Sunday, August 31, 2008

To the beach beach beach

Tatouine was indeed a fascinating place. I especially loved the genuine friendliness of the people there, vs. the contrived "tourist lines" you get in some places. It almost seemed that the further south you got (i.e. the further from Tunis), the better it got. Guys would come up and ask if you needed help, or just to talk, and it took me awile to realize that they really didn't want anything, except to help or speak English. I had a nice chat with this kid about his college choices in Canada (I knew a little since I went to Carleton in Ottawa about 100 years ago...) But they never expected a tip; in fact, I think they would've been insulted if I had offered.
But the heat down there DID start to feel a bit too much like Las Vegas for me... super hot and very dry. So I moved north.
I took a louage (sometimes spelled lowage) from Tatouine to Gabes (2.5 hours), then another to Sfax (2 hours), then a third to El Jem. One kid sitting next to me was listening to music and I asked what it was -- and he said 50 Cent! (American rapper, for those who don't know, like I didn't...) Also, along the way they were selling gasoline from Libya, in plastic jugs. They say it's "good gas" and cheaper than what they pay (currently a little over a dollar per liter). Many food stalls along the way had slaughtered a sheep, and they were all hanging upside down draining the blood, probably getting ready to grill today (Sunday, the family day).
El Jem is a classic Roman amphitheatre, built in the years around 200 BC. They say that the builders had already built the Roman Colosseum and learned their mistakes, so this one was nearly perfect. It's oval, and held around 30,000 people, and was also where a famous battle between the Berbers and the invaders happened (the Berbers lost...) Some has been restored, but mostly it's in amawing shape for its age. They were setting up for a concert that night, but it didn't start until after dark, which means I would miss any trqnsport to Mahdia, which is where I wanted to end up.
So I get to Mahdia around 7 pm, and for the first time I couldn't find a hotel room. It's the last big summer weekend and most everything (at least in my budget) was sold out. But then I got talking with this kid -- Ahmed, aged 23 and a devout Muslim) who worked at the reception desk of one hotel, and he told me I could sleep on the roof! He took me up there, and it was nicely finished like a patio deck with padded benches, and clothes lines. But it was a bed, and only about $8 USD, including breakfast. I was glad to have it!
Ahmed also told me where to eat dinner, at a seafood restaurant on the corniche, and he was spot on about that as well: excellent grilled fish! (I was a tad peckish, since it's not allowed to eat inside the louages, and we never stopped long enough to grab a sandwich -- sometimes spelled sandwitch, btw.) Afterward, Ahmed and I stayed up talking in the lobby until after midnight, and then I went up to sleep under the stars. (Oh how some people would laugh if they saw me sleeping on a roof of a small hotel in Tunisia!)
I love Mahdia. It's not a huge mega resort like Sousse, Hammamat or Monastir. It has a far more laid back, lost in time quality to it, and yet a beach town right on the coast. People are very chill, no big pressure to buy or do anything. I read somewhere that one Roman general had a hard time getting his troops to get back on the ship when they layed anchor in Mahdia, and I can see why.
I have two ideas tho: Someone should do a version of "Pimp My Ride" here in Tunisia. The basic rides are so classic, and worn, and it would be amazing to see what those guys would come up with... Oh, and I think I already said that George Lucas should sponsor a Star Wars convention here. But I spoke with an interesting guy from Italy (who works in textiles here and speaks 6 languages!), and he said you would have to prove the benefit to the government (increased tourism) and you'd need to find a majority Tunisian partner. OK, sounds like it's getting complicated now...
Most of the hotels down here do not offer towels to guests. You can sometimes rent one for one dinar (75 cents), but sometimes not. And me, with just a daypack... and no towel.
Lots of women have henna on their hands, but many also have it on their feet! I haven't been able to get a photo of that yet, but I will try! And I see more men smoking on water pipes here -- the real thing not those tourist things like in Vegas. Supposedly, there are hidden-away places where women-only can drink coffee, smoke water pipes and talk to each other, but so far I haven't spotted one!
It's also just funny to rememeber where I am... by having nothing be exactly the way it is. By that, I mean people will tell you that something is "close" and it's miles away; or that it's new, but that means 300 years "new"; or that a bus leaves at 2 pm, but that could mean anything from 2:30 til 4 or even 5. Things all happen, but just in their own sweet time.
Ah, the joy and the mysteries of travel!
I think I will hang in Mahdia for another day, maybe even blow off Sousse. But then back to Tunis so that I can catch my flight to Cairo on Thursday, Sept 4.
Love you, and thanks for checking in!