Tataouine - impressive ksour and berber villages


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Africa » Tunisia » Tataouine
March 11th 2010
Published: March 14th 2010
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From Gabes it took us two hours on a louage to reach Tataouine. On the way we passed the town of Mareth with its impressive museum and wished we could have stopped for a visit. The museum is dedicated to the Mareth Line, scene of General Montgomery and his desert rats’ famous victory over Rommel in World War II. Sadly it seems it’s easier to visit if you rent a car rather then travel around on public transport.

Tataouine the town should not be confused with Tatooine the planet. It’s very real and only has one sun, whilst George Lucas’ fictional planet had two. Still, inspiration has to come from somewhere and it’s not hard to see where it came from here. Harsh desert landscapes and weird and wonderful local costumes all played their part in Star Wars.

The bus station is a couple of kilometres to the North of town and a taxi quickly saw us at the Gazelle Hotel. It was a bit pricey for us at 50 dinars (£22) so we ended up at the nearby Hotel Hamza. At 21 dinars (£10) for a double with breakfast we were not expecting much but we had a comfortable room with heating and we were more than happy.

A little weary having travelled on 3 different louages from Matmata, we rested for a while before climbing up a newly constructed set of steps to a hill overlooking the town. It was good to stretch our legs but we were cautious at first as the base of the steps is in a rather dodgy area marked by a burnt out car! We needn’t have worried though as everyone was very friendly and even the little kids were happy to point us in the right direction. The climb wasn’t too strenuous and we were afforded a marvellous view of the town and its surrounding fortified hills. There’s a lot of military presence around so careful with the camera - not that it stopped Russ at all!!

The next morning we had a quick browse around the market. It’s out of season at the moment so there wasn’t as much colour and character around as there will be in the summer. Even so, we saw some interesting people and the stacks of fennel on trucks never cease to amaze us wherever we go. Easily pleased I guess!!

Our plan had been to take a louage out to Ksar Ouled Soultane and we soon found a vehicle going there. It resembled a horse box or a cattle cart and we sat in the back waiting patiently for other passengers. Just as we were about to think of a plan B and give up, it filled up. We agreed to pay for the final two places (well, it was only 1.2 dinar - 55p) to ensure a swift getaway, if not a swift journey.

The desert scenery behind us was beautiful and about 40 minutes later we reached our destination. A ksar(plural ksour) was an ancient multi-storeyed granary store. The one at Ouled Soultane is probably the best preserved in Tunisia and free to visit once you get there. It was used as the Mos Espa slave quarters in The Phantom Menace and was a really cool place to hang out and explore for a while. Even the local artists who have opened up galleries in some of the store rooms were friendly and didn’t pester us too much. Their work is excellent but we were not in a buying mood. Afterwards we had a quick wander around the small village and exchanged hellos with some of the local kids before we luckily found a louage heading back to Tataouine.

After a short rest we tried to find a louage out to the hilltop Berber town of Chenini. It seems they only go in the morning which is when the place is apparently overrun with tourists. Instead we negotiated a good taxi price to get out there. On arrival we called in at the Mabrouk restaurant where some lovely fresh salad was served. Unfortunately Trish was struck down with a bug of some sort before she had even started to eat. She then decided to stay close to the restaurant and their bathrooms whilst Russ went off to explore.

Trish’s sudden illness was such a shame because she missed one of the best sights in Tunisia. The ancient Berber village sits atop a hill and many of the old houses are still relatively intact. Indeed, some are still lived in now, and a project is underway to restore others to a habitable condition. They have electricity and telephones so no doubt the Internet will arrive very soon! The hilltop is dominated by the gleaming white mosque and altogether it makes a great place to explore for several hours. Insha’allah we will return one day so Trish can see the marvels of Chenini and maybe we’ll even get out to the graves of the Seven Sleepers. According to local legend, seven Christians slept in a deep slumber to escape the marauding Romans. When they awoke they had grown to 4 metres tall and the Romans had been replaced by the Muslims. They converted to Islam and promptly died. They are now interred here for eternity.

The restaurant arranged for a taxi to come and pick us up from Chenini. Trish went back to the hotel to rest and a few hours later Russ was also struck down by the mystery illness. Believe us when we say it was extremely unpleasant but we shall not shock you with further details!!!!

The next day we both felt well enough to travel and set out for our next stop - the Island of Djerba.



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