Eight hours and countless kilometres later our coach arrives at Hotel Les Dunes on the outskirts of Souk Lahad. You get the impression that the hotel is only ever used by tour groups who arrive in the evening and depart again early in the morning. The hotel was empty apart from our group, the discotheque had only two people in it. My bed consisted of a tiled shelf, about a foot and a half above the floor, upon which rested two single mattresses. It felt very strange climb onto the shelf, walk to the head of the mattress, and then settle down for sleep.
An old style rotary telephone rings its bell, a quaint noise not often heard in these days of digital electronics and automated systems. It is 5am on Sunday morning. I answer the phone and the night porter tells me something in an unfamiliar language. I interpret this as French and the message as “this is your wake-up call”. I thank him, in half-awake English, before stumbling blearily into the shower. I re-pack my overnight bag and then eat an unappetising breakfast in the hotel restaurant.
At 6am prompt the coach left the hotel towards Tozeur and Chott el Jerid, an immense salt lake stretching out in all directions as far as the eye can see. The vastness of the lake is difficult to describe and even the photos do not do it justice. Breathtaking is about the only word I can use. Unfortunately cloud cover prevented us from seeing the sun rise. A single road traverses the salt pan, which is covered with a shallow layer of water for only a few months of the year. Halfway along the road the coach stopped so that we could take photos and have another opportunity to buy stuff from a ramshackle gift shop. The lake provides another of Tunisia’s products – salt. Salt is extracted from the lake and exported to England for use on the roads in winter.
The coach stopped in the town of Tozeur and we were directed into horse drawn carts which whisked us off into the middle of a date palm oasis, covering around 10 square kilometres and planted with over 200,000 palms. The oasis also allows for other crops such as miniature bananas, figs, pomegranates and almonds growing under the date palm canopy. We were lead around the oasis by a guide who showed us an old man climb up a palm tree and do a little dance at the top.
Gosh, I didn’t realise I would have so much to write about, and I am only up to Sunday. More tomorrow!