Before I met Marion I wasn’t much of a traveller. I’d been abroad before but only to Europe: working in Bremerhaven, following New Model Army to Bree in Belgium, and a couple of lost weekends in Amsterdam; not very much at all. Marion though was a proper traveller, she had gone around the world a couple of times and seen many exotic places – unlike myself whose idea of exotic was stumbling around off my face in the red light district wondering why the women in the windows kept waving at me!
When we met and moved in together, she decided that she would take me on my first proper holiday (great, I’ll book the caravan). To prevent me getting out of my depth first time out she took me away for a week in Tunisia, to Port El Kantaoui. This was before the amazing time I had in Goa that I have related in a few previous posts.
I wanted to relate a story from when we were there. Don’t expect alot of photos though, they were not taken on a digital camera and so are tucked away in an album somewhere around the house, I’m not even sure if we kept the negatives, sorry folks.
We took an excursion on a coach from our hotel, checking out the local sights. We went to a souk in the morning and I was immediately out of my depth. Let me explain, I wasn’t keen on crowds unless it was at a footie match, at least then everyone is there for the same reason and everyone’s facing the same way (I’m not making much sense here.) I also didn’t like strangers shouting at me in the street; I didn’t do that to others, why should it happen to me? I didn’t like to be touched by people I didn’t know – and I especially, ESPECIALLY didn’t like strangers manhandling my girlfriend!
At that time all these sights and sounds were alien to me and it was getting a bit much. Marion saw my distress, possibly alerted to it by my telling a marketeer to take his hands off her or lose them, and suggested we make our way back to the coach.
We found a quieter shop at lunchtime and went in to buy a few baubles to take home. The shopkeeper took an instant shine to Marion; maybe it was because she was blonde, but to be honest she has always turned heads, unlike me who turns nothing but stomachs. He starts telling me what a beautiful lady she is and would I be interested in selling her to him, it was probably the same spiel he used on all his “Breeeteesh” customers. ”How much?” I asked, just out of interest you understand.
“200 camels.” Came the offer.
“Behave bruv, she’s worth at least 500.” Well they do like to haggle.
“400 and not a camel more.” He said firmly, wanting to close the deal.
Marion was shocked, “What are you doing?” She shrieked.
“Shut up woman, after he spends a week with you I’ll be able to get you back for a donkey!”
The doghouse can be a very cold, dark and lonely place.
As we were driven towards our next destination I asked the tour guide why so many of the houses were unfinished. He told us that there was a roof tax that didn’t apply if there was no roof so they all pretended to be building a second storey to avoid paying it. Genius really if you think about it.
We came to our destination, El Djem, it was truly a place worth seeing. It was like a smaller version of the colisseum, built by the Romans right there in the desert. It was in better repair than its big brother in Rome and was still in use for concerts and such like. In fact it’s the third largest Roman ampitheatre in the world and they told had been used for scenes in the film Gladiator.
Standing there on the sand, before the stone terraces and towering arches, where so much blood had been spilt for the entertainment of the masses was a weird feeling, both disturbing yet exciting at the same time. I could imagine standing there with the braying crowd calling my name, the blood of another gladiator sprayed across me and spilling out into the earth. Sorry folks, it’s just a boy thing!
It was hot, I don’t mean like the heat of high summer here where it can get a bit uncomfortable, I’m talking the temperature hitting 40 degrees – damn you Mr Celsius! It was so hot the Tunisian tour guide wouldn’t venture out of the shade. Even my beloved floppy England cricket hat couldn’t cope with the weight of the sunshine. It was so hot you could have wrung the sweat out of the air.
I had never been that hot and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. We decided it might be prudent to retreat to the comfort of our air-conditioned coach. On the way we were stopped by a man selling postcards. We asked him how much and he gave us a cheap price so I handed over my money. In return he gave me a tattered old street map of the area. “What’s this? I paid for the postcards.”
“No no, the postcards are extra.”
“Well I don’t want this, just give me the money back.”
“No you give me more money.”
I felt hot and bothered and I wasn’t going to let it go as I felt my hackles rise. “I don’t want this, give me my money back and I’ll be on my way.” The heat and his arrogant expression pushing my temperature up. He lifted his chin and sneered at me, I snapped. I ripped off my hat and sunglasses: “GIVE ME MY F****** MONEY!!!” Marion sprung in front of me and pushed the man backwards then spun and grabbed my arm. “Let’s go!” She insisted, pulling me away.
We got back to the coach, my breathing was slowing. She said that the veins in my head and the tendons in my neck had stood out and I had literally turned purple. She told me that the locals would have mobbed me if she hadn’t pulled me away, I shrugged, “Sorry hon, it was the principle of the thing.” She explained that the principle could have cost me my life for the equivalent of two pence. Well when she puts it like that…
On the coach on the way back to our hotel the tour guide proudly announced that we were passing the presidential palace, I made him scowl when I asked him if they had finished it yet.