Dave the motorhome is parked behind the locked gates of the ticket office for the Bulla Regia archaeological site (N36.55665 E8.75470). It’s been a cold and rainy day so the heating is on, which means Jay is now on the internet trying to find out where we can buy LPG from!
We slept really well last night knowing that our friendly policeman and his colleagues were watching over us. The howling wind rocked Dave from time to time, but it was nothing compared to what we faced on Mount Etna a few weeks ago!
This morning we thanked the policemen and said farewell, getting on the road just before 10am. Our new plan was to visit the town of Ain Draham in the mountains behind Tabarka. The French-built homage to a Swiss Alpine Resort is also the home town of the kind form filling policeman who visited us yesterday, how could we refuse?
Double and triple checking of our map took place as one wrong turn could have seen us at the Algerian border (fortunately the current problems in Algeria are hundreds of miles south of here, so far south they are below the Tunisian border!).
Once we were sure we were on the right road Jay led Dave in a dance up the numerous bends and roadworks. The land around us appears to give way frequently and several teams worked along it rebuilding and repairing buried and fallen sections.
As we climbed higher the trees around us became cork oaks with their familiar two tone trunks where the bark has been stripped away and harvested to seal a million wine bottles. Reaching Ain Draham we weren’t entirely surprised to find a town that looked nothing like an Alpine resort. It looked like the other Tunisian towns we’d seen apart from the houses having pitched red tile roofs instead of the usual flat ones. The air was chilly and the rain started to come down, so we ploughed on, passing groups of men huddled around open fires in the cafes instead of their usual position sitting out on the verandas watching the world go by.
As we descend towards the town of Jendouba the trees around us thinned and gave way to rolling hills – it was a short stint in the mountains. We turned left a few kilometres from the town and made our way to the Bulla Regia site. As we pulled into the car park there was a coach in it, for once we weren’t the only tourists in town, but that didn’t last long. The rain got heavier and the coach left – still being the only ones here gave Jay chance to get a sneaky loo empty done in the toilet block.
After lunch and a quick pooch walk the rain eased enough for us to venture into the site. In the ticket office we asked how much it would be to stay overnight, we’d need to give the money to the Guardien, about 10TD should do. Entry to the site was 5TD each plus one if we wanted to take photos, I handed over a 20TD note and knew I’d be asked for the 1TD, but we didn’t have it (or so we said!). After some thought the guy in the ticket office said he’d pay the Guardien for us instead of giving us change and handed over two leaflets about the site.
Now I know we said we’d had enough of Roman ruins to last a lifetime which is why we skipped the ones at Carthage, but our interest was piqued by the fact that the Romans here built part of their houses underground. Not just buried over the mists of time, they had huge basements which held the dining and bedrooms – to keep them cool in the summer and warm (and dry) in the winter. So we figured we’d pay the place a visit and use it as a stop for the night – winner, winner!
Entering the site we used our Rough Guide to navigate and tell us what everything was as the leaflets were more about the history of the place than what we could see in front of us. As we walked around the first of the buildings, a huge baths built on two storeys (both above ground and some bits still standing), it dawned on us how massive this site is, and only one quarter of it has been excavated. We spent a good couple of hours walking around, taking refuge in the underground houses when the rain was at its worst.
It was amazing to see these Roman ruins stood here partly uncovered, mosaics in situ and being drenched by the rain. There was nothing to stop you climbing all over the place, and judging by the broken bits that had fallen off walls this was frequently done – although probably not by humans. The more surprising thing about the site is that it’s used by shepherds who graze their flocks of sheep among the ruins, at one point Jay had to shift a flock along so we could get past them on the path – not your every day Roman ruin experience. We’re still a little gobsmacked that Tony Robinson and Time Team faff about in Dorset looking for tiny bits of pottery when there is an entire town here, most of which is still to be unearthed!
As the rain started again we headed back to Dave for hot drinks to warm us up. We’ve been the only ones in the car park since the bus left, so have used the opportunity to fill Dave up with water; now we just have to work out where we can empty his waste water tank and we’ll be good for another few days.
Tunisia still has me on edge, but everyone we have met so far (apart from the bloke who we think might have been eyeing up our bike on the back of Dave by the beach) has been really kind to us. Sometimes a little too overly concerned for our welfare, but then I guess two years ago before the revolution there would have been very little crime here, today there is some – probably no where near as much as the UK – and it must worry people.
So tonight we’re among Roman ruins, the rain is gently patting on Dave’s roof and a mournful sounding call to prayer is wafting out from the local mosque. As my culture shock is subsiding I’m finding this a truly fascinating and challenging country.