Tunisia 2007 Part 3
Travelling into the south of Tunisia on the GP1 you will notice five litre containers of liquid being sold on the side of the road. They are usually stacked on top of planks of wood and barrels. These actually contain petrol that the locals have bought in Libya, where the price of fuel is very low, and then imported into Tunisia. There are hundreds of these unofficial petrol stations along the road. You pull up in your car and they will put a funnel into the fuel tank, tip the petrol into the funnel, and then charge you less than the Esso or Mobil price.
Matmata, named after the Berber tribe that inhabits the region, is the largest of the troglodyte communities in the world. Surrounded on all sides by rocky hills this village is quickly becoming a tourist trap with coach tours, such as the one I was on, visiting on a daily basis. We stopped in the village for a quick lunch and then got back on the bus, taking a more westerly direction, into the sand deserts beyond.
Along the road to Matmata you pass a planted oasis of date palms. Next to the oasis, and on the side of the road, men have set up small shacks and sell a drink made from the sap of the date palm tree mixed with sugar and water. The drink is sickly sweet but also very thin. It was drinkable but I wouldn’t want it in any vast quantity.
We eventually arrived at a camel stop just outside the town of Douz. We were invited to dress in traditional clothing and then set off on an hour long camel ride into the desert. All you could see was sand for miles around and I am glad that the guides knew where they were as I completely lost my sense of direction. Riding a camel is really quite uncomfortable, especially when the one following yours decides that your saddle, made of straw covered in sacking, is a pretty tasty snack! I collected some of the Saharan sand into a water bottle and brought it back to the UK with me.
A natural spring producing approximately 1000 litres of fresh water per second can support an oasis of around 300,000 date palm trees. However when a farmer wishes to plant more trees, or in areas where a natural spring can not be located, other water sources need to be found. In the Nefzaoua area they have dug down to the water table, 2.5km underground, and extract the water using large pumps. However when water is taken from that depth it is extremely hot, requiring cooling before it can be used to irrigate the oasis. The hot water is pumped to the top of a cooling tower where it then drops through the air while being broken up into water droplets. By the time it reaches ground level it will be warm rather than hot. Local people then do their laundry and also bathe in this warm water.