Man, it had been a full day....our morning started at the crack of dawn, with a walk through Kairouan's Medina and some "real" brik for breakfast. After packing up, we met Ben and we toured the Great Mosque, the Medina, and bought some makroud to bring home. We then headed to the ruins of Sufetula outside Sbeitla and had lamb on the side of the road. It was getting close to dusk when we completed the last leg of our drive....man, I bet Ben was bushed, but he didn't show it at all. Driving up the hill to our hotel, the Tozeur location of the El Mouradi chain, I noticed quite a few abandoned resort/hotel properties, things weren't doing too well with regards to tourism after the revolution it seems.
The town of Tozeur is the largest city right before the Chott el-Jerid, the vast 5000 square kilometer great salt lake that we would cross to get to the city of Douz, then Ksar Ghilaine and the Sahara. Like almost all cities and town in the area, Tozeur sprung up around an Oasis, which before the advent of tourism provided the main means of work in Tozeur, farming.
The El Mouradi in Tozeur was perfectly fine, in fact, if you took into account that we were, by most definitions visiting a strip of almost desert in the middle of two large salt lakes.....this is not quite what you think your accommodations would look like.
Of course, dinner and breakfast were included.....the food here was actually better than at Le Kasbah and we started getting into a habit of having some of the local wine, most of it very light with dinner. Tunisia is a Muslim country, but while alcohol consumption in public is frowned upon, years of French rule has ingrained the wine culture here.
After dinner, the Missus just had to get Her constellation app back out and walk around staring, not at the sky, but at Her iPhone.....
The next morning, we got up very early as we usually do and the Missus went for a swim while I checked through emails. We found out that the restaurant actually opened at 5am....I found out that folks heading back to Tunis left really early in the morning. Ben met us at exactly 8, we jumped in the all-terrain vehicle and headed off. Today was going to be an "easy day".....
We were headed out to the very popular Mountain Oases (I just found out that Oases is the plural of Oasis - you learn something everyday). I loved this sign by the side of the road.
Heading west, you'll soon see mountains arise from the barren landscape, then a swatch of green. This is Chebika.
Soon you pass square looking buildings.....this is "New" Chebika which was built after a huge flood in 1969 wiped out the original Berber village up the hill. We arrived at the entrance to "Old Chebika" where a ton of cars and SUVs were parked, with a bunch of souvenir, coffee shops, and restaurants were clustered. This looked like a big tourist mess, something we hadn't run into since we arrived in Tunisia. Ben introduced us to a rotund and jolly gentleman named Mohammed.....who is born and raised in Chebika. With Mohammed we were able to go off the standard tourist trail leading to the spring that fed the oasis.....
There were some tight squeezes and some rather slippery steep sections, but the effort was worth it.
Because the sun shines directly on the oasis in Chebika, with the two mountains walling off the palmeraie, the oasis has earned the arabic name of Qasr el-Shams, which means "Castle of the Sun". One can easily see how it earned that name.
You could see the ruins of the old village clearly, with the new village in the background from here.
After making our way back down, we walked down the trail and to the spring which is the source off all of this.......which was surprisingly modest.
All of this, the birds singing, the frogs croaking, the dates from the palm tress, came from this little pulse of water flowing from the ground. It was humbling experience for the both of us. We've always heard the phrase "water is life", but never had it hit home like it did here.
After making our way back to our vehicle, Ben told us we'd go all the way to Mides first, since that's usually the last stop for tourists and it wouldn't be quite a busy when we arrived. Mides is a small oasis village, just a kilometer from the Algerian border. When we stopped Ben displayed his cellphone...he was getting hits from Algerian cell towers. As we stopped in the small palmeraie to take some photos, we heard a chorus of "clop-clop-clop" coming from down the road...soon enough we could see a shepherd and his sheep headed toward us.
It was really neat.....not even a look in our direction as they walked past us.
The view of Mides, perched above two gorges is quite dramatic.
The village here was also abandoned after the flood of 1969. If some of this looked familiar, I'm told the gorges were used in the movie the English Patient.....unfortunately, I've never been able to sit through the whole movie, so I can't tell you which scene it was.
The gorges also provided protection for the village....though not from flooding.
We then headed back and stopped at Tamerza, which was a rather modern looking city with ruins of the old village a bit east of the new town. We stopped at one of the man-made waterfalls for a quick look.
Heading back to Tozeur, we stopped at the public market and the medina....most of the action was occurring outside the public market as most of the stall inside the market had already closed for the day.
By this time, Ben had kind of figured out that we were interested in food....thus, for our lunch, he took us to a place that served....well, this.
The name of the place was Restaurant de la Republique and Ben told me he usually eats here when in town. Looking over the menu, the did have Dromadaire on the menu in several forms and also had it available today.
So why not, right?
The Missus ordered the Steak de Dromadaire, I ordered Brochettes (kebabs).
As you can see, it's pretty dry stuff. Also, tough...and did I mentioned pretty mild in flavor?
Not a big deal, unlike donkey or cuy, not something I really want to have again.....
After lunch, Ben drove us to Tozeur's huge palmeraie. Depending who you talk to there are between 200,000 (guide books) and 600,000 (folks in Tozeur) palm trees in the oasis of Tozeur. It was pretty amazing, driving through all those trees. In the palmeraie, it felt almost humid. In addition to all the date palms, we saw figs and other plants and trees.
There are over 200 springs pumping water into this area. A very complex system of equitable irrigation and conservation is used. That system was designed in the 13th century and is still used today, by the man whose statue you see to the right, Ibn Chabbat, a mathematician. Pretty amazing stuff.
It was getting pretty hot and Ben dropped us back at the El Mouradi. The place was pretty empty; I think the afternoon sun had chased people indoors and many were probably still on tours.
The pool area had some of the best wifi reception and it seemed like a good idea to head to the bar and buy a nice bottle of wine, which we had along with some kindly provided olives poolside.
I even finished a post while sitting poolside having a nice light, fruity, and crisp glass of Tunisian Muscat.
After a nap, as is our habit, we headed off to dinner early......we tend to sit in the same area of the restaurant, as strange as that may seem.
It was again the usual suspects for dinner, though the mechouia here wasn't too bad, especially when we poured over a nice amount of the local olive oil.
We had also learned that the most popular brand of wine in Tunisia was Magon, named after the Carthaginian Agronomist Magon, who wrote his famous works on wine making during the time of the Phoenicians. It was a decent bottle, but we were finding that we enjoyed the crisp blancs more as they tended to go better with the food in Tunisia.
After dinner, we took a walk, then drifted off......we would need our rest!
Thanks for reading!