My eight-day trip to Tunis, Tunisia, was scary, dangerous, fun, and intriguing.
The protests of the Jasmine revolution heated back up one day prior to our arrival. Our hotel was to be near the center of Tunis, but we thought it was far enough away from Government buildings. After leaving the airport in a taxi, we quickly learned that the police closed many of the roads to the hotel. The crowds of people were too thick to maneuver a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver put us to the street, and he pointed “that way.” While trying to walk, the volume of protesters increased and people were signaling for us to avoid danger and to turn back. A school teacher put us in his car and said he would help us reach the hotel. But after a short drive, we were surrounded by crowds of people. People started to stampede in the direction of the car with bloody noses, beaten arms, and burning eyes from tear gas. A man rushed the car, hit the window glass, and pleaded with us to go back. There were broken stones on the ground and wire fences on the sidewalks. We became very frightened and we asked the teacher to turn back away from the riots. We did not want him to be at risk trying to help us. Uncertain what to do, we asked him to take us to another hotel. He took us to a hotel about eight blocks from the center of the riots.
The second day was used to regroup and attempt to make a plan for the rest of the trip. We could see from the 10th floor hotel window the location of the protests but we hoped we were far enough away for safety. Soldiers lined the streets at our hotel. Early in the day we walked the streets looking for a restaurant. After returning to the hotel we saw police cars and a tank blocked the road in front of the hotel. Suddenly we heard machine guns. It lasted nearly 30 minutes. We waited for it to stop while keeping away from windows to avoid being hit by stray bullets. Later we learned that 3 young people were killed on this day of the protests.
I could only take a small number of pictures and videos from the city center. Across the street from our hotel was the radio station that was spearheading the revolution. Many soldiers were standing at the corner of the revolutionary radio station. They saw me taking pictures from the 10th floor and they signaled for me to close the window and stop taking pictures.
On the 3rd day we left the city center and went to a summer resort on the Gulf of Tunis. Things were calmer at the beach. The people were living their regular lives. However, this resort was being used as a stopover point for refugees from Libya. On the first night there were four full busloads of Indonesian (I think) refugee workers from Libya staying at the hotel. We were told the various embassies were covering the hotel and transfer costs for the refugees. We saw different groups of refugees come and go each day.
Once we became more acclimated with our surroundings, we tried to catch up on our holiday program. We visited a town named Sidi Bou Said. It is famous for its white/blue houses and doors, and its narrow, lovely streets. Another town, named La Marsa, sat beautifully on the coast, and it was a great place to find cafes and restaurants.
We also saw the Carthage ruins. Today it is mainly Roman historical sites which can be seen in Carthage. Among the highlights are the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and the thermal Antonine Baths, which were once the largest baths built by the Romans.
You can get a great view of Carthage by climbing the nearby Byrsa Hill, on which you'll also find the Carthage Museum. The museum displays mosaics, sculptures and artifacts from the period before Carthage was destroyed by Rome in 146 BC.
Also on Byrsa Hill is the St. Louis Cathedral, built by the French in 1890 and dedicated to the 13th Century saint-king who died on the shores of Carthage in 1270. It is now deconsecrated and used for concerts.
We also visited the North African American Cemetery. This cemetery is a memorial and resting place for American soldiers that gave their lives in the North Africa campaign during World War II.
Street vendors were struggling for business since most tourists stayed away. All the Tunisians seemed very appreciative that we continued with our holiday program and visited their beautiful country.
Perhaps my favorite thing was riding a horse and petting a camel on the shores of the Gulf of Tunis.
I definitely feel I pushed the limits with this holiday. This trip was booked months before there was any social unrest in the country. Tunisia is a beautiful country in North Africa. Although worry never left us during this trip, we persevered and had a great time. At no time did protesters, soldiers, police, or citizens try to bring any harm to us. They, in fact, tried to keep us out of the way of harm.
It was an interesting experience. History was being made, and I was in the middle of it.