Monday, April 9, 2018
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Day three on Djerba. I had (have) a 5:00 flight, so I just planned to have a relaxing day. Of course I woke up early with the first call to prayer announcing morning. I just lazed about. Had a slow breakfast. Decided to go on a walk. I was delighted to find that one of the main streets, which had been empty since I arrived had been transformed into a bustling marketplace that spilled out onto the side streets.
It wasn't a touristy market, but one for locals. Shoes, clothing, fabric, pots & pans, spices...just regular stuff but it was a lot of fun to walk through. The merchants still tried to sell me their goods, usually calling out to me in Russian to catch my attention. It was the same thing in Turkey. I really should learn Russian for how often I am mistaken for a national. (Except in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso where I was often mistaken for Japanese.)
I talked with some locals who lamented the lack of tourists since the revolution. It is true that there are not a lot of them here, which has been lovely for me to avoid crowds, but it must be so difficult for the people who rely on tourists for income. Seriously, people should come here. It is beautiful and filled with history and culture. And it is easy to travel in. And cheap.
Back to the market. At the other end of the street was the ---- fort sitting at the edge of the sea. I walked the ramparts and looked around before heading back to the area around my hotel. I did a little shopping, had a lunch of vegetable ragout, smoked some apple shisha, and headed to the airport.
It was a good, final day in Djerba, which I have loved. What I don't love is that my flight back to Tunis is delayed by an hour so far, with no information as to when it will depart. This is the fifth TunisAir flight I have taken and they each have been delayed by more than one hour. Another was cancelled altogether. The airport here doesn't exactly have amusements. One cafe with a few sad looking sandwiches. No shops. No wifi. (I will post this when I am back in Tunis.) on the plus side, I have books, music, and podcasts, and have caught up on my postcard sending. I don't really mind the delay; I didn't have any plans for this evening in Tunis except for enjoying my slightly posh hotel room. I shall use this time, stranded at the airport, to do what my mother would advise, which is to relish in the opportunity to relax and do nothing, for there is noting to do.
My flight ended up bring cancelled. And so was the next one. They arranged for a new flight but not everyone could get on. Overall, I spent 8 hours at the airport. Not agony, but far from idea. I did mean a British/American woman and her Tunisian fiancé who were trying to get to Tunis for their wedding, which ensured them a spot on the plane. We also told the airport check in people that I was a bridesmaid at the wedding, which got me on the plane as well. On the plane, I learned from a Tunisian/German man that the taxis in Tunis were on strike. This would have delayed my arrival in Tunisia by hours, but the man connected me with another Tunisian man sitting in front of me, who said his wife, who was picking him up, would drive me to my hotel. And they did. Now I am in Tunis, already forgetting about the huge airport delay and looking forward to tomorrow.
My second day in Djerba I hired a driver to take me off of the Island to the desert to go To Tataouine and the surrounding area. We drive off the island (there is a bridge / a sort of a road that the Romans built apparently) onto mainland Tunisia. The landscape grew more and more deserty, with just small, dry shrubberies and clusters of palms.
Our first stop was at a salt lake that rivals the dead sea for its salt content. The shores were glimmering white, crusted salt flats.
From there we drove to Tataouine, after which the Star Wars Tatooine took its name. Huge chunks of the early Star Wars movies were filmed around Tataouine and on Djerba. I think one can organize a tour of just the filming sites.
After that we drove to an abandoned hilltop village with a white mosque. I don't know the name, but the steep climb afforded good views.
Next the driver (Nasr) and I had lunch at a huge, soulless restaurant that obviously catered to bus tours. The atmosphere was awful (and it is, based on my experience, the only non-smoking restaurant in the country) but the food was good. Vegetable couscous with Harissa, baguettes, and olives.
I then connected with an English speaking young man from the ares who took me on a walk through the Berber village of Chenini. It is partly inhabited by a large Berber population, but the draw is the now abandoned villages built high into the mountain in around the 11th or 12th century. My guide, who was not at all winded by the steep climb, told me all about the history and how the structures were built to protect against invaders.
He also knew the good spots for photos.
The place was pretty quiet. I saw only two other tourists.
Before falling asleep in the car I saw camels and one canine (the driver said it was a jackal). I woke up in time to take in a few more views of desert and the lake before being dropped off back in Houmt Souk. It was a long day of driving and I was exhausted. I don't know how sitting in a car most of the day makes me more tired than walking all day, but it does. So I had dinner of vegetable tagine and a cigar before going to bed early.
If i had longer, or if i had decided to spend my time differently, I would have gone on a camel trek further into the desert, which would be great, though I know from experience that doing so solo with a non-English speaking guide can be a bit too quiet for my liking. I bet the stars would have been lovely though.
I flew from Montasir (the closest airport to Sousse) to Djerba, an island on the south west coast of Tunisia, between the Mediterranean and the gulf of Gabès. Djerba is known for its relaxed vibe, its beauty, its string of beach resorts on the east coast, and for having both Jewish and Berber populations.
I caught a taxi to the capital of Djerba, Houmt Souk and to my hotel, the Hôtel Erriadh Djerba. My hotel is perfect, an old funduq located next to the souq and bordered by appealing squares. It is covered in tiles and the rooms surround a whitewashed patio with flowering vines and singing birds.
I basically just went to bed that night, but the next day, after breakfast in the patio, i went out to explore. Houmt Souk isn't full of must see attractions. The delight is in the wandering. Market stalls, sunny squares with cafes and juice stands, colorful shops, carpet vendors, and tucked away mosques, all gleaming white in contrast to the blue sky.
There is no hustle here; it just feels chill and beachy, even though the beach is still a short drive away.
It is also small, so after a few hours I had seen all of the bits I needed to see (and would see it all more, since this is where I am staying) so I took at a taxi to the town of Erriadh. The appeal there is the synagogue and a display of street art.
There is, apparently, one of the largest or last remaining Jewish communities in North Africa on Djerba and there is the El-Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in North Africa. It is the most heavily secured site I have visited on this trip, with metal detectors and machine gun guards at the entrance. The building itself is beautiful, blue and tiled, with silver plaques (sort of like those Mexican milagro charms).
From there I walked to the town centre. The town itself is nothing to see, but behind the main street, in the residential alleys there is a terrific display of street art. The art was created as part of a project called Djerbahood in 2014 or 2015 in which artists were given liberty to decorate the white washed streets. It was delightful. There are no signs and no map, so you basically have to wander the streets looking for paintings. It is like a treasure hunt.
From there, it was still early enough, so I decided to catch a taxi to the Zone Touristique on the west side of the island, where all of the resort hotels line white sandy beaches. I don't care for the beach, but I thought maybe a drink on a terrace would be nice.
It was a long drive, which I enjoyed, but once we arrived at the zone I was disappointed. Yes, there is the beach, but the resorts are these massive, gated structures - not at all welcoming to non guests - along a stretch of highway. It isn't really walkable (at least not pleasantly) and it just all felt remote and unappealing. (If you are a resort person, they look like wonderful places, but to me they seemed like giant, land locked cruise ships. Yuck.) So I had the driver turn around and take me back to Houmt Souk. I had shisha in a square and watched a cat attack my hookah each time the water bubbled.
It is so peaceful here at night after the day time tourists from the resorts have left. Quiet and almost magical.