We wake scrunched and huddled and shivering in our thin beds. It got down to 40 last night and the airBnB has no heat. Well, it has a 1950’s looking three-coil heater that only has one working coil left. It is very hot to touch and definitely a fire hazard, but isn’t enough to warm a house.
I get up to boil some water in one of the two pots they have and light the propane stove in the kitchen. Across the hall I notice the toilet seat is missing in the bathroom.
I’m paying $75 a night for this place but it’s a near-camping experience. It does have enough beds, a locked door, hot water and wifi – our minimum criteria.
And it’s much cheaper than a local hotel. I planned this a little late and found very little accomodation. Most of the hotels were four times that price. Apparently this is high season for the desert, which makes sense because of the cooler weather.
Nonetheless, I’m still not sure what people are doing here in Tozeur exactly. There isn’t a whole lot of western guidance on the web about what to do here. Tozeur seems like a cool place with a few good hikes, an oasis or two and a simple medina.
I debated for a while about whether or not to go here. Tunisia has ruins and resorts and the Sahara. It would have been too cold for mediterranean resorts but we could have done more ruins like the massive colosseum at El Djem.
Instead I picked the Sahara, figuring it would give us some adventure fun to contrast the Tunis capital city experience. But I don’t know what to expect and have nothing planned. Sleeping in 50 degree weather with no heat was not what I imagined.
Last night was the great AirBnB mixup where we ended up with the wrong host family at the wrong apartment. They were so nice to drive us to the supermarket before we discovered the mistake so we have the makings for Pain Perdu, which we eat hungrily. It’s been almost 24 hours without a hot meal.
So we keep food simple, bring a lot of nuts, buy a lot of chips and tend to look for local stuff where we can. Like the (vegetable cous cous here when we can get it, which isn’t often.
Long story short: I have no idea what to expect from Tozeur today. I figured we’d get our bearings and walk through the palm date oasis and then maybe try to catch a sunset. I read about a good spot the locals go not from from our hotel.
The oasis used to be the principal source of income for the area but it’s been mostly replaced by tourism. Partly that’s by necessity because they have over used and drilled the oasis springs and they are no longer sustainable.
As we walk we are greeted constantly and it’s genuine. “Bienvenue a Tozeur!’ ‘Bon jour!’ These aren’t hawkers, these are the street sweepers and passers-by. It’s amazing really. I’ve not felt so welcome in a long long time – so many places are cynical and bored of tourists. Tozeur feels special.
There is supposedly a nice restaurant called the ‘Sahara Lounge’ but it doesn’t seem special when we get there. Outdoors under the palm trees is cool, but otherwise it’s the same tea, coffee, fanta you can get anywhere. A few horse cart drivers stop and try any language they know – Spanish, French, German, Arabic – to see if we want a ride. We will later but now we prefer to walk. It’s dusty but it feels great to be out.
The Chak Wak is a private museum/edutainment ‘park’. It costs $4 each. I prepared everyone that it would be kitschy at best, a bore at worst. I had read a lot of reviews and though some loved it, most people thought it was best for 5 year olds.
Half the park is dedicated to early earth history, and half to comparative religions. There are handwritten and drawn information signs everywhere discussing ‘le big bang’ and various dinosaurs that aren’t to scale and often broken. The ‘magma’ in the otherwise pitch black early earth room is pretty funny.
The religious areas are even funnier. Christianity and Islam get big rooms. Islam is presented the most reverentially, unsurprisingly. All the rest are dumped in this winding room called ‘polytheism’ with more hand drawn pictures of buddahs and hindu gods. The jews get a small corner somewhere.
It goes downhill from there. There is a ‘lifesize’ noah’s ark and a creepy garden of eden. We sign our names along with others in the Noah’s ark sign. It ends with a ridiculous parting of the red sea exhibit.
We simply crack up the whole time. Emma and Lily think it’s hilarious, and it is. But on a more serious note, we talk about how bold it is to discuss alternative religions and natural history in North Africa, a place not know for it’s tolerance of such things.
Since we are trying to make it to this look out point by sundown, we pick up the walking pace once the cart drops us off. It turns out to be quite an area with lots of tourist activity – quad bikes, camel rides and some food. We climb the small hill for the view.
I pull out my 55 prime and get photos of everyone. A nice arab man takes our family photo just as the sun goes down. I always feel so good when we get a family photo (at the top)
We eat at La Fontana and for the third time have pizza with weird white cheese that is definitely not anything like mozzarella. Lily loves the spaghetti bolognaise and emma ‘Pasta avec beurre’. Her favorite in any language.