Tunisia Dec 8th – 15th 2010

Tunisia Dec 8th – 15th 2010
Tunisia Dec 8th – 15th 2010
8th Dec
We stayed overnight in a nearby hotel to Gatwick as the early start was going to be killer although glad to be going as 2 days before the airport was closed due to the snow. The alarm at 3:45am was the most painful but having not slept a wink I was glad to get up and moving. Flight was due to leave at 7am but technical problems kept it on the ground until 9am. To be honest I didn’t mind as I knew we’d get there eventually and leaving behind a very snowy England felt lovely.

If I could only remove the very annoying family with no control over their kids before we left! We finally arrived in Tunisia after a painful flight, seeing the first glimpse of the African coastline was amazing.

After a cheesy coach ride with the holiday rep we arrived at our hotel. Having never done the “all inclusive” holiday before I was quite looking forward to taking full advantage!! We took in the Marhaba Beach Hotel and went for a short beach walk. As expected we were accosted pretty quickly by a beach hawker but to be fair the caramelised nuts were very welcome as I was starving!! After lunch we sat by the pool and just enjoyed a few drinks as we were exhausted from our journey.

9th Dec
I was woken at around 6am with Sy drawing back the curtain with camera in hand so I knew straight away there was something worth seeing. I wasn’t wrong as the beautiful sunrise came into view. I laid in bed just staring at it rise in the sky and smiling as the heat started to come though the open door.

After a massive first day breakfast we were picked up on the coach to go Quad Biking. We arrived and got kitted out in our lids but they didn’t have little ones so mine wasn’t tight to my head. We had a brief show of how the bikes worked then we were off. From the first 5 minutes I could tell my brakes didn’t work and throughout the ride it became apparent that no-ones did as I was like oversize bumper cars. Good course though and we went through sand, water, ridges, olive groves & a circuit. My thighs were feeling it as I’d spent a lot of it stood up (better on the bum).

We got home in time for lunch and decided to walk to Port-El-Kantoui. An hour & a half later we were knackered, walking on sand is very tiring and I spend most of it barefoot in the sea instead.
It was clear that Port-El-Kantoui is built for the tourists; it felt a bit like Disneyland with all the pedestrian walkways etc. However it was nice to go in a shop and actually browse, we knew the prices were hiked up but it gave us an idea of what would be in the medina later on that we might like to buy. I couldn’t resist and insisted we got the tuk tuk home, I love those things!! On the drive back we realised just how far we’d walked.
Our legs felt like they’d had a proper workout so we had dinner and crashed in the bar for the night. The hotel had laid on a night of cabaret & belly dancing which I was dreading. I hate things like this that are geared up to the westerners. I know they mean well and people like it but I was cringing the whole way through. The hotels team did some random things and to be fair the belly dancers were awful but being in the bar you couldn’t help but witness it. Was so put off when the old people were pulled up to the stage and made to take their shirts off, they’re not even my family but I found it embarrassing! Sy & I made our exit pretty quickly with beers to go up to the room!

10th Dec
Today we got a taxi up to the catacombs, over 15,000 bodies lay encased in the walls there. We had been told that the offer of some money and they would open up the ‘non-public’ areas for us to wander around but I’ll be honest, basements scare me at the best of times let alone kilometres of underground tunnels with no map!!! I’m sure Sy would have gone in regardless but he’s definitely braver than me.

After the catacombs we found our way to the Medina, the walled part to the city. Inside is a maze of little alleyways and shops, also residential areas. Looking at the map after we emerged, we realised in the few hours we’d been in there we had only discovered a third of it! The shopkeepers were not as full on as India and we walked past many that didn’t even say a thing. We got to it and started buying some of the things we knew we wanted to take home.
With all our shopping we headed back out of the medina but I got distracted by a box of baby tortoises. I had been told that they are considered lucky in Tunisia but for all I know they could have been food. Either way I couldn’t resist picking a few up, just wish I could have got them home on the plane!!

Taxi back home and into the bar, already I’m realising that all inclusive is a dangerous thing!!
Popped in to get a full body massage and facial which was a bargain and I was left feeling very relaxed!!! The hotel was running an Arabic lesson so got stuck in and learnt some very handy phrases.
Dan the rep had recommended a steak house up the road so we decided to check that out. It reminded me of a harvester as it had the salad bar etc. The steaks however were miles above a harvester!! Argentinean juicy, tasty steaks, they were amazing & cooked to perfection. When we got back to the hotel there was a random piano guy playing that sounded awful so we went to the other bar!

Sat 11th
After a relaxing morning at the hotel we got ready to go to the Friguia Park & Zulu Dinner. It was very clear that coming to Tunisia off peak was the best idea as when we skipped the Seal show in favour of getting to the big cats we realised that more often than not we were the only ones around! Not often you get a zoo to yourselves. The enclosures were very cleverly done which meant no stupid bars or cages in the way. The big cats had walkways over the top of the cages which allowed Sy to get some great shots with his zoom.

Then onto the Zulu dinner which was held in an “in the round” style restaurant hut. There was a 5 course meal & a great mix of traditional Tunisian & Zulu performances throughout the evening. The belly dancing was much better than the hotel & the energy the Zulu performers exerted was infectious. The food was good & it was a lively coach ride back to the hotel.

Sun 12th
Sahara Day 1 – Today was the start of the trip we’d really been looking forward to. An early pick up had us on the road south. First stop was El Jem which although is only the 6th largest amphitheatre in the world, it is the best preserved. We enjoyed walking around the 30,000 capacity towering relic, even into the rooms below where the lions and gladiators would have been held before making their grand entrance.

Onwards through the endless olive groves it became apparent that olives really are the biggest income source for Tunisians. A brief stop at a cafe at then it’s into the Atlas Mountains to the troglodyte houses. We stopped to meet a family still living in the hand carved out caves. Found it amusing that most somehow had electricity and TV reception! Back on the road again but only a short while before a photo opportunity over the hilltops to capture the desert terrain filmed as Star Wars’ lunar surface.

Next stop was the first big one for Star Wars fans as it was off to the set of the 1977 original film. The site is now a hotel and restaurant so we stopped here for lunch in a cave dining room then we explored the set taking many snaps to capture the moment.

Back onto the coach for the long journey down into the deep south of the country towards the Sahara. I’m glad I wrapped up as the temperature fell as quickly as the sun. There was plenty of time to get up onto our camels and head across the sand before it fell though. I loved my camel & found it very relaxing plodding across the land. Camels definitely have character and we laughed at the naughty ones, cheeky ones, comical ones & dopey ones!

At long last we reached our stop for the night and whilst others enjoyed the thermal pool (I forgot my cossie!) we headed to the bar. Day 2 was going to be a very early morning so we called it a night early and dropped off in record time exhausted from the day’s travels.

Mon 13th
Sahara Day 2 –
Bleary eyed it was onto the coach and over the massive salt lake. It really did surprise me how much distance was covered by the salt lake and at times it was mesmerising.
Stopped off at a little shop to change to 4×4’s, had to pick our fellow passengers carefully as there were a few on the coach that we didn’t want to be stuck with. Off we set out to go further into the Sahara. On the horizon I could see what looked like a new building, it was a film set they’ve been using out there for the new Antonio Banderas film Black Gold. Occasionally a massive plume of black smoke would appear in the sky as they were blowing things up on set!!
Off into the sand dunes we went with the driver throwing the car around, up and over the dunes. On occasion it felt like a log flume ride when you got to the top and saw the massive drop below you! It was great fun as we stopped for dunes shaped like camels and tackled some big soft sand dunes and slid down them the other side!

When we stopped we weren’t too sure where we were but I was very happy to get a mobile reception and call Lily to wish her a happy birthday! Thanks to the Hollywood crew for undoubtedly bringing a booster with them! Over the top of the rim we saw the film set beneath us! I couldn’t believe there was so much still there. We slid down the sand dune to get to it and again off peak worked in our favour as numerous times we turned around to find no one there! Sy was in his element taking photos of the buildings.

Eventually it was back to the bus to carry on to our next stop, the mountain oasis. I wasn’t expecting much but it was beautiful, the green leaves really contrasted the pale sand and to my surprise the waterfall was warm. I really did wish that id bought my cossie as would have loved a swim in it.

Onto the coach for the final leg of the trip, lunch & a quick language lesson. Although we covered 1100km and at times it was long haul on the coach we were both very glad we’d done the trip and had some great experiences along the way. We made it back to the hotel & couldn’t wait to climb into our beds and relax!

Tues 14th
We figured the last day was a good time to go and buy more stuff so we walked again to Port El Kantoui. Took the road this time but was still glad to get there in the end, it was only after googling it on our return that we found out it was 6.5km one way! We bought more presents and again took the tuk tuk home. We spent the afternoon relaxing the bar with a book, copious amounts of food & drink making the most of our final moments in all inclusive land!

Wed 15th
Definitely a grumblebum day today, every time we go away I wish the next flight was to somewhere else rather than home, especially knowing the freezing temperatures we were going home to. The flight was pretty non eventful & much more pleasurable than the constant kicking of my seat by a child that i’d had on the way out there. We couldn’t have timed it better though as 2 days after landing the airport once again was closed due to the snow.

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