Adventure in Tunisia  

Tunisia Odyssey: Eden to Oasis
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 7 - El Hamma


Click to enlargeLeaving Matmata, one route is to roll down the hills to the coastal planes. For the first fifteen kilometers the phenomenon continued of seemingly uninhabited territory, but there would be a power line leading to a mast sticking out of a bare knoll or a isolated television antenna roughly marking a sink hole.

As you pass the edge of Gabes you can visit your first oasis of the trip. A lush island in the middle of an arid landscape the oasis was a forest of date palm trees. Under the canopy were other shorter trees like figs, pomegranates and bananas and below them were crops like peppers, beans, lettuce. The air was delightfully cooler and damper, and the narrow road wound between the gardens with banked turns. It was disappointing to come out the other side to the heat and another strip of tourist curio markets.

Click to enlargeEl Hammam is another oasis – a town built on the edge of a forest of palms in an otherwise almost lunar landscape. Like its name spells out, another major features of this town is its hammam (Turkish bath). Though not a large town, it is said to have two hammams. And unlike many a bigger town with only one, open in the morning and midday for women and evening for men. Both of these hammams have both a men’s and women’s sides and each section is open all day for users.

To the visitor who generally see the relatively inactive street scene of Tunisia, the inside of the hamman is an energized contrast and quite a "slice of life". Reports from the women’s side are that you have never seen such a mass of giggling and happy women, taking care of child and sharing message, and of course largely nude, but never complete nudity. The men’s side is much more subdued. There is certainly a lot more interpersonal interaction than is common on the streets, but the men are mostly showering, shampooing, soaking, massaging and grooming. Beside people watching, the soak itself, was a joy.Click to enlarge


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