Warning: this post contains material recommended for viewers who love nature and history. Reader discretion is advised.
On February 3rd, Dylan and I traveled a couple of hours southwest of Tunis to the famous Roman ruins of Dougga. We traversed by bus, sweeping through some of the most exquisite rolling hills and rocky outcrops I have ever seen. There is something captivating about sheep herding in olive groves and it’s possible that I have found my life’s calling.
Before traveling to Dougga, I had glanced through Dylan’s photos of the ruins from his study abroad in 2006. They were, as I remembered, beautiful and awesome, but I realized you can only take so much from photo. There is no sound or depth to help you understand a place. I was expecting our visit to instill in me the same sort of ordinary appreciation I gained from those pictures.
We arrived through a somewhat circuitous route, passing through the nearby town of Teboursouk and arranging (at this point, we hope) for a private taxi to deliver us and collect us from Dougga at predetermined times. (This is in fact the only way to get to Dougga, besides, of course, walking up the 10km road and avoiding the entrance fee booth altogether, as we later learned from our new British friend.) We gathered provisions and our taxi drove on; all the way we were confirming our pick-up time and agreed price with the monosyllabic French words found on page 328 of Lonely Planet Tunisia.
We had left the apartment early that day and arrived at Dougga while the morning birds still sang and the Japanese tour buses had yet to arrive. It was quiet and it felt as though we had this giant playground all to ourselves. The sun warmed my core and I began shedding the extra layers (Dylan’s extra layers) I had added during the chilly bus ride. As we climbed the crumbling steps of the broad Roman theater and stepped back to soak up the view, a sense of peace and contentment came over me. Everything felt so big. Solid. Protective.
We spent the next five hours walking through mazes of stone roads and wandering down olive tree lined pathways. The scope of Dougga is expansive. We wanted to pitch a tent just outside the ruins and stay there….indefinitely. With our guidebook in hand, we made some attempt to learn about the architecture and history by following a recommended tour of the impressive structures. It wasn’t terribly long until we closed the book, opened our eyes, and decided to just e x p e r i e n c e. Naturally, napping in a clover field surrounded by fluted Roman columns seemed decidedly appropriate; we reveled in the opportunity.
Dougga has been my favorite place in Tunisia. It may be my favorite place in the world. If we never return (which I hope is not the case) I intend to remember that day, that scene, and that place for a long while.