Monday, 8 October 2012

Travel. A Tip. An Absolute Tip.

Recent experience reveals that the Arab Spring appears to lack a constituent element familiar to those of us more familiar with the British season. The spring clean.

Sidi Bou Said is a closely-packed medieval maze of houses sitting on a hilly Mediterranean promontary in Tunisia. With breathtaking views south over the Gulf of Tunis and west over the bustling capital, it is an ancient and pretty town, home to the rich and influential. Its glistening white buildings and narrow cobbled streets are consequently host to daily swarms of tourists disengorging from cruise ships berthing at the port of Tunis, twelve miles away.  Despite the tourists and the clutter of souvenir stalls set out to serve them, the streets of Sidi Bou Said look surprisingly clean.

Step a couple of yards away and you’ll find out why.
Sidi Bou Said - taking steps to avoid litter...
Rubbish, anything from incidental litter to commercial rubble more suited for landfill, has been tipped over the nearest wall.  Wander off the well-trodden tourist track, to explore the hill down to the marina possibly, or to experience the magnificent views from the hilltop and you'll soon be aware of the town’s detritus,  dumped unceremoniously somewhere close by, ostensibly out of sight.

Three miles away is the ancient city of Carthage, founded 3000 years ago, a site pivotal to the gestation of our civilised world. Dotted with temples, amphitheatres and an ancient harbour, Carthage is, unsurprisingly, a World Heritage site.  Like Sidi, Carthage is a desirable place to live and its avenues and roads are bordered with opulent and luxurious villas. 

Carthage - cradle of civilisation or cradle of filth?
Unfortunately, it takes a similar approach to rubbish disposal.

When it becomes impossible to photograph anything other than a carefully framed view already locally available as a postcard, shouldn’t tourists start to challenge the people who look after these places?  They do it with hotels and restaurants, why not other attractions too? These locations rely on an income from tourists but, unlike other comparable ventures, lack any purposeful infrastructure which can invest in the upkeep of the attraction that brings in the tourist.

So should World Heritage sites lose their accreditation if they fail to be kept up to scratch? Hotels and restaurants lose stars or rosettes if standards are let slip - why not the amphitheatres of Carthage?

Yet despite being a dump, it would be unlikely that a refuse-laden site such as Carthage would cease to feature on tourist routes because it has such intrinsic historical significance.  This significance overrides any apprehension which might arise from the comments of previous visitors. But shouldn’t there be some onus on the husbandry of such sites? And shouldn't the drawbacks of such places be given greater prominence? Shouldn't they be shamed into tidying up?

The tourist industry is pretty shrewd at avoiding such dilemmas. It conspires with locals to do little as possible about the problem.  Tourists are given few opportunities to see the rubbish: they are bussed in and out of locations and, when on foot, corralled along carefully manicured routes to either the attraction itself or accredited souvenir vendors who surround it.

If you enjoy the dichotomy of landfill sites passing off as world heritages sites you won't have a problem with this.  But if you don't, I propose a couple of solutions.

One: don't be an "organised" tourist - you're subscribing to the conspiracy if you are - and two: start taking photographs of what’s really there and show them to as many movers and shakers as possible.

Perhaps then will places start thinking about cleaning up their act.

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