Tozeur – On the Star Wars trail in the land of the Palm Tree

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March 18th 2010
Published: March 22nd 2010
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But notice the Tozeur brick detail on the minaret
Tozeur, what a cool place! We couldn’t get in at the hotel we wanted to stay in so we ended up in the Residence Warda. It’s very close to the town centre and we had a great room on the top floor which would have been nice and quiet but for a large group of Tunisian women on the floor below celebrating what we presume was a wedding. Their singing and ululating went on into the wee hours of the night! Then we were woken at 6am by a vociferous dawn chorus as a squadron or two of sparrows had taken residence in the bougainvillea outside our window!!

The brickwork on the houses and mosques of Tozeur and neighbouring Nefta is unique in Tunisia. The yellow handmade bricks protrude from the surface of the wall to form many geometrical patterns. The effect can be quite beautiful. We saw a brick maker in action and they work incredibly hard and long hours no doubt for a pittance.

Tozeur is also famous for its Palmerie where thousands of giant palm trees produce a wonderful crop of delicious dates. We took a caleche tour around and were surprised how our French stood up to our guided visit! We were shown the important “bits” from both male and female trees and how the two are “introduced” to each other and bound by hand to ensure successful cross-pollination during this period of fecundation. Saves leaving it to chance with Mother Nature!! Did you know there is one male tree for every 50 or so female trees?! Underneath the palms grow other crops such as banana, pomegranate and apricot but nothing is in season right now so we had to use our imagination. No such cerebral skills were required to see the work of a date harvester. The man scrambled bare foot up the 50 foot tree in seconds. It’s just a shame there were no dates for him to harvest for us.

We walked out to the Belvedere Rocks, Tozeur’s answer to Mount Rushmore. It was a bit tacky out there and very busy with tourists. Camel and horse rides were on offer but we refrained. There seemed to be some sort of exhibition just wrapping up when we got there but various Bedouin tents had been erected with LOUD music inside and various displays going on. We were just there to see the large rock though, on which has been attached three identical human faces of uncertain sex! It’s not really great but it is one of Tozeur’s “must see” sights so we saw it!!!

We also walked out to a lovely garden cafe one afternoon. We sat out in the sun drinking coffee and smoking a sheesha which passed a good couple of hours. All in all we had a very relaxing time and, given the chance, we would stay in Tozeur again for a few days.

Now for the big one, our half day excursion. A 4x4 jeep picked us up along with a couple of Japanese tourists from the same hotel. We were then taken out of town past the airport where we got a good view of two Iraqi Boeing 747s which have stood in idle silence since 1991. Our guide didn’t seem willing to stop for us to take photos though. Instead we headed for a desert lake where a solitary flamingo braved the jeeps and dune buggies. On the far side were flocks of migrating ducks sensibly keeping their distance.

A long bumpy road took us through camel-ridden scrub desert and to the
Jeep SafariJeep SafariJeep Safari

At Ong Jemal
edge of the giant salt lake. This was now Star Wars country and it wasn’t hard to imagine a youthful Anakin Skywalker racing pods at lightning speeds through the landscape. That took us to Onk Jemal (meaning Camel’s Head), scene of the battle between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. The nearby sand dunes were the scene for The English Patient so we now need to watch that again too!

A bit of dune bashing followed which was good fun. Then, out of nowhere, we reached the intact Star Wars set for the slave quarters of Mos Espa. Russ was in awe but our Japanese friends were so excited we thought they might wet themselves! Visiting a film set like this has its drawbacks though, and seeing the interior of the buildings was a letdown, whilst the metallic structures were all made from wood and painted silver!! Still, it was great just to wander around and feel the magic!

On our way back to Tozeur we visited the town of Nefta just to get a look at its oasis set in a natural bowl in the Earth. It was nice to see but the highlight of

The sky really was that colour
Nefta was when our driver went through some back streets leaving us wondering what was going on. He was going to visit a baker who, he says, makes the best bread in the region. Every time he goes to Nefta he brings back flat bread for his mother. Tasting it fresh from the oven was a real treat.

Additional photos below
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22nd March 2010

Good blogging!
Great pictures Russ, I especially like the opening one, is that the Chott el Jerid? I think we stayed in the same hotel as you when we were in Tozeur, though we were spared the big group of Tunisian women.

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