Sunday, 2 August 2009

Tunisia … Our Last Resort!

With just a couple of weeks to spare, before heading to Paris, Jules and I were keen to do some sun chasing. The UK was having yet another disappointing summer, so we began to look further a field. A place that was being heavily promoted and was certainly in our price range was Tunisia. We had absolutely no idea about this destination other than the fact that many were recommending this North African country as a great place to enjoy the warm Mediterranean coastline. As we boarded the plane it was clear that many others had already heard the whispers and were also keen to stretch their holiday dollar even further by paying Tunisia a visit. When we left the gray skies of Manchester, the holiday excitement of the many sun-starved northerners on the plane was clearly beginning to build. Of course our touch down at Monestir was met by the obligatory round of applause (not sure why they do that) and we were quickly whisked onto our holiday package tour bus that would take us to our resort. To be honest, our initial impressions of Tunisia was somewhat of a shock. As we left the airport we encountered a dry and dusty urban landscape of buildings that looked either half demolished or half constructed (it was often hard to tell). This was the first time we wondered whether we had done the right thing by coming here. The streets revealed a strange combination of the old and the new. Horse and carts traveled the roads with the sleek four wheeled drive vehicles. Traditionally dressed locals mixed with those in the latest European fashions. We passed advertising billboards standing on empty patches of desert sand showing futuristic artist impressions of proposed high-rise buildings. Was this the promise of what was to come or just wishful thinking? All this confusion was certainly in stark contrast to what we saw when passing through the gates to our resort at Port El Kantaoui, with its lush green manicured gardens and grand entrance to our white multi storey hotel. There was certainly no ambiguity here; this was a sanctuary for fun and relaxation in an environment that was more than likely well out of reach to most Tunisians. For most of the folk in our transit bus, this is where they would stay for the remainder of their holiday time, without venturing outside the gates. They would spend their days soaking up the sun and enjoying the warm waters, interrupted only by visits to the ‘all you can eat’ food buffet at meal time. Down by the beach they would be enticed to shell out a few denars to engage in a host of water activities ranging from paragliding, catamarans sailing, jet skiing, paddle boating, through to being towed along by speed boats on what looked unmistakably like a giant rubber banana. If they felt inclined they also had the option of heading further out to sea on one of the many cruising boats. We spotted one in particular that was decked out like a cliché styled pirate ship, but judging by the music blaring out it was clearly for the younger crowd. Being the height of summer, other resort guests would race out well before breakfast to lay claim to a place near the swimming pool by placing their towel on one of the many hundreds of sun beds that would eventually become fully occupied as the day became hotter. Once in position and nicely roasting, they would be regularly hydrated by one of the many waiters keen to keep the drinks flowing. As this was our first time taste of the Mediterranean holiday scene, Jules and I had much to learn about this type of holiday. While it was certainly nice to feel the warm sun on our backs, it all made us feel strangely uncomfortable. It may have been the confinement or the self indulgence, but it was just not our style, although it had taken a visit to such a resort for us to truly realize it. Fortunately, the resort was prepared for recalcitrants such as us and with a few tour options available, we soon began to plan an adventure beyond the guarded walls to see what the real Tunisia had to offer.

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