Some while I got invited by the Tunisian ministry of Tourism to explore the great republic of Tunisia on 5 days trip. If you look at the picture, it says it all; “I love Tunis!”. During this week we have visited almost every corner of the great country.
We went from Tunis to Sidi bou Saïd to Djerba and from Erriadh to Tozeur, back to Tunis and we saw so many great spots. I came home with hunderds of pictures here under a selection of them and a short description of our adventures.
At only at a 2,5 hour flight from Amsterdam lies the airport of Tunis, where we arrived at 22h at night to go through the passport control. We had the luck, as invitees of the ministry of tourism, to go through the diplomatic border control, our trip already started great! After getting our luggage we went to our hotel Dar Saïd in the town of Sidi bou Saïd at only a 30 minutes drive. The streets are so narrow that our car just got through at 1 centimeter on each side. As soon as we arrived we were expected in the restaurant on the other side of the street, Dar Zarrouk, a 4 star restaurant (if you ask me) with excellent food, service and dito view. (The minister of culture was sitting on a table next to us, so it must be good!) Here we are, eating our entree. Our group had the following members; Kim van Dam, Ronald Jansen, Mylène Cybele Sopacua, Ngoc Chau aka Nappy, our guide Nabil Toumi and our dutch representative of Tunisia Tourism Els Walburg. It finished late, with lots of laughter, great food and wine.
Sidi bou Saïd
The next day we got up at 6 to check out the great town of Sidi bou Saïd at sunrise. We only walked a few hundred meters and saw this tree with the strange green light, where we have spent way too much time, if you ask me. Understandable as we did not see the other side of the village yet and we wanted to see the sunrise from there. Which was an ideal spot to do so.
We continued our way to the famous Café des Délices (famous from the song of Patrick Bruel). Here we got an amazing view over the bay and the harbour. It was 7:30 in the morning. and we got to talk with the owner, who was very kind to serve us at this hour. So we ordered a nice cup of coffee to wake us up. Afterwards he showed us the in- and outside of the café as well.
We continued our way (very slowly as photographers do) through the streets of Sidi bou Saïd, we saw one after another beautiful scene. I must have taken a few hundred pictures there. Here is a selection of what we saw that first hour.
The village is known for its blue doors, it is so beautiful to see a village in only three colors; Blue white and yellow, it felt very unreal. The doors of the old buildings are very large and have a smaller door integrated that they use to enter the building. It is so small that you have to bend to go inside, it is said that this has been done on purpose, so you show respect for the owner when coming in.
Everywhere we went people greeted us and asked what we were up to. They saw us carrying our cameras and thought we were from the newspaper. It was real easy communicating with them, well at least for me, because they all speak French and a lot of them speak English too. As soon as we explained that we were there to photograph the village and to promote it for tourism purposes, doors went literately open for us.
Here is the owner of the souvenir shop nearby the café des Nattes. As soon as I explained our purpose of being there to him, he invited us to come in and to go to the top floor of his shop. The shop itself was already worth a visit, but the rooftop was the best. Here we had an amazing view on the village and the café des Nattes. We stayed there for over 30 minutes to enjoy this unique scenery and of course the warm sun (it was February and we did not see any sun for months in the Netherlands)
You can see that country is doing fine and that they are (re) building plenty of houses in anticipation of the tourist who, hopefully, will come back one day. When walking through th streets we came across plenty of building projects like this one. Below you will see an urbex picture which I never could have taken if it was not for Ronald to point it out to me. It was hidden behind a closed fence of 1,75 meters, I could not see it at all with my 1,64, but I used my live view on my camera and I was pretty amazed by the result.
The ancient city of Carthage was once the capital of an empire dominating the Mediterranean during the first millennium BC. The ancient city was destroyed by the Roman Republic in the Third Punic War in 146 BC then re-developed as Roman Carthage, which became the major city of the Roman Empire in the province of Africa. So this was huge, so big that it was once the size of Mexico City. Unfortunately there is nothing or little left of it. The city was robbed of all her pillars, statues and other splendors for use of building the main monuments, like castles and palaces, of the Western European countries. It must have been such an impressive city to see, with so much history. Our guide Nabil explained us all about it and I was very impressed by it. This is like the Forum Romanum in Rome, but than 10 times as big. A visit to Carthage is not only a must for the true history enthusiast. The city has played such an important role in the field of culture, art and politics that you can not actually visit Tunis without also seeing Carthage. It has a museum which shows a lot of the ancient art. Behind the museum there is a gallery where we had to take some puddle grams as you can understand.
We did not have enough time to visit the whole site, because we had a pretty busy schedule for this week. I reckon it will take at least half a day to visit everything and if you really want to learn everything about it, at least a day. At the gate, were we arrived, there was a great big castle like building. We were hoping on a visit, but it is in private hands and not open for visitors. Nabil told us that it was used for concerts and such. Really amazing if you take a look at this building that it is not open for the public. It is build on a hill so yo have a great view on the area. Unfortunately we did not have good weather to take a panorama picture, but, on a sunny and clear day, the view must be amazing.
After another great meal at the resaurant Dar Zarrouk we rushed to the Tunis-Carthage airport to take a flight to Djerba. It was a very short flight of only 35 minutes, but if we went by car it would have taken us at least 7 hours. As soon as we landed we went directly to Djerbahood in Erriadh, we stopped on a little square in the middle of this typical town. The first I saw was this man sitting in front of door. When I turned around there was a surprise for us; we got to ride on a Segway. This was something I always wanted to do, so you can understand my excitement. It is not something that you can do without a bit of training, so luckily we had the help of the owner of Kiffe Street who helped us patiently while riding small circles on the square. The trick is to lean for- or backward to move in that direction, but not too much or you go very fast. The most difficult part was stopping and most of standing still. In order to do so you need to stand straight onto the Segway, as soon as you lean the tiniest bit to any which direction, the Segway will move accordingly. After 20 minutes or so, we were ready to go on a tour through the town to take a look at all the wall paintings. These were created during the urban art festival The Hood in 2014, were more then 150 street artists of 30 different nationalities participated in the event. It was pretty amazing to see all of these wall paintings. Especially in combination of the locals. Here are some pictures I took that afternoon . It has already been four years ago since they painted it, so you can understand that due to wear and tear that they are no longer in a perfect condition, but it was inspiring to see so many art pieces in one town. They used more then 250 spray cans to paint them all. Everyone we saw was looking at use with big eyes, as if they never have seen a Segway in real life. Especially children were following us to see these awesome machines from up close. In the meantime our guide was telling us all about the pieces of art, which artists created it and what the story behind the painting was. It was a guided tour of more then 1,5 hour through small streets and alleys. The guide spoke better french then English, so it was up to me to translate it to the group behind me. You can understand that this was not a good idea, I was more enjoying the Segway and the wall paintings than translating everything.
Soon it got darker and we went to our hotel Radison blu. I think I have never stayed in a nicer, bigger, luxurious-er hotel then this one. As soon as we arrived we got a welcome drink and, both, the general manager as well as the manager of the spa greeted us personally and invited us to go directly to the spa for a massage. Mylène and I went there together and had a great laugh, both unknown about the etiquette. Mylène asked me if we had to entirely undress before putting on the bath rope and I said yes. Luckily she second guessed me at the last moment, so I asked at the reception and apparently we needed to keep our underwear on. 🙂 The massage was soooo good after a long day of photographing and traveling, I nearly fell asleep. Afterwards we were invited to the bar for free cocktails and got a great dinner buffet afterwards. The choice and quality of the dinner, as well as, the breakfast buffet was outstanding. This hotel is a must visit if you can.
The next day we left early to visit the town of Erriadh one more time as it was so beautiful and we wanted to take more pictures. But first we stopped for a short stop at Houmt el Souk meaning literally: “The Market neighborhood”. It is a commune and the main town of the island of Djerba, Tunisia, it is best known for its traditional souk (market) and the Aghlabid fortress. The weather was sunny and warm, the town was still pretty quiet on the streets so we ahd the opportunity to make plenty of pictures.
The town has so many great corners to photograph, it reminded me a bit of the Sidi bou Saïd with the white houses and blue doors, but the architecture was more modern to me. Again we did not have a lot of time because of our busy schedule, but I would love to spent a day browsing on the market square and see more of this lovely little town. I think I would stay in this hotel we have passed. The center square alone was beautiful and in the upper and lower gallery there were different rooms with, again, blue doors.
Here is Mylène standing next to one. After our quick visit it was time to go to our next destination.
After a short visit we had to go on to our next stop, back to Erriadh to visit Djerbahood for a second time. The road to the town went along the sea where we saw a lot of pink flamingo’s, unfortunately they were too far away to take a good pictures of them. Some of the group had missed the plane the previous day and after hearing our stories how beautiful it was, they wanted to go there for a quick visit. The weather was much better then the day before, so a lot of the paintings were much more beautiful. We kind of rushed through the streets as this stop was not scheduled. But on two occasions we held still and got to talk with the local people. Just as in Sidi bou Saïd they were very happy to hear that we were there to promote the tourism to Tunisia, and again doors opened for us. This is the beautiful B&B Darbibine, where the owner was so kind as to pose for my camera in the amazing courtyard of her Bed and Breakfast. She build and decorated it all by herself she told me.
When I come again, I will definitely stay here, it is perfect and she was very kind, she even offered us to drink something. Staying here would mean that you get to live like a Tunisian. Here are some more of the wall paintings in a different light.
As we continued we saw a very special lady in red. We tried to communicate with her, but she did not speak a word of English nor French. But she would not mind if we took pictures of her, although we were, all four, pointing our lenses towards her!
She was very kind. The contrast between the red, white and blue was stunning, especially in that soft morning light.
Our next stop was one of the oldest synagogues of the Mediterranean sea, El Ghriba. The synagogue is the oldest in Tunisia, and besides being the center of the island’s Jewish life is also a site of pilgrimage, whose status approaches that of the Holy Land; one of the legends associated with its founding claims that either a stone or a door from Solomon’s Temple or the Second Temple is incorporated in the building. The synagogue was built at the end of the 19th century at the spot where the 6th century building had been. Every year on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, in between Pesach and Shavuot there is a pilgrimage from jews all over the world. Here is a picture of the inside, before entering we had to wear a kippah and the girls had to wear a head-scarf. As you can see the colors were really bright and the light coming in was very soft, an unique atmosphere as you can see on this picture with the guy filling the oil lamps. From the outside you could not see that this would be the inside. A very special building.
After the synagogue we went to Guellala at about an half an hour drive. This small town, located in the south of the island of Djerba, is famous throughout the country (world) for its pottery. Thanks to the rich surrounding clay deposits, this activity lasts for centuries or even millennia. We had the luck to visit a little factory, where the whole production process was explained to us. On the picture above you can see the courtyard and Ronald and the owner standing in front of the entrance of a tunnel that goes 20 meters under the ground. Here they dig out the special clay, that is only found in this area, at night. They do so, because it is to hot during the day. As this tunnel is very small and narrow the light small candles all down to the end, because of the light, but also to see when the oxygen runs out. After the harvest the bring it to the workshop next to the tunnel where they turn it into beautiful potteryw..
On the outside this curious dromedary came to say hello to us! It was the first one I saw, so I took way too many pictures of it, not knowing that I would riding on one of them later that day. It was now time to go to some typical Berber villages.
The Berber villages
Next stop was the small Berber village of Metameur where we entered a very special courtyard. This is an old storage facility of the ancient Berbers. Nowadays it serves as a Bed and Breakfast and a camping. The lady that welcomed us, is running this B&B for decades. She told us that before 2011 many campers and caravans from Holland were staying in her courtyard. Nowadays she only has a few backpackers now and then. Once she finished telling a bit of the village’s history she offered us tea and showed us around the place. The rooms were small but deep and surprisingly very cold. When we all asked for water she ran out and before we knew it she was running to the supermarket next door to get us some more. Such friendly people. Really nice to stay there, if I was to choose a camp side in Tunisia…
After our lunch at the Diar el Barbar restaurant in Sidi Meta, we continued our way to the next Berber village, but before getting into the car, we discovered the fantastic courtyard of the hotel and a great view on the rough landscape. It was very windy with a lot of sand in the air, unfortunately I had my 16-35 mm lens on, what I actually needed was a 70-200 mm, to really compress the landscape and see more of it, but you have to do it with this version (which is still an awesome landscape!).
After a short drive we visited the Berber village of Matmata, where we met the friendliest people, who are actually living there. As soon as we entered the courtyard, they came to us with tea, telling us to sit down. Five minutes later they served a kind of Turkish bread with local olive oil, it was delicious and they let us take pictures of them too. This was not a B&B nor a camp side, someone lived there. Unfortunately we could not stay and talk some more to get to know about their lives and how they live.
The Sahara desert
The next stop on our adventure was 80 kilometres further away, Douz, where we got to ride a dromedary in the Sahara desert. The road took us alongside desert on both sides, where for a long time there was nothing else to see than sand and tiny bushes. After half an hour, I saw a couple of small cabins with a sign ‘WC, Pizza & Tea’, it looked abandoned, but there were really some guys running it. I wonder how they did run it without electricity or water. It is really interesting for me (someone from the West of Europe) of what you see on the way. For example the many (illegal) gas stations in the South of Tunisia, you will recognize them easily by the many fuel cans stacked and a big dark stain in the sand around them. It is much cheaper in Libya, so they import the fuel illegally and sell it at the side of the road, also illegally. Another thing, that got my attention, were the little butcher cabins (4 x 4 meters), which had a sheep’s skin hanging upside down next to the front door. Was it to tell people that they just slaughtered a fresh sheep? I do not know, but it was also strange to see. One other thing I saw is probably more common, but for me worth mentioning here, was a Nomad camp of tents at a few hundred meters from the road in the middle of the desert. These make me wonder how they there and how they get food and drink, do they have a car? We did not have the time nor opportunity to check it out, so it remains a question for me. We continued our way to Douz on this long straight road, running straight through the desert, where sand was softly blowing over the tarmac, sun high in the sky, no air-conditioning, no radio, it was really relaxing in a strange kind of way.
Finally we reached the dromedary quad adventure in Douz. As soon as we arrived we got to dress like Arabians with a kind of striped robe and a yellow turban (here I am, the desert criminal, picture taken by @Nappyc ). They told us not to go to the horsemen, because before you know it you will be sitting on a horse and have to pay for that too. So here we are sitting on our dromedary, five of them attached to one another and someone guiding us in front. The horsemen accompanied us all the way into the desert, trying to convince us to go riding afterwards, of course we did not, but it offered us some nice pictures of them. It was not so romantic as I expected it to be, here is a picture of the Sahara:
bit less attractive for taking pictures. I took my camera with me as well as my iPhone, but it was not easy to take pictures on that wobbly beast and the others riding in front of me. But I did it, riding in the Sahara desert! A long-time dream came to fulfillment. And we had a great laugh when we arrived back to the station. Ronald, all of a sudden, said ho!, Hooo! Hoooo!, and I saw his saddle slowly drop down with him on it, so he fell slowly off the dromedary who started to piss and sweeping his tail at the same time with him standing in the spray! (I know now why they gave us the robe, it was to protect us against the spray!).
Our next stop was the salt desert Chott el Gharsa on our way to our hotel in Tozeur. After a two hour drive it started to get dark as we arrived at the point where the salt lakes begun and we stopped immediately to get out and take pictures while there was still some daylight. Luckily we were very creative by using this frame that was lying there in combination with Mylène stepping out of it. Behind her you see the moon. If it was not for our creativity, I got home with only this picture.
I was wondering why it is salt there, our guide explained. A salt pan forms by evaporation of a water pool such as a lake or pond. This happens in climates where the rate of water evaporation exceeds the rate of precipitation, that is, in a desert. If the water cannot drain into the ground, it remains on the surface until it evaporates, leaving behind minerals precipitated from the salt ions dissolved in the water. Over thousands of years, the minerals (usually salts) accumulate on the surface.] These minerals reflect the sun’s rays (through radiation) and often appear as white areas. These are the spots where Fata Morgana’s are also being observed seen.
After another 45 minutes we finally arrived at our hotel at 9, it was a very long day. We stayed at the nice hotel of Magik Ksar Rouge in Tozeur, we went straight to the restaurant as we were starving. Here we had a great dinner at our choosing from the buffet and went to bed early, because the next day would be a long one again.
In the morning we visited several oasis, the first one was Chebika, here is Mylène standing on the road to it. On or way we saw some dromedaries in the wild with little ones. We understood from our guide that there are no wild dromedaries in Tunisia, they always belong to farmers. Sometimes they also cross the road, luckily for us we parked our car not far from there. Imagine bumping in to one while driving…
We arrived at 10:30 at the Chebika oasis and we got 45 minutes to explore the area, which was way too short of course, but I managed to take many beautiful pictures. Chebika lies at the foot of the mountains of the Djebel el Negueb and, because of its exposure to the sun, it is known as Qasr el-Shams (“Castle of the Sun” in Arabic). In antiquity, it was once a Roman outpost, named Ad Speculum and later a mountain refuge of the Berber people. It is beautiful out there as you can see.
The Capricorn you see is made out of stone by the way. We had the luck of having the place to ourselves, but normally many tourists go there, so if you want to take pictures there, go early. At the entrance there are some sales people selling straw hats like this kind gentleman, making them on the spot. But there is also a small café where they sell delicious coffee.
The next stop was the Mides oasis, this was a completely different landscape than Chebika, but just as impressive. It has a impressive canyon and an abandoned village. It is located in the hill country near the border with Algeria, and is 6 km from Tamerza. The canyon was used for filming Raiders of the Lost Ark and The English Patient. As soon as we got out of the car we saw this. A bit further away there was a man selling fossils, really beautiful rocks and much more interesting things from the region. Once up the mountain we had a spectacular view on the canyon below. Can you spot the walking people?
On our way to our next stop, the cascades of Tamerza, we passed this village. Tamerza is the largest mountain oasis in Tunisia, known as Ad Turres by the Romans. It has a canyon and an abandoned old town. It is located north of the salt lakes and receives fresh water from the nearby hills. It is in the hill country near the border with Algeria, and is 6km from Mides. The cascades were a bit disappointing for me. Upon arriving, the car park was filled with small souvenir shops, so my expectations were high. But also the fact that I have seen many big waterfalls in the world, these ones were only 10 metres of height, so not so spectacular. I did manage to take a nice picture of Nappy standing at one of the waterfalls. O and I did buy a souvenir of course!
Time to go back to our hotel and to eat some lunch and to prepare for something that I was really looking forward to, visiting the Star Wars village.
The Star Wars village
The Star Wars village of Mos Espa or Ong Jmel was one of the destinations I had to see on my trip through Tunisia. It was less than an hour away from our hotel and during our trip the sun got partially blocked by a small sand storm which turned the light diffused. After 30 minutes we got of the road and into the desert sand where we drove up a hill looking down on the Star Wars village. We would not be photographers, if we did not take some pictures there, here is Mylène standing on a sand dune. After 10 minutes we descended to the village and it was beautiful. First I circled around the village where several dromedaries were parked and then I got in. The light gave it a very special atmosphere, together with the special buildings it was out of this planet. I think I shot more than a 100 pictures there. I also made a very funny story on Instagram with Mylène, pretending a sword fight with the light sabers.