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Published: January 1st 2011
New Year greetings from the North of Tunisia! I have left the desert after an incredible week of stunning landscapes, sand dunes, camels and abandoned villages. What an amazing place, and Tunisia sure packs a lot into its comparatively tiny amount of desert – imagine how much there is to see in its larger neighbours of Libya, Algeria and beyond (but do rest assured, am not planning any trips to these in the near future…!). Still, am seriously contemplating taking up Arabic classes on my return to London, having just about got to grips with the written script, so hopefully will be able to delve into more Arabic countries in the near future.
Am writing this one from a little-visited, but absolutely fascinating and very welcoming city called El Kef, in the north-western corner of the country, not far from the border with Algeria. In fact, yesterday was a day spent mostly hugging the western borders of Tunisia with glimpses into Algerian mountains beyond, from Tozeur in the desert south, via four separate louage journeys, to here, and having a great time – feels like I’ve really gotten off the beaten track, which is most welcome as
it seemed that after Christmas, the whole of France and Italy descended upon the southern desert oases in droves of families and camper vans, and it’s certainly nice to escape this up here and see what could be classed as the real Tunisia. People speak little French in these parts, so am venturing a bit into the Arabic, which is giving me the feeling of wanting to learn more upon returning to London.
Last I wrote, I believe I was resting up after my Saharan camel trek in the town of Douz, an unbelievably freezing place at night, and while my hotel room there had the modern and much-appreciated conveniences of running water and electricity which the Berber encampment lacked, it did not have heating, and was a tad nippy to say the least. Indeed, last night it got down to -1 degrees, which without heating and in houses meant to keep out any heat whatsoever, is not very compatible! 6 blankets a night continued.
After Douz, took two louages via Kebili, to include the amazing crossing of Tunisia’s vast salt lake, the Chott El Jerid. This was an hour of driving in a ruler-straight line over a
causeway raised 2 metres above the shimmering salt lake around, backed on one side by mountains, and on the other by an absolutely horizontal line of flatness, salt and water which reflected exactly the clouds in the sky. Indeed, a few mirages also. Took a few pictures from inside the louage, and then arrived in Tozeur – my final desert oasis stop, and a great place to spend a couple of days. Hooked up with the only other solo traveller I’ve met on my trip so far, a great French guy called Jonas, to do one of the region's day trips to three nearby mountain oases close to the Algerian border: Tamerza, Chebika and Mides. Tamerza and Chebika were set in stunning valleys dissected by a river seemingly flowing out of nowhere, to include a couple of cute waterfalls. Mides was a hilltop village, and had an incredible, echoing gorge running through it. That was truly stunning.
Also from Tozeur did a great trip to another nearby salt lake, the Chott El Gharsa, which featured heavily in the new Star Wars trilogy – to include a protruding rock known as the “Ong Jemal”, or “Camel’s Neck”, which strangely enough,
Kasbah, El Kef
View from my hotel room
resembled a camel’s head and hump, overlooking the amazing salt lake complete with stunning mirages. This was followed by a walk around nearby Mos Espa – not actually a Tunisian settlement, but a purpose built town which featured as a desert space port in the films. Not only this, but the desert dunes and landscapes around were perfect playgrounds for the 4x4s which took groups there – they would climb up seemingly vertical slopes, and descend similarly on the other side, zipping around up and down, and me being at the back of the jeep, involving a few bumps to the head – great fun!
Tozeur is also famous for its patterned brickwork featuring on buildings in the old town, and is apparently good to create mini convection currents to keep houses cool in the summer – very interesting.
As mentioned though, Tozeur was pretty touristy – there’s even an international airport with direct flights to France and Italy, so it wasn’t really like treading untrodden ground unfortunately (which is what I like!). Which kind of provided me with the inspiration for fitting in the part of the journey I’m doing now – yesterday taking the four louages
to firstly Gafsa, then Feriana, then Kasserine, and finally here El Kef.
El Kef is a spectacularly located town which plunges down the side of a mountain, the Jebel Dyr, at 1084m, and overlooked by a 17th Century fortified kasbah. The hotel I’m staying at is magical – a real breath of fresh air. Although I’ve been staying in the top end of the LP’s budget hotel section so far, the room I’m in now is just great, and I’ve actually decided to spend 4 nights here! There’s lots of day trips you can do from El Kef, and I’m now at the stage of my journey where I just want to chill a bit, and having found a great hotel, why risk it by moving on and ending up in a dive? Great view of the kasbah and surrounding plains from my room too.
So today did one of the day trips, by hitching a ride with an Australian couple staying in the same hotel who’d rented a car, to nearby Dougga – a Roman town built in the 2nd century AD, on top of 4th century BC Carthaginian remains, and dubbed the best preserved Roman site
in Tunisia. Despite having been to Pompeii and coming to the conclusion that any Roman ruins visited since then are really just a pile of rubble in comparison, I was proper impressed. You can really get a feel for the workings of the town here, the winding streets, the baths, temples and theatre, and again the views of the surrounding plains were impressive. After this, hitched another ride with another Australian couple who'd rented a car (what a vagrant!) to nearby Hammam Mellegue, which was just amazing! This place was built by the Romans again in the 2nd Century AD, but has remained unchanged ever since! So actually had a proper, hot-spring fed bath in a Roman bath complex where Romans actually did their bathing 1800 years ago – this was unique!
From here, a couple of other day trips hopefully, to take in the mountain town of Ain Draham which can apparently get up to 1m of snow in winter, and maybe a trek up a nearby mountain plateau called Jugurtha’s Table, before heading back to Tunis on Tuesday, and London Town again on Wednesday – watch this space for what I eventually end up doing.
will type no more and upload some great photos from the last few days.
Hope everyone’s well, and have had a great start to the New Year 2011!
Happy New Year!!
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