Hammamet, Tunisia

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October 6th 2014
Published: October 8th 2014
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Mike's SheepMike's SheepMike's Sheep

Paid $300 for the two but I couldn't resell them no matter what I tried including an offer of zero percent financing. They're still with us.
Hammamet sits on a coastal plain south of Tunis. Brown hills ride the northern horizon. Silver frosted olive groves carpet the flats. At mid-day there are no shadows. The roads are fenced with fat budding cactus. Windblown plastic bags rag the spines. It is here that you will find the sheep. Gathered in flocks ranging in size from one to twenty animals, the pens stretch for miles. Each flock shepherded by middlemen trying to make a buck on Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). The hard, dusty ground is covered in straw. The sheep stand together in an unsuspecting huddle or forage through roadside trash. Tunisian families pull up in 4-door sedans to inspect the goods. They are immediately set upon by men dragging bleating animals behind them. A sheep will run you $200 US. Deals are cut and the sheep are stuffed live into back seats or trussed into car trunks like noisy Christmas trees. This is Old Testament stuff. Abraham, Ishmael and sacrifice. It's a lot to take in at first blush.

A Tunisian kid in a Yankees cap pulled a ram up on its hind legs and pointed to the pear-sized gonads. 'Please look' he asks me in
Claus Takes A Rare RestClaus Takes A Rare RestClaus Takes A Rare Rest

It is time to cut off his Ritalin supplier.
French. The vagaries of livestock shopping. Karen has wandered off with Claus looking to pet a ewe. I wasn't petting anything. The holiday was nearly upon us and the salesmen were pulling out all the stops.

We flew to Tunisia from Berlin one night. Skimming the east coasts of Corsica and Sardinia. Spider webs of light marked the island towns and cities. The weather in Europe had turned decidedly cooler and the days were becoming very short. I felt for Noah who was about to begin his second winter in Germany. A Florida boy far from home. But then I remembered my two winters in Germany, my buddies, the everlasting memories of that time and suddenly I didn't feel as bad. Besides, why should he get out of it? Noah is doing well. Looks good. Likes his work. Looking forward to his future while enjoying the present. What more can a parent ask?

We put up at our friend Claus's place in Hammamet. Claus Schall is a guy we met in Santorini, Greece back in our salad days. He usually dwells in Stuttgart with Ulf. Noah, Karen and myself stayed with them back in January. Good people with a wicked sense of humor and a full measure of Schwabisch hospitality. They keep a beautiful, terraced apartment in Tunisia that is fully stocked with Leberkase and good bread. It has been our pleasure to know them for nearly three decades now. Reelin' in the years.

One afternoon we drove around the bay to the town of Korbous. The Mediterranean is a brilliant Windex-Blue. Oleanders give everything a spritz of neon-magenta. Crumbling cliff faces shadow the road. The area looks like the south of France in summer. We have lunch on a terrace high above the sea where a rock slide has blocked the road. It is sunny and quiet. The waiter shuffles over with the menus and disappears back into the restaurant. Lazy day for us all. In the distance is Tunis. Just beyond it is the ruined city of Carthage. In its heyday Carthage was Rome's equal. After suffering through 16-years of Hannibal's abuse and three Punic Wars the Romans had had enough. They burned Carthage to the ground in 146 BC and sold the surviving citizens into slavery. Carthage blazed for fourteen days. In the end nothing was left. An American military cemetery overlaps the site
The Old MosqueThe Old MosqueThe Old Mosque

It may be 15 x 20 feet in size.
of Roman Carthage. Dead upon dead. US soldiers who died in places like Kasserine Pass and Hill 609 fighting Rommel's Afrika Korps were buried together in Carthage. I find myself wishing Jack Denson were here with his fists full of American flags to throw the boys a bone. I think they would have appreciated it.

It is morning on the Sunday of sacrifice. By now every garden around Claus's apartment has a bleating sheep in it. Separated by walls, the sheep can hear but cannot see each other so the bleating intensifies. The sheep have been with their new families for as long as a week. The kids have ridden them around like wooly ponies. The women have fed them on grain and salt. Tunisians rarely sacrifice the sheep themselves. There are men who specialize in this task. Around 10 AM a scooter comes down the rutted street and stops. A middle-aged man carrying a doctor's-bag of recently-honed instruments begins knocking on doors. Within an hour the mob's bleating has ceased entirely. The silence of the lambs.

For the next two-hours we watch Tunisians hauling sheepskin pelts and dressed sides of meat down the street. A man on the balcony across from us clumsily reduces a side of mutton with a hand-axe that looked as old and dull as the one my Dad kept at the bottom of his tool box. Later that evening, Claus's neighbor brings over a plate of roasted mutton. We couldn't.

Hammamet has a pretty little harbor dominated by a 15th-century fortress. There is a souk there selling souvenirs and motel-art paintings to tourists. There are vendors passing out free samples of home-made nougat and candied nuts. On the other side of the fortress is a Mosque and a tomb strewn cemetery. We sit in an old, shady cafe next to the fortress drinking coffee and watching French tourists pass by. They never fail to amuse me. Luxury resorts line the beach south of the cafe. A few colorful fishing boats are beached on the tide-line. Hammamet has stumbled as of late. Windowless, half-finished hotels stare hollow-eyed at the sea. The construction cranes above them are stiff with rust. Restaurants come and go. Unemployment in Tunisia is nearly 16% now.

The food here is very good. Fresh and appetizing. Crisp, pastry sandwiches called 'Briks' are filled with cheese or tuna or both;
From The Hammamet FortressFrom The Hammamet FortressFrom The Hammamet Fortress

Claus and Karen on our first full day in town.
Chopped salads, crusty baguettes torn and dipped into bowls of spicy Harrisa. Excellent local olives and oil. The restaurant food in Hammamet is the most inexpensive we have eaten on our trip so far. Karen and I pig out on roasted chicken with all the trimmings, breads, dips, olives and drinks. $3 each.

We eat dinner at the home of Claus's friend. The man's name is Abdul. His home is set into one of the old fortress's exterior walls. The architectural style is called a 'Riad'. The 2-story home is wrapped around a central garden open to the sky. A rooftop terrace overlooks the sea. Abdul has worked at many jobs in places like France and Italy. The home's furnishings are contemporary. Abdul's cooking is wonderful. A fine evening spent breaking bread, discussing religion, food, Carthaginian history and local wines. Inevitably, the most memorable moments Karen and I share on these trips are the ones experienced around dining tables. It is raining a little when we leave Abdul's late that night and the old streets are shiny with it.

Claus drove us to the village of Zriba Olia. It is located near a fat, pyramid peaked mountain called
Claus Making Fish CocktailsClaus Making Fish CocktailsClaus Making Fish Cocktails

They didn't taste very good.
Jebel Zaghouan. A rickety bridge brought us across a dry Wadi. A dirt switchback track leads to an old hilltop settlement perched on a dragon-back ridge. It was once home to hundreds. Today only a few families remain. An earthquake in the 1950's rock-hammered the place into near extinction. Fluorite mining, the village's only industry, ended. The last of the villagers live together in an old stone schoolhouse. It's late afternoon and the wide yellow plains below are being split by the big mountain's creeping shadow.

A dog tethered to a post sees our car and starts to twist against its frayed rope collar. We saw nobody else around when we pulled in. Long fingers of rust-colored stone form a jagged, cupped hand that cradles the ville. Fine red dust covers everything. We stepped through the ruins. Traces of blue paint still visible on crumbling plaster walls. Tiled foyers ceiling-ed with sky. Young men started popping up around us like Meerkats. A few of them hesitantly walk our way. Surprised to see strangers. Eager to talk with anyone about anything. French, German, English, Mime. The languages become a hybrid that we can all understand. Everybody is smiling.

Dome of the RocksDome of the RocksDome of the Rocks

The village and all that remains.
take us to their Mosque. A tiny, brick-arched chamber with a roof and little else. A few bags of concrete mix lay to one side. The boys say that they're going to restore the Mosque but there are no tools to be seen. It's a task that their families have burdened them with to keep them close. The village's rebuilt Koranic school, established in the 17th Century hasn't hosted a student in decades. A restoration of the Mosque seems superfluous at best.

The dog has grown bored and it lays on the hard-pan, curled against the wooden post. It's getting dark and cold. When the sun sets in Tunisia temperatures drop quickly. There's no electricity in the village. A kerosene lamp glows yellow behind a window. We wave goodbye as we head back down. The kids stand with the hilltop rocks and wave back. Like all young men they look hopeful. That's how I'll always remember them.


Thanks to Claus and Ulf for giving us a Tunisian home in every sense of the word. You made the undecipherable clear and the Tunisians a face that we will remember.

For the Jack Denson reference; Go to:

One of the older cafe's we visited. This one is across the street from a 'Hammam' or Tunisian bath house. This of Tunisia area is loaded with geothermal vents that the locals take advantage of by planting the baths directly on top of the vents. Is this a good idea.....?

A 'wadi' is a ravine that is dry except during the rainy season.

We are in Marrakesh now. Heading to Fez tomorrow for a return visit. Shouts out to Noah and John M. and Agramonte who wrote AGAIN! Good luck on those eyes Karen. I'm facing the same deal when I return. To Caspar (did you see that Seattle whipping of Washington?) and Piotr and the boys and girls at Lake Matka. So many days on the road. So many adventures. So many fine people. To Ila and Peggy and Tom and Jeff and Sara and Wes and Claudia and Dog Canyon. You are all in our thoughts. Liz Ferguson; Road Trip! To the Goodbrads; Stop feeding that cat so much.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 28


The Village Koranic SchoolThe Village Koranic School
The Village Koranic School

One of the few buildings restored after the quake.
Hammamet Pirate Ship In The DistanceHammamet Pirate Ship In The Distance
Hammamet Pirate Ship In The Distance

Take a cruise on the Hammamet pirate ship cause 1,000 French tourists can't be wrong.
Dinner with Abdul.Dinner with Abdul.
Dinner with Abdul.

At this point; Claus was a glass of red deeper into the evening than he needed to be.
Breakfast at Claus'sBreakfast at Claus's
Breakfast at Claus's

After a month of morning cold-cuts in Europe it was good to get back to our regular diet.
Hammamet FortressHammamet Fortress
Hammamet Fortress

Cafe's and restaurants cluster around the fortress's walls.
Claus and KJ at Abdul's Front DoorClaus and KJ at Abdul's Front Door
Claus and KJ at Abdul's Front Door

Our first visit to the Riad.
The CliffsThe Cliffs
The Cliffs

Examining Tunisian measures to deal with constant rock slides. I wouldn't stand there.
KJ Gets Her Coffee OnKJ Gets Her Coffee On
KJ Gets Her Coffee On

First morning in Tunisia

10th October 2014

Awesome visit it seems! You and KJ have a great time wherever you go-as it should be. I am sure Karlie is jealous of your return to Morocco. She would like to go back also but is a little anxious about anywhere on Africa right now. Be safe and have a blast. One day we shall also meet!
13th October 2014

Guess what? Karlie surprised us and came home on Saturday-really Friday but we saw her Sat. morn. Left Athens for Istanbul and a flight to JFK and then a bus that dropped her off in South Hill where Lindy picked her up and they cooked us pancakes on Sat. morn and blew our minds! So happy to have her home. Great travel adventures but she is still paranoid about the bed bugs she got in Greece so we are freezing her clothes and then a hot wash should do the trick. She is already back to work on the farm-thank heavens-and we are still pinching ourselves that she is really here. Missed that child a lot! Never gets dull here!
21st October 2014

Just wanted to let you know we had a HUGE surprise on Saturday-Karlie is home! She left Athens for JFK and then a bus to South Hill where her sister picked her up and they all surprised us with breakfast on Sat. morn. So glad to have her home-don't know how long she will stay but her dad had her working by Sunday afternoon! Great weekend with them all and then Lew went back to school and I had the week off so we got a chance to catch up. Hope your travels are going well and that you are both well. Can't thank you enough for being such great folks and hope to meet someday! Safe travels! Lisa
21st October 2014

Thanks, Mike and Karen!
I am home now! Mike, thanks for sending Hillary and me off on that early rainy morning at Chefchaouen!! I felt super warm in my heart! That's part of the reasons that I love travel, helping others and getting others' help! What's you and Karen's next stop?

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