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After our stint in Djerba we drove to the town of Tataouine. As Star Wars fans, this was very exciting to be staying in actual Tataouine! On our way there, I saw a "camel crossing" sign along the road, and Erik turned the car around for me to take a picture of it. We then noticed along a ridge a line of old vehicles. We drove up there and found this eerie graveyard of tanks and trucks and heaps of twisted metal, just bombed to pieces. We poked around for quite awhile, and then out of thin air a military Humvee with two guards came driving up to us to see what we were up to; but in the end they didn’t mind us being there when they saw we were just tourists. So these were surely relics from the North Africa campaign of WWII.
Random note: our favorite foods here are the harissa, which is a zingy hot paste made from red hot peppers that you mix with olive oil and dip your bread into; every restaurant serves this as part of the meal. Each harissa is a little different, and most interesting is the way the hotness is different in its delivery – sometimes a building hot, sometimes immediate hot that subsides very quickly, etc. The other food is a "briq" which is a deep-fried pastry-wrapped omelet, sometimes with meat or seafood, or just egg. Yummy.
The hotel we are staying at in Tataouine is very nice, with a swimming pool. And right now we are the ONLY guests. They mostly cater to tour buses, but there are none right now. Last night for dinner and this morning for breakfast, they opened the kitchen just for little ol' us. It's a bit weird being in this big hotel all by ourselves. But boy that swimming pool sure feels nice; it is really really really hot.
Yesterday will surely rank among the highlights of our trip. Of any trip. Just the sort of day we love: we drove around to different abandoned villages called ksar – perhaps the best examples of traditional Berber architecture – and had most of them completely to ourselves to wander through and explore. A ksar is a fortified village in which homes are attached to one another often along a single continuous wall with only one entrance. They were often built into the hillsides (which made them very defensible) – somewhat similar to the yao in China, like man-made caves. The first one we explored was Douiret. Even though it was scorching hot, we had such a blast exploring -- we rather felt like archaeologists discovering a fabled lost city.
There are lanes and pathways "inside" the ksar, too, with internally accessed rooms. Just think of a medieval walled city, I guess it's similar to that. A lot of doorways and archways are decorated with handprints and geometric designs.
There are even mosques and olive presses dug completely into the hillsides so people could work and pray in the coolness of the "caves." We found many rooms full of amphorae for storing the olive oil made in the presses.
Most homes were whitewashed and contained walled-off rooms in the innermost portion of the dwelling dug into the hill. Nearly all had some sort of "litter" left behind, be it some number of amphorae or lanterns, pots, clothing, food tins, school papers, crates, bottles, tools, shoes, suitcases, tea pots -- you get the idea, we saw all those and more.
It was terrifically interesting poking through all the homes and running across such unexpected things as the olive presses and all of the everyday living items. Since we were all alone in these extensive ruins, it really gave us quite a mood of adventure.
Granted, there isn't much natural light inside these places, so you may have gotten a wee bit stir crazy for sunlight living here, but there was plenty to be had with but a step outside the door! Sun and heat, but step back inside and you have instant air-conditioning.
The second abandoned ksar we poked around extensively is called Guermessa. The people abandoned these awesome homes and simply moved down the hill into the valley into "New Guermessa." I don't understand why they would leave such a neat village and build little box houses just down the hill. Again very much like the situation in Dang Jia Shan, China -- leaving behind energy-efficient and unique homes for boxes in the valley. Just look at how cool Old Guermessa is .....
Although I loved exploring the insides of the individual homes, I quite loved walking around outside, too, down the stone lanes and paths with the crumbling towers and façades and doorways on either side. I really wish I could travel back in time briefly to see these places in their heyday when they were thriving and full of people.
So I went a wee bit backwards in this post, as the first ksar village we saw was a restored one that was used as a set in the Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace as the Mos Espa slave quarters. It was small, with some other tourists wandering around, but it was fun to see both for being the movie set and as our introduction to ksars with some informational plaques.
And here is your completely random photo of the day: