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Published: March 11th 2010
The height of comfort!
Early mornings! WE DON’T DO EARLY MORNINGS!! Getting up at 0630 was tough but we had to get our act together to be on the 0807 train from Sousse to Gabes. Fortunately we had bought our tickets the previous day and so the 4 hour journey was spent in the relative comfort of first class
for just a few pennies more than second would have been. Had we not had the foresight to do so we would have had to travel in the crowded and uncomfortable seats further back.
Arriving at Gabes station we feared the worst with the weather as the sky had a familiar reddish hue to it. This was the sign of an incoming sandstorm similar to what we had seen a few weeks ago in Sfax. From the station we carried our rucksacks for about ten minutes to the louage
station where transport to Matmata departs from. There are actually two Matmatas. First you must travel to New Matmata which takes you into the semi-desert region. The sandstorm really whipped up the Saharan sands making visibility poor at times and then it started to rain! At New Matmata we changed buses and were soon on our
way to Old Matmata. Luckily the rain stopped allowing us to walk through the village to our hotel.
We chose the Hotel Marhala because both of our guide books suggested it was the best of the troglodyte dwellings. The landscape around Matmata is littered with such dwellings. Basically a circular pit is dug out of the ground and a series of rooms are then excavated into the ground around the pit walls. Several pits can be linked to make a network of tunnel-like corridors and this is what our hotel was like. The reason for the development of such housing was simple; they are cool in the summer and warm(ish) in the winter. It was certainly warmer than we had hoped for in our room even if it was very basic - literally two rock-hewn beds, comfy mattresses and blankets, plus an electric light! What more do you expect for 16 Dinars (£7) a night each? It did include dinner and breakfast too!!
Feeling weary from the journey we rested for a while, hoping that the recalcitrant rains would subside. Sadly for us, they didn’t! Eventually we decided to brave the weather and go exploring. Normally it’s very
difficult to photograph the pit houses from above because of the strong sunlight and heavy shadows. Avoiding a waterlogged camera was more of a challenge for us! Still, it meant our visit was hassle-free from kids and touts. Every cloud does have its silver lining!! It was interesting visiting the Hotel Sidi Driss which was the set for various scenes in the original Star Wars
film. The place could do with a tidy up and a lick of paint now but instead it is resting on the laurels of tinsel town history. I imagine even Luke Skywalker himself would prefer to avoid his childhood home and instead stay in a different hotel where there are less camera-pointing tourists to disturb your afternoon snooze or light-sabre training.
After an evening at the bar with a group of 16 Explore Worldwide
tourists, we ate dinner (hearty soup followed by great couscous) and then retreated to our cave. We slept surprisingly well and unsurprisingly were the last to arrive for breakfast the next morning. The 16 intrepid explorers had long since departed by the time we got up!
The weather was perfect in the morning so we left our rucksacks at
reception and went for a hike out of the village. Our destination was the sign for Matmata on a hillside a few kilometres away. Had the weather been nice the previous evening, we would have had the hillside to ourselves and the light would have been perfect for photography. Instead we had to jostle with groups of school kids to get our photos in the harsh light of the late morning. Typically, as soon as we had finished, they all left!
After collecting our belongings we then had to retrace our steps to Gabes. Louages are an easy form of transport in Tunisia but you do have to wait for them to fill up before they will depart, unless of course you are prepared to pay for the empty seats. You don’t have to wait long though, and we were soon on our way back to Gabes via New Matmata. There we walked further out of town to the bus station and found a louage heading to our next destination, Tataouine.
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