Tunisian Film Trip Part 2.
Chabat is an abandoned village in the Sahara, except for a couple of goatherders who live very basic lives.
The village was built to offer free homes for the date workers, but they gradually all moved to Tozeur.
The light is pure and unpolluted. My film friends scattered in all directions, making happy noises with cameras snapping non-stop.
But I was more interested in what was on the ground. Bending down, I picked up some shiny, worn pebbles in various colours, and lumps of rock embedded with tiny marine creatures.
It was obvious that I was standing in an ancient seashore, and that long, long ago the Sahara, or parts of it, was a massive inland sea.
So what had completely drained it, transforming it into dry, sandy desert, and where had all the water gone?
Had a huge comet tilted the Earth, killing the dinosaurs and other creatures, and altered the world’s appearance for ever?
Read my article about Atlantis.
Now the site is sometimes used as a film set by Alex. He recently made a Russian film there; The Call of the Hoard.
It’s a perfect film set, with no interruptions except the bleating of the goats.
We drove on, stopping at a huge hole in the sand. It used to be a phosphate mine. The colours of different layers going down through history are amazing.
Back in the town of Tozeur, we spent several hours walking along the narrow streets.
The women are still covered from head to foot, but they didn’t seem to be surprised or offended at our short, low-cut clothes and exposed heads. I wonder what their thoughts and opinions are?
Tozeur is famous for its unique brickwork. All the intricate designs have different meanings.
Some scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark were made there.
We visited the part-ruined palace of the Kings’ Summer palace. And next to it is the Caliphs’ house, dating back to the 16th Century. It’s been restored and is now the headquarters of the Society of Preservation of Old Tozeur.
In the winding streets is a lovely little guest house called Dar Nejma with a Hamman, two small swimming pools, six bedrooms, four dining/meeting rooms, lovely aromas in the air and soft, tinkly music.
It’s not the first place that you would think of booking for a holiday, but it’s perfect for relaxing or recuperating from an illness or the pressures of life for a few days.
We climbed into our 4x4s and set off for Douz.
The road is straight and flat and empty. After several miles, the golden sand began changing with patches of white. We were in the salt area. Then lorries and signs of salt mining appeared.
I was here last year, and saw a perfect mirage of the sea and boats. Apparently, mirages are often clear above the salt.
In the middle of nowhere we all stopped at the one stall beside the road. I bought two large bags of pure salt for 5 dinars (around £1.50.)
All the drivers sat down with the owner of the stall, who was obviously glad of the company.
Opposite the stall is a boat in the salt and sand, goodness knows how or why. Everyone piled out to take more photos.
Then we drove on to Douz and had lunch at the Hotel Sun Palm.
After lunch, we lurched and shook along a terrible non-road through the desert for what seemed like hours. The rocky road cut through shrubs and sand dunes, but there were no signs of any kind. But Buba knew every turning and pothole.
Eventually and relieved, we arrived at the Campement Zmelda, in the middle of nowhere.
This was my first taste of camping. No it wasn’t glamping.
We all chose a tent. There were no modern facilities at all. I had a candle stuck in a pot of sand with a box of matches next to it.
After dumping our luggage, we waded through the sand to the bar/restaurant, and gratefully accepted a beer or a glass of wine, which we drank sitting outside as the sun set in the clear sky and the sky filled with an unpolluted view of bright stars that almost seemed as though you could reach up and touch them.
Before dinner we were summonsed to an enclosure where a Berber demonstrated how they made their flatbread on a fire, buried in the flames. It was served in portions with our dinner.
The men who work at the camp are sweeping, sweeping all the time, and they try to keep the doors shut.
We had to remove our shoes before going into the long dining-room.
Dinner was nibblies, then a fish soup, followed by a crispy stuffed, rolled omelette and salad.
The toilet/shower facilities are constantly being cleaned and checked. The lights stay on all night.
We sat outside drinking wine or beer and enjoying the peace and the clear sky. Then we went to bed quite early as everyone wanted to get up at dawn to admire the sunrise.
Although it wasn’t my idea of a perfect place to stay, I have to admit that, tucked under my duvet and blanket, I had one of the best, most peaceful night’s sleep that I’ve had for a long time.
I awoke early and refreshed and stepped out of my tent to go for a shower. And I noticed a trail of footprints in the sand. A Desert Fox? Who knows?
We all sat outside with our coffee and watched the big red sun pop up over the horizon.
Then we carried on. And the road didn’t seem so uncomfortable the 2nd time along it.
We visited several ancient, abandoned towns, ideal for film locations. Then we arrived at Matmata and the well-known Hotel Sidi Idriss, where part of Star Wars was filmed. It’s unique and always booked up, but it’s very basic.
Our journey continued down a long, twisty road which produced shrieks of ecstasy from everyone and we had to pull over for photos.
Another future car ad site.
We went into the Hotel Ksarhedada, in the village of the same name, with small doors leading to a tiny sitting-room and a bed behind a curtain.
The best way to describe it is, Unique.
This is another Star Wars set, but unlike most of the others, it’s very well-used.
Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, was filmed here.
Lunch was in Douiret, in the Douiret Restaurant, which was up a lot of steps. But it didn’t put anyone off as it had a steady stream of customers.
The waiters were all dressed in traditional blue Tuareg National Costume. They’re from a Berber tribe that live in the region.
We travelled to the Chnenni Mountain City which is yet another stunning, abandoned city.
Next was the Ksar Ouled Soltane, again high up to protect it against raids in the 15th Century.
It was built entirely out of mud by Berbers. Ksar means Granary, but it was also lived in.
More Star Wars scenes were filmed there. If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a quick visit.
It was getting late and we had to drive to the island of Djerba.
Last time I went there, we travelled over on the ferry. But this time we used the bridge.
We checked into the Hotel Radisson, and after dinner we retired to our rooms, ready for an early start again.
I love Djerba. It’s a perfect holiday resort. And it’s all flat, so it’s suitable for everyone.
After a lovely buffet breakfast with excellent service, we checked out of our hotel and drove over wetlands in our 4x4s.
Buba was now completely dressed in Western clothes. His traditional Berber garb had gone.
We went to Flamingo Island, where I went last year on a pirate ship!
The beach is Film perfection, with golden sand and deep blue sea. (The blue is deep, not the sea!)
Then we drove back to the mainland, and visited the Djerba Marina on the seafront, then the Jesus of Nazareth set.
After lunch at the Golf Club, we paid a quick visit to El Ghriba, the Jewish synagogue.
It was all closed, but there was still strong Security outside.
Finally, a visit to the Souk. I could spend a day there. All those shops and bargains!
I suggested that we all split up, but arrange a time to meet as it’s very easy to get lost in all the winding passageways.
Apart from everyone trying to persuade me to look round their shop, it’s all done with humour, and I was quite happy, walking around on my own.
We then had to travel to the airport, saying Goodbye to Buba, to catch our plane back to Tunis.
My case was way overweight, but nobody made a fuss at the Check-in Desk, and some of the others had lighter cases anyway.
Landing at Tunis airport, Imed the driver was happy to see us again, and he drove us to the Hotel Ramada Plaza.
I stayed there last year and I was glad to stay there again.
We had dinner, then a final drink in the bar with its very Arabic décor.
Everyone else was going out for a very long day’s programme, but I chose to stay at the hotel and enjoy its amenities, and get some vitamin D. After all, when was I going to enjoy lovely sunshine like that again?
Hichem the Duty Manager, told me that the hotel had 280 bedrooms and 29 suites. There are four kinds of suite, including a Presidential Suite.
There are also 12 Conference Rooms, suitable for meetings and weddings. The biggest one holds 400 people.
And there are two restaurants, the Buffet Restaurant and an A la Carte Restaurant.
There’s a Hammam, a Gym and two pools, one inside and one outside.
I went to take a photo of the three staff behind the desk and I told Hichem to put his arm round the lady. Everyone burst out laughing and the lady collapsed in fits of giggles.
‘Don’t you do that sort of thing here?’ I asked.
‘Like this?’ Hichem asked, placing his arm round her shoulders.
She curled up even more with semi-embarrassed giggles. But she also seemed to be enjoying it!
I went outside to sunbathe by the pool. The sun was gloriously hot, but the pool was freezing.
After lunch I went for a walk. There is a shopping mall nearby, but it was too far to walk in the heat.
I enjoyed a buffet dinner, then I went to bed. The others still hadn’t returned.
We had an early start to the airport.
Security is tight there and we had to go through two lots before we were in the final Departure Lounge.
When I said I was going to Tunisia, I still got asked if it was safe.
My answer is, yes it’s very safe. I love it and never feel threatened at all, even on the Algerian border.
London, Paris and other cities have suffered terrible attacks, but they just carry on.
And what about all the foiled attacks that we don’t get to hear about? Apparently there are a large amount of them.
But one maniac has severely damaged the whole of Tunisia’s economy and tourist trade.
I have no idea. I love the country and the people, it’s a short flight from the UK, the weather’s great for most of the year, the food’s all fresh and local, the scenery’s stunning, and it’s a shopper’s Paradise!
+216 98 460 176
Tunisian National Tourist Office UK & Ireland
3rd Floor, 111 Baker Street, London, W1U 6SG
T: 020 7224 5561; E: firstname.lastname@example.org