17 June 2015

Hammamet, Tunisia 2012

In a beautiful Mediterranean resort outside the town of Hammamet, fellow travellers were reporting that camels were on the beach every day and where was I? the only committed camel-phile in our little group.

Where I was most of the time, was wandering with travel buddy in Hammamet's old medina, the magnetic focal point in this location. The adjacent cemetery also required lengthy browsing. It was good to start our explorations early morning along with the residents, enjoying countless cups of excellent coffee at every opportunity. Thus plenty of attractions kept me away from the beach.


The very first day travel buddy had an experience that by rights was mine ... as I slumbered obliviously from jet lag under a distant nook of palms. Strolling on the beach, waiting for an optimal photographic shot of the sunset, what to her wondering eyes should appear but the likes of a desert sheik or prince astride his camel. He beckoned. She went. Insisted she sit on the camel so he could photograph her. Have a ride, no charge. She urged, come back for my friend tomorrow.

Whenever I had time to reach the beach, no camel in sight. No sign of the prince. Unseen forces were obviously working against me. Fate did not kick in until our last day.

Off we went that morning to visit a rather un-promoted but splendid 1920s seaside villa of classic minimalist design — “close to architectural perfection” — a comment attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright. Absolutely; Dar Sebastian is a gem, built by a wealthy Romanian who migrated to Tunisia. He is credited with putting Hammamet on the map for the rich and famous in the post-First World War period. Many European artistic worthies visited Dar Sebastian such as Cocteau, Gide, Klee, Sitwell, and so on. What jolly times the guests must have had in the Roman-inspired communal bath! One also boggles at the juxtaposition of Rommel, having commandeered the villa for his Tunisian campaign headquarters, and Churchill (later, obviously) spending time here to write his memoirs.

From the height of the villa overlooking the sea, our plan was to walk back along the beach to our hotel for lunch. Said plan fell short in finding actual access to the beach because the villa and gardens are securely fenced. Some walking time in the town outskirts was involved and some discussion of whether a coffee in yet another sidewalk café full of vaguely disapproving men would reduce our creeping hunger pangs. However, a passing man on a bicycle genially led us to the public access path. More discussion dillying over appropriate baksheesh for his assistance and who had the appropriate coins. But finally, there was the beach and the distant prospect of our hotel. Somewhat more distant than we expected.

Then like a genie out of a bottle, a camel and his handler popped up before us on the shoreline. As I was about to embrace this opportunity, travel buddy said No, Wait! She spotted another. Her very prince leading his recommended camel. She and he ~ Felipe ~ fell into excited dialogue like old friends (90% incomprehensible on both sides). Travel bud herself had had enough of camels, rejecting the first offer. Among the three of us and one camel, we negotiated a fair price for “voilĂ  hotel ... oui ... montez ... d’accord ... .” 

My first camel ride on a beach was just as perfect as I could wish — bare feet, a quietly lapping sea, and the wonderful air in that part of the world giving a clearer, cleaner hue to all around me. To my immense satisfaction, it took a long time to reach our hotel front. The downside was travel buddy staggering along the entire way through the sand. That’s a kind of brand loyalty. And friendship. Her camera always ready, I treasure her photos.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman 

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