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Arabian Desert, Three-Story Cave Inn under Starry Skies

Posted November. 07, 2002 23:13,   


The sheer joy of traveling through Tunisia is like hearing the stories of Seherajad, a wise woman from the book `Arabian Nights.` You can experience a variety of cultures from a nomadic life in the desert through a modern city laced with skyscrapers, to great ancient cities and nations like Carthago and Byzantine through imperialist Europe at the time of the Second World War.

`Story of Rome,` an epic written by Siono Nanami depicts the blood-shed battles of ancient states centering on Carthago, a great city state this Northern African country has its roots in. My heart was full of expectations for a trip that transcends the time as I entered the country to meet Hannibal and the Berber.

- Triangle Route That Leads to Desert and Beach….

Tunisia is one of the Maghreb countries, three Islamic countries seated in North Africa once colonized by France – Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Maghreb means the west where the sun sets.

It takes one whole day to get there from this part of the world where we live. Since there is no direct flight, you have to change flights in Paris or Frankfurt and fly northward for additional two or three hours.

The capital city is Tunis. The economy has begun to pick up in the city that had long been under a colonial rule, but it still mostly looks like Seoul in the 1960s to 1970s.

The largest museum in Tunis is Bardo Museum built in 1882, which is the treasure house filled with Maghreb`s archeological findings and the world`s largest mosaic building. The three-story building is laced with mosaic on its walls and floors.

Then, the downtown area linking Sidi Bu Side, where the presidential residence is located, to the old street of Medina is one of the must-visit courses for those visiting Tunisia.

The real charm of the country, however, is found in the village of nomadic people in Tojer in the south part. A night at the center of Africa is one memorable moment. You meet the Berber, find an Oasis in the desert and sleep at a cave located in the middle of the desert.

If you want to find a way to travel through the country in the best way, you have to first draw a triangle with Tunis at the center. You first go south to inland province Tojer, which is about one hour apart by plane. Having an airport in it, the southern province links the capital city with other cities, which are mostly four or five days apart by car. T

here you can experience the life of nomadic people through the villages like Nefta, Chevica, Tamarja and Matmata. After the exotic experience, you can take a golden course toward resort cities located alongside the east coast.

Europeans mostly use rental cars like Landrover to travel the unpaved roads linking the resort cities. There is also a package program that comes with a local guide and a driver.

The Berber, who prefers to be called `Amajig` meaning free sprits, live in the oasis villages of Chevica and the nomadic villages of Tamarja and Matmata. The last one was a shooting location of the hit Hollywood movie `Star Wars I.` You can, then, imagine what the village is like by conjuring up the images of the movies where Zedai warriors appeared in the background of wilderness of unfolding desert.

- Peppermint Leave Tea and Cool Wet Towel

Tunisians welcome foreigners at every corner of the country. They treat people tired from a long trip with tea made of peppermint and a wet towel, whether they are hotels or just houses. Then visitors feel cool and refreshed.

It is the same in the oasis village of Chevica, where small creeks run through everywhere. Most of oasis villages are small in size and are arranged for tourists like folk villages of ours. The Berber there are also making their livings in somewhat modern ways. They teach you how to wear the turban for $5 and offer scorpions in a glass bottle at $1 to $10.

You can experience the living in the desert yourself by staying in a cave inn at night. They dig deep into the sandy ground and make a tunnel-like cave equipped with bedrooms. Stepping down from the level ground, you can find two or three-story quarters alongside a circle-shaped court at the center.

In a first glance, they look more like prison cells. The rooms have thick wooden doors without windows to shut down strong sandy wind. Once you enter the room, you can find a bed and a carpet rolled on the floor. Some inns have electricity. Inside the cave, you feel cool as the temperature stays at 20C all the times.

It`s dead quite inside – there is no sound of strong wind outside and you feel you can here bare walks on the ground. They offer you Tunisian salads and barbeque. Most of all, however, you feel heavenly when you look out to the skies of desert at night with a torch in your hand. The skies in the desert are just starry.