Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hammamet: The Disney World of Tunisia

Today my family took me to Hammamet, a resort town down the coast from Tunis. It's a beach community but also the most touristy spot I've been in all of Tunisia. The location is beautiful but as soon as you step through the gates of the "medina," all feeling of authenticity is lost. At the entrance sit two live camels. The baby one caught my eye immediately and the man standing with the camels told me I could pet it. Then he kindly asked if I wanted to take a picture of them. As I started to get out my camera, however, he told me it would cost me 3 dinars. This seems to happen a lot in tourist traps here. Everyone demands money for the right to take pictures. I thanked him and passed. I'm going to the south tomorrow and I get to ride camels in the desert. I'd have plenty of photo opportunities.

The souks only sell to tourists...stuffed camels, calendars, post cards, "Tunisian" outfits that no one here actually wears. Everything is a fixed price, as well. What kind of souk is a souk without bartering? The medina is dotted with overpriced restaurants, boasting Italian fare or fresh fish or couscous and performers take the various stages. Today I watched a snake charmer. The cobras were very cool and I took pictures, but the show itself was over the top. The guy wore an outfit that resembled something from the movie, Aladdin. Afterwards, he passed around a hat to everyone who watched, and under that kind of pressure, who doesn't give a dinar? Regardless, here are the real stars of the show:

Advertisements for belly dancing performances dotted the Medina as well, offering dinner theatre-like shows. This, along with the giant hotels that resembled desert structures or palaces, made me start to wonder if Hammamet was more like Disney World...or Las Vegas. Everything is made to represent the stereotypes held by Western tourists and to perpetuate Orientalist views of the Middle East and North Africa. Those seeking sea, sun and sand will be more than happy in Hammamet but I'd hope tourists don't see the resort town as a real representation of Tunisian life. I know the country's economy is dependent on tourism to a significant extent but Hammamet sells a stereotypical view of the Arab "other," of an exotic world that doesn't exist here in Tunisia if it even still exists at all. Suddenly I was so frustrated with my interpretation of the misrepresentation Hammamet had to offer that I forgot the real reason I was there--- I was supposed to be enjoying a day at the beach.

So for the moment I sent my criticisms to the back of my mind and appreciated the change of scenery. My family is beginning to notice my camel obsession. They bought me a cute stuffed camel and a gold plate with a camel and my name engraved on it. Finally, when we were leaving the medina, my host dad insisted I get my picture taken with the camel. I told him it was not a big deal and that 3 dinars was an atrociously expensive price for photographs but he wouldn't hear anything of it. The next thing I knew I was sitting on a kneeling camel. What I didn't know was how camels get up once they have someone on their back. They lift their back legs up first. I wasn't exactly ready, nearly toppling face first down the front of the camel. Luckily, his front legs went next and I was able to regain my balance. It was a challenge, but I'll be ready for it in the south when we get to ride camels across the desert. This particular camel's name was SamSam and he was especially nice for letting Wesjdene snap pictures in his face with me on his back. Here are a few:

So like I said, tomorrow I leave for the south. We get to go to Kairouan, the 4th holiest city in Islam (and the only one in North Africa) tomorrow and then spend the week making our way further south. We'll see more Roman and Punic ruins, head into the Sahara desert, visit oases and Star Wars sets (scenes from the Star Wars movies were filmed in Tunisia. Remember the planet where Luke Skywalker grows up? That's the Tunisian desert). Finally we get to spend a few days on the island of Djerba, off the coast between Tunisia and Libya. It's nicknamed "the Polynesia of the Mediterranean" and it's supposed to be gorgeous. It's also reportedly the island of the Lotus Eaters in Homer's The Odyssey. I really don't know what my internet access will be like there (if it exists at all) so I may have to wait to post until next week. I get back next Sunday.

On that note, I'll leave you all with another beach view. Here's a photo from La Goulette, a northern Tunis suburb known for its delicious seafood.


  1. Geez... In one regard the tourist trap probably would have been nice to see as soon as you got there from the sound of it, with all the outlandish stuff to see. But then again since you visited it later in your trip, it probably was nice to know how things work and what is truly outlandish, so then you were able to save money :)

    I'm pretty jealous of all this camel stuff you have done (and have planned). It really sounds like some fun stuff. It would be funny if the first camel you get in the south, for whatever reason would stand up on its front legs first, because you'd most likely be leaning in the wrong direction ;) Haha. More than likely though, camels probably all stand up the same way. Lucky you :)

    As for the Star Wars thing, if I ever was interested in watching a Star Wars movie AND after watching, knew what you were talking about. Then I'd probably think visiting that spot would be really exciting. Lol

    Djerba sounds like the most promising of all the places, but who knows. Your entire week excursion will probably be amazing! Don't forget to take plenty of pictures!!! I hope you have a great week :)

  2. I don't think I could've gotten that close to the cobra! Loved the camel tho' I can see why you're so obsessed with camels

  3. Glad you could recreate the missing paragraph. It's so hard to get good help these days. Your mom added your pictures to the most recent posts--without any loss of text.

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