Footprints in the desert...
In this case it's a camel though.
Well so far Tunisia had been fabulous!! After a lot of more developed countries (Mexico City, New York, London, Greece, Turkey) it was nice to get back to something a bit more exotic and different!! And cheap too!! It's nice when the Aussie dollar stretches a bit more... 😊
We were really enjoying Tunisia - the people were really friendly, even though they spoke French and we didn't understand. But from their demeanour we hope
they were being friendly.
Food has been an interesting experience. At the last few places listed above, we have had an opportunity to try the food back home in Sydney. Tunisia is the first place in a long while where everything was strange again!! Didn't help that the menus are all in french either. Thankfully Catherine knew enough french to distinguish between 'beef' and 'chicken', but a lot of the times, it was point to something, order, and hope it is good!!
When you order a meal at a Tunisian place, you get served some bread, olives, and a plate of red paste called harissa. This is basically ground up red chillies with some stuff added to it to give a very yummy
flavour!! I absolutely loved the stuff, although I gather most tourists hate it. They put harissa in everything - if you walk down the streets, it's common to find vendors selling buns with harissa and tuna in them, etc. Another common food was briq
which is a flaky pastry that has got egg inside, along with random fillings like harissa, tuna, tomato, etc, and then all deep fried. Very yummy!!
The food is also a lot more spicy, which I had been missing. Basically I loved the food here, but once again, I was the only tourist I knew who did. Most of them complained about it and insisted on ordering familiar western dishes - as Tunisia had once been a french colony there was enough 'normal' food if you wanted it!!
OK enough about the food. We were heading out to Tozeur, which was the gateway to the Sahara. Tozeur is an oasis town, and contains a large palmerie (palm tree plantation). In Tunisia, you measure the strength of an oasis by the number of palm trees you can plant - this palmerie went for something like 200-300 miles with 200000 palm trees (according to the locals
So you know those images that we all have in our heads about oases? You know - the small cute pool of water with the single palm tree above it? Doesn't really exist. But nonetheless Tozeur was a really cool laid back town. Well cool is probably not the right word - it was incredibly hot, and everything shuts down in the afternoon and opens up again at night.
we had caught a 4 hour bus to Tozeur. The bus wasn't anything wonderful, but the most scary bit was that we had no idea where we were. After about 4 hours, I got suspicious, and at the next stop, we decided that we were at Tozeur and got off. Talk about lucky - we got it right!! I hate not being able to speak the language.
Tozeur is also famous for rather ornate brickwork. They build their buildings here with some bricks sticking out, to form cool patterns and give a 3-dimensional look to the wall. Quite impressive really!! According to the locals, this only exists in Tozeur and Nefta, a nearby town.
We had 3 days to spend at this oasis. The plan was
Carnage at the butcher's...
They put the heads outside so you can see what's on offer. Yum! I didn't get to try a camel steak, much to my regret.
to get on some day tours to go see the surrounding area. First up was a visit to Chebika, Mides and some other place whose name we've forgotten. These were very pretty palmeries but we didn't know much about it because our guide didn't speak English (even though we had been promised he would!) But - it is quite cool to see this green gash going through the desert.
We also got to see some ruined towns on the tour. The Tunisians used to build their villages out of mud bricks. Perfectly safe, except when it rains, but hey we're in the desert right? Well - one day, in 1969, they had 12 continuous days of rain, and all the villages completely disappeared!! So hence they all just moved elsewhere, built more mud brick houses, and a few years later it happened again!!
Eventually they learnt to use concrete like the rest of us and now they aren't worried about rain. Must have been quite horrible having to move every time it rained!!
On our second day we headed out to see Ong Jemal, and Mos Espa. Ong Jemal (neck of the camel) is a scenic part
Coca Cola in Arabic
Coke is pretty much understood in any language, but they change the symbols to match the country. We thought the Arabic one was cool. It's read right to left.
of the Sahara, and features a rather prominent rocky outcrop that looks like the neck of a camel, hence the name. Mos Espa however was the big highlight - it was the site where several star wars episodes have been filmed, and contained the entire set for the village of Mos Eisley, in pristine condition!! Was very excited about this. Today was also the day that Star Wars episode 3 was coming out, and since I couldn't watch the movie, it was as good to visit the set!!
So we got into our 4 wheel drive and headed out. Thankfully our guide was fabulous and gave us lengthy discourses on the sights around us. Didn't know that you could talk so much about sand, but he did. Was very interesting. He also particularly enjoyed taking the most challenging routes through the sand dunes, so we had a really exciting ride on the way to our sites!! Well, I enjoyed it anyway, I think Catherine would have preferred he didn't take our 4WD along the most difficult routes!!
Ong Jemal was everything that was promised. Beautiful scenic desert. Wonderful blue skies. Very hot!! But we were absolutely loving the
On the way to Ong Jemal
This camel just sat in the middle of the road and refused to move.
desert at this point.
But Mos Espa completely rocked!! Here we were driving up this incredibly steep sand dune that went up for at least 20 metres. By now we were quite prepared for the guide to just go over the edge of these dunes, and be coming down 70 degree descents without a qualm! but he stopped at this one, and when the dust settled, we saw the entire set of Mos Eisley!! Like - wow!! OK, so I am a bit of a Star Wars fan, but this was really impressive! I couldn't believe that it was just sitting here. There was no tourist office charging entrance fees. No kitsch souvenir shop selling 'I was at Mos Espa' T-shirts (I may have actually succumbed and bought one!). And the desert was just peaceful and beautiful. You can see why people fall in love with the desert.
hung around Mos Espa taking far too many pictures, and then culminated with watching the sun set. Stood on the ridge where Luke contemplated the twin suns of Tatooine. Saw the place where Darth Maul and Quai-gon had their first tussle. It was all rather exciting really!!
was definitely a highlight for me, and I think Catherine was more excited because I was excited - but we were both definitely pleased that we had come here!!
After Tozeur, we got onto an overnight bus and went to Tunis. Didn't sleep a wink as the ride was more a roller coaster ride, but that was ok because was still excited about Mos Espa 😊
One thing we didn't do was go see Carthage. Tunisia once used to be the site of this ancient city, and you may have heard of Hannibal and the elephants - well - today Carthage is just a suburban area with a few rather scanty ruins thrown in. See my brother's blog
titled 'Carthage is Garbage' to see why 😊
And that was pretty much it for Tunisia!! We had really enjoyed our time here. It's nice to see a large chunk of a country and really feel like you covered it well. In our 8 days, we had seen an old colonial city (Tunis), gorgeous beaches at Hammamet, the peaceful and tranquil sidi Bou Said, Roman ruins at El-Jem, a few oases, ruined villages, and Star Wars sets!! Not bad
We thoroughly recommend Tunisia for a great holiday. But even more exciting... Egypt is next!! This (for me anyway) was the highlight of the trip, and am very much looking forward to our next blog so we can tell you all about it!!
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