We had finished all the chores that needed to get done in the port of Tabarka – including a nice long hot shower, laundry shopping, and getting, (yet another) bag of ice from the local fishery.
It was now mid-afternoon, and we were leaving first thing the next morning. We didn’t have enough time that afternoon to head off into the Tunisian countryside to visit some ancient ruins, but there was enough time (there’s always enough time) to ride some camels.
The 2007 Lonely Planet guidebook said that we could catch a taxi to the Golf Resort Hotel, and the camel rides were supposed to be right next to the entrance. You should know in Tunisia that most folks speak Arabic and some French. Sometimes a little English. We told the taxi driver (in our horrible French) that we wanted to go to the Golf Resort Hotel. And we were off. Ten minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of the now defunct Golf Resort Hotel. No camels anywhere. We tried to tell him that we wanted to ride camels – but the only word I could remember was horse. Didn’t know “ride” or “camel.” Hey, French was back in high school! So we pantomimed riding, and told him horses with (pantomimed) humps – and he says “Chamaeux! ” Of course – camels!
Off we went again, and three minutes later we were happily tipping the driver too much as he dropped us off at the entrance to the Camel Stables. The stable manager promptly informed us that he was fully booked, – there was not enough time for us to have the two hour tour – and we should come back tomorrow. We explained (in horrrible French) that we were leaving on a boat the next day, yada yada yada…
Just then, three camels came sauntering in – camels saunter, don’t you know – carrying a family. They dismounted, and the father overheard heard our conversation. He jumped right in. He explained our situation in fluent Arabic, and bullied the owner into offering us a twenty minute ride. Great! We’ll take it!
We climbed onto our beasts (no small feat – these animals are tall) and off we went on our little camel train. A guide led Fred’s camel, I was in the middle, and Paula was on the caboose. We sat on comfortable poof-poofs, that created a seat behind the camels’ humps. This meant your legs had to straddle the hump in front of you. The motion was not unlike the motion of the boat on small swells, and quite rythymic in a way. I made friends with Paula’s camel, as his head was right next to my thigh. He had a muzzle on (probably not a bad idea, considering what I know of
the camels reputation for spitting and biting) but his head was soft and fuzzy, and the perfect height for petting with my hand. Off we went onto to the paved road that ran along the tourist hotels. These tourist hotels were like the ones you might see in Florida – beautifully landscaped, overlooking the sandy stretch of beach – lovely really. But apparently the “forest ride” that our guidebook promised was a bit outdated, and now our beasts of burden carried us past the housing development in progress. Young Tunisians flew past us in clusters on their rented ATVs, kicking up dust and fumes. We laughed at the irony of it all – we were longing for a cultural experience, and they were too. We laughed an awful lot during our ride. The sight of Fred’s butt swaying ahead of me, and Paula taking pictures behind me, the unexpected scenery – it was all hysterical when you are bobbing along on a Chamaeux.
Our twenty minute ride stretched to about 40 minutes (camels saunter, you know) and we were all starting to think – OK that’s enough. The thighs have had enough. We returned to the stables, slid (a long way) down to the ground, and happily paid the manager. A true adventure.
The walk back to town was quite an adventure too, but of a different sort. We had somewhat lost track of how far away we were from the Grateful Red, and thought it would be nice to stretch our legs. We were in the Tourist Zone, so feeling somewhat safe, we decided to walk back to the harbor. The hotels were beautiful, as was the stretch of beachfront beyond them. The waves were rolling in on the shore, and the sun was starting to set. What struck us was how disconnected everything seemed. There were piles of garbage in some of the public areas, and some of the modern amenities (like the dive center) were recently closed and barren. It was like there was a time when this place was hopeful and popular, but now it was stuggling to survive. I don’t know whether it was the Revolution that changed things, or what. But there was a strange sense that it was a recent change. We passed two teenagers waiting for a taxi, and they told us how happy they were to see us – they miss the tourists… This was not the first time Tunisians had said to us that they were glad that tourists were back to visiting.
We finally (4 or 5 miles later!) made it back to our section of Tabarka, starving for some dinner. Street food it was, and we stopped at a sandwich stand we had spied that morning. They made homemade Schwarma flatbread. The lovely young girl cooked our bread on a skillet – then the stand operator filled it with (just about) everything you could imagine. Some unnamed Meat that rotated on a rotisserie behind him, vegetables, olives, Harissa hot sauce, mayo, french fries (yes, IN the sandwich) cheese, hard boiled egg… Then they wrapped the bread around it, and wrapped it in paper. A bottle of water from a neighboring shop, and for $1.50 each we were in hog (maybe it was hog, maybe it was chamaeux) heaven.
Dinner was capped off by a trip to the waterfront crepe maker. He was Algerian (the flag flew over the stand) and quite the flirt. We looked at the three choices on the menu, and asked for a chocolate almond crepe. No chocolate almond. Chocolate caramel? No. Chocolate? OK. He made quite a production over cooking the crepe, and a line of customers grew behind us as we waited. It seemed Americans were good for business everywhere we stopped – the same thing had happened at the sandwich stand. It was totally worth the wait – a hot chewy crepe, dripping with chocolate…a complete mess, but worth having to redo laundry for.
So our Tabarkan adventure came to a close; sore thighs, sore feet, full bellies and full hearts.