The Irresponsible Traveller

travel and tourism worldwide

Posts Tagged ‘Tunisia

Return to Tunisia… again

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Last month I flew to Tunis and spent a week exploring Roman, pre-Roman and pre-historic sites across Tunisia.

I’ve been ‘back to Tunisia’ before, after the Jasmine Revolution, the first and most effective popular revolt of the Arab Spring.  This time it was the murder in 2015 of 30 British tourists and eight others on the beach in Sousse that defined ‘back.’

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Amphitheatre of El Djem

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice has been revised.  Coastal regions and much of the country’s north are now ‘green.’  Further south, about 50% of Tunisia falls into ‘all but essential travel’ in FCO terms, while mountainous areas to the west near Algeria and southern areas abutting Libya remain ‘red’ zones.  Despite this relaxation, while legal action continues in UK courts, tour operators have been understandably slow to act.

Tunisia’s tourism eggs were mostly collected in one fragile basket i.e. beach holidays.  An emphasis on all-inclusives was another characteristic.  When all is said and done cheap holidays featuring sea, sand and all-you-can-eat buffets are not a unique selling point.  The world is full of sand.

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Basement flat, Bulla Regia

Tunisia is not mineral rich.  Educational standards are good but unemployment is high.  While agriculture, high-tech manufacturing and textile production provide some economic foundation, the effect of the tourism downturn has been profound.

Tunisia’s remarkable sites of antiquity may draw some visitors back.  Carthage is best known, but oversold and underwhelming – a jumble of middling ruins.  It’s the context of the Punic Wars that’s engaging.  Far more impressive ancient headliners include El Djem’s magnificent 35,000-seater amphitheatre – second only to Rome’s Colosseum, the atypical Romanised hilltop town of Thugga, the still-being-excavated city of Bulla Regia, the Genoese fort at Tabarka and the Great Mosque of Kairouan.  Elsewhere, the mosaics at Sousse’s Archaeological Museum and Tunis’s superlative Bardo Museum are unmissable, almost worthy of a trip to the country in their own right.

Tunisia’s ancient world will never bring the numbers required by mass tourism – an indictment of the industry perhaps?  The coast’s cavernous resorts are currently consumed by a race to the bottom, pitching discounted all-inclusive packages to the Russian market for ever reducing returns.

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Oceanus, Archaeological Museum of Sousse

Tunisia has a genuine wealth of appeal;  striking landscapes – over and above its coastlines, a rich ancient and contemporary history, engaging Arab and French culture, excellent cuisine and fine wines, mountain hiking, (FCO permitting) desert trekking, and a diverse natural history.

Some holiday flights look set to operate from May 2018.  What’s the plan?  More of the same?  Tunisia’s many unique attributes are unlikely to be embraced by large tour operators.  They’re simply too irregular for businesses built on sand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Nick Redmayne

October 27, 2017 at 10:24 am

Tunisia – Desert Dreams

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Caravan Club of Tunisia

Caravanning

‘After the revolution we thought all the young people will have jobs.  But it’s just the same.’ exhaled Walid.  We walked on through the dunes, Walid  barefoot, wearily leading the camels, our happy band of trekkers following.  100km across a sandy finger of the Sahara’s Grand Erg Oriental lay our destination, the fort and oasis of Ksar Ghilaine – a popular tourist route for dilettante desert explorers.

Campfire Philosophy

What has this Democracy done for us?

Tunisia’s 2011 ‘Jasmine Revolution’, the first popular uprising of the ‘Arab Spring’, saw a coalition led by the previously banned Ennahda (Renaissance Party) take power.  However, for many educated young Tunisians the new Islamic government has yet to deliver.  ‘What is happening in Tunis now, it’s just the Islamic who find jobs, mostly in the government,’ continued Walid.  As in other Arab countries the secular youth, those best educated, most connected and a primary catalyst for change appear to feel sidelined.  ‘My mother, my father, they pray.  Not me.  I do believe, but it’s in the background,’ Walid sucked in air through his teeth, looking at me questioningly. ‘OK, so not fight, not kill but people should be able to do what they want, that’s freedom,’ he concluded.

Tunisia’s economy is not all dates, pottery and tourism.  Petroleum, hi-tech computer components, parts for Airbus aircraft and vehicle manufacturing, all contribute to a varied GDP.  However, in a global downturn jobs are hard to find.  ‘I graduated in IT four years ago,’ says Walid in disbelief.  ‘Mostly I’m worried that if I keep doing this,’ tossing a look over his shoulder at the camels, ‘I’ll forget my job.  Things will have moved on.’

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Dune Roaming

A common escape path favoured by disillusioned young people the world over is to marry a foreigner.  However, for Walid this is a step too far.  ‘You know there are more than one million Tunisians in France.  It’s difficult to go legally.  Maybe marry a French woman, but I have 25-years and only the older ones are interested…  I have a friend who has done this.  When he visits with his wife I say to him in Arabic, “Why are you with this woman?” He says he loves her.  Come on…  It’s not for me.  Maybe later.  Who knows?’

Almost exactly 70 years ago Winston Churchill described the first Allied victory in North Africa as ‘not the end… not even the beginning of the end but… perhaps the end of the beginning.’  Maybe in time history will look upon Tunisia’s revolution and those others in the Arab world in a similar light.

This week’s eye-catching links, in no particular order:-

  • If you’re intrigued by a desert experience, Exodus’s Sahara Desert Trek is to be recommended.  You’ll need to be reasonably fit, not too attached to such tissued fripperies as soft beds and personal hygiene, and not allergic to sand or camels.  A penchant for couscous, though not essential, is an advantage.  Here’s the link – http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tmu/overview
  • Railsavers (http://www.railsavers.com) is offering motorail services from Den Bosch, close to the Dutch/Belgium border, to Koper, Slovenia (not far from Trieste, in Italy) next summer.  If you can be flexible on dates there are some real bargains on this new route, as well as on existing services to Alessandria and Livorno in Italy.
  • I left Haiti 6th December 2009 having researched a magazine and newspaper travel commission.  The 12th January earthquake tossed those stories onto a spike, whilst in Haiti any aspirations for a tourism renaissance were lost amongst the dust and rubble.  Three years on Paul Clammer’s new guidebook provides an up-to-date vision of a Haiti, a destination that whilst challenging, is again one of the Caribbean’s most rewarding for adventurous travellers.  Here are some extracts from Haiti http://www.bradtguides.com/extracts-haiti.html

Written by Nick Redmayne

December 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm

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