Djerba Island, and Dinosaurs on Tataouine. June 2024


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(firstly, if you’re seeing this post without pictures, check back in a day or two. Uploading images without WiFi is tricky, so that may need to wait. The featured image was sunset over our hotel in Tataouine As I’m currently updating this, under a beach umbrella after having dipped my toes in the Mediterranean. Pretty darn perfect. Secondly, titles are hard for me. And I’m stuck on the idea of alliteration, so yeah….)

Morning on Djerba Island. We are off to visit El Ghriba Synagogue.

The oldest synagogue in Tunisia and possibly all of Africa. History tends to place it’s construction after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 6th Century BCE (or possibly after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE). Legend says the fleeing community brought with them either a piece of the door and/or a stone from the destroyed holy temple, and have incorporated that relic on these grounds.

A very holy and ancient site, the building was renovated in the 1800’s.

Beautiful decorative touches everywhere you look,

you can sense it’s history and import,

yet it still feels welcoming and comforting instead of Overpowering and distancing.

Djerba Island still has a population of around 1,000 Jewish people, as well as Muslims, a Christian church, and some of the Amazigh people. (I’ve learned the term “Berber” is considered pejorative by many, and these people call themselves Amazigh, so I shall try to do the same).

Of course Courtney made friends with another Ginger cat outside. And this Kattous almost cooperated for a great photo opportunity.

Smiling at the English translation on this sign, asking visitors to wear respectful clothing when visiting this holy site. I feel like this is something many Grandparents would shout from their front porch rocking chairs.

Next to visit some ceramic artisans.

Explaining how they harvest the clay from the mines.

They bring a candle down with them, knowing oxygen is scarce. Once the candle starts flickering/goes out, got to get above ground quickly. No more than 30 minutes at a time. Courtney does ever love a cave, and so she and Arthur did some exploring down there by themselves, with a casual “don’t stay down too long” from the workers. This is truly a country un-anxious about safety rules and regulations. I’m sure that’s gotta be near the tippy top of Mazeur’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid (or whatever that guy’s name was).

Then a demonstration at the pottery wheel.

Sarah was enamored of all the paint decorations. When our ceramics guide learned she didn’t have a husband, he was suddenly in semi-serious negotiations. Soooo, if things don’t work out in Seattle, pretty sure she’s got a gig on Djerba painting pottery (and possibly as this guy’s wife). Ha.

Also made new best friends with some camels, including a baby!!!!!!

Visited the outside of this Christian church, too, but I forget it’s name. Record-keeping fail!

And some wandering through more art-wall filled parts of Djerba Island. Michael climbed up onto a wall to get this shot of the Flamingo mural.

Then began the long drive to the region of Tataouine, where George Lucas got the inspiration for, and did some filming of, Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Before arriving at our hotel, we’re told we’re going to see one of the Star Wars locations. Yay! When we arrive, we learn it’s from The Phantom Menace (less of a Yay, but still fun to see).

Hundreds of years ago, it was an Amazigh building (or possibly Bedouin. My notes, again, are lacking. Hopefully I’ll correct this later). Then part was transformed for the movie into the town of Mos Espa, where we first meet Young Anakin and his mother.

And more recently, some enterprising locals have transformed it into a hotel. Beds in the small cave-like rooms, with shared toilets and showers, and a tiny cute cafe area.

We got to wander around and take some pictures.

Then off to our hotel, which was lovely. Also a very old Amazigh structure, where the front half has been renovated into a much fancier hotel (than the Mos Espa set). Each room has electricity, it’s own bathroom, and an AC unit!!! Our group were the only people staying there. Yassine said they’d only recently re-opened after Covid/lack of tourism. Staff was so nice and so happy to see us. Also, in a former iteration, this renovated hotel had had a Wild West theme, as we found in a disused storage area fave, several cowboy themed signs and placards. Also, they once had a DINOSAUR THEME. Because there were still giant dinosaur statues scattered around.

The Tataouinea sauropod dinosaur was discovered here. And clearly the town has tried, in the past, to use that to entice visitors (the hillside along the main road has a giant Tataouinea statue on it). As y’all may have guessed, I LOVED having giant dinosaur friends around.

courtney is only ‘punching’ the dino because the statue had a pre-existing hole in its side, so she wanted to look super strong to have punched into its belly!!

A little worryingly, when we first arrived at the hotel, there were 5 police/military vehicles parked there, and two men with AK-47’s on the roof. Ummm….what’s going on? Michael said he saw armed soldiers climbing around the un-renovared historic half of the structure at night. In the morning, we were told it was military training exercises. Possibly. Also, our hotel was at the very top of the hill, offering great sightlines, and we were near the Libyan border. In an economically depressed area. When I’d asked what the main industries in town were, I was told “Smuggling.” So whether these were training exercises or active exercises, that was a bit unusual for me. The soldiers didn’t bother us, and they were gone on our second night.

Again, we were the only people staying there. The staff roasted a goat leg for us, served with some peppers and a honey sauce and it was friggin delicious!!

Each meal in Tunisia begins with fresh bread, harissa hot pepper sauce, and some olives. And often includes either a fresh salad with tuna fish, or some grilled veggies. And they served us a giant platter of fresh fruit for dessert. (We’d made a cat friend earlier in the afternoon, wandering the lovely courtyard areas. And then the cat wandered into the fancy dining room they’d set up for our dinner. While Courtney and Sarah were extra delighted at an illicit feline dinner guest, we all expected the staff would shoo her outside. Nope. The man in the large chef hat (a nice touch!!) carving the goat table side (so fancy) just gave the cat a knowing look and then went about his business, as the cat stretched under the table next to ours. Delightful.

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