It’s the 31st December 2014 and I am awake at 6am. This year, I promised myself to do something very special before the total disaster in the evening. Well, my alarm goes on at 6 in the morning, it is storming outside, it is cold and dark and the only thing that is already moving in the hotel is the Tunisian flag in front of the reception. Today, I am checking out the desert. I will leave my safety terrain at the all inclusive resort for about 8 hours and will explore the country, which has just succeeded in revolutionizing its own: Tunisia.
Packed in a coach, we leave the 5-star-all-inclusive resorts behind us. I do not have a clue about who these people in the bus are. All I know is: these people love traveling as a group, they love to follow a guide, add things on their list of Djerba travel tips and they love having only one duty during their trip: taking photos.
I am going on two very big adventures here: one guided tour together with package tourists and the trip itself to the Tunisian desert. And all just because I have the constant urge of escaping packaged trips and because I want to collect some nice Djerba travel tips.
On my very first day on the island of Djerba I learned that there are three ways to enter the island: by plane, by boat and via the path built by Romans. Thanks to my very rudimental French there was one little thing that I did not get in this explanation: the Romans’ path is still active and here I am, surrounded by water on my left and right side, leaving the all-inclusive-bunkers behind me and entering a whole new Tunisia. I am starting to actually like this trip that is the first note on my list of Djerba travel tips.
At the end of the path the nomansland starts. Outside the world of club dances and never ending bar tabs, I find myself in a land that hasn’t seen any water for (potentially) the last 3000 years. Our first stop is a salt sea. I follow the very un-enthusiastic crowd of package tourists and start being absolutely amazed by the surroundings: the crowd is busy taking photos and I start realising that there is absolutely nothing no matter where I go. Nothing. Endless land of… Nothing. The dry salt sea Sebkha el Melah formed the floor into a mosaic and wished for some water to come in. Put that on your own list of Djerba travel tips!
We have exactly 5 minutes before the coach moves on. Next stop for my Djerba travel tips? A café in the middle of nowhere, which, after 10 minutes, suddenly appears out of nowhere. This café is part of a desert domicile built for tourists, which reveals staged authenticity at its very best. The best way for it to work is to put some camels and horses in the desert, let some wannabe-beduins walk by and have a funny local selling fresh mint tea to tourists. Hadn’t there been a brand new Audi standing in front of this café I would have totally believed it. Like that, it is funny to see how exciting the crowd of tourists get when they see this very local but very staged place to be. Well, I enjoy my mint tea and laugh at the photo-addicted crowd.
The very first and proper stop, which gives me and the bored crowd of people, more than just 5 minutes is a little village close to Tatouine. Our coach makes its way through the tiny alleys packed with people and market stalls before it finds the perfect parking spot. Things you have to do here? Eat a sticky, sweet and yummy almond croissant and get lost. Within seconds, I find myself being somewhere, lost in spices shops, in little alleys, surrounded by locals, some passing donkeys and the usual chaos of a tiny market city. I manage to enter the only shop in the village which is run by a woman and feel like being thrown into Douglas. After one too many conversations with the women in the shop, I leave the shop and run into a guy who looks familiar to me: “Have you checked the time by any chance?” No I haven’t. I am late and the guy in front of me is our guide. I knew it, those tours are simply not made for me. He is running in front of me, I try to follow. He wants to run to the bus, I rather stop to buy ceramic candles. And because his face turned red already, I ask him to get me an almond croissant as, according to him, this is the must-do here. 5 minutes later, I enter the bus with my croissant being greeted with pure hatred from the oh-so-enthusiastic group of fellow travelers. Well done, Anne. Well done. I crawl to the back and all that’s left for me, is a 13-month old baby who is willing to talk to me or at least smile at me while the others perform grumpiness at its best.
We continue towards the highlight of our tour: a beduin village in the middle of the Matmata desert. From far away I can already notice the little holes in the cliff which serve as flats. Apart from that, I cannot see anything. The closer we get, the more breathless I am already: people actually live here and have succeeded in organising their lives around a cliff in the middle of the desert. I am impressed: a beautiful landscape lies in front of me. It is the width of the desert and the absurdity of people actually living here, that makes the atmosphere so special. A nice guy in a turban takes us to the apartments of the locals. It seems to be abandoned and partly destroyed. Broken carousels, rosty cans and little kids in Djeballas asking me whether I want to buy a desert rose from them. At the peak of the village I get a mint tea and try to talk to the guy in the shop. I ask him what he is going to do for new years as we were approaching the last hours of the last day of the year 2014 slowly but surely: “Well, what do you think I could do here?”, he replies. Fair point. My favourite point on the list of Djerba travel tips.
The last stop of our trip through the desert in Ksar Hadada – one of the spots where Star Wars “The Phantom Menace” has been filmed. Well, two minutes of the movie were filmed here. Still, the whole film crew stayed for two months which made this place somewhat famous. I have to admit, I never watched a single Star Wars movie and, thus, do not fully grasp its fame. Still, walking through the location with its hidden paths, random marks on the walls and the very special atmosphere was stunning.
Final thoughts? This trip has been a blast. It moved from my totally justified skepticism towards a guided tour, over mutual hatred with my fellow travelers to my absolute fascination concerning the landscape, the people and the stunning atmosphere.
Djerba will always be a touristic island. Its a place where package tourists come, who would love to spend 14 days at a resort without thinking about anything else but the food and drinks they get at scheduled times. Still, once you take a look outside the resorts you do find hidden spots, absurdities and freaking awesomely smelling perfume.
Stones, stones. Everywhere.
A little stroll.
I wonder how long it is going to take for the clothes to dry.
Somewhere around the nowhere.
Ksar Hedada/Hadada – This is where 2 minutes of one Star Wars movie were filmed.
Camping à la desert.