A Holiday to Remember
The Beach At The Hammamet Hotel Where We Stayed
How Did We Become Trapped in Paradise?
It was the last day of our summer vacation in 2006. I was sitting on the balcony listening to the sounds of the sea as the cool evening breeze replaced the heat of the day. I watched the gentle, Mediterranean waves lapping at the shoreline. How timeless the waves, I mused, the same now as a million years ago and in a million years hence.
Dusk and dawn had provided me with some of my best memories of several Tunisian Summers. I'd meandered along the shoreline early in the morning each day before the beaches had become crowded to enjoy that special peace and solitude that is offered at no other time. I wished I was an artist who could capture those memories on paper but I knew a painting of a Mediterranean sunrise could never look quite right on the chimney breast of my all too English lounge.
Our third summer holiday in Tunisia had been uneventful, perhaps even boring by most people's standards, but we - my two teenage daughters and I - had enjoyed a relaxing fortnight, not doing anything very much. We bemoaned the fact that again we hadn't been brave enough to take a two-day trip to the Sahara but at this time of year it was wise not to! The hot, sirocco winds blow off the desert like blasts from an oven, the closer you get to it; far more sensible to remain near the coast.
Having experienced the sights and sounds of the souks in previous years, this time, lounging around the immediate vicinity of the hotel was a refreshing change and apart from a half-day coastal excursion we didn't venture far from the hotel, The Bel Azur in Hammamet.
The weather as usual for mid-summer had been ferociously hot every single day; the sun scorching every unprotected patch of skin in minutes. It is far windier in Hammamet than further south where the heat is stifling but the cooling sea breeze is deceiving, making you feel safer in the sun than you actually are. Every day we saw a fresh batch of tourists along the seashore, and round the pool unwittingly turning a painful scarlet. Here, even black skins can burn.
I'd already packed, organised as ever but my daughters, far more carefree than I was during my teenage years, wanted to make the most of their last evening and disappeared off to a nightclub with their remaining Dinars, leaving me to panic as to whether everything would fit into our suitcases.
Will they come back in time? I worried. I hate early departures and invariably have nightmares about the airport bus arriving long before we're ready. But my daughters didn't care, still rummaging round under their beds for missing sandals at the very last minute.
We hadn't purchased many souvenirs this time, nothing like the amount of ‘Magic’ carpets, leather goods and exotic glitch we'd weighed ourselves down with in previous years. Funny how they all look ridiculous almost the second you unpack them back home and that camel leather which smells so inviting in the Medina becomes too pungent to tolerate in England. I'd bought a few tins of Halva (a sesame seed delicacy) for my mother who has a whole set of sweet teeth and I’d treated myself to a few pairs of leather sandals. We still had plenty left over cash due to money not spent on trips or tacky gifts.
Having ventured twice on ‘Pirate ship excursions along the coast, the only tour we were persuaded into taking this time round was a little fishing boat trip, which in its own way was far more memorable. We laughed when we were promised sights of dolphins or our money back but the tour operator was sincere. We even managed to get near enough to the dolphins to throw them some fish straight from the barbecue at the stern of the boat. I was so impressed that I recommended the trip to other tourists at the hotel. It backfired on me when the ‘Captain’ as we called him, enlisted my services to drum up further trade whenever he spotted me on the shore, even asking if I could speak German when the hotel received a bus load of tourists from Dussledorf.
On our last day while the girls were out I spent a contemplative evening on my own, not one for insincere goodbyes to the hotel staff or false promises of certain return. It had been good. I had a well-earned suntan, looked and felt healthier than when I came, thanks to hours in the sea and strolling along the coast every day. I couldn't complain. A great holiday, but I was eager to be back in England. Two weeks was more than enough in a place we'd visited three times already and so far the memories of three consecutive summers had been happy ones.
There was a picture in our hotel room that hung on the wall opposite my bed - very simple but effective. A handsome Arabian prince, dressed in blue, releasing a dove from its cage. I'd been intrigued by it throughout our stay and now as I sat there alone I realised why - the prince reminded me of the man I love. He has the same gentle look about him. I missed him. Never mind, I thought to myself; I'll see him on Monday - tomorrow we fly home.
But early on the morning of our departure the nightmare began. My eldest daughter, Annemarie awoke in agony and couldn't pass water.
‘Did you drink too much last night?’ was my initial question, quickly followed by: ‘You're not pregnant are you?’
‘No,’ to both questions she assured me. She had mentioned some bother or other with passing water earlier in the holiday, but in a hot climate when you sweat more that isn't unusual and she hadn't mentioned any pain. She became worse and was soon doubled up in agony. Forget the plane, she can't even sit down, I decided.
My youngest daughter, Michelle was best left sleeping. She was never much use in a crisis anyway. So I walked Annemarie the few hundred yards to the Doctors where he gave her a pain-killing injection that had no effect. She paced up and down with a nurse in the courtyard as if she was in the early stages of labour.
The Doctor advised me to go back to the hotel to phone the Thompson representative. The bus for the airport was due to arrive at 9.30 am and I couldn't see us being on it.
The cash not spent on souvenirs came in handy. There was still plenty left to deal with the unforeseen crisis that was unfolding. I had enough change to phone the travel insurance helpline too as the exchange booth wasn't open yet. Thank goodness I had a credit card as well.
The insurance said they would only pay for a later flight if we made them aware of the situation beforehand so it took half a dozen frantic phone calls to the travel reps and the call centre in England and then back to the doctors. He said Annemarie would have to go to the hospital for a scan. He called a specialist friend who drove her there in his own car as they were both so concerned. I followed on in a taxi, once I'd alerted Michelle to the situation and phoned my ex-husband to tell him there was no point in him going to Robin Hood airport to collect us that afternoon.
I was soon hot and bothered from dashing around in my travelling clothes having had no breakfast or anything to drink when the morning temperature was already soaring.
‘Your daughter has ovarian cyst,’ said the ultrasound technician at the hospital, ‘She need immediate operation.’
Later, crisis over, the surgeon presented me with a strange object that resembled a water-filled plastic bag - like one that contains a goldfish at a funfair.
‘This is cyst... you want take photo?’ he said gleefully, dangling the cellophane bag in front of my eyes. ‘Daughter O.K... She fine... no problem.’ He went on to explain that the cyst had been tested and there was no cancerous material. He also assured me that the operation would not affect future fertility or childbearing.
I was at her bedside when Annemarie came round from the anaesthetic and she was soon sitting upright in bed surrounded by chocolates and flowers from well-wishers at our hotel.
I could now breathe a sigh of relief before making further phone calls and dashing back across Hammamet between hotel and hospital in perilous yellow taxis without seat belts. I soon had a thumping headache and by the end of the day I was overheated and violently sick. I still managed to phone everyone, summon up more cash from somewhere and at the end of all this I still received a severe reprimand from my ex-husband for not keeping him informed of the situation - I'd like to see him do any better.
I still had to plead with the hotel reception man for us to keep our existing room for a further ten days, several times having to point out the fact that we were still there. I kept getting locked out as the electronic key no longer recognised my presence. The hotel Staff was brilliant, except that chap at reception who demanded two nights' payment in advance before the insurance was sorted.
So, for the next ten days we were trapped in paradise. Michelle turned a rich chocolate brown, sunning herself on the beach all day and soon learned how to swear fluently in Arabic while her sister recovered in hospital.
Annemarie struck up a permanent relationship with the animator from our hotel when he visited, bringing a huge cake and a get-well card signed by all the staff.
I spent those extra days around the pool and beach trying to make the best use of the additional time but even paradise becomes tedious when you know you've overstayed your welcome. I missed the man I love even more, the longest time I'd ever been parted from him at that stage in my life. But at least we spoke on the phone several times.
It was a strange coincidence but during our extended stay in Tunisia I suffered health problems too. At Forty-seven I knew I was reaching the end of my reproductive years. I've had four pregnancies with no problems but it seems I suddenly hit the menopause with a huge thud. After my daughter's operation I had my usual monthly period which lasted for over a week then it returned with a vengeance two days later. I'd never experienced anything like it before and the pain eventually became so bad I thought it was never going to stop. I was afraid to get on the plane the day we finally left Tunisian shores but the Doctor in Hammamet put my mind at rest, explaining that it was a combination of stress because of what had happened to Annemarie and my age.
On our return to England, Annemarie made an excellent recovery. The medical reports stated her health was sound and she would need no further treatment. I couldn't really feel sorry for myself when her reproductive system had decided to cause problems before she'd even used it at the tender age of seventeen.
Just one of those things; the trials and tribulations of being a woman I suppose. Back home it was now my turn to suffer discomfort, but the man I love was there for me and accompanied me to hospital when I could endure no more. He is so loving and kind - just like the Arabian prince in the picture. His gentleness helped me deal with the pain as he held my hand to comfort me.
So we both had a traumatic time, my daughter and I, but things could have been decidedly worse if she'd become ill in mid-flight and we're eternally grateful that the medical people managed to identify and deal with the problem with the utmost speed and efficiency.
At time of writing, 2008, Annemarie is now twenty and has been back to visit her boyfriend in Tunisia over twenty five times during the past three years! Perhaps their relationship had a chance to blossom when Annemarie was hospitalised. His family are currently building another level onto their existing house for them to live in once they've completed their education.
So being trapped in paradise turned out all right for Annemarie eventually; our happy summer memories of Tunisia are still untarnished and if anything positive can come out of something negative; it gave her the opportunity to fall in love.
Tunisia Tourist Video
Hammamet, Tunisia, North Africa
This is the first in a series of articles I've written on Tunisia, due to my family connections there.
Also I can't emphasise enough, the importance of having valid insurance when you travel. Many people I've known have travelled abroad and had no insurance at all which is stupidity in the extreme. You must always prepare yourself for every eventuality no matter how young and healthy you are. Travel insurance is cheap and affordable and can save a fortune if you do need urgent medical attention whilst in another country.
Have you ever had a medical emergency abroad?
The Beach Restaurant Area
The Pool Area
© 2017 Stella Kaye