I have not been horse riding for some 30 years or more but when a chance to get in the saddle came up me and BC jumped at it. Having taken a few lumps of sugar to the stables the stable hand must have assumed I was an experienced horseman and put me in charge of some feisty little filly that I called lightning. After only a few minutes I realised I should have worn a cricket box. Lightning was determined to jog out of sync with me and as I went up he went down and when we did met it was painful. As painful as this was it was even funnier to watch BC try and get into the saddle. Being only 5 foot nothing she had to stand on a wall to get on the horse. Getting off was even funnier and when it came to the time to remount she gave up and got into the horse and cart.
It was a wonderful morning and set us up for dinner so we decided to go to one of the local restaurants. The local food is excellent if a little heavy on the olive oil for my liking and the owner apologised for not having any wine in the building and even offered to take us somewhere where we could buy some. In general most of the locals I met were very friendly and away from the tourist traps the people seem nice. There are lots of places to go in this wonderful country and I spent a few hours in Yasmine Hammamet at the harbour and some time on the beach at Hammamet.
Recycling is not an item that seems to feature heavily amongst Tunisian culture and I was saddened and angry by the amount of plastic waste that floats by on the breeze. You do not expect to see Tesco carrier bags drifting by in the Sahara. In the camps fire were continuously burning as people burnt rubbish and plastic releasing god knows what into the atmosphere. The government seems to pass this by as in the case of the cheap petrol being ignored and livelihoods by beggars being encouraged. Tunisia has a lot to learn in the tourism stakes.
I am glad I have been to Tunisia but I will not be in a hurry to go back there. Being accosted by beggars and pestered by people at every opportunity for money, looking at the rubbish flying about, having to barter for every item (which strikes me as dishonest because they are not selling something for what it is worth merely for as much as they can get and this can change depending upon who they are selling it to). For everything that made me smile in this country there was something that me cringe. There are many things it has not been possible to put within the confines of this blog, both good and bad in equal measure, but it was almost a relief when the last day arrived.
The last day came and we said goodbye to the many wonderful people we had met, amongst them Chubby and Gill, the Newlyweds from Doncaster, Sheldon and his crew, the two Scottish lads who were larger than life and twice as much fun, the RAF dentist and his wife Sue and finally the staff. It was great to be with you all and I won’t forget any of you in a hurry. May you all continue to enjoy your travels.
New Years Eve arrived and BC and I went along to the restaurant for the celebratory gala dinner that was being prepared. For some reason the hotel staff had split the tables that we usually sat at. This meant that we sat at our table for the evening with strangers instead of the friends we had made during our stay at the usual tables next to us. Rumours spread that it was to keep the Germans and the Brits apart but in reality this had already happened. The evening showed how the cultures from Europe celebrate differently. The Brits wanted to get their food down their necks as quickly as possible and then get smashed, The French wanted to have at least an hour between courses sipping wine and chatting and the rest seemed hell bent on a quiet evening.
Between courses BC and me slipped out to the bar to obtain drinks with the other Brits complaining that a five course meal should finish well before midnight and not take five hours to complete. Neither of us waited for the last two courses as boredom was setting in after three hours and drinking red wine and chewing jellied octopus is not my idea of a celebration of any sort. It was with this in mind that on the stroke of midnight I stripped down to my shorts and dived in the empty pool. A couple of hours later and with several large gins inside me I was standing on the balcony of our apartment and stripped my wet things off and peered out across the water. BC had mentioned that a few of the items she had left to dry on the balcony rail had blown off and as we were on the ground floor I jumped over the rail in pursuit of said items. It was at this point that the motion sensing security lights came on and a couple of passing security guards started to cheer me. All I could do was to smile and take a bow. It was a memorable new years eve.
It does not matter where in the world you go there will always be some Brits who are that little bit louder, more boisterous and ruder than is absolutely necessary. Sadly I met a few on this trip. One is Richard the retard who wanted to fight with everyone and was always complaining. In the end the management did not even bother to take up any of his complaints, mainly against other holiday makers. More than a few people were glad to see him go. The other was a slightly more serious and disturbing matter. One of the attendants at the hotel was dismissed for grabbing a young boy around the throat. So far so good you might think but it transpired that the young boy in question had been tormenting the life out of the pool guard for some hours by throwing things at him and splashing him with water and finally throwing a plate of food in his face. The attendant was immediately suspended and then sacked with a few hours.
The parents wanted a prosecution and pursued matters taking things to the local police station whereupon the attendant was arrested and the father asked if he wanted a prosecution. When he answered yes he was invited by the local police chief to enter the cell with a rubber truncheon and was told not to use his knuckles and not hit him above the neckline as it would leave marks, and was informed no one would be passing by for five minutes. When the father was let out of the cell he was asked again if he wanted to prosecute and he said yes. The attendant was bundled into a police van and taken away to the local prison to await trial.
How do I know all of this? Well the father was bragging and boasting over a good many drinks around the pool to anyone and everyone who would listen that he had knocked the living daylights out of this guy and left him in a mess and was going for a full prosecution. The fact that he was leaving the next day and would not be able to attend and give any evidence was not his concern. He seemed quite pleased with himself over it.
My own take on it is this, if he had of spent less time getting hammered by the pool and kept an eye on his little darling (who was not quite the darling he made out) then an attendant with a wife and two kids would not have been made jobless with no means of supporting his family and would not be requiring hospital treatment and would not be facing jail. Of course the indignant father now had proof that a prosecution was taking place and would be suing the holiday company for compensation. A nice little earner for him. According to witnesses the little darling was smashing glasses and causing mayhem the very next day causing him to be told off by more than one person but not his parents.
I was not proud to be British that day.
Day two of our sojourn and after a sound sleep in a comfortable bed we were awakened at 5-30 by the early morning call for breakfast. I mean who the hell goes away on holiday to be roused from a fitful slumber at 5-30am apart from a bunch of sadists? After a continental breakfast with lots of hard boiled eggs, croissants and copious quantities of coffee to wake us up we boarded the bus for a 6-30am departure. Just after sunrise we crossed the salt plains of what was once a salt water lake. Some of the enterprising Bedouins and Tuaregs have created small stalls selling everything from pictures of the desert to desert roses and refreshments. I had to admire their ingenuity to entice people in. One of them had a large piece of plywood atop his stall with the legend “cheaper than a tip” emblazoned across it. Many of them have created sculptures out of the salt and decorated them with flags and artefacts just to get tourists to stop. They are truly fascinating and I had to salute the ingenuity of people who could make travellers stop in the middle of nowhere.
Our next stop was at an oasis. As Eddy the tour guide informed us most people think of an Oasis as a watering hole with three palm trees and a couple of camels. This was a thriving town and had built up because of the fact that there was water readily available. BC and me climbed aboard a horse and cart and were taken for a ride along the outskirts of the oasis to see the touristy bits. When we arrived back and dismounted the Tunisian minister for Tourism has arrived and there was a traditional band playing in his honour. Trust me the tune will not cause Itunes to crash with heavy demand for this number. Apart from drums the main instrument seemed to be a bagpipe made from a camel’s bladder.
Once back aboard the bus we continued across yet more miles of sand and through small towns. On the road and going through these small towns many things stick out, such as the butchers that had sheep hanging from the stalls, freshly slaughtered and the blood dripping from their throats across the pavement and into the road. What seemed particularly sadistic were the pens of sheep waiting in turn to be slaughtered while peering at the carcasses of the freshly killed. One butcher had a camels head hanging from a hook on his stall. It was sheer delight for some one like me who likes to spit roast stuff but not for the more squeamish on board. The second thing you notice is the amount of people selling petrol on the roadside from plastic containers. Petrol in Tunisia is expensive and low quality. Tankers driving in from Libya and Algeria where good quality petrol is not a problem will readily “lose” a few gallons to the enterprising horde who sell it on to passing motorists, at a reduced and tax free rate. Less palatable are innumerable small fires and heaps of burning rubbish which tend to compensate for the fact that it is hard to get a bin wagon into the desert.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere amid a sandstorm that stung our eyes and awaited the 16’s. These are 4X4 vehicles which the Tunisians cunningly call 16’s. We were to be split up into groups and taken out into the desert in these off road vehicles and driven into some of the harsher terrain. Again words fail me to accurately describe how beautiful this landscape is and herds of camel wander freely in the sands. After a bumpy ride we stopped at an Oasis in the middle of nowhere or to be precise in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. This was used for the film set of the English Patient and it is truly stunning. It has a large waterfall and this flows into a river that heads off into the sands and feeds some of the watering holes. After photos and coffee it was back into the 16’s to return to the bus.
From here we drove to Matmata to see the Troglodytes. These are cave dwellers and their homes are carved out of the rocks and sand. They choose to live this lifestyle and while few have running water many have satellite dishes and there is often a four by four off road vehicle parked out of site. I had mixed emotions about this lifestyle. True it is their choice and some are really poor. But it was the bus load of tourists that traipsed through their homes for a handful of coins that got to me. I wondered if I could cope with a several busloads of people stopping outside of my house each day to walk through it. The old guy who posed for me looked as though he hardly knew what day it was and maybe he did not need to but I felt as though he and his family had been reduced to mere zoo exhibits.
The trip was memorable for many reasons but several images will be ingrained within me for life. One was of a Bedouin dressed in national tribesman outfit with sun burnt features and heavily lined face. He looked resplendent as he strode out of a café, his dagger glinting in the sun and I expected him to mount a nearby camel and stride off majestically into the sands. It was therefore a huge disappointment to see him climb into a four by four and drive off in a cloud of dust and petrol fumes!
I was so relieved when the tour ended, not because I wanted to go back but I had spent hours on a coach seat and had travelled 800 miles in just under 38 hours. I am glad I took the tour. I may never get to do it again and if I was I am sure I would hire an off road vehicle and spend a few days to do it instead of cramming it all in to a short time frame.
BC and me quickly decided that the easiest if not the best way to see some of Tunisia was to take one of the many organised tours. As arranged the bus arrived at the unearthly time of 6pm and we boarded for a two day jaunt into the Sahara, aptly described by the tour guide as the biggest beach in the world. Our first stop was at the coliseum, described by Eddy as the biggest coliseum in the world outside of Rome. There is a lot of restoration work going on in the building and consequently it is the best preserved and most complete roman coliseum in the world and I found it fascinating and could have spent much more time there than we were actually allowed. This produced out first problem. Trying to please everyone on a tour bus of 50 odd people with mixed interests is not going to be easy. Some people saw the ruins as merely a building site that was not finished while others were genuinely fascinated. This set the tone for the next two days as the entourage was split into the “we have spent too long looking at that rubbish” and the “I could have stayed there all day” camps.
The next stop after many hours of looking at thousands and thousands of Olive trees along a long and unchanging landscape of sand and tarmac was for coffee and a brief escape from the bus. In no time we were back onboard and heading out to see some of the landscape that featured in the Star wars film. The scenery is truly stunning and the photos do not do it any justice at all. I would have loved to have spent the night out there just to be able to look up into the sky and see the stars. Next stop was the set from where Young Anakin Skywalkers home was set in Matama. Again I could have stayed there all day as it has been turned into a hotel and a bar and you can book an overnight stay.
After more coffee, olive trees and sand we arrived at a well used tourist destination, the Camel rides. Here we dressed in Arab garb and traditional headdress. I settled on the headdress only as I did not fancy the Wee Willie Winky Nightshirt that was offered to me. The choice of transportation was between climbing aboard a camel or as we opted, a more sedate ride in a horse and cart. I have been on a camel before and my memories are of bad tempered beasts, who can blame them and a very uncomfortable experience hanging on for dear life. I did not want to repeat this and it seemed BC did not fancy the idea either. We set off with our guide and “Trigger” faithfully hauling us across the sand. Again the scenery is both stunning and stark at the same time. There are a lot of ruins out in the desert that have given way to the shifting sands and have consequently been swallowed up with rooftops and crumbling walls poking out of the sand. The idea was to watch the sun go down and enjoy the sunset but a sandstorm whipped up and while the view was magnificent the photographs did not turn out as well as I had hoped. All too soon it was time to turn around, head back and board the bus.
By now it was dark and every one on the bus was feeling tetchy and irritable, we had after all been travelling for some 13 hours before we pulled up into the hotel at the end of day one. It was tiring but enjoyable and I wished I had more time to explore some of the scenery that took in but as it was it was a memorable trip into the desert.
BC and myself arrived at Monastir airport at around 8pm on Xmas eve. After the usual trawl through immigration and customs it was onto the bus to take us to our hotel and we finally got there at around 11pm. It was Xmas day before we had the chance to look at the hotel and the facilities but we at least had a room on the ground floor over looking the beach and by 10-30am I was lying by the pool with a gin and tonic in my hand. The hotel and the facilities would have been fantastic for a family holiday in the summer time and there is enough to keep kids amused all day and plenty for them to eat and drink from 7-30 til midnight.
However BC and me are not a family and as it was winter three of the bars were closed and we decided to get out of the hotel and look around. The first thing I noticed was the groups of men all over the place. They do not seem to be doing anything other than standing and chatting and of course smoking which like Greece is the national pastime. The second thing is that there are no women to be seen. I do not know if the men keep them in little boxes in the house and only let them out on special occasions but I saw very few.
This may not sound like a big deal but as a couple walking past coffee bars and not seeing any women at all it is a little off putting and made me feel intimidated enough to not take BC into any of the cafes we passed. To do this you have to go into the main towns and get amongst the tourists. This in itself is fraught with problems of beggars and people persisting that they know you from your hotel and can show you around. What this means is they drag you into shops owned by relatives or friends for commission on any sales made.
Going for a drink is another problem and although no holiday should consist of mere drinking in the sun, it is at least a very large part of what I go away to do. Tunisia is a Muslim country and therefore dry. There are very few bars and when you can find one they are relatively expensive. Johnny Walker black label cost around 3 pound a shot here but over there it is 9 pounds a shot if you can find it. Walking around the large towns is fine but in the small villages you really should go in groups. It is not that it is unsafe but it can be really intimidating to have groups of children pester you for dinars. You have to remember that to them we are seen as really wealthy Europeans who have more money than they will ever earn in several lifetimes.
Of course this is all relative, it does not matter how much money you have if you have to shell out as much as you bring in. Their food is a lot cheaper and rates and water rates and such things do not exist, but they still see you as filthy rich and therefore able to give money away. I initially felt sorry for these kids but after a few days of being constantly pestered any feelings of sorrow vanished and I thought this is the government’s concern not mine and any benevolence towards them was replaced with anger. I can see beggars and ne’er do wells in my own country I do not have to travel over a thousand miles to see it.
It is over a week since I returned from my holiday and it seems like a lifetime away. The weather is cold and the skies are for the most at least still grey. However I do feel a lot better than at the same time last year. The winter break has done me the world of good and I am sure I will be going away at Christmas for the foreseeable future. As usual at this time of year I have splashed out on a load of goodies and my credit card is screaming. I have bought mainly travelling gear and some pieces of what I deem as essential kit for Rhonda.
Seeing as Rhonda has not been out for a few weeks I pulled the covers off her and fired her up. She started after a few stabs of the button and within a few minutes we were flying down the highways and byways without a care in the world. It was at this point I noticed a distinct odour emanating from the engine. It was a truly disgusting smell and one I recognised but could not a put a name to. It was akin to burning rubber and sulphur. Slightly alarmed I stopped to see if any thing obvious was amiss. Not being able to detect anything I carried on and returned home and recovered the bike.
My garden is not really big enough to put another shed into it and I do not have a garage. Rhonda is therefore covered up in a waterproof cover and wrapped in swaddling to keep her warm and relatively rust free. I have enough security chains on her to tie up a medium size battle ship and she is as secure as I can make her. As I was putting the covers on, I noticed a lot of holes in the fabric of the cover and on inspection decided they looked distinctly like cat claw puncture marks. I also notice some paw marks on the pillion seat and the truth dawned on me.
Being warm and waterproof, the local cats have been using Rhonda as a place to doss down in the cold and wet weather. As competition for places have obviously been limited they have been spraying my beloved motorbike to mark their territory in an attempt to keep other cats away. I have to assume the main culprit is Genghis and he has been spraying to let other cats know this is his pad.
Exactly what has been going through his tiny fur covered mind I do not know. I would like to think he has just been keeping guard on my property and making himself cosy in the process but as cats are not exactly renowned for their altruism I suspect this train of thought may have less than a grain of truth in it. I will probably have to rearrange the garden to accommodate a shed of some size to place my bike in. One thing is for sure I not going to tolerate for much longer the smell of burning rubber and cat piss.
Regular readers will have noticed a lack of posts for the last few weeks. This is because I have been away and only returned in the early hours of January the 9th. Where have I been? on holiday in Tunisia. Yes, I decided to get away from all of the hustle and bustle of the festivities, the endless turkey sandwiches and the copious amounts of dishwashing for two glorious weeks in the sunshine. How did it go you may ask? Well enough to give me sufficient material for 4 maybe 5 posts in the travel section of this blog with oodles of photos. Needless to say Christmas day was spent lounging around the hotel pool with several Gin and Tonics. New years Eve saw me diving into the pool on the stroke of midnight and running around the beach stark naked at 2am but that is another story!
What have I come back to? Well the first shock is the weather. The second is a mountain of junk mail and a cat that no longer recognises me and is so fickle he has turned his attentions to Roger Moor and his family. Indeed it is going to take a few days to remind Genghis that this is my house not his and that the bed belongs to me and not him. I feel better than I have done in a long time and the winter blues have for the moment at least melted away. The news papers tell a different story though and little seems to have changed since I left. The world is not a brighter place and seems hell bent on destruction. Israel, rightly or wrongly, appears to filling out the prophecies of Neville Shutes’ novel “On The Beach “. It can surely only be a matter of time before other nations decide to take sides and act accordingly. The UN seems impotent to send in troops and stop the slaughter and retaliation on both sides.
The economy is still in freefall and the Daily Mail displayed only yesterday the headline “Let’s print more money”. This would suggest that the government no longer has enough assets, liquid or fixed to cover its debts. It all seems a far cry from the Gold Standard many nations used as a basis for printing money between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. In short what this meant was that each nation had to have enough gold to cover the amount of money it had in circulation. To the man in the street this equates to having assets or savings to at least the value of what you owe. When the day comes that you owe more than you are worth, have no means of obtaining any more and your creditors ask for their money back then you become bankrupt. Governments however can simply print more money but you only have to look at Zimbabwe to see what happens when you do. To compare it would be like you or me attempting to pay our Visa card bills with bottle tops. Foreign countries will simply stop accepting payments in sterling because the notes are worthless. It is a simply ludicrous situation for our government to be in.
It merely remains for me to hope that things get better in the coming 12 months and to wish everyone a very happy new year 2009.