mardi 21 janvier 2014

New Year 2014 in Tunisia (Djerba)

Time for some travel blogging!

Here's a peak at my one week holiday on the Island of Djerba in Tunisia.
This trip was not planned at all! It was a really last minute decision!

After Christmas I was feeling a bit down and depressed. The whole brake up and moving house stress had really gotten to me. I was feeling so down that I didn't even want to celebrate new year, I just wanted to stay at home and watch TV…
Well, the person that knows me the best in the world, my little sister, was back from Canada, and she gave me a good old telling off and a kick up the backside! She basically told me that I had to get off my bum and do something before this downwards spiral I had got into got any worse.

This was Friday. I thought about it most of the night and the next day. What should I do?

Saturday evening I went on one of those last minute holiday booking sites. I found a really good cheap deal for a week, all inclusive, in Tunisia. I booked it. 

The flight was the next morning ! 
Sunday morning. 
Early rise and shine to be at the airport at 8am. I still didn't really know if I had made the right choice to just go off on my own for New Year!
11am, sitting in the plane, time to take off! 
The weirdest thing is that the plane I boarded for Tunisia was parked right next to my usual plane to Casablanca (that takes off everyday at 11h30)!

A little bit about Djerba! 
Before arriving there I didn't even know it was an island. Like I said this was such an unplanned trip!
Djerba, nicknamed the Dream Island, is a pretty little island located in the south east of Tunisia. The place is renowned for its white sandy beaches, turquoise sea and mild climate.
From the plane the view of the island was beautiful! 

Off the plane and straight onto a bus to go to the hotel. 

The hotel club was pretty nice. It was only a 3 star, but that was good enough for me!

It was actually the first time that I was going on 'this kind' of holiday. 
I have never been in a hotel club, I normally go on road trips or backpacking around!

The ambiance seemed really family orientated. The hotel wasn't very busy, but most of the people who were there seemed to know each other (later I learnt that lots of people, older and younger, come here about 5 times a year and have been for 10 years! A big family!)

I decided that, being on my own, I would just have a nice relaxing week. A week making the most of the spa and massages, no stress and lots of sleep… well that's what I thought the first day!

The weather was bad. 
The sky was really dark, rain was defiantly coming in! I had booked to go on a horse riding excursion to the local village. 
Just my luck! 
As I had expected, Tunisia looks very much like Morocco. One difference that I nearly immediately noticed is that the locals don't seem to mind you taking photos. In Morocco people hide when they see a camera.
This horse riding trip was a really 'tourist' thing. I was bored. Just horses and camels slowly following each other. Luckily I started chatting with the guides who were really friendly.
That's another difference I found with Morocco. Here the guys, when I said I lived and Morocco, and talked a bit of arabic with them, were so friendly! They didn't consider me as a tourist, but more as one of them. We had lots of fun talking and laughing. They also secretly told me that we were going to go to a souvenir shop in the village, and not to buy anything because it was 'tourist' prices. 
In the shop it was rather fun to. The same as in Morocco, you go with a guide and you always get dragged into some shop where you get stuck for hours until you end up buying something. The shop owner asked everyone where they were from. When I said Tangier, he moved on quickly to the next tourist and seemed to ignore me. I thought he hadn't heard or didn't understand what I had said.

After having shown and talked about all his products, he started getting his salespeople to dress the tourists up in a traditional tunisan dress. When one came towards me, he immediately said 'no, not her, she's a girl from our land, she's a local'. 
While people were busy getting dressed up he came and sat next to me and started to chat about tourism. Times are hard in Tunisia, the tourism industry has been hit hard. Morocco tourism is doing well, Tunisia is hoping that someday people will start coming back.
After the shop and a quick visit of the village, we got back on the horses to ride back home. It poured with rain! Night fell fast. It was cold and wet, but I was still having good fun joking, singing and laughing with the guides. They also told me how they new that I must be bored just walking with a horse (I had told them that I have been horse riding since I was 9 years old). The 'boss' quietly told me that I could come back the next day to do some proper riding, just me and a guide (for 'local' price). I accepted at once! I was amazing at how friendly they were towards me. In Morocco, in touristy areas, I tell shop owners and guides that I live in country, but they still try to sell stuff or ask for a tip. Here the guides didn't ask for any extra tips… such a difference and it made the ambiance so much better. I didn't feel like 'the rich european that you've got to get the most money from'. It was just friendly and nice.

Back at the riding club the rain was still pouring. 
We were all freezing. There was only one car to get us all back to the hotel… well we all managed to fit in! The driver, 2 on the front seat, 5 on the back seats and 4 in the boot! Plus the car was a really old reanult, nothing seemed to work! It was raining cats and dogs and the windscreen wipers didn't work! You couldn't see a thing! Plus, in Djerba (I also learnt this while driving there) not only do they drive twice as fast as the speed limit, but also on the wrong side of the road (instead of driving a bit further to a roundabout to get on the other side of the road, they just drive towards oncoming traffic!! 

Monday evening.
This is when I met Jerome from Paris (JD) and Jerome from Nantes (JR). They had both also come on their own. Jerome from Nantes had actually been in the same plane as me, sat just in front. I recognized him because when he sat down in the plane, being really tall, he slammed his seat backwards, nearly knowing me in the head! He also recognized me by my … trainers … my blue and black nikes are obviously remarkable!

The terrific trio was formed!
We all got on really well! Actually we had lots of things in common. 
We were inseparable for the rest of the week. 
(A great thing for me was that JD normally likes traveling like me. I had decided, being a girl on my own, that it could be risky to rent a car or visit the continent. Being two made things different!)
I thought that I was going to get lots of sleep during this holiday … after this first evening I knew I would not! After having been to the hotel animation and disco we caught a cab to a local club. We got back at 6am… I had to be up and on a horse at 10am…

Hearing that alarm ring after only a couple of hours of sleep was hard. I wasn't too sure about going riding… but when I was the weather I jumped out of bed. 
The sky was blue and the sun was shining. 
At 10am I was surprisingly wide awake and on my horse.
3 hours of fun! Nothing like the day before! 
Lots of galloping, freedom! The guy that came with me was really nice to. Plus he was really good at taking photos while riding so I got some nice pics of me :)
Galloping along the beach, white sand, blue sky, turquoise water! 
Back at the hotel I found my two buddies … 
We spent the rest of the day just lazing around. After my evening spa and massage we had dinner, then went to the hotel animation and then clubbing again!

The 31st of december was a lazy day for me! I got up really late and then just hung around the pool, dozing on sun beds and sipping cocktails.
After my evening spa seance, and having my hair done by a crazy hairdresser, it was time to hit the New Year's Eve Party!
We managed to cause chaos at the begging of the evening. You had to book your table on the sunday when we arrived. All 3 of having arrived separately we all booked different tables. They day before I managed to change my table to be on JD's (there was a spare place)…

Being a girl of course I was late. I was surprised to see JR at our table as well! How did he do it, he just ignored the waiters and went and sat down. Of course he had teen someone's place, which then caused the usual organization chaos that I am so used to in Morocco. 
Sat next to us were some lovely girls. At first we thought that they were a family, mother and 3 daughters. But no, they just knew each other really well because they had been coming to this hotel for the last 8 years! 
The food, I must admit wasn't that good… It was a big menu, that sounded tasty but wasn't. Things were cold and tasteless…

How ever, the ambiance was great! Lots of dancing and fun! And meeting new people!
Thursday was another lazy day…

Friday however we decided to get out of the hotel. With JD we rented a car and set off to discover the island of Djerba.
We got a brand new Renault Symbol. It's a bit like a Clio with a boot or a luxury Dacia Logan. 
(Talking about cars, the cars are much newer and in better state here than in Morocco. For example, the taxis have to change car every 5 years, whereas in Morocco the taxis are old Mercedes D class than have over 1 million km's on the clock!!)

I was driver (because I'm used to this kind of crazy driving and bad roads) and JD was the navigator :) 
The car rental agency warned me to beware of the cars with white number plates - Libyans (there are a lot around this area because the country is just next door) that he said didn't really know how to drive!

First stop was Midoun. Every friday morning there is a big local market.

After having wandered around the market for a couple of hours got back in the car and headed off to Guellala, a village that turns around pottery and ceramic making.
We had a nice lunch. Fresh grilled fish. Nice to eat something other than hotel food!
Aww Cute!

Next and last stop was the El Ghriba synagogue.
In Djerba is living the oldest Jewish community of the Maghreb (Northern Africa). The oral traditions says that when the first temple of Jerusalem was destroyed under king Nabuchodonosor, in 565 BC, the servants of the Temple, the "Cohanim" (plural of Cohen) escaped from the slaughter and sailed to Djerba with a door from the Temple that they buried where they built the first Ghriba. In the following centuries, Jews from other tribes settled in Djerba too.
The interior was beautiful. So many colors!

It was nice to get out of the hotel and discover the island and local life :)
Back the hotel we had a Salsa lesson. It was very funny as no one knew how to dance. Our choreography looked terrible and the teacher gave up in the end!
The evening went as usual - spa, dinner and dancing!

Saturday morning, an early rise! 
We were off at 6am to catch the ferry over to the main land to visit a bit more of Tunisia.
JD and I in the boot of a 4x4 Toyota. Not compfy at all!

First stop : a visit of a traditional troglodyte house in Matmata.
The structures typical for the village are created by digging a large pit in the ground. Around the perimeter of this pit artificial caves are then dug to be used as rooms, with some homes comprising multiple pits, connected by trench-like passageways.
The origin of this extraordinary place is not known, except from tales carried from generation to generation. The most improbable account says that underground homes were first built in ancient times, when the Roman empire sent two Egyptian tribes to make their own homes in the Matmata region, after one of the Punic wars, with permission to kill every human being in their way. The dwellers of the region had to leave their homes and to dig caves in the ground to hide from those invaders.
Part of the Star Wars films was actually filmed in this area of Tunisia.
Back in the Toyota we were off for  long drive towards the desert.
The views were spectacular!!
Finally we arrived in Douz, a town in southern Tunisia also know as 'the gateway to the Sahara'
I was happy to be back in the desert, even if it was only for a short time.
Like in Morocco, this also the Sahara Desert, but the sand is so white here! (in Morocco the sand dunes are red).
We also visited a palm grove, where dates are grown.

A bit of local life :)
On our drive back were came across yet more beautiful scenery and cute villages.

Back at the hotel for the last night. 
Well not much of a night. Our plane to Nantes took off at 7am sunday morning, which meant we had to be at the airport at 4.30am!
That didn't stop us from having one last party! 
Dancing and fun until the early hours of the morning. 
No sleep before catching the plane!
This was a very different holiday for me. No rushing around, just relaxing and having fun, not having to think about anything. 
I had a great time and met some lovely people. 

I don't think I'll go back to this same hotel (like most people seem to do here), but I'm sure I'll go back to Tunisia. 
The people were just so friendly and good spirited, and I'd like to see more of the country.

Tomorrow I'm driving though Spain and back down to the Sahara, but this back in Morocco :)

Have a lovely week!