Sunday, 16 May 2010
Postcards from Tunisia
A lucky shot where a butcher cleans his shop front wearing a cow's head. © Magnus Andersson
Back from a fantastic holiday in Tunisia, I though I'd share some impressions of this place. We stayed in a beautiful hotel in the tourist resort of Hammamet on the northeast coast, which is dominated by these huge hotel complexes along the beach with the rest of the city up in the hills. We arrived in the evening so our first impressions was that of darkness and crazy traffic. This is a place without a single traffic light and I must say, as someone who navigates horrible London traffic every day, it was a breath of fresh air. It simply works and I think we should introduce the system here as well. What do you say, Boris?
A woman doing the arduous task of weaving a carpet. It takes a month just to do one square meter. © Magnus Andersson
Dust! It gets everywhere and it isn't that strange, its a country in the Sahara desert, and you soon learn to breathe through your nose at all times, otherwise you get a mouthful of the stuff in just a few minutes.
Collage of some of the portraits of the president which were everywhere. © Magnus Andersson
The police seems to be everywhere, every single roundabout is manned day and night, and they routinely stop vehicles although we didn't have any trouble with them. Another omnipresent was the portrait of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the man who has been Tunisian president since 1987. Add to that that during our stay there were local elections in the whole country, and you felt that he was watching you from every corner. The ruling Tunis party took some 90% of the votes, but you can hardly call it a democratic country, more a one-party state. The EU have now entered talks with Tunisia with their record on democracy very much in the spotlight.
The old Medina in Karouan, central Tunisia. © Magnus Andersson
There is a lot of construction going on in the tourist resorts but elsewhere in the country it seems as if construction all of a sudden stopped. Endless houses are left unfinished and there are many shanty towns where the poorest live. There are also nomadic shepherds along the roads and in the fields. They stay in makeshift tents and roam from area to area in order to feed their sheep. I never managed to get close to them but they seemed to lead an age old existence and would love to explore them more when I return.
iPhone panorama of the amphitheatre in El Djem (El-Jem). © Magnus Andersson
Once you get out of the tourist resort Tunisia becomes much more interesting. We hired a car and went to Karouan in the centre of the country. Here we visited the Great Mosque, the 4th holiest place in Islam and a beautiful building to behold. While there we also looked around in the old town Medina. It is of course a very poor country but the beauty of their buildings and especially their doorways was extraordinary. We also went to El Djem and its Roman amphitheatre, dating back to 238AD, capable of seating an amazing 35,000 people, and still in great condition.
Fruit stalls by the road side like this one are all over the place. © Magnus Andersson
We got lucky with the ash cloud, on the day we left the airports of nearby Morocco had closed but we managed to find a window and leave on time, however, with our very last meal, my fiancee managed to get food poisoning and had to seek medical help in the airport. A word of warning, Tunisian health care is not of the same standard that we are used to back home. The doctor was going to inject her with something when he dropped the needle on the floor. He promptly picked it up and tried to attach it to the syringe again, thinking it was perfectly normal practice to use dirty needles. My fiancee protested and he grudgingly replaced it with a new one. He then needed two attempts before a successful injection. Yikes.
One of many tanks left from WWII battles in the eastern hills of Tunisia. © Magnus Andersson
There is so much more to say about this beautiful country, but tomorrow its back to work again so I need to catch some sleep, but man, it was a good holiday.
The Great Mosque in Karouan. © Magnus Andersson