Matmata is a famous town because of the quite fabulous troglodyte houses. Basically, a big hole dug in the floor that people made houses in the walls of. They became world-famous as like many things in Tunisia they were used as filming locations for Star Wars and there were plenty of signs around, aimed at all the tourists. As it was, we were again the only tourists and so we had a number of people offering to guide us around. It was a quite pretty place, and R wanted to stay for another day which I said he should, but as neither HS nor myself wanted to he decided to continue with us.
As we rode out of town, we noticed unmarked police cars following. The area was quite hilly, and so they’d park on a curve, so they could surveil the area, let us ride on and then when we got too far drive past us and find another place to park. A couple of times we stopped to try to take pictures and were shortly told to keep going because it wasn’t safe for us to stop.
On the edge of the city, the police asked me where we were planning to stay. I told them that we’d be staying with a friend, but was intentionally evasive when they asked for more information to the point that the officer said he’d leave us be if we didn’t need his help. I said that sounded great and we rode off. The promise to leave us alone didn’t last long, as we had an unmarked police car following us. Being the middle of a city there was a fair amount of traffic and so being a bit of a child I intentionally lost the police by riding through the traffic jam and hiding round a corner for long enough for them to go away. The one downside was that I’d foolishly given the police my phone number, and so when we arrived at the house of our Couchsurfing host the police called and asked where I was. They wanted us to go and register. I told my host, and she said it was normal and so after dinner we went and spent 30 minutes at the police station sorting things out. However, it turned out that they wanted to register us and they didn’t have a photocopier so it was our responsibility to go back the next day and provide the paper.
Look around a troglodyte house
- Got a guided tour of Medinine
- Headed south to the city of Chenini, with police escort so we gave them all our bags
- To find a place, we told the police we wanted to sleep and they found us a restaurant that let us sleep on their floor
The day after, R told us he wanted to go to a place called Ksar Ghilane. Neither HS nor myself wanted to. HS had Googled it and decided it looked too much like a tourist-trap, and for me I didn’t want to because it would involve a U-turn. R didn’t believe us and told us that the reason we didn’t want to go was because he wanted to. When you get to that level of paranoia you don’t travel together any more and so we parted ways. The tension had been building since Matmata, and in Medinine he had even managed to make HS angry. In Asia the head you don’t touch people’s head and when R had done it to HS the first time, he strongly told him not to do it again. When he did it a second time, let’s say HS wasn’t happy and things deteriorated. It’s because of this that when R talked about parting ways that neither of us had an issue.
We had a couple of days of riding through the desert, and into a constant headwind, but riding as a pair was definitely preferable. HS was a lovely person to ride with, with the kind of aura that meant that even not being able to speak French or Arabic he made friends with the people he met. When we went through an army checkpoint, and the incompetence of the soldiers was frustrating me, he remained calm.
Being the desert, there were plenty of signs about camels, including talk of camel crossings, but I saw no wild camels and only 4 camels in total. They were all in the back of a pickup truck. What we did see a lot of were date trees, but unfortunately we were a couple of months late for the international date festival and fresh date season.
The other tourist highlight for the area was a salt flat, but having ridden across the world’s largest in Bolivia it wasn’t so exciting. It mainly meant a place where the wind was ridiculous and there was nowhere to get food or water. There was a small area with some artwork, but even the café in the area was closed.
Our destination together was the city of Tozeur. HS wanted to go to Algeria with me, but not having the visa it was impossible. Algeria only gives visas to people when they apply in their home country, and that wasn’t going to happen. I’d done it when I had been back home before Christmas. I was originally thinking of taking the train north, back to Tunis, but with the border to Algeria being close I decided to cross here in the south. It involved crossing at a place where the British government thought seriously unwise, on both the Algerian and Tunisian side, but so be it.
HS and I said our farewells, but with the idea to meet up again in northern Morocco at the end of March. He wanted to ride through Africa, but not by himself, and so it seemed a great opportunity. Not being able to go through Algeria, he would be forced to go back to Tunis, take a ferry to Palermo, and then he was going to northern Italy, to visit Switzerland, before somehow getting down to Morocco.