Going to 'Nisia'

Trip Start Aug 29, 2005
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Trip End Aug 01, 2006


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Monday, January 30, 2006

2 February 2006 Going to Nisia
Who would have thought - a mid winter escape from the south of France. Here in Lamalou Les Bains (the neighbouring town), pansies were being planted 18 January - hmmm winter ones, or could we hope that the trees and flowers will soon bloom, the frost will disappear, the..... probably not. (Given that we arrived home from Tunisia on the 29th January to SNOW!! Not much left in Hérépian by the time we did the 3 hour drive from Toulouse, but lots and lots of rain.)
This month we said goodbye to Jan's mum and dad - who had really become quite wonderful fixtures in the house - it seemed very odd to not have them here. The kids continue to ask for them. We were very happy to have them and Jan's sister Lyn here for Christmas.

We decided to take advantage of being close to North Africa and flew to Tunisia (or Nisia as Aidan and Isla call it) for a week. Initially our view of Tunisia - flat flat land until the inland mountains; wind, wind, and more wind, (this is how the cold front from Europe hit us) but always sunny; blue and white everywhere; and sand. Literally! The buildings are white with blue lettering and blue shutters and doors. Domes on most of the houses to help with reducing the heat. (Can be 40 to 50 degrees in the summer) Even the sand is white. [Though not the Tunisian flag, it is red and white!] Northern Tunisia we are told is the contraire - greener, less sand, 'colder'.
We stayed on the island of Djerba, a quiet tourist time which was very very nice. Empty beaches (not to mention again the wind!) Actually our last 3 days the wind calmed considerably and the sun warmed us to 20 + degrees and the beach camels and horses came out!
We were able to do some touring about Tunisia. First to a neighbouring village by camel for Ted and Aidan and horse and calèche for Isla and Jan. Aidan was fine on the camel until our first stop when the camel became nervous and almost reared his riders off - a LONG way to fall! 'Reproduction' time was the reason given for the camel's edginess. Aidan joined the calèche gang on the return journey. Ted paid for his 1 ½ hour long ride the next day...days! In the village we were met with the usual hassling to buy. Were shown a multitude of hand woven carpets - were very tempted, but in the end left with only some olive wood bowls and spices.
Our other journeys took us 180km inland to Douz, the door to the Sahara or the mer de sable. The drive took us through an expansive land; numerous olive tree groves - interspersed with aloe vera plants, cacti, and palm (date) trees; past many roadside gas stalls selling smuggled Libyan gas for much cheaper than the regular gas stations; past the north south gas pipeline; and through the Dahar mountains. These clay mountains are home to many who live in 'troglydytic' homes - dug straight into the ground or into the slopes of the mountains. Cool on hot days and warm on cool nights, this is apparently a relatively new form of housing - i.e. 250 years. They were/are dug over a couple of months and survive for generations. Good hiding spots from the Arabs moving through, we were told. Then onto Douz (an oasis with some 200 sources of water) with many many dates trees and then the white fine sand of the Sahara. What fun! English Patient images abound, or as noted by another generation - Lawrence of Arabia! Lucky for us the wind tends to peak in April, May, and June - then you really would be in a scene from the English Patient. At times it felt as if we were in a movie - when the little white 'truck' camionnette flew past with a driver wearing a black and white checked Sahara style headdress. You would expect to see Harrison Ford on the back bumper. In the desert you might see Luke Skywalker and his business dealings to buy R2D2.
Car safety here means seatbelts are mandatory if you are in the front seats and children cannot be in the front... until age 8; no such thing as a car seat. Wonder if the accident rates are significantly higher. Then we saw the result of one - man on his bicycle hit by a car, thrown 100feet, legs twisted under him, face covered in blood. Not a good scene. Glad we were almost at the end of our car journey and to our 'neurotic?' concerns of car seats and seat belts. Not to mention bicycle helmets.
Loads of contrasts - donkey and trailer down main streets of towns/cities; Toyota trucks and ancient Peugeot pickups; loads of people walking on the road (quick beep of the car horn means MOVE) - in jeans and in traditional dress (long brown wool robes with hoods for the men, head coverings for the women ); gathering wood and carrying it on their backs; solar panels on roofs; women collecting water at communal wells; Nestlés sign - faded, swinging in the breeze at a white and blue café (in French and Arabic); camel crossing signs.
Food was great: spicy lamb dishes, couscous, eggplant, olives, chorba soup. And delicious German style breads. Many, many Germans travel to Tunisia so the 3rd language (after Arabic and French) spoken by those in the tourist industry is German. Jan found her brain searching for her high school German.
Even took in a couple of spa treatments - hmmm - very nice. A seaweed wash followed by a body scrub (gommage) in the steam baths, massages. Another difference in cultures - very open with touching! Will leave it at that.
Really only a taste of a vastly different country.

A bientot
JTAI
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