“Heidi Sand-Hart’s “Home Keeps Moving” authenticates the TCK experience. Her personal stories demonstrate the tangible reality of the TCK theories we have been reading and hearing about for years.” – Tina L Quick, author of The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The peculiar world of the "package holiday"...

It was with a mixture of reservation and curiousity that Paul and I booked our very first "package holiday". Seven nights in a 5 star hotel in Tunisia (with half board) sounded just right...especially at that price! After a tough start to the year, it seemed the perfect alternative to our usual, preferred method of independent travel.

So off we headed to the airport with the assurance that just for once, everything would be taken care of for us. The Tunis Air flight was delayed and rather rickety but we arrived in Tunis late in the evening and inhaled the warm air with delight. "This is what its all about" were the first words that left my mouth as we trudged across the airport entrance to our allocated bus. We boarded the bus second to last (due to a delay with our luggage) and it felt like walking a fashion show runway as the other people checked us out. Our tour company "rep" took to the microphone and gave us a very thorough and detailed welcome, along with a mini-cultural lesson on Tunisia.

We reached our "5 star" ( more like 3 1/2) accommodation in Hammamet Yasmine in the dying hours but things seemed to be pumping and alive. Our weary heads met our bumpy pillows at 2am and we remembered to set our alarms not to miss the breakfast buffet...

The following days taught us a lot about ourselves and the kinds of people who go on package holidays. During our first visit to the pool (in which we had to circle the entire circumference in order to find two spare sun loungers*), we were surprised to hear music being blasted at the pool bar all day long (namely Celine Dion in various French renditions); morphing into the worst dance music - twice daily - for the "group aerobics"sessions in the pool.

With a small measure of horror, we discovered that we'd walked into Tunisia's version of Butlin's holiday camps (not that I've ever been to one) - from the swimming pool aerobics to daily scheduled activities for kids and adults alike, culminating in an overtly loud evening entertainment program...which took place just outside our room!

The other thing we quickly realised was that our package holiday was completely and entirely geared around a magic little thing called "All Inclusive". Basically, those who had paid for an "all inclusive" holiday were treated like royalty - could eat and drink to their hearts' content at any number of restaurants and bars scattered across the resort. Anyone else (being us), were made to feel completely and utterly cheap for not splashing out on the all important "all inclusive" bracelets (something we were unaware of until this experience). Our first buffet dinner highlighted our grave mistake when the waiter wouldn't even give us a glass of water to accompany our "paid for" dinner without putting it on our room bill!

As luck would have it, for the following 5 nights we relocated to another section of the restaurant where the waiter was impressed with my limited Arabic and proceeded to serve us unlimited water and wine all week (despite being aware of our non "all inclusive" status)! Life is all about the little things...

We quickly discovered that we felt most comfortable away from the hoards of Brits, Germans, French and Italian pool worshipers and we found some real jewels away from our resort. I was surprised and disgusted to learn that most of the restaurants, bars and supermarkets in Yasmine Hammamet are connected to a resort...it looked like there was no room for independent establishments. Until we found the marina, which had a whole slew of cosy restaurants, cafes, creperies and she-sha places. And even better, we voyaged into Hammamet town where I was transported back to what I love most about North Africa and the Middle East: the medina, lined with intricate detail and architecture...narrow alleyways and cobbled streets....cats lazing about in the shade, catching a few winks...the pure, vibrant site of an old fort set against the dazzling backdrop of the Mediterranean sea...and local Tunisian people.

At the end of the week, we boarded the bus (with the same group of Brits we'd arrived with), and I resented being lumped in and without freedom. As we arrived at the airport terminal...after watching countless olive trees and vineyards pass us by...our guide wouldn't allow us to disembark the bus before she told us which check-in desks to use and talked us through the entire procedure of navigating an airport! To top it all off, we had three seriously suspicious looking Arab (Brit) males on our flight and I was convinced we were heading for the worst. 

As I said to Paul one afternoon whilst watching the pool aerobics session from the safety of our room, "The world is split into two kinds of people. Those who enjoy (package holiday) aerobics and those who don't". We got some sunshine, sea and felt relaxed which is what we wanted but I've learnt that isn't enough. I guess you have to try new things in order to know where you fit and the obvious has been confirmed to me -- that I am, and have always been, an independent traveller who thrives on the unexpected challenges that are thrown my way on the open road. Free to explore and lose myself wherever I am....

*Germans aren't the only ones who do the "towel on sunbed" trick, it seems!

1 comment:

  1. I should add that I really enjoyed Tunisia as a country, the people and the local food (divine). I just didn't get to see as much of it as I liked, due to doing it the "package" way.