Last winter was extremely long and cold, and despite the already advanced spring, we could not wait for the much-desired warmth of the Sun. Thoughts impatiently and inevitably lead us to sandy beaches and summer joys. But we believe that you have all heard the old saying – If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.
Why not treat yourself with the Sun’s rays at any time of the year? It is the perfect time to visit the southern regions of the Earth. In a brief overview of the offers of travel agencies catches our eye one exotic destination, at an even more attractive price, Tunisia. At the speed of light, we packed our travel bags, and the very next moment, we were on our way to warmer regions. Tunisia is located in the very north of Africa, bordered on the west by Algeria (965 km) and on the southeast by Libya (459 km) with intensely hot summers and moderately mild winters. The climate is diverse, from the pleasant Mediterranean to the less-pleasant Saharan. These different environmental and climatic characteristics created real economic and cultural differences between the fertile and productive plains in the north and the arid, more impoverished regions of the central and southern parts of the country. This richness of diversity attracts many tourists to this country, which is sunbathed for up to 3,000 hours a year.
Our destination is Djerba island, one of the principal centers of tourism in Tunisia. Here, the tourist industry has been developing rapidly since 1960, which gives the island connotations of modernity, hospitality, and exclusivity, making it an ideal destination for an unforgettable vacation.
As soon as you step on Tunisian soil, you realize that you are in a distinctive world, in many ways different from ours. Since Tunisia offers countless fascinating locations that would not be possible to visit without a car, we decide to rent it, which was a great idea. To our delight, the car was, unlike most of Tunisia’s fleet, in incomparably better and newer condition.
Our destination is Djerba island, one of the principal centers of tourism in Tunisia. Here, the tourist industry has been developing rapidly since 1960, which gives the island connotations of modernity, hospitality, and exclusivity, making it an ideal destination for an unforgettable vacation. It is a popular destination for French, Italians, and increasingly for Slovenians and Croats. Although the island is becoming more modern, it is also one of the few localities where the Berber language has remained in speech. We settle in one of the many hotels located in the tourist zone in the north-west of the island, not far from the largest city, also the administrative center of the island, Houmt Souk. Houmt Souk in translation means market area and is the only city with countless shops, markets, and fairs, which are worth a visit if you want to see the diversity of the offer that the island provides.
One of the most significant offerings are spices, typical for this area, such as mint, anise, and cumin, which abundantly predominate in Tunisian and Berber cuisine. With its 28 km long and 26.5 km wide, the island is precisely ethnically, culturally, and artistically determined. Although small in size, over 200 mosques have been built on it. Surprised by the numerous mosques, which we meet at every step, yet we come across the only church (in Houmt Souk), and a synagogue on the island (in Hara Sghira).
Near the tourist resort of Midoun is located Parc Djerba Explore, a tourist complex dedicated to cultural heritage and Islamic art. What impressed us the most within this complex is the largest crocodile farm in the Mediterranean, which has about 400 specimens of large and small predators.
Near the tourist resort of Midoun is located Park Djerba Explore, a tourist complex dedicated to cultural heritage and Islamic art. What impressed us the most within this complex is the largest crocodile farm in the Mediterranean, which has about 400 specimens of large and small predators. We visited them just in time for lunch, an impressive spectacle for all visitors. When you experience with the “naked” eyes this scene of the breaking of flesh and bones, under the sharp teeth in those enormous jaws, only then you understand the strenght of this powerful animal. Although the impressive scenes you don’t need to worry, they were not as bloody as the ones from the cult movie “Friday the 13th”, and not to forget to mention, all the visitors survived.
In search of amusing attractions, we arrive in the town of Guellala, the capital of pottery, where about 100 families practice this craft. We enter one of the “shops” where terracotta products also are made, and through a conversation with the owner, we learn that the techniques and methods of production are the same today as they used to be. Shops are full of various colorful items, from plates, jugs, bowls to amphorae. But the product that is the most exported is the so-called gargoulette, actually an amphora for catching octopuses, which are as numerous in island waters as lobsters. Next to the store itself, there are storage rooms, recesses in the ground where terracotta is dried, and nearby there are ovens for baking products, which with their specific form, are reminiscent of modern abstract art.
In the southern part of the island are located the picturesque fishing towns Ajim and El Kantara. They are the link between the island and the mainland of Tunisia. El Kantara is connected to the land by a road, by a bridge, over an old Roman embankment, while Ajim is by ferry. The ferry is very cheap, so for only 800 milimes (approx. 0.40 cents) per car, you have transportation to the other side of the coast. Driving on Tunisian roads outside major cities, we conclude that in Tunisia, are more “gas stations” per square kilometer than in any well-developed country.
Although such “gas stations” do not have a solid roof, nor standard gas stations, nor classic cash registers where you will pay for the purchased fuel, their offer also matches the largest known distributors. Cheerful and colorful canisters are waiting for you. Even if you happen to run out of fuel in the dark of night, there is no problem. Tunisians will be very happy to serve you. Although, as they say, it is smuggled fuel from Libya, there is no fear because when it comes to illegal petroleum, the government connives such things.
If you are a fan of the movie “Star Wars” then Tunisia as a destination is the right choice for you. Moon landscapes and attractive architectures have created an ideal location for filming numerous scenes of the film. Some of these locations can still be seen today…
In everyday life, when buying meat, we often ask ourselves how fresh the meat is and whether it was stored well enough. In Tunisia, any doubt falls away in the blink of an eye. If you come across a butcher shop, a small “two-by-two” concrete object, the first thing you’ll notice is a few sheep tied to a rope trying to eat up those few blades of dry grass growing nearby. If you look around, you also will notice, at the entrance of the building, hung animal skins drying, and in an instant, everything becomes clear. Meat is very fresh, in fact, still warm and alive. You only need to have the courage to point the finger at the little creature, and the next moment, it goes into treatment. Of course, for “some” reason, we were not ready to taste the offer. Furthermore, we didn’t care about the meat at all.
If you are a fan of the movie “Star Wars” then Tunisia as a destination is the right choice for you. Moon landscapes and attractive architectures have created an ideal location for filming numerous scenes of the film. Some of these locations can still be seen today, such as the desert areas next to the salt lake Chott el-Jerid, Ksar Hadada on the road from Matmata to Tataouine, and the town of Ajim on Djerba.
Moving towards the central part of mainland Tunisia, we become more aware of the fact that we are getting closer and closer to the desert region. The road leads us to the dry, salty lake Chott el-Jerid located between Douz and Tozeur. During the rainy seasons, the lake fills with water and becomes a big inland sea, but already in the spring, under the influence of the Sun, the water evaporates, leaving traces of salt on the endless desert soil. Here you will find quite particular and unique souvenirs – Desert roses, which are created by nature through periods and changing weather conditions.
Desert roses are shapes formed by a mixture of sand and salt crystals and are found a few meters deep below the surface of Saharan sand. To get this unique souvenir, you will not need a shovel or hard work in the heat because they can be bought very cheaply in almost every store, and even on stands in the middle of the desert. Prices range from 2 to 4 Tunisian dinars (approx. 1 to 2 euros) depending on the rose size. Douz is the city behind which the Sahara begins, so it’s called – the doorway of the Sahara. Here you will be impressed by the hundreds of thousands of date palms and fruit trees grown exclusively for export. For all those eager for adventure, camel riding in real Bedouin clothes is on offer here.
Our next destination is Ksar Ghilane, an oasis that houses about 60 spacious and air-conditioned tents equipped with a bathroom. There is also a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, all comforts except television and telephone.
We want to visit the Sahara, but one usually goes to the desert in vehicles customized to desert conditions. We fear the fact that the roads will not be passable for our car, but we are brave and we do not giving up. Namely, a route passes between dunes, which move under the influence of the winds, so it happened that the road disappears. But the Tunisians came up with the idea of placing protections on the edges of the dunes by planting palm branches that prevent them from moving.
Our next destination is Ksar Ghilane, an oasis that houses about 60 spacious and air-conditioned tents equipped with a bathroom. There is also a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, all comforts except television and telephone. But do not let that worry you because mobile devices work flawlessly. Here you can ride camels, enjoy the sunset at dusk, dine in the moonlight surrounded by dunes. A unique feeling that stays in your memory for a lifetime.
After exploring the Bedouin way of life, we embark on new explorations, but this time of nomads and barbers. The southern part of Tunisia is rich in ksars (“ksar” means fortress) of quite attractive architecture, consisting of a series of independent buildings with several rooms, cylindrical structures traditionally called ghorfas. They used to serve for storing food products, as protection from heat but also from muggers. Today, most of them are hotels where campers from all over Europe usually stay on their travels. But the barbers also stand out with their unique architecture. The Matmata area is overlayed with a cave, troglodyte houses excavated in clay and sand.
If you find yourself in front of the door or the entrance of one of the houses, and if you see a blue handprint above the doorway, it means that you are welcome in that house. You will be greeted by friendly hosts who will take you through a tunnel, dug in the rock, to the yard (about 15 meters in diameter) that forms the center of the house. Around the yard are arranged rooms for different purposes. In addition to showing you their home, they will offer you home-baked bread, as well as olive oil, which they have in abundance since Tunisia is full of endless olive groves that have no end in sight even after 2 hours of driving. It is customary to pay the host 5 Tunisian dinars for such a visit, which is a little less than 3 euros.
Tired of wandering through the vastness of Tunisia for several days, we decide on a relaxing massage, which, like other cosmetic services, is offered at almost every step at an affordable price, all to make the tourist’s stay as beautiful and pleasant as possible. Immersed in this cheerfully colored, picturesque world, mixed with sounds, voices, and intense aromas, we prepare bags to return home with a sense of satisfaction and uplifted with new experiences.
TEXT – Vesna Dzuverovich
PHOTO – Robert Blaskovich