El Jem - Yes, Another World Heritage Site

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2010

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Flag of Tunisia  , Al Mahdiyah,
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We slept in today thinking we might not accomplish much. Let's just chill.  Meandered by the bus station to check the schedule for trips to El Jem – perhaps we will go tomorrow.  Louages are fine, but buses are finer.  Only two or so buses per day, next one is full – we are between two major cities and they just fill up at the other end.  Let’s just travel like locals again.  To the Louage Station! 

We are informed the Louage station is near the bus station and begin what should be a short walk from one to the other.  Feeling a bit lost, we ask directions from the locals who inform us to proceed 200 meters down this main road to the louage station.  ˝ mile later, we arrive at a traffic circle in the middle of nowhere where louage vehicles evidently stop to drop off local passengers.  We ask a group of drivers where the main louage terminal is.  Where are you going, they query?  El Jem!  Oh, you should get a private Louage since it will be impossible to find a return ride home.  They will be glad to give us a private Louage for only $80td.  No?  Kelsey overhears them recommending to drop the price to $50td.  They don’t know yet she speaks Arabic.  We get directions back to the Louage terminal where the price will be $4td for the trip per person. We are informed that it is only 200 meters down a road parallel to the one we just came up.  ˝ mile later, we arrive at the Louage terminal which, coincidently was only about 200 meters away from the spot where we asked directions 45 minutes ago from the original guys.

Speedy ride down major divided highways with few head-on collision concerns, the louage driver drops us at the magnificent third largest Roman coliseum on earth.  Hungry, we grab a magnificent lunch at a café overlooking the Roman edifice.  Per my passion, I order something completely different – a Tunisian "Special".  This is so wonderful, I fight with the girls to get my share. Backdrop on this café includes songbirds in cages chatting away as we dine and Berbers walking by.

I take a break to do a telephone interview for a potential new job assignment.  I want to tell the person interviewing me, “Don’t mind if I appear distracted, I am standing near a camel at the third largest coliseum in the Ancient Roman Empire – it is 78 degrees, sunny and wonderful.”  I find out a week later, did not get the job.

El Jem or El Djem is famous for its amphitheatre (often incorrectly called "a coliseum" – so sue me!), capable of seating 35,000-45,000 spectators. Only Rome's Colosseum and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger. The amphitheatre was built by the Romans between 230 and 238 CE and was probably mainly used for gladiator shows and chariot races (like in Ben-Hur). It is also possible that construction of the amphitheatre was never finished.  Until the 17th century it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and were transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan.  The ruins of the amphitheatre were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.  We declared it really awesome in 2010.  Check out our pictures!

After waiting for a dozen or so minutes without seeing a local cab, some helpful local young men help us out and phoned for a taxi to pick us up and transport us to the local Louage station.  Meter – HA!  We are informed he is the cheapest private taxi in the area.  It is a Toyota and the gas pedal appears to be sticking to the floor mat.  Busloads of tourists arrived at the amphitheatre during our visit.  Clearly, organized tours are the norm.  Arriving by Louage is a bit unusual.  It is a long walk to the Louage station.  Private runaway taxis are just fine.

As the taxi drops us off, a Louage with only one passenger calls out – “Are you going to Sousse?” (In Arabic). You bet! (In English)  “Veet Veet” (Hurry Hurry) In French.  So much for the threatened need for a private taxi to return.  We have our own private taxi – just the four of us - NOT.  As it turns out (and this makes perfect sense), this Louage driver takes the “local roads” back to Sousse. Where as the drive down with a full van takes a major divided high speed highway, our return trip is designed to maximize the Louage driver’s revenue by picking up people all along the local roads going from one small town to another.  It takes longer, but is well worth the experience.  Kelsey, who sits in the second row seat, becomes the unofficial greeter and door-person jumping out to let in new riders and help exit older ones.

We arrive back in Sousse and attack the Souk determined to get a deal on some jewelry Casey has been admiring.  We plan our attack.  It works – Kind of.  We pay exactly what they wanted but get exactly what we wanted.

Kelsey and I team up once again to bargain down the price of some traditional men’s headwear that she wants to gift.  They start at $60td, I say $5.  Kelsey leaves happy and with two hats.  This was the first good retail experience of our visit.  Wonderful man, I now know his wife and children and Casey knows the trials and tribulations of working for him (as related to her by a young worker as we bargained and banished her from the scene).

Casey has identified a local restaurant (La Marmite) which we should try for dinner.  Close walk from our Sousse apartment, we venture out.  OMG, what a find!  The décor and environment is outstanding.  We are served some kind of delicious traditional white soft cheese along with other unexpected treats without asking.  They then present the carcasses of a variety fresh Mediterranean fish we can choose from for our meal.  We select the BIG one.  We will share.  It is a “Dante” fish.  We also get mussels and these fantastic small little clams as appetizers.  Also, we ask for the fresh steamed Artichoke.  Surprised, we all get our own instead of one to share.  Somehow we all finish it all including salad and other goodies I can no longer recall.  Tunisian wine - wonderful.  Roll us home.
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mike_and_julie on

Thanks, Jim! This has been so fun to read. And I'm very happy to finally know the three largest amphitheatres in the world.

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