We got up “early” (about 8-9) and left Samaris and Hammamet for the last time (probably). Completely forgot to ask the manager if he knew of any caravan parks to the south. Bit of an information drought on places to stay; probably because there aren’t any…
We hit the motorway and drove south, stopping to fill our LPG tank at one of the few-and-far-between petrol stations that actually sell LPG; then off the freeway and into the town of El Jem, home of a World Heritage-listed colosseum, little brother to the one in Rome.
El Jem itself was a bit confronting — dirty, busy. Everywhere in Tunisia, everyone looks at us; we do kinda draw attention to ourselves, what with being inside a freaking awesome motorhome. I can’t speak for Katherine, but with my new-found paranoia and agoraphobia, everyone looked like they were scowling! We found a busy car park just a short walk from the colosseum and settled down for a quick snack; almost instantly an odd twitchy guy came up and peered in the window. Katherine opened it and said hi; he said something unintelligible (to us, anyway). He went away after Katherine said we speak only English. We saw him later, when we returned briefly to Nettle for extra cash, peering in through the windows. Freaked. Me. Out.
So, it felt like a real struggle to leave Nettle there as we walked to the thing. We both kept looking back to see if she was still there.
The colosseum itself was pretty impressive — it was pretty much all-access; we wandered around in the dark tunnels underneath, up the different levels. As we walked in, the call to prayer started, making it all feel very atmospheric. There were parts that looked a little too un-eroded, and we realised there were builders rebuilding/augmenting it. I’m not sure whether I approve or disapprove! Good view over the town from the upper levels — a sightly different view to that from the one in Rome! A tour group of Chinese tourists were wandering through; we said hello to one couple and they ‘Ni-how‘-d back, which was kinda funny to hear in Tunisia. There was graffiti scratched into the stone from 1894. That is freaking brilliant!
We walked back to Nettle, having a hooray-she’s-still-there moment (we kinda get that every time we come back to her), followed by a little oh-dear moment when we thought that our satellite dish had come un-stowed and was flapping around in the breeze — I’d joked about us forgetting to put away the sail earlier when we were driving into the hardcore headwind. Nah, it was just a satellite dish on a cabin thing behind Nettle. Besides, who’d build a satellite dish attachment that faced into the wind when you were driving?
Also: Yay, not broken into, so we drove off happily unscathed. Somehow I kinda missed the freeway we’d come in on, which wasn’t on our paper map, or on Google Maps on my iPhone, so we ended up on the plain old secondary road ambling through each town. Man, these little towns are pretty gross — no offence to their residents. Garbage strewn all over the countryside — it’s quite a thing to behold.
Our initial Plan A was to wild-camp somewhere out of town and out of the way. We chickened out, though. We’d both spent the day so far feeling very tense and nervous — desperately in need of some positive experiences to get our confidence back — so we decided we’d drive the 100-120km or so to Bir Ali Bin Halifah, a little town about 60km west of Sfax. It was a seriously long drive, and I was exhausted by the time we arrived, to find…well…nothing. There was no camp-site, and the petrol station guys knew of nothing of the sort nearby. I guess I mis-interpreted that campsite listing.
So, with evening rapidly approaching, we had no choice but to wild-camp. We drove wearily back the way we came, keeping a keen eye out for somewhere, anywhere to stop. Then I spotted a repeater tower (one of those big towers with satellite dishes on it) with some compacted dirt around it, and pulled in. A security dude came out of the hut and we waved, and I jumped out and told him we desperately needed a place to spend the night and was it cool if we stayed. I don’t think he spoke much French (he kept saying bonjour, though), but I did some miming and he was fine with it. We brought him tea and biscuits as thanks.
So, we had our very own security guard! Awesome. Plus the radiation coming from the high-tension power lines running into the tower station thing would probably fry anyone that came close. That and two guard dogs, who were probably mutated by the radiation and probably shot lasers out of their eyes. Sorted. We settled in as evening turned to night, surrounded by a billion miles of red dirt/sand and olive trees.