M A T M A T A, a sign at the top of a hill resembling a Hollywood postcard. This one, however, is located in Africa at the boundary of Sahara desert and overlooks a small, quiet settlement... which is, in addition, situated much below the ground. From time immemorial it is the place inhabited by Berbers, the indigenous people of Tunisia. Why do they live underground? Soft sandstone was not suitable for hewing stones that could be used to build houses, yet it was quite easy to bore in it. It takes just several months to drill a house.
Inside of such dwelling, usually, there is a couple-meter-deep, rectangular or ellipse-like courtyard from which one can enter individual rooms that are drilled at one or two levels. Houses that are “built” in this individual method have one great advantage – they keep warmth during winter and pleasant chill in summer. For free! And when there is too little space, you don’t have to struggle for a credit or move somewhere else... it is enough to drill another room!
As you can see, in a similar way but on a small scale, there are also houses that are built for the guinea pigs which, like in South America, probably constitute an important supplement of the diet :).
Matmata owes its international fame to George Lucas who, in one of the local hotels, shot some pictures for his first, second and fourth part of the Star Wars.
And on our way there are just desert, palm trees and dates. By the way, take a look at technology applied! Dates on the palm trees are growing already in the bags! These have to be genetically modified palms.
We approach a place called Glissia, about 10 km south from Douz. Sahara is there for the asking. You just have to mount a camel... In the past, there were enormous caravans, sometimes made up of several thousand animals, wandering through the desert! And it’s all thanks to the unusual stamina of camels which can walk for 40 km a day with two-hundred-kilograms load on their back.
Sahara is really impressive, even though we are just on the periphery of this huge desert! Camel carries us patiently, the weather is sweltering and the sand lies everywhere. fine as dust, so delicate you can hardly believe.
Chott is a shallow and devoid of outlet depression on the periphery of northern Sahara, mainly in Tunisia and Algeria. Chott el Djerid is the biggest one; after rain, it turns into a salt lake but for the greater part of the year, due to the high temperatures (up to 50°C) and minor rainfalls, it’s nothing more than a flat, arid and cracked surface. I was curious to what degree it would resemble Salar de Uyuyni in Bolivia. There were some dried up places, some water and easily to notice salt mounds; one can say it was much alike if it wasn’t for the lack of the stunning whiteness.
Anyway, as for me, Chott el Djerid isn’t so much impressive as Salar de Uyuni. Maybe it’s a matter of time of the year or tarmac which cuts through the lake. Nevertheless, in order not to express only a negative opinion I should say that, in this place as well, George Lucas was shooting pictures for his Star Wars, the fact that can stand for an extra incentive to visit this place. As for us, we are heading north-west, towards Tozeur.