844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dougga & Hammam Mellegue (Northwest Tunisia)

[Author's Note: I arrived in Tunis on September 10th, 2010 and left two months later. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia on December 18th, 2010, a day after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. I missed the festivities by about a month or so. Some would say I dodged a bullet but I cannot help feeling like I missed the boat. How often do you have the chance to watch history unfold from the front row? It is interesting for me to go back and read about my experiences at the time. Yes, I could almost taste repression in the air but if you told me the powder keg was about to ignite I would have been incredulous in the extreme. Yet, there it was boiling just beneath the surface. Keep this in mind when reading my Tunisia posts. It makes for a fascinating subtext.]

Oct 31st, 2010 – Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA! No relevance. It just feels right saying it like that. Our guide in Bulla Regia recommended we check out the ancient Roman city of Dougga (Thugga) about 40 minutes from the city of El Kef. She told us it was the best archaeological site in Tunisia (if not North Africa) and that we'd be a**holes not to spend some time there (I might be paraphrasing just a tad). 

We arrived in El Kef in the evening, found suitable lodging on the outskirts of town, and ventured to the center for a nibble. We wanted to eat at the hotel restaurant but they were not serving dinner. Why would they? The grumpy gentleman behind the reception desk was kind enough to recommend an overpriced restaurant in town. Merci beaucoup.

I may have ingested mutton again but cannot be certain. Believe it or not unidentifiable meat does not necessarily taste good. I would be remiss if I did not point out that, for the most part, the food in Tunisia is generally decent. It can get a bit repetitive but that may have as much to do with selection as the language barrier and my comfort with known menu items I recognize and enjoy, to include Tunisian salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and tuna), fish soup, couscous, Tunisian spaghetti (containing the spicy harinssa sauce), a shit ton of bread, olives, all things chicken, and breaded pastry known as brik (stuffed with egg, tuna, or host of other ingredients).  



The next morning we hopped in the Punto and headed east of El Kef to Dougga (Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA!), hailed as 'the best preserved Roman small town in North Africa' by UNESCO. Not surprisingly they designated the area a World Heritage Site in 1997. I have to admit that it is one of the highlights of my time in Tunisia and as 'enchanting' as the 
Lonely Planet describes it. Granted, the weather was optimal (mild temperatures and a refreshing breeze), the panorama exceedingly pleasing to behold, the tourist population tolerable (notwithstanding the large group of obstreperous Chinese tourists), and our archaeologist/guide knowledgeable and coherent. It really is staggering to consider the level of sophistication achieved by the ancient Roman architects and the intricacies of their society. You can almost imagine what life would have been like in this small Roman outpost smack dab in the middle of the bread basket of their empire…..almost. Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA! Doooo-GA!





Antonian Baths




These two pics are evidence of Nazi occupation.




This, on the other hand, is evidence of the swastika's ancient origins


Punic-Libyan Mausoleum of Numidian orgins 








Most of what is left of the Temple of Saturn



Amphitheater of Dougga







Photo by Leslie Peralta

It is no exaggeration to say that when we left Dougga it felt just slightly as if I just returned from the past. Remarkable. So back to El Kef we went for a short break and a late lunch. After that we headed west to experience a functioning Roman bath that has not, for the most part, changed in 1800 years. Off to the isolated hamlet of Hammam Mellegue. 

Frankly, the drive out there into the setting sun was enough to make the trip worthwhile. The baths themselves, situated on a hill overlooking a river valley, were interesting to see but not quite the 'unbelievably relaxing hot water soak' I'd read about. Entering the subterranean bathing room (men's side) I half expected to see Julius Cesar splashing around in the pool but instead was presented with five older Tunisian men splashing around in their underwear. Yeah, baby. The pool is an 8 ft by 12 ft rectangle with approximately 2 feet of water, leaving little space for more than a handful of bathers. It was a fairly relaxing experience (about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10) but it is a bit difficult to do so fully while listening to loud Tunisian men ramble on incessantly about Allah knows what. Had I had the place to myself the experience would have been sublime. Time to fire my agent.


View of exterior of Roman bath house in Hammam Mellegue 

View of valley from bath house


The footage below is less than ideal but it does give a short peek at the men's bathing arena. It is some random Italian guy rambling on in his native tongue. I found it on YouTube. I would have taken my own footage but I doubt the other bathers would have appreciated that.

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim