Wednesday morning we loaded into three SUVs and drove west into the mountains. Our destinations were three mountain oases, Chebika, Tamerza and Mides. The drive to Chebika was about 45 minutes long, past salt deposits, rocky desert and a grazing herd of camels (of course I've heard of camels! Sorry, dad, I beat you to it!) We reached Chebika, a mountain village that had been emptied in the 1970s when the Tunisian government encouraged people to "modernize" and move into the valley. It sparked a controversial debate among my classmates, because these people were removed from a place they had lived in for generations and told to uproot and start a life in a new place, but life in the valley allowed access to running water and related comforts, as well as access to schools. The result is that the old village is abandoned, the entrance to Chebika is now taken over by little shops and cafes, but the views are still breathtaking. We walked down a path crowded by other tour groups that had also arrived by four wheel drive vehicles, and I sort of wanted to get out of the congestion. Faisal and I walked up on the side of the cliffs until Mounir basically begged us to use less "creative" routes. He told us there would be lots of things to climb at the next oasis, but apparently we were giving him heartburn :P We arrived at a small waterfall that emptied into a stream. The stream was then routed into a path that brought the water to the village. It turns out my frog catching skills are a little rusty...the stream was filled with little frogs and I came close to catching a few but seeing as I haven't really done any serious frog hunting since I was like 8 years old at my cabin, they all evaded me. I like my dad's theory that because frogs are cold blooded that the Minnesota ones are more lethargic and easier to capture! Those darn Tunisian frogs are just too speedy. Here are some mountain views from Chebika and the spring where the frog catching attempts went down:
We then continued on to Tamerza, another oasis with an abandoned town but this one had been evacuated during a flood in the late 1960s. A new town with shops, restaurants and a hotel was built more recently. A few waterfalls fill a pool in the middle of these huge cliffs, and this spot WAS great for climbing, as Mounir had promised. The only problem was that the area was incredibly polluted. I've found that to be a common trend at the natural spots around Tunisia. Trash is everywhere. Still, the trash free sights were pretty cool. Here's one of the waterfalls:
Our last stop was Mides, which is right on the Algerian border. The road splits off, one direction leads to Mides, the other takes you through the Algerian checkpoint. Mides was another good place to climb, we sat on the edge of the cliffs, looking down into the stream below and this is what we saw:
When we returned to Tozeur we ate more couscous at another restaurant and then had time to go back to the hotel and rest. I snuck in an hour nap, which was nice. Then we jumped back in the SUVs and drove to Onk Jemal, a stretch of desert used during filming of one of the newer Star Wars movies. Onk Jemal literally means Camel Neck and is named because of a rock formation there that looks like the head, neck and back of a camel. Before we reached Onk Jemal, we stopped to collect mica in the middle of the desert. It makes the sand sparkle like this:
Once we reached Onk Jemal, some intense light saber battles ensued:
Some of my crazy friends went out and bought blue, red and green scarves, tied them around sticks, and voila! Lightsabers! The amazing thing is that these light sabers magically transformed into head wraps for desert travel the next day. The blue lightsaber eventually ended up on my head.
The Star Wars set didn't hold my attention for long because anyone who knows anything about Star Wars knows the new ones were horrible. I found some healthy sized sand dunes and decided to go jumping off them. I know my friends took pictures of me in mid air, but they haven't posted them yet so I'll add them later. But here's Faisal so you get the picture:
That night we buried into another buffet dinner and I don't know about everyone, but a lot of us went to bed early, myself included. I think I was asleep by 9 o clock. Dune jumping wears you out!