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Published: March 2nd 2010
It was a smooth hour’s sailing from Sfax to the port of Sidi Youssef on the island of Gharbi, one of the two main islands in the Kerkennah archipelago. We were a little concerned about getting onward transport around the islands but we needn’t have worried. A fleet of yellow minibuses greets the arrival of the ferry and despite there being only one other passenger on our bus, we were not asked to pay more than the going rate to be taken to Sidi Frej on Chergui Island.
A long straight road runs across Gharbi where it is very flat and dry with only palm trees to break up the view. After 10 minutes or so you cross a causeway over to Chergui which is the largest of the islands of Kerkennah. Before long our driver was dropping us off at the “octopus” roundabout in Sidi Frej and directing us down a road towards the hotel we had hoped to stay in. Unfortunately a group of French tourists in their convoy of 4x4s beat us to it and the Cercina
was full. The friendly lady on reception suggested we walk 2km to the Grand Hotel
. It was a bit of a
trek but the weather was good and we needed to stretch our legs after the journey.
It was a pretty desolate walk along the road and we soon realised that Sidi Frej is not a town, but a collection of hotels scattered along the coastline. We eventually found the entrance to the Grand and decided to treat ourselves to a night’s half board at around 90 Dinar (£40) for the two of us. Grand by name but not really by nature, our room was in what resembled an old military barrack block, but it was clean and very comfortable with a great view of the Mediterranean. The swimming pool had water in it but the colour of it put us off having a dip. The temperature was nice but didn’t really warrant a swim. Instead we decided to go for a walk.
We managed to walk along the beach for about half an hour which gave us a fairly close view of the palm frond fish runs. The fishermen take the fronds from the palm trees and plant them in the shallow waters forming a v-shaped trap. Fish then swim up the trap and can’t get out. Much
easier than tackle and bait!
We eventually ran out of beach and had to go inland. Luckily the house whose garden we walked across had no guard dogs!! Our destination was the Borj el Hissar
, an old Spanish fort and its nearby Roman and Phoenician ruins. It was free to visit and, whilst there’s not really much there, it gave a purpose to our walk. Alongside the fort we met a nice German couple who are currently touring Tunisia and Libya in their camper-van. You can catch up with them at their website
. We were relieved that the fierce looking dog was theirs!
On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a bit of bird watching. We had seen some enormous birds in flight which looked like pterodactyls. On closer inspection they were like enormous geese or even flying ostriches. We decided to call them Jurassic geese
for want of a better description!
Dinner that evening was some fresh local fish which were delicious. The hotel was very quiet and except for us and a group of what we think were oil workers, it would have been empty. Still, it made for a peaceful and relaxing night.
next day we checked out and headed back to the Cercina. The French had moved out and we got a basic room about 5 metres from the sea for 30 Dinars (£13). After a quick wander around the harbour area we decided to walk some of the way towards Remla, the largest town on the islands. We walked through the never-changing countryside (palm trees again, how boring!!) for about 4km before we finally saw a bus heading our way. It seems that to and from the ferries, there is plenty of transport, but the rest of the time there is very little.
Remla was surprisingly small. We hadn’t exactly anticipated a metropolis, but we were still a little taken aback by what we found. It was nice to sit out by the beach and watch the fishermen “walk on water” as they inspect their octopus pots. The weather was lovely and after whiling away the time, we went to a seaside restaurant for lunch. The islands are famous for their octopus (octopi?) so we tried the octopus salad which was very nice indeed.
After lunch we eventually found a bus taking us out to El Abbasia. This village
is the site of the island’s best museum which is advertised all over the place. Unfortunately it was closed for restoration and/or renovation, so we were soon on the other side of the road waiting for a bus back to Remla! From there we managed to get back to Sidi Frej quite easily.
We had hoped to see a wonderful sunset from our hotel. Unfortunately it seems the sea evaporates and forms a misty horizon at that time of day, every day! We did our best with the camera but it wasn’t as impressive as it might have been. The restaurant at the hotel was the opposite, and totally exceeded our expectations. The octopus soup was delicious and it was nice to be surrounded by people, even if most of them were oil workers off shift from the nearby offshore rigs. We got to watch the semi-finals of the African women’s handball championships from Egypt. Tunisia murdered Algeria and you had to wonder who Algeria had beaten to get to the semi-finals!!
The following morning the hotel sorted us out with transport back to Sidi Youssef. The sea was a bit rougher this time but the sailing wasn’t
too bad. It was a very nice couple of days and a relaxing escape from it all. Well worth the trip in our opinion. A short walk from the port in Sfax then got us to the train station just in time for a train direct to Sousse.
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