Star Date: Feb 2017
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"AAslemma. Marhaba. Shukran or aaeshik."
"Travel brings power and love back into your life."
One is immediately enchanted by the leisurely pace, atmospheric ruins and oasis-studded landscapes of Tunisia. Only a thin wedge in the expanse of North Africa, Tunisia has so much to offer. While it may be on the adventurous side of travel, the friendly locals make any time here unforgettable. We saw large resorts, including food, advertised for tempting prices. We booked and tried to stay in two. The first was on a remote beach to the north near the Roman ruins of Carthage. When informed that the 'all inclusive' didn't include food we moved on. The second resort had about 20 people (out of a possible 400) staying. Lovely facilities but to save costs they had turned off the air con and wouldn't provide fans. Best to book a couple nights online, then extend if conditions are fine in the hotel. The days of hordes of par broiled pudgy tourists greased up along the sandy beaches in winter, escaping their cold homelands, has been put to a halt. But come on, come to Tunisia to experience the welcoming people, the exotic culture, and the remote adventures awaiting you.
And so we struck out to explore the far reaching corners of Tunisia. We took a 14 hour train ride with the locals to SW Tozeur. That ride in itself was a grand adventure with friendly locals sharing food, laughing and just having a look at us. Having to stand the first 30 minutes out of Tunis we 'oozed' our way into seats with a big family. They had suitcases taking up seats and we asked if we could move them to under our legs. The young daughters gladly said, "Yes". There must have been bars of gold in the bag remaining on the seat because when patriarchal Dad returned he refused to put the case on the floor, instead standing for 12 hours while his silly suitcase sat in the seat. The epitome of stubbornness.
The southern terrain can be described as vast dry expanses punctuated by lovely welcoming green oasis'. Tozeur is a pleasant date palm oasis, with over 200,000 date palms providing shade and greenery in the otherwise harsh desert. Dotted throughout the sandy lanes are pomegranate and fig trees. After our long train ride from the capitol we arrived late and to our delight opened our window on the palmeraie the next morning. The golden sun shone through the miles of green date palms heavily laden with clumps of rich dates.
Tozeur was the perfect base to launch a desert adventure in Southern Tunisia. We hired a 4x4 jeep along with a woman from Italy and a young man from Korea. This international gang provided lots of laughs and fun as we climbed dunes in the jeep and bolted straight down. Driving along between the dunes suddenly the driver would head straight up a dune and we seemingly hung suspended on the crest until heading down like a roller coaster. We learned just what a 4x4 can do in the desert, surprisingly not getting stuck in seemingly impossible situations. Saint Bernards or rescue Camels out there were few and far between. We would have been sun dried travelers!
Driving through the massive, harsh salt lakes then the seemingly endless desert we sought relief in several small green oasis dotted along the way. Small streams or ponds surrounded with trees and vegetation provided beautiful vistas of the surrounding plains. The simple but interesting Berber villages of Mides, Chebika, and Tamerza were filled with tiny mosques, street cafes filled with men watching the world go by, donkeys and carts off to market, and veiled women bustling about their business. Nefta had a sunken palm grove next to a lake and we sat enjoying the view and chatting over a cup of mint tea. The highlight of the long day was Ong Jemal, the dramatic location used in "The English Patient" and "Star Wars". We were transported through space to the Phantom Menace sci-fi set village of Mos Espa.
"In Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace the spaceport of Mos Espa is shown as a bustling frontier town where young Anakin Skywalker lives and works as a slave. Many of the bulbous structures were filled in using CGI, but much of the first stories of the buildings were built practically and still stand as a squat beige town square that looks as though it was shaved cleanly off at the top. The facades are not actually buildings, but fronts built for filming, yet visitors can still mill about the exteriors as though they were on that far flung desert planet. There are also some iconic “moisture vaperators” also left on the site.The single-domed building that was built to represent the outside of the Lars Homestead where Luke Skywalker grew up, unaware of his cosmically significant heritage, was used originally in Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope, and then shot again for the prequel films. "
While much of George Lucas’ mythic Star Wars films were filmed in studio lots, a number of their exterior sets, especially for the desert planet Tatooine, were built for the films and simply abandoned to the sands and the fans when filming was over. Unfortunately rampant desertification has threatened both the Mos Espa and Lars farm sets as the unstoppable desert sands are beginning to bury the science fiction meccas. You can just picture the characters strolling the sand lanes between the Berber inspired clay huts and moisture vaperators.
Douz is a slightly modern small Oasis, a gateway to the Grand Erg Oriental, or the Southern Sahara Sand Dunes. Double the amount of Touzeur's palmerie they boast 400,000 date palms. We spent time searching out the best cous cous or folded pizza and explored heading south into the desert. We discovered a couple of good 4x4 operators but the photos told us the dunes were not as tall as we wished. We decided to explore the larger dunes in upcoming Morocco. This sleepy town comes to life every Thursday when the last of Tunisia's nomadic camel herders come to trade. The lanes of the souk were jammed with men wearing turbans and long flowing robes, women in scarves and veils and children scampering amongst the goats, camels and donkeys. In November each year the town swells in size for the colorful, lively Sahara Festival. Tell me you would rather spend your time in Tunisia laying on the beach surrounded by other westerners?
On we ventured in a crammed truck to Matmata. The troglodyte Sidi Driss Hotel housed George Lucas in #16 for 40 days and other crew members longer. Only thirty minutes of film was used in the movie. This was the Lars Family homestead in Star Wars. The indoor set was used in The Phantom Menace and the Attack of the Clones. Sitting in the courtyard, enjoying a cup of fresh mint tea, our imagination ran wild visualizing the quirky Star Wars bar scene; unfortunately minus the aliens!
Mamata is a fascinating underground village, much like Cooper Pedy, in the Outback of Australia. Those courtyard cave homes really exist. The Berbers have been living here, underground, for centuries to avoid the extreme elements. Shoddy, dust covered doors lead through underground hand hewn tunnels, eventually opening up into lovely central open courtyards. Rooms are carved into the clay leading off the courtyard. A troglodyte is a cave dweller; somebody living in a cave. This term is used to describe the hotels here carved into the clay and also when describing somebody who belonged to a prehistoric cave-dwelling community. Not exactly prehistoric here but possibly evolution took a holiday.
It was here that we discovered the ultimate, refined art of doing nothing. Nothing at all. Sitting from morning to night in a coffee bar chatting, smoking, sipping coffee and doing nothing. They have perfected the fine art of doing nothing. We sat on a couple of chairs outside a shop doing nothing. Watching the men across the street doing nothing. We began to notice that after a phone call, men each in their own order, would get up, walk across the street to the bread shop, and emerge, having 'bagged' their game; a single long baguette of bread. They would then mount their tiny scooter steed and strap the prize tightly on the rack behind or ride off into the sunset with their baguette lance at the ready. Off for a banquet fit for the king in his underground castle.
for centuries, from all spiritual practices, have strived to become
nothing. To connect totally to the All of our existence, to
melt into the nothing which dwells inside us. If you are
something, such as the men above, and do nothing, does that help
with the quest? Would these men who day after day do nothing,
be further evolved than westerners busy reading about the topic,
"Nothingness" and practicing the techniques with their gurus or
Djerba is a southerly island with a mixture of sandy beaches, palm trees, and a maze of cobblestone streets in the old medina. In this ancient medina we encountered our first Tuareg tribesmen and laid eyes on their exotic robes and blue turbans. We also feasted our eyes on their unique Berber silver jewelry. They make the long, arduous trip from the Sahara Desert to trade jewelry for supplies.
We explored the island with our new fun friend from Brazil and saw beaches with camel rides, ate in local shops and experienced our first pizza pie; a regular size stuffed pizza with a fancy golden crust on top. I made friends with a modern, young Muslim English teacher. We went shopping to the local clothing bazaar together and poked through the medina maze in search of a 'swimming costume'. Surprisingly this consisted of a full spandex 'body suit', adorned with a little skirt over, and a kind of tight hood-like head covering. Nothing extra revealed here for these proper young Muslim women! We sat around in the market tasting Tunisian cous cous with roasted vegetables, thick soups, and 'brik' (vegetable pockets); while listening to local traditional musicians. In contrast we went to a large music festival in the restaurant across the lane, and saw young Muslim women with bare arms and short skirts dancing and partying to the fantastic, creative bands.
History oozes from the very pores of this old town. We stayed in the 300 year old Marhala Hotel in the medina. It is a converted 'funduq' where merchants from camel caravans rested after a long journey. The barrel vaulted rooms, are spartan but the courtyard, with draping bougainvillea, is a relaxing place to contemplate how many travelers have passed through the large wooden doors in 300 years!
And so it goes.........................................Next as we move across Northern Africa, we explore the exotic kingdom of Morocco. Until then let's remember to explore outside our 'box'. Bring power and love back into your life. Travel! Take care and Keep in Touch!
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 2.41 Tunisian Dinar
Bus to Douz
Arich - zone touristique phone # 76460344
Desert trips - over sand and dunes to Tsar Ghilane Oasis then on to Tataouine for desert mud castles and dwellings and other oasis. Continue on to Matmata for a look at cave dwelling. 2 full day trip - one night in the desert
To see the larger dunes - south through the desert to Tembain and Lac huidhat - camp in the dunes and continue where you wish.
Sahara tour operator:
Went out to the Turistic zone, where the beaches are. Tried to stay at a hotel with a discount listed online, but it was expensive and didn't work out. With recent unfortunate events tourism has grinded to a halt and their attempt to downscale a resort (such as turning off the air con) makes the stay unpleasant. Of course the higher end places are fine - just losing money day after day.
For a look at the beaches visit La Paillote or Sunset Bar/Cafe for sunset views. Reasonable prices compared to neighboring overpriced hotels.
Through an alley from the Marhala Hotel is the Palmeria Cafe. Great cous cous with vegetables. Traditional music.
Restaurant & Pizzeria Bollywood: