Thursday, 2 July 2015

Some thoughts on Tunisia

In November we spent a week at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, Tunisia - it's an unashamedly tourist-aimed hotel catering to the all-inclusive market, and we were after a cheap holiday to have a break from work. The hotel is great, and the staff some of the friendliest you could meet (looking at you, Latifah the friendly waitress who always brought us two cocktails each rather than one).

Last week the hotel became well-known for the wrong reasons when an ISIS gunman shot and killed upwards of 30 on the hotel's beach and around the gardens - mostly British tourists enjoying a precious, trouble-free break just like we did. This was not the far-away, hostile place you imagine this kind of unprovoked attack taking place. It was a safe, fun, relaxing resort. Being able to clearly visualise the path taken by that gunman is really haunting. Imagining tourists like us - and families like my own - in his path is devastating.

We usually cram as much as we can into holidays, dashing around crowded cities and manically flicking through guide books to get as much done as possible. Tunisia was different - we deliberately picked a hotel where we had to do as little as possible and do whatever we wanted, at our own pace.

The town of Port el Kantaoui is essentially built to serve the needs of the tourists who go there - restaurants, bars, souvenir shops. But the locals rely on this trade to live their lives. And not much further afield there are beautiful ancient sites - El Djem Colosseum is one of the most incredible places I've visited, for example. The tour guides who took us there, and the locals we met in towns, farms and museums along the way, spoke passionately about the region - in the run up to the election, they were keen to explain why they were excited to vote for the chance to start making their country one of the best in the world.

This was a pointless and tragic attack. Attention now is rightly on the families of those who died. But I hope for the sake of the many friendly, welcoming people we met in that hotel and the surrounding area that people continue to visit and experience the incredible, picturesque sights of a beautiful, historic and embracing country.

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