Wednesday, April 6, 2011

last day of the trip

we traveled to the island of Djerba where we visited the oldest synagogue in north africa. the foundations of the building are from 500 BC.  it also happens to be lovely.  we are allowed inside.  this not the only synagogue on the island as about 1000 Jews live here of the 1400 Jews remaining in Tunisia. 

here are some photos:

inside the men's prayer room there was a man praying with the tefillin (not sure if I spelled it correctly) but he must have only been somewhat religious because his wife was taking photos of him doing it which seemed a bit unseemly to me but maybe if I was super religious I would undersatnd that this is OK to take pictures of yourself praying in a sacred place.... maybe... but maybe it is not so cool.

afterward we went to the souk- the moment Sally has been waiting for- two hours of shopping!  and plenty of things to see for the non shoppers as well.  We saw lots of spices and grains and fruits and rocky mountain oysters (whatever they are called in French- LOL) and ceramics.  Jennifer made some nice purchases which I will not reveal here as some of the followers may be recipients of her largesse...

I found a few small pieces of ceramic that I couldn't pass up and a small watercolor of the souk.  then we had lunch of grey mullet and one last fabulously juicy orange- which we have been eating at least twice a day.

then to the airport and the quick flight to Tunis - in moments we will gather for the farewell dinner and then tomorrow wake up call is 4:45 AM so this will be it for posting until I am home and have time to give more details and more photos.

midnight at the oasis

Midnight at the oasis- Well not exactly - but night time by the pool.

We left at 5 PM for our final outing in Tataouine- the Ksar Ouled Soultane.  While there I bought a small watercolor of the place for 5 Dinar ($3.50) which of course will cost 20 times that much to frame but it will be a nice momento.  Here is a photo of me in front of the location of the painting. 

We made one more stop at the hotel we were supposed to have been but that hasn’t been finished- LOL- the part that is complete is already falling down- even though our hotel is simple it is much better than the falling apart incomplete Disney-esque place we were supposed to be using.  Here is a shot of the best place in the hotel a wall with some pots lined up against it. 

The place was totally weird- dinosaur replicas on the roof and fake camels in the courtyard some with missing legs… what a mess.  Mohamed said he heard that the owner had left the country.  Well anyway… we got the better deal for sure.  Tomorrow is our last day and we go to the island of Djerba to visit the synagogue and the market there.  This is the shopping opportunity many have waited for.  I will see how it goes – I don’t  need anything but the economy here could use some assistance so who knows…
Then at the end of the day we fly back to Tunis and have our farewell dinner and then up at 4:45 the following morning for 8 AM flights to Paris where we will all split up and go our separate ways.  Good group and it was wonderful having only eight.  No delays waiting on one or another person and we all played nicely together.  I may not get back to the blog after this post until I get home.  I will do some additional posting over the next 10 days or so on the trip as I go through photos and remember certain interesting things – so stay tuned. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


So off we go this morning earlier than usual as the day will be quite hot and we want to get our hike in before it is too warm. We go to the berber village of Chenini where we hike up to the old village and see the sites but most importantly we meet Mohmaed’s girlfriend Mari.  She is 85 and lives on her own in a cave dwelling near the top of the mountain.  Her children and grand children and great grandchildren are doctors and lawyers but she wants to be independent and live on her own.  She is as cute as she could be and teases Mohamed about when is he getting married.  She has a cell phone but only knows how to answer when her family members call. 

She was delightful and we all agreed this is an example of what makes the OAT trips so worthwhile.  We move along and head towards Hedada- a town on the ksar route.  The Ksars are fortified granaries that were used by the nomadic people to store food for their animals as they moved along the trade routes.  This one is an excellent example and also quite renown as another of the locations from Star Wars.  We take some photos

And then we head back to Chenini for lunch. Where we again have a fabulous meal of barley and garlic soup and brique with an egg cooked into it and then a poultry brochette and for dessert the gazelle’s horns, like those we had yesterday.  They even came from the same shop as the owner of both the restaurant in Chenini and the pastry shop in Tataouine are one and the same. 

Today we have free time in the afternoon because it is too hot to be outside and at 5 PM we will meet again for the rest of the sightseeing.

into and out of the sahara

Our journey into the Sahara began with heading out of Tozuer toward Douz.  Our first stop is the salt flat.  It is enormous – the size of West Virginia.  There is no water but there is a causeway and of course a cafĂ©/souvenir stand along the way. 

Once we leave the confines of the causeway we stop at a waaay cool artesian well and take some photos of how this works. (another civil engineering site for Dave- Jennifer’s boyfriend)

Then we are on to the next “discovery” – camel riding in the desert town of Douz.  I have ridden three camels and really don’t feel the need to make it four – but am happy to take the horse carriage and be the photographer.  The cutest camel is Jimmie a four year old in training to take riders. 

Lunch is followed by a Bedouin wedding between Max and Sally.  Very festive and as always the bride looked beautiful and happy. 

Afterward we go to the hotel again to hook up with the cars to take us to the camp and Mohamed gets on the internet to let people call their families.   Max called his sister in California and woke her up with “Chica! I got married!” LOL – the poor woman probably thought he had gone around the bend.  We then part ways with Hussein and the bus and get into four wheel drive vehicles to head to our overnight in the Sahara camping.  We arrive in time for sunset and get settled in. 

We see a bread baking demo and watch as our steamed dinner is pulled from its sand oven.  Later we have a discussion about the nomadic way of life which disappeared when the borders were marked out when the Europeans came to north Africa. 

The stars were magnificent!  They seemed SOOOO close and they were so bright and so many of them – it would have been worth the journey just for that view of the night sky. 

Up early of course and off to the largest dunes in Tunisia. Lots of roller coaster rides on the dunes heading to the great eastern erg as the biggest dunes are known.  On the way Dick said to all of us in the vehicle “I don’t know where I am” LOL in a completely straight manner – we laugh as the only one who has a clue is the driver.  We think we are in the middle of nowhere but shortly after the big dunes stop I spy a cell tower in the distance- civilization!

After our stop there we go on to the old ruins of a Roman outpost.  Here we find dune buggies from the local oasis settlement nearby.  We head in that direction for lunch. 

Afterward we meet up with our bus again at a cross road about an hour away,  Then we are on to Matmata and cave dwellings followed quickly by the remains of the Skywalker house from Star Wars.

More driving and riding and we finally arrive in Tataouine and after a brief stop for gazelle horns pastry we get to our hotel. 

Sorry this is the abbreviated version but we were out in the desert with no connection and yet I have lots to cover – so you get more pictures and less writing for the post covering two days.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

mountain oases day

We are off in the morning to the mountains (the atlas mountains) near Tozuer.  We are divided into two four wheel drive vehicles.  We have driver Hadid who is very patient with Jennifer’s practicing of the french. LOL  She knows a lot of words and is very good with putting together simple questions and answers but her pronunciation is awful.  She knows this and is seeking assistance from her French teacher Rede who is from Morocco.  She signed up for fifteen lessons and these have been helpful for reading all kinds of marketing BS on the back of wine bottles and such. LOL

Anyway- we are paired with Max and Dick in the lead car for the first part of the journey.  We head out of town to the south and west and after about twenty minutes or so go “off road” to the north, where we cross lots of sparse vegetation not unlike southwestern New Mexico in the US.  That is until the camels start crossing in front of us.  We stop for a few photos and then move on to some dunes where we have an “E” ticket ride on the amusement park scale.  Up and over and down on the dunes.  We pass a couple of guys on camels and then they must have cell phoned ahead to all the nearest neighbors because as we pull into the first stop we are immediately surrounded by hordes of vendors – well actually there were probably a dozen of them but they were persistent in their sales appeals.  We have arrived at the location of the Star Wars filming from 1997. 

George Lucas apparently filmed here for more than twenty years in various locations and this was one from 1997 – the last time he filmed in Tunisia.  The English Patient was also filmed here.  The set is in fairly good shape even after more than a decade as the place is extremely arid. 

Time enough for photos and a bathroom stop (70 cents- but clean) and we are off to our next stop.  The nomadic family homestead.  They raise animals here and the animals have babies at this time of year.  So we get to see kids and kittens and a newly born baby goat- just moments old still struggling to stand-  as the mom goat cleans it up a bit.  There are lots of chickens and some baby chicks and a turkey – a regular menagerie in the middle of the desert, but close enough to the oasis that they can bring water from there on their mules.

We move on.  Next we are headed to higher elevation and three small mountain oases.  The first one is Chebika where we stop for a hike.  I take the easy somewhat shaded route to the waterfall and the others take the forty minute hike in the noon day sun to get to the same site by the long way around. 

Then we are off to the next quck stop at a panoramic view point over the salt flats and the oases down below.  Then on to lunch at the second town, Tamerza, in a fancy resort hotel.  We have nice salads and appetizer thingies and then a mixed grill of kebabs and sides of potatoes and zucchini.  The dessert is a date mousse which is quite cloying.  I manage to eat mine but Jennifer flags somewhat. 

Back in the cars and on to the final stop Mides – which is right on the Algerian border.  Here they have a deep canyon carved eons ago by water.  Now there is only a hint of a stream from underground springs.  More souvenirs on offer but not much buying.  We ride the hour and a half back to town speaking broken French with Hadid who seems amused- LOL although we do manage to communicate a bit. 

Dinner is on our own and we elect the hotel so we can eat lightly or not at the buffet which had an excellent salad bar.  And the cost is 15 dinars (a bit more than 10 dollars) – can’t go wrong with that.  We agree to meet at 8 PM as we have packing to do and tomorrow will be limited to a small bag for the camping night in the desert.  I am very much looking forward to seeing the stars.  When I last camped in the Sahara in 2000, in Morocco we didn’t see stars because there was a sand storm.  For years I had Saharan sand in my duffle bag.  This time the weather looks to be good.  Maybe a tad hot during the middle of the day but we should survive quite nicely.  

Jennifer after a scarf tying lesson at one of the stops.

Stay tuned!