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Ruins of Carthage

The second day in Tunisia started at 0630 – by which time it was already 30 degrees and about 95% humidity! The long-ingrained Australian habit of carrying water with you wherever you go definitely served me well 🙂

Getting out early meant that the souk wasn’t yet open – and it was relaxing to walk through the cobbled alleyways without the hassle of people trying to sell me trinkets. To be fair though, a lot of the economy around Hammamet and Tunisia is built on tourism – and the sellers rely on the income of tourists to eke out a livelihood.

The Yasmine Hammamet complex is so named for the jasmine plants that are around the resort – although there aren’t that many. The resort staff have continued the theme – and even the soap in the room smells of jasmine.

There’s a definite social hierarchy in the Residence too. At the top are the reception and management staff, dressed immaculately in business suits. Next are the staff who help take bags to the room and at the bottom are the blue and white-clad domestic staff – all women – who clean rooms and do laundry. Their uniform – floor-length long sleeve white tunic with blue edging – is reminiscent of a nun’s habit. I haven’t quite figured out yet where the street vendors sit in the hierarchy – I think they’re around the same level as the gents who help take bags to the rooms. The separation of genders and gender roles is quite marked. Disappointing, but unsurpringly, there seems to be a correlation between the social hierarchy and ethnicity. Many of the domestic ladies are African, and there are also many Indian ladies. The staff who help take bags to rooms are invariably African, while the management and reception staff are predominantly Arab or French-Arab.

The staff here are very friendly – they’re probably instructed to be so – but I’ve had the opportunity to chat to a few in my broken French. When asked where I come from, there’s definite surprise at the response of ‘je suis Australien‘ – Aussies are rarities en Tunisie. Often I’m mistaken for Austrian instead! One of the gents – Hesham – turned out to be rather friendly and wanted to walk everywhere arm in arm. He seemed to take it rather well when I explained my boyfriend wouldn’t approve 🙂 Next time it might be a good idea to wear a wedding ring (as I did when travelling in Indonesia) – it just stops a lot of questions – “Madame et mademoiselle“?

My first taste of breakfast at Yasmine Hammamet was delicious. The area around Tunisia grows a lot of grapes and stone fruit, and breakfast consisted of la grillade with tomatoes, scrambled eggs (yum) and sausage and ham (avoided), generally catering to English and German tastes. There were also a lot of breakfast pastries and toast, served with huge bowlfuls of fig jam, apricot jam and quince jam – delicious! Oh, and the coffee here is hot, brewed, and strong. Delice!

The land around Hammamet is sandy and rocky; the city is flanked by tall mountains with evergreen trees – mostly conifers and cypress. The land seems too barren to yield such beauties. Travelling by road, you see piles of rubble in many places, where it seems buildings have been knocked down and not yet rebuilt. Many buildings seem to be either dishevilled or in a state of disrepair; like the carpenters have downed tools and are waiting to come back from lunch. Again, the sense of Tunisia being a country trapped between the past and the future is echoed. On one building you will see massive solar panels and satellite dishes; the next will have washing strung across an open roof house.

The houses are interesting; square, generally clay or mud brick that is rendered in various shades of white, grey or brown, and on the more expensive ones there will be blue- or green-painted iron work, harking back to Tunisia’s French colonial history. There does not seem to be a sense of pride about many of them though; weedy plants line streets, punctuated with litter and piles of rubble and broken tiles. The French influence is seen too in the cars on the road; many are Peugeot or Citroen.

The highlight of today was definitely the ruins in Carthage. This ancient civilisation was quite advanced; the remains of a fully operational aquaduct system can still be seem amongst the tile and marble in the ruins. Evidence of master stonemasonry can be seen in the intricate carvings and marble columns; in one way it makes you wonder whether the automation of today that is supposed to give us so much free time is worth it. Here, it would have taken months to carve a single stone plinth, but it’s lasted for millenia. Palms and date trees would have flanked hand-cut stone arches, while women did washing and cooking in ceramic pots that still exist to this day.

Next on the sightseeing tour was Sidi Bou Said, where the main attraction are the houses painted white with blue trim; this was lovely, but very touristy.