2012 March 30 – Day 19 – Gabés, Tunisia (Part 1)

The region surrounding Gabés was the chosen site for the first Phoenician colony in Tunisia (c 1200 BC).  It became a busy merchant port when the Roman Empire absorbed it following the Punic Wars and the port was an important trans-Sahara gateway for pilgrims undertaking the obligatory hajj (visit to the holy city of Mecca).

Residents claim that Gabés is the world’s only seaside oasis and it’s  underground springs naturally produce 10,000 gallons of water per day.

The ship was greeted with a piper and drummers on the dock.  Tour vehicles waiting for the passengers.  The table on the lower left is the bag lunches and water provided by the ship for all those on our tour.  Things seemed much more organized here than at Sousse and we set off on our 4 X 4 tour at 9:30.  We left the town, as we usually do, and headed south to Matmata to see the underground houses of the Berbers. The scenery along the way was rock desert and very barren.  It was easy to see why people would live underground due to the heat and sand storms.  It was also advantagous to have your villages ‘invisible’ in the mountain and valley rifts as refuge from coastal invaders. When George Lucas was scouting locations for Luke Skywalker’s boyhood home in Star Wars he selected the village of Matmata.  After we left the view point we had a rest break at the Diar el Barbar hotel in Matmata.                                                                                    A pretty nice check-in desk. Some of the underground “troglodyte” homes date back almost a thousand years.  The couple whose house we visited gave us a small cup of mint tea and flat bread that we dipped in a mixture of olive oil, rosemary, and honey.  I don’t think they spoke any English but they were very welcoming and gracious. It may be a grass shack but it is a grass shack with solar power.   I don’t know if these critters and grasses hanging on the walls were to ward of evil spirits or served some other purpose.  Some strange decorations for sure.

                                                                                      Every home has a loom.            Never complain again about your closet space.                         The man of the house prepared the mint tea. We were driven to Dous for the obligatory shopping opportunity in the souk.  Thankfully it was short, and we headed to Kebili at the edge of the Sahara Desert for the best experience of the day – camel rides.

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