In 1982 we paid our first visit to the African continent. We flew to Monastir and stayed in port El Kantaoui, a cluster of modern hotels near Sousse. From the hotel we booked several excursions, including a desert-safarie by landrovers. We got our share of sun, sand and culture !
The photo is taken in Dougga ("Thugga" in ancient times), a very impressive Roman city.

Sousse has an interesting history. It already existed in Punic times, 9th century B.C.
Hannibal prepared his battle against Scipio here ! In Roman times Sousse was called "Hadrumetum" and it had its fair share of battles, destruction and rebuilding thru the ages.
The Mosque pictured here is located on the border of the old and the new city of Sousse and was built around year 850. In 1964 it was restored extensively.

More of Sousse... In the upper left corner the Kasba can be seen, built in the 9th century and used these days as a museum.

The Soukh. The Arabs were probably the first with "shopping malls"...
The atmosphere is distinctly different, with people shopping, browsing and a lot of haggling going on. The fact that it's warm and unairconditioned only adds to that atmosphere.


Some pictures taken in the streets; one has to be careful here, most people don't like to have their photo taken.

It's a man's world... Well, women meet as well and share news and gossip, but you don't see mixed groups here.

No, we did not stay here...!
An hotel like this is probably for the more adventurous !

All along the coast of the Maghreb (North Africa) there are watchtowers such as this one, which can light a fire to warn about enemies approaching the coast. There are thousands of these watchtowers !
A similar system was used on the Great Wall in China.
Note the kid in the tree !

Not the most beautiful animal of this world ... The camel is known to spit and I was glad it couldn't, but still kept my distance ! I had heard about the reputation that camels are often surly or sullen, quickly irritated.

There are so many beautiful Roman remains here in this country ! Most can be visited within a day from from Tunis and they are the most unspoiled of all ancient sites around the Mediterranean.
During the times of Christ, Tunesia was to Rome what India once was to Britain... It was the most densely populated and coveted of the overseas possessions. Roman rule officially began in 146 B.C. when Carthage was razed.
This amphitheater was located in El Jem and seems a copy of the Colosseum in Rome. It could accommodate 30.000 people !

Quite a different civilisation ! These are the "Ghorfa's" (grottos) of Metameur. It is just one step beyond a natural cave and are kept as a storage room by semi-nomadic people. They all face an open area where the animals are kept. The other side, facing the countryside, is closed and the complex functions as a fort.

Without camels, life wouldn't have been the same in the desert, they are essential for providing transportation, food, fuel (dried dung make a good campfire), clothing, shelter and even entertainment (they race on them, they can gallop at a pace of 10 mph !).
Here is a herd of the dromedary variant of the camel.
The hump does not contain water, but contains fat and it is the energy reserve for this animal. If they get the right food, they can go without water for months !
Camels have a different body thermostat and sweat much less than other animals or humans.
Each day a camel can produce 1.5 gallons of milk and for those on a caravan it can be the main source of nutrition for the humans. Female camels are also kept in herds and milked and this is probably such a herd that we encountered (though I don't recall seeing anyone minding the herd).

Yours truly, not quite his comfortable self...
The camel is the king of pack animals, reaching 10 to 12 feet tall, weighing up to 1,700 pounds and carrying loads of up to 1,000 pounds, although a typical load would be a third of that.
Camels carried their goods and passengers on the trade routes from Marocco, thru the Mahgreb and the Middle East, over the Silk Road, all the way to China.
A camel's normal speed is about 3 miles per hour, or about 25 miles a day, which is not bad, considering walking on sand. The camel's foot is split into 2 toes that splay and widen, thus preventing sinking in the sand. They can travel for 16 hours but then they will stop and not be moved.
Fortunately for me, there was not to be any running...!

We drove in a "convoy" of 2 landrovers and they performed well. The drivers were very kind, but our guide was a macho guy, wearing his elegant Stetson hat and he had a hard time accepting that no females in the group volunteered for sleeping with him...
Our route took us over some bad roads, lots of sand, sometimes the track was washed away and sometimes the washboard rattled our teeth; we drove high passes and dry lake beds: it was great !

Not everybody drives a fourwheeldrive and a quick hand from us, after I took this shot, helped them along the way. It does rain in the desert sometimes and then it really gets hard to get home in these cars.

Like I said, it does rain... People enjoyed it (as long as you're not stuck in the mud with a car), kids played in puddles of water and people were exuberant.
The trouble is, of course, that the infrastructure cannot handle all that water at once and roads get flooded. But soon enough, it's all gone again.

Thuburbo Majus.... another impressive site ! This city was founded by Emperor Augustus (year 168).
The area was very dry and desolate (it's in the middle of nowhere !), but in Roman days it was a thriving city; it exported corn and (olive)oil.
It was originally a Punic town, but was later founded as a Roman veteran colony. Emperor Hadrian visited here personally (2nd century) and declared it a municipality, which made the town really prosper. It was an important town because of itís strategic location and trade.
During our visit in 1981 there was nothing here, except the ruins; I don't think there was much restoration going on: beautiful mosaics were covered with sand and rocks. In later years a ticket office and a modest cafe were added.
But there is plenty to see here and with some imagination you can picture how this city bustled with life some 2000 (!) years ago.

The desert, it's not just sand and sanddunes ! This picture was taken near the Algerian border and in the distance (on the right) the oasis of Tamerza can be seen.
The mountains here are a part of the Atlas mountainrange, which starts in Marocco. The Germans put up a hard fight here in the mountainpasses, during W.W.2. We could still see blackened rocks, where convoys had been bombarded by the Allied forces.

Getting closer to Tamerza; we were told there was a swimmingpool and we liked the idea of taking a plunge and wash the sand from our hair. Well, there was a swimmingpool, but it was empty ! It may have been too decadent, to consider a swim in the desert, but I suspect the guide knew it all along and played a devious joke on us (we did not get along at all).

The old city of Tamerza. Recent rains had washed out roads and waterreservoirs.

We were glad to leave Tamerza behind us. The guide had refused to sit with us and seemed to make fun of us in the local lingo to people eyeing us (the women in particular). This was probably because his macho image (big white stetson hat, flashy raybans and attitude to match) had been damaged, not arriving in "town" with a fair lady beside him...
There was a brawl late that night and people slept in the open air, some in the empty swimmingpool. Our accommodations were primitive, to say the least. We had to use an "outhouse" on the premises, the women in our group preferred to go there with a male escort from the group. It was an uncomfortable stay.

Eckhard Marz wrote me this: "I found the impressions from your trip to Tunisia, when I was checking for information on the heavy rainfalls which destructed the old village of Tamerza close to the Algerian border. You might have heard it, they built a hotel just opposite of the ruins (with a functioning swimming pool, the one of the camp down in the valley is still empty !), reconstructed the walls a little bit and now you can enjoy at dawn a glass of wine on the terrace, looking at the wonderful lit ruins... I enclose a picture with about the same angle of view."

A visit to a Berber family was heart-warming, all smiles. I know that it is a staged event, as such that these people probably don't travel around anymore but remain on the same location for the tourists. But I felt good knowing that money from tourism reached at least these people.
Berbers are a semi-nomadic people who once were a majority in North-Africa; but the influx of Arab people changed that. Even people who have Berber grandparents now call themselves "Arabic", thus helping the Berber culture into obscurity.
There is more here on the Berber people.

Dougga ("Thugga"). This city was founded by the Berber people and is surrounded by farmland (in a dry sort of way...). It's location brought it prosperity through the ages and we see these proud Roman remains survive past centuries. It is in stark contrast with the way things are in Tunesia these days: empires come and go.

Dougga lies amidst a beautiful countryside.

Streetlife in the town of Kairouan