We awoke blearily in darkness with the blaring cacophony of the early morning call to prayer, from a mosque that must’ve been right beside one of our silliest wildcamps ever. We fell back asleep once it had ended, and awoke a little later with village life in full swing around us, horns beeping, engines roaring, people walking by, shouting. Deciding it’d be good to get a move on before the inevitable knocking on the door started up, we hopped out of bed — okay, we took a little while getting to that stage, it was an extremely cold morning — threw on our clothes, opened the blinds, and drove out of town to find a slightly more out-of-the-way park for us to have a more relaxed start to the day.
We stopped in blissful quiet on the verge a few metres off the side of the road, switched on the boiler so we could have hot showers, treated ourselves to the use of our gas-guzzling heater, and I pulled out the laptop for a little programming, resting my feet against the warm heater while the water heated up and Katherine had the first shower. Warm, filling porridge for breakfast, then, feeling refreshed, warm, clean and good to go, we hit the road again, heading for Dougga, site of some promising-sounding ruins.
Almost immediately, we were struck by the change in the landscape around us — the first leg of our drive took us though some pine-covered mountainous terrain that for some reason reminded us strongly of Ireland! Only, instead of bog as far as the eye can see, there was scrubby ground-cover on dry dirt and rock. Looks similar from a distance.
I pulled over for a moment to take a picture, and a village youngster came over to say hello and (of course) ask for a dinar.
The scenery became greener and greener, and soon we were driving through gentle rolling green hills, a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds completing the scene — a real sight for sore eyes, especially given that it was one which contained no garbage. We were reminded of the French countryside, then English farmland, the greens a very pretty bright emerald shade.
We gaped at a Roman arch we passed, sitting casually by the side of the road.
We stopped just outside of Dougga for lunch, by the road surrounded by grassy plains, then headed to the ruins along a little back-street that led up through the town, past chickens and tractors. We crested a hill and were struck by the intense green of a large field in the sun — we could be in Ireland! Except for the Roman city atop a neighbouring hill, behind an olive orchard.
We pulled up in the car park, put on all our warm gear and headed out into the biting wind.
This ancient town is probably the most impressive ruins we’ve seen — the detail that remains is amazing, and for the most part it’s quite easy to imagine it how it was at its peak in 2-4 AD. We walked along paved roads — a little buckled now in places, but still remarkably intact — passed by very solid-looking high stone walls, wandered in awe around the semicircle of a huge theatre, crossed an immaculate square with a still-visible engraved circle naming the twelve winds, beside an immense temple. We admired stone blocks engraved with carefully lettered text, and thought the font looked quite familiar — hey, that looks like Times New Roman.
We laughed at the sociably arranged latrines in a bath house, mere holes in a semi-circular bench, placed close enough that the users would probably all but have their thighs touching!
We were surprised to be told by our guidebook that the ruins were inhabited until the early 1950’s, when the inhabitants were shuffled out to ‘Nouvelle Dougga’, the new town.
As we wandered the crumbling city of light grey stone, in some places we felt a little like we were walking around the city of Rohan from Lord of the Rings, streets built in tiers into the hillside. The way the city soared above the surrounding emerald plains probably contributed to the impression, too.
We were quite awed, despite being almost chilled to the bone in that nasty wind. We would’ve liked to wander a little longer, but time had run out on us, and the hypothermia probably wouldn’t have held off much longer anyway. We headed back to Nettle, put the heater on full blast, and hit the road, having decided to make the drive to Tunis rather than face another wild-camp.
The drive was, again, very enjoyable as we passed through some really very pretty scenery, enhanced further by that magic late afternoon glow. We spotted the poignant/macabre scene of a stork and her offspring nesting atop a power pylon with the corpse of a prior hatchling fluttering in the breeze, caught on a piece of nest.
Our first glimpse of Tunis as we topped a rise was startling — the sprawl of the city as far as the eye could see was something we weren’t used to, having travelled for the most part through little villages.
Our dusk drive through the capital was very silly — large intersections where, truly, anything goes, and traffic flow is dictated solely by the patience of the drivers involved (‘give way as long as you can be bothered doing so’); traffic lights that no one pays any heed to; impatient drivers edging into the oncoming traffic, pushing others off to the right of the road in the process; pedestrians so oblivious of traffic that I first had to rev the engine to alert the three girls that I was there and trundling along behind them, then had to repeat the process to avoid clocking another guy over the back of the head with my mirror, the footpath devoid of any foot traffic just beside him. It was all fairly relaxed though, and the various impressive feats of insanity we observed mere entertainment as we crawled along through the traffic.
We were a bit disappointed when we arrived at our destination — a car park that Birgit and Dieter had suggested to us — having pictured something like the basic-but-secure car park-cum-caravan park in Palermo, walled in with a gate. Instead, it was a wide open shopping centre car park, beside a park; not particularly well-lit, and the guy that met us as we drove in said we could only stay a night, instead of the flexibility we were expecting. Still, it was a place to stop, and we closed up for the night, hoping for no whiskey-seekers.