Subject: The Return of the Traveller! Tunisia this time!
Hello, one and all!

Like MacArthur, I have returned. This time from North Africa. Originally, the plan had been to go to Tunis for several days on my own and then take a shared taxi or bus to Tripoli where I would meet up with my Lybian tour. However, the Libyans suddenly stopped issuing visas to Americans - we had apparently refused entry to one of their guys - so I went on a week long Tunisian tour which changed only my return air schedule. This tour (as well as the Lybian one) was with Exodus, another of those British companies that I like. They travel quite basically and try to give you the real flavor of the country, including the flies buzzing around the bus.

We were thirteen: average age likely 50s, mostly teachers taking a half term holiday, three men and two couples. There were two Northern Ireland sisters, two New Zealanders (to be precise, one was an American ex-pat married to a Kiwi), me and the rest Brits, tried and true. A really intelligent and affable group.

The first four days concentrated on Phoenician and Roman ruins often with an Ottoman overlay. It seemed to be the same invaders that ruled and built throughout the Middle East. Tunisia and North Africa was just another part of the saga. The Bardo Museum gave us a good start as they had innumerable displays of treasures. There were several World Heritage sights: Carthage, Dougga, Kairuan; Carthage was the least impressive. The ruins at Makthar and the Colosseum at ElJem were outstanding.

Halfway, we were into southern Tunisia, the home of date palms and olive trees. One morning was spent on a train excursion into stunning mountain scenery with spectacular river canyons. Also we crossed Tunisia's great salt lake (Chott El Djerid) to arrive at the Sahara, where the group cameled in to camp in Bedouin style. From there it was a visit to a Berber family, who lived old style in the caves near Matmata and the Star Wars setting (now a troglodyte hotel).

Driving on to Tunis, we stopped at the last ruin, the Colsseum, comparable to the Roman Colosseum, which ended the tour on a high note and back with the ruins. The extent of these early peoples' travels is most amazing to me, especially considering the primitive conditions. And the magnificent remains from their stays in foreign lands is awesome. Interestingly, over the centuries some of the marble blocks were used by local people in building their shelters.

Accommodation varied from basic hotels (four nights) to a guesthouse (one night) to camping (two nights). The hotels were acceptable, the guesthouse was charming (we all slept on mats in one upstairs space, and were covered with lovely thick quilts) and the camping was, well, camping. There were two consecutive nights in two different locales despite only one camping night listed in our itinerary. Twelve of us slept (?) in a big black Bedouin tent - one woman paid for and got a single space - with limited or no facilities. I think it would have worked better had there been a hotel stay in between which was logistically possible. And incidentally, it is cold, cold nights in the desert.

The Tunisian guide was superb - knowledgeable, energetic, and flexible whenever possible. As this was the first time for this tour, input from participants was encouraged. I thought it was really a good over view of the country.

I had a good time and learned a lot - and more than ever want to get to Libya to complete the picture of these early journeys across the Middle East and North Africa.

We'll see if the Pakistan trip is a "go" in June - I doubt it given the current unrest in Islamabad.

Later, Jo in Sunnyvale