off: The Tunisian Revolution. Yes,
we were here for the start of if, and Yes we are still here.
You all know about what happened, so we’ll just tell you about how we
were scheduled to leave Tunisia on January 14 to fly to England and return 5
days later. This quick trip would
reset our tourist visas for another 120 days.
But as it worked out, the Tunis airport was closed the day before our
departure. The local police
informed us that it would re-open at 05:00, so we set off with a driver.
Riding through Tunis on the way to the airport we saw hundreds of riot
police gathered in a side street waiting to be called upon.
Our flight left nearly on time, but by the time we had landed in London
the Tunis airport had again been closed. So
we just made it out. That’s when
the really large and violent demonstrations began.
We delayed our return for 5 days more, waiting in England with our
generous hosts to see what would develop. After
10 days away we returned to the marina and Seraphim.
All was quiet in the marina, and Monastir was beginning to return to
normal. There were signs of destruction all around. Buildings had been torched
and looted. Statues had been destroyed. The amusement park, owned by President
Ben Ali’s nephew, was burned. But most of the city was OK.
to the revolution, the president’s face was everywhere.
(click to see full-size)
posters have disappeared from view, replaced by graffiti like this:
see the optimism of the people everywhere.
They are proud of what they have accomplished with their revolution and
of what they have started across the Arab world. They speak to us about the future and their children’s
future. It is an exciting time to
be here, and we are glad we have had the opportunity to experience it
first-hand. There’s something
very powerful in the perseverance of these people that we have come to love.
we returned there have been on-going demonstrations but we have not once felt
threatened. We feel so secure
that we decided to tour further afield than we had already, and that brings us
to our next, and more interesting adventure: The Sahara
southern 1/3 of Tunisia is desert. So
we went to see what it is like. The
answer: Fascinating! And huge!
And desolate (in many parts, particularly where we got lost on a dirt
road for eight km with no way out). We started in the west in Tozeur, within
sight of Algeria and worked our way east almost to the coast in Matmata.
didn’t know what to expect, and we were rewarded with surprises at every turn.
We were so excited to see our first “wild” camel, but after a while
they became beasts to avoid on the road. They
are certainly rather graceful looking characters. By the way, we learned there
is not a single “wild” camel in Tunisia. Each one is spoken for and tagged.
They are set free for the winter to feed on their own, but that’s different
in the desert are used for transportation, maybe even the whole family and all
their belongings. This little
“caravan” appeared to be exactly that. Families often set up house in one
area and move with the seasons.
oases surprised us, too. Some, like
Tozeur and Douz, are huge with 200,000-500,000 date palms in them.
The palm groves are interesting to wander through; people are living and
got lost in the oasis one afternoon, but two women with a donkey cart showed us
the way out.
more surprising were the small oases we discovered hiding in deep gorges in the
hills. The availability of a water
supply means that each of these springs supported a small village.
In recent years the villagers have sometimes moved from the ancient stone
dwellings on the hills into more modern housing on the plains below, leaving the
old village deserted and eerie. We
came across these little villages quickly; from a distance we could not see the
oasis, then suddenly there it was.
little village has been deserted in favor of modern housing on the plain below.
the most part, we were alone. The
revolution has kept most tourists away so we had the sights to ourselves.
What was not affected by the lack of tourists was the market.
Market day was really interesting as people came to the oasis (this one
is in Douz) from miles around to buy and sell.
We had a ball watching the interactions as buyers, sellers, friends and
neighbors got together.
had been warned about sandstorms, and while we did not experience a full-bore
sandstorm, we were able to witness a bit of blowing sand that gave us an idea of
what it could be like in a big storm. The
fuzziness in the photos is not just haze; it is blowing sand and dirt.
Our eyes and mouths were full of it!
Now we know why they all wear those long scarves wrapped around their
saw how people lived. These people
are Berbers, of various tribes. They
have lived in this area for thousands of years.
It was not unusual for us to see a lone man or woman walking across the
bare landscape, coming from “nowhere we could see” and going “no place in
sight.” We also saw many
villages, some deserted and some still inhabited.
The living is simple and basic. In
many places the people actually live underground!
They dig a pit 15-20 feet deep, then hollow out the sides into rooms and
stalls for their livestock. The
resulting “house” is cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Seems like a very logical way to live in the desert.
We are told the younger generation has avoided this type of dwelling,
preferring more modern housing. But we saw young and old inhabitants living this
way. You can see that despite the fact that the exteriors are
mostly the same, they still have found a way to create a personal touch!
landscape changed constantly. Sometimes
it was so flat you saw not a hump or hill all the way to the horizon.
Other times it was mountainous. Oases
sprung up here and there, and sometimes not at all.
The vegetation went from sparse to none, and this was during the rainy
people were dressed for winter, with wool burnooses on the men and long skirts
and shawls on the women. With all
the sand and dirt and wind, these heavy garments are replaced with lightweight
versions in summer. Do the men’s
burnooses look familiar? Reminded
us of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
(The Star Wars movies were actually shot here!)
enjoyed the costumes of both men and women.
At first we thought them strange, but the longer we were in the desert
area, the more practical they became. Cold,
wind and sand have to be kept out as best one can.
we already toppled the carpet budget (and we don’t own a house) we weren’t
lured into the tiny workshops here. Sharon did have to just look. Just once.
Instead of carpets, she was drawn to the traditional wedding shawls. They worked
her hard but we left empty handed. We both agree, however, their salesmanship is
covered 1200 km. But we haven’t told you about the gas
are very few cars in the depths of the desert. The normal mode of transportation
is your God-given legs, donkey or camel. And the young seem to move around on
motor bike. They fill up a dinar at a time!
closest friend told us one day before we left home we’d return different
people. This experience alone has made us different people. In all, it was a
fabulous trip. A true highlight of
our adventure to date. We were able
to observe these people as they went about their daily lives in this harsh
environment. While we wonder what
the movie stars are wearing on Oscar Night, they work hard just to survive.
It was a humbling experience and one we shall not soon forget.
on the schedule is spring haul-out and bottom painting.
Then we’ll set off for Europe when the weather turns warmer in April.