Interesting trip – had a great time.
Tunisia’s changed since the last time we were there- not long after our last trip Ben Ali was overthrown. Tourism was heavily affected by the revolution and there’s been three years of a major economic crisis. From 100% hotel occupancy by Western European tourists, now tourism is (a guesstimate) – 40% Libyan and Algerian, 20% Russian, and a smattering of Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, English, Czeck and German. Many parts of Tunis and Hammamet seemed run-down, doubtlessly because much of the money from recent development left when the friends of Ben Ali ran away after his overthrow.
Tunisia is, by far, the most “occidental” of Arab countries (with the permission of Lebanon and Turkey). Habib Bourgiba, the country’s 1st president, pushed general (free) education, full free health coverage, and the lithany of what passes for a civilized nation (sorry, US of A). The capital is fairly well developed and he tourist areas are absolutely “occidental”, but the interior is backward and somewhat “fundamentalist”. We saw some of it on our trip to Dougga (we hired a car with driver, since my license expired around 2000), so we got some “inside information”.
“Tunisia isn’t like Libya and Algeria, here we think and discuss instead of using guns”, said our driver. “The people are lazy, though – they don’t want to work in the fields, they want to work in offices. The young people of Dougga all work in the hotels of Hammamet, and only the old people work the fields”. Still, Dougga seemed better off than 3 years ago, when we noted hundreds of people waiting for a chance to work. Ben Ali’s overthrow was the right thing – and although Islamists won the last election, they were thrown out as well due to incredible corruption. Now Tunisia has a caretaker government of technocrats, and according to our driver, the Islamists won’t be reelected.
Seeing Algerians and Libyans in the all-inclusive hotels of Hammamet was something of a shock. Many were occidentalized husbands with fundamentalist wives. Many of the women wore “burkinis”, bathing clothing that covered virtually all the body except the face, hands and feet.
I was surprised about one aspect of N. African culture – I’ve never seen more doting and affectionate fathers. Children in daddy’s arms, being fed by daddy, with such obvious love and pride – this one doesn’t see in Europe of the US.
Anyhow, we visited Tunis and it’s fine museum (best collection of Roman mosaics in the world). Hammamet’s old town, Dougga, and the rest of the time – on the beach. Had a great time with a waterbike – I’ve some experience with those machines, but never with a 700 cc motor! The owner remarked that he couldn’t dare do what I did on that thing, but to tell the truth I scared the shit out of myself more than once by going airborn and doing skid turns far too fast!
I probably drank too many pastis avec beaucoup glaçons et l’eau, smoked too many shishas, etc., but what are vacations for? Spoke more French than I have for years, but I made myself understood (a major achievement). Haggled in the Medinas, got some great deals… fun for one and all.
Pics tomorrow, including Stewie ™, when I unpack. Will probably wax on Dougga – that place freaks me out, more so than Pompeii and Herculaneum.