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Published: February 22nd 2018
Thursday February 22 - Today began at 4:00, which seems to be my normal time to wake up now. This is just wrong. I stayed in bed trying to sleep until 6:30, then it was up to start the day. The day started with clouds, and by the time we left the hotel, it was raining. I always find rain to be a bummer when traveling because it makes it hard to take pictures, and then the pictures you get are often not nice. This was a big downer today because we were driving to a spot I had really been looking forward to called El Jem. El Jem has a large Roman amphitheater which was the 4th largest in the world behind the Colosseum in Rome, one in Naples, and the one in Carthage that I saw a few days ago, which is all but gone at this point. I had been dreaming of Roman ruins against a perfect blue sky, and now I would be lucky to get any photos. It would feel more dreary and I would remember less. But magically, in the hour it took to get there, the sky cleared. When we arrived, it was sunny
and the site was exactly like I’d imagined. It was amazing. I had a great time exploring, and there were so few people there. I ditched Felix upon entering and almost everywhere I went, I was the only one there. I had my Indiana Jones moment of the trip. I was walking around, smiling, taking pictures as if I was the first person to ever discover this place. I climbed all the levels. I went below ground to where they used to keep the lions and the prisoners they would eat in front of 30,000 people. At times I overheard tour guides discussing that this was the covered area for rich people, or that is where they kept the slaves.
From the amphitheater, we walked through town to the museum, which you can enter with the same ticket. It has many Roman mosaics that have been excavated from the land just behind the museum, and some are still in situ. I walked around trying to get a feel for what these villas and homes would have looked like, but my imagination is not that good. Still loved it though.
In town, I also saw sheep being skinned, and
many skins that were already piling up. I saw sheep waiting to be next, and cages of chickens and rabbits sitting outside of every butcher I passed. There were also tubs of sheep heads and cow heads hanging from hooks outside the butchers. It reminded me I should become vegetarian.
A side note - there is a lot of garbage here. Everywhere. In towns, between towns, around town. Everyone just throws everything everywhere. Fields are covered in litter. It sticks to cactus. Sheep feed around it. It get s a bit too much at times.
From El Jem, we drove to Kairouan, the 4th most important holy city in Islam, behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. On the way there, the sky started to turn gray. The drive was a little over an hour, and I’d hoped it would clear up before we arrived. It did not. The was exactly the opposite experience we had in El Jem. It was gray, raining, and cold. We drove to Felix’s hotel, a 5-star affair in the old kasbah, and then we walked over to mine for me to check in. From there we set out to see the old cisterns, just
across from my hotel. It was not much to look at, and it started to rain while we were there. It did not stop for a few hours. Everything was more difficult and less interesting. It was also later in the afternoon and things were starting to close. We did not get in anywhere, just saw buildings from the outside. I was also getting really hungry because I had not eaten since breakfast. By 5pm we gave up, and by 5:30pm we were seated in a small cafe where they only served chicken and fish. They grilled the fish on a grill right on the street. I had salad, fries, bread and the chicken. So much for being a vegetarian here. But it was good. It had stopped raining by then, but Felix drive me back to my hotel so I did not have to walk.
It was not a perfect afternoon, but the morning more than made up for it. Tomorrow we’re heading to Dougga, an ancient ruin I’m really excited to visit. Hoping for some sun!
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