We’re splitting our time in Tunisia into three parts: urban (Tunis), desert (here in Nefta), and beach (coming next on the island of Djerba). So we’ve spent the last three days here on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We are quite near the Algerian border and can see the Atlas Mountains that stretch over North Africa from Tunisia to Morocco. Vast expanses of nothing for miles and miles. A few widely dispersed oases. Honest-to-God mirages, where you think you can see water ahead but it’s not really there. The set where the original Star Wars was filmed nearly 40 years ago. Great food, especially the local salads. Daytime temperatures that are brutal in the sun, yet you can sit comfortably in a restaurant with no air conditioning because of the cooling breezes. Flies. Camels. Markets. Vast salt lakes that haven’t had water in millennia. Sometimes you just pinch yourself to make sure this is all really here, not just a movie.
Overlooking the ruins of Tamerza, one of three oasis villages in the area destroyed in 1969 by 23 consecutive days – 23 days! – of torrential rains. All three villages were rebuilt on newer sites since you don’t just let oases go to waste in the desert.
This is the oasis at Chebika. You can see a little pool and waterfall down in the canyon where we would soon be swimming.
Mark, swimming in the oasis pool. The guy lurking in back of him is one of four 50- or 60-something Italian men who were *biking* through the region. Yup, biking in the desert.
Mark in the pool
Miles and miles of nothing. This is a genuinely intimidating area; you wouldn’t want to get lost or abandoned out here.
Yes, Star Wars was filmed out here, and some of the set is still here. Interestingly, parts of The English Patient were also filmed around here.
This is real desert
One evening we went to the weekly market in Tozeur, the “big city” in the region. Colorful, atmospheric, and aromatic, you could get pretty much anything you wanted here as long as what you wanted was cheap.
One of the sad things in Tunisia is how bad the tourist industry has been damaged by the political turmoil in the region. Many of the hotels that were once listed in Lonely Planet, like this one, are now closed and abandoned. It breaks your heart to think of how many jobs have been lost, particularly when our experience at least is that it’s a spectacular place to travel in, and completely safe.
We’ve seen some great signs, like this car rental place in the airport. When we walked into the airport in Tunis, the first sign we saw was for a flight to Bengazi. A year ago I’d never even heard of the place! My favorite signs, though, are the warning signs for camel crossings on the highway. Seriously.
One last shot from the desert