biggest and toughest 4x4s ever our ancient and grumpy driver insisted on avoiding every single pothole and pebble in the entire desert! We cruised through a few more oases stopping here and there at points of natural beauty or local importance and we all commented on how the beauty and savagery of the landscape went hand in hand, the huge fissures in the rock and massive eroded valleys were clearly the work of massive forces yet they were truly breathtaking. Lunch was rather surreal, a delicious 3 course meal at a 5 star hotel in the middle of absolutely nowhere!
On the start of the return trip proper spirits on the hot and slow bus were beginning to flag and our guide began to tell stories about anything and everything, which helped. The entire bus was by now getting on like a house on fire with our poor French and the French party’s poor English combining to provide almost total understanding.
We made two stops as we headed north, one at a traditional carpet factory and the second at one of the largest mosques in Tunisia. We got away from the first without anyone trying to sell us a carpet and as none of the group were muslim we had to make do with walking around the mosque! The last dash home was tinged with optimism, if we got home before 9pm we could get tea!! Our driver heard of our plight and managed to muster an almost respectable turn of speed from our home for the last two days and we made it back with 10 mins to spare!! The trip had been beautiful, educational and eye-opening, it had provided us with a taster of the sahara, changed our perceptions and given us a nice snapshot of Tunisia.
After the hectic previous 48 hours we decided that a more relaxed pace was called for today. With a little concentration we managed to slip into a couple of sun loungers and assume the sun worship position. Most of the morning was spent doing very little other than rotating front to back (for an even tan) and making the occasional trip to the bar. After lunch much the same routine on ly this time at the beach!
This evening we had booked tickets for an Arabian Nights themed party! This was at a local venue and was billed as a night of traditional Tunisian entertainment, around a traditional Tunisian meal. We settled ourselves at our table steeled for a truly cheesey evening but were actually really impressed. The first act was traditional dancing, which to us uninitiated looked very much the same all the way through with lots of jiggling and twirling, but which clearly was executed with care and passion and went down a storm. This was accompanied by a starter of Brik.
Next up was a balancing act which involved a colourfully dressed and impressively stocky Arab gentleman balancing increasingly large items on his head and chin (including children on chairs and ladders!) The main course was the now familiar stew with veg and cous cous, simple and tasty!
The next act was a strongman act, he layed on broken glass and knives whilst people stood on him . . . very impressive but completely nuts! The snake charmer was next, an old man introduced to us as Dr Ali Baba with two equally ancient cobras raised laughs by putting snakes down various trousers and tops. The final act of the night was outside, a very impressive display of horsemanship rounded of a pleasant and entertaining evening.
Pool – truly bad resort entertainment!!
Not much to write up today, we managed to realise the true purpose of our trip – we relaxed. This holiday had been booked as a kind of emergency measure, a relaxing lifeline in the middle of an increasingly taxing working year. As we both lay looking up into a hypnotically blue sky work seemed every bit the thousands of miles away that it was. We ended the day wonderfully fatigued, it was the tiredness that comes from total relaxation.
After dinner we decided to brave the evening entertainment, it was truly awful (although judging by the belly laughs from the corner, this particular brand of entertainment was much appreciated by the German guests!) We laughed along, not at the sketches but at the really bad acting and then at each other laughing! To round off the evening in truly bizarre fashion Michelle ended up in a dancing contest with the entertainers, and won! Now that was funny!
Having packed last night (in a fit of organisation!) all we needed to do today was relax and reflect on our holiday. Tunisia has not been entirely what we expected but has been entertaining, beautiful, relaxing and mysterious. We had expected the resort towns to be more accommodating of and geared towards tourists, but instead we found a country willing to accept tourist money but resolute in the retention of it’s own ways. This is no criticism, but was new to us and gave us an insight into life in an Arab nation both traditional and modern. The atmosphere of El Jem and the Sahara are almost indescribable, the history and drama of the former and the vast hostile purity of the latter are equally powerful and awe inspiring. Oh and it rained in the desert, don’t believe everything that Attenborough bloke tells you!
So there it is, we are now at the airport and were first told that our flight was delayed by 45 mins, then in fact that ours was on time and the next flight was delayed!
We have relaxed and re-charged, we have explored, swum, eaten , drunk, laughed and cuddled. We will take home 3 rolls of film and memories of another fantastic holiday together.