Mountain oases around Tozeur
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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The Atlas-Sahara mountains are a 400km long string of spined ranges that form the frontier between Tunisia and neighbouring Algeria. Although I'd heard of them and am pretty good with my geography, if you'd asked me before now I wouldn't have been able to point to them on a map. Here they are though and despite being quite low-lying (averaging less than 1,000 metres in height) they are quite beautiful due to their very unusual geology. The ragged peaks actually look like the spine of some giant dinosaur fossil laid sideways, evidence of some serious tectonic activity eons ago...
Back to reality, three of us (two Japanese and I) jumped into the 4WD and shortly after we were in dromaderie country again. They're everywhere out here, so much so that large signs warn motorists of the danger at very regular intervals much like those found in country Australia warning of kangaroos. Think I'd prefer to hit a kangaroo than a dromaderie, and for some strange reason I prefer the word dromaderie - it has a grace and bearing to it that 'camel' just doesn't convey. Whatever, the Japanese guys were pretty happy when not long after they spotted their first 'ships of the desert' and the car stopped so they could take a few million happy snaps.
Forty kilmometres or so outside of Tozeur we started into the mountains, then reached the first of the 'oases montagne' at Chebika. A 1969 flood had washed this Berber village out, leaving sombre ruins to climb through above the new tourist town. I took a particular fancy to the medicine man's egg topped hovel before it got too hot not to move on. Mounds of fossilised shells a little further down the path (and a few hundred metres above sea level) provided further evidence of this land's turbulent geologic past - apparently the whole area was sea millions of years ago, before it was thrust up towards the heavens to its current altitude, which in turn reminded me of my visit to Kings Canyon on this trip, which almost seems as long ago.
The natural pool is very pleasant and clean here, but since I'd left my towel in the truck back down the hill all I could do was curse the driver for not imparting that little gem of information before we headed out. Oh well, my fault in the end but it would have been worse if it was the normal summer temperature in Chekiba - a simmering 50C+ in the shade. These guys do it tough ...
Onwards into the Atlas and a grand canyon hove into view just outside of Tamerza. The canyon, and the old berber village on its edge had also been ravaged by heavy rains in the late sixties, forcing resettlement nearby. Skeletons of the now-parched mud buildings offer a picturesque vista before the palms of the oasis beyond.
Tamerza's claim to fame is the 'Grand Cascade' - a pretty sizable and well fed waterfall for a desert region. The serpentine gorge that has been carved out by the waters over time is quite imposing, but the horde of local kids screetching and churning up the mud in the water below thwarted my intent to take a dip. Would have been nice but it's their home, so I can't complain about it I suppose.
Further on and within half a kilometre of the Algerian border lies the canyon oasis of Mides, another snaking gorge who's waters flow into Algeria's Saharan hinterland. Giant plates of striated rock have been eroded by the waters here to form a majestic view down its curved sides. On the lip of the canyon, vendors have piled up mounds of Sahara Rose, a truly bizarre formation of sandy-coloured crystal which I haven't been able to find out much about. For all the world they do look like rose buds but some grow to a size of a metre around. Will have to look them up when I get back to civilisation, but if anyone out there can offer some insights it would be appreciated.
Back in Tozeur for a final look around. I should mention the architectural beauty that the area is apparently famous for. Pretty much everything here is built of tiny sun-dried bricks, applied into intense geometric patterns not unlike the weavings also typical of the area. Combined with the studded, arched doorways and shuttered windows common to the rest of Tunisia and you have an effect that certainly grows on you. Very pleasant indeed.
To finish off Tunisia (as I thnk I'll be on a boat to France very soon), just a few scenes common to the country. For a place with little water they certainly produce a lot of watermelons. Piles the size of ute-loads are everywhere and which is not surprising considering how refreshing they are in the heat. And when you're looking for the butcher, just keep an eye out for the camel head hanging over the door. Very compelling.
Finally, despite French influence the place is still lucky to have made it into the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Each of the very few internet cafes I've found seems to be running on 56k modems which are as slow as a wet dromaderie and makes it by far the worst-connected country I've come across, including Myanmar. Instead, 'taxiphones' are everywhere and basically comprise of a string of payhones lining the walls inside. Still, it's a catchy name so in the absence of a better option and in spite of not actually being a brand, it might have to be Tunisia's Great Brand of the World.
Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed my short time here, and if you can make it in spring or autumn it would be absolutely fantastic. Diverse, cheap and exotic, it's basically the European equivalent of what an Asian holiday is for Australians. Nice one Tunisia (as long as I don't get detained trying to leave).
Just checking but have the Americans considered Libya as a hideout for their good mate Osama? If not, it occured to me as I noticed these outdoor chairs at my Tozeur hotel that it's not as dumb as it actually sounds. You can't travel independently there and all tours are rigidly controlled, it's as hot as Afganistan so he would probably like the climate, the outdoor furniture business is pretty big in the region and a perfect cover, and the thawing of relations might be a smoke-screen to throw his pursuers off the scent...
Just kicking some ideas around...