After spending a bit of time in Matmata I wanted to go to one of the villages nearby that the guide says can be awesome and far less crowded. I figured I was spending the night, so I would explore more in the evening and morning, when there are no tourists. So I jumped on a bus to Gabès and got off at Tijma. A guy on the bus tried to convince me to get off half-way to visit his troglodyte house, but I was in no mood for souvenir shopping, nor would I find another bus too quickly.
When I got to Tijma it was far more crowded than I would have expected from the LP's description. Well, since the writing of the book Tijma and become an informal camel-riding centre. The camels were walking along the road to Haddèj, where I wanted to go, about three kilometers away. Of course I was offered a ride, but I decided to walk instead. This turned out to be a good decision because the camels and guides left the road after only about half a mile to head out to a little clearing, doing God knows what over there.
So I continued walking for what seemed like an eternity leaving the camels, guides and other tourists long behind. I never saw another person nor a car. I was heading to Haddèj to see the troglodyte homes and the underground olive press. The LP suggested that I ask for someone to show me the way, possibly the guy who runs the small shop and post office. Well, things have changed, because as soon as I came over the hill and had Haddèj in view, some kids came running up to me and immediately asked me if I wanted to see the olive press.
Well, the three amazing boys brought me on a complete tour of the area. We started off at a deep well where they all get there water (this village as no electricity or restaurants). We quickly made our way down towards the olive press. Meanwhile the leader was constantly yelling something across the plains towards the village. It turns out that the door to the olive press is locked and he was yelling at someone to get the key. So a fourth, very young, boy showed up with the key and let us in. I won't go into details about the olive press, but it was well worth it, pretty cool.
We then saw some troglodyte homes and ate this weird fruit or nut growing on a tree, it tasted great. Before leaving I took some photos, they gave me their address and asked for a copy of the photographs. They were so cute. Of course, this whole episode cost me 10 dinars, but it was probably the best 10 dinars I ever spent. This village is so remote and so poor. Matmata attracts tons of money and no one in this village sees a cent of it.
There's a mule track that runs from Haddèj back to Matmata which I decided to take. I couldn't quite find it so I had to ask someone, but I eventually got onto it, crossed a thoroughly parched river and headed into the hills. Looking back on the village was amazing. Totally monochrome, brown. Even the plants looked brown. I hadn't seen another tourist, or even more that a handful of locals around, it was unbelievable.
The track back to Matmata was awesome, I recommend this little loop trip for everyone. Walking through the stunning hills, without anything around but dirt and the odd bit of vegetation. It got scary at a few points where I lost the track and couldn't find my way in this desert-like landscape. But I never felt like I wouldn't get there, I just knew which mountain I needed to head for and it was always in view. I was more frightened however by the sun. At this point it was mid afternoon and hotter than I ever remember. It was shockingly hot. The funny thing was that I don't think that wearing less clothing, like a pair of shorts instead of trousers would make any different. The heat was everywhere. Now I understand how the Arabs can wear so much clothing, it just doesn't make that much of a difference.
The funniest thing though was this house I passed. Yes a house. I couldn't believe it myself. No electricity, no road, just a building literally in the middle of nothing. But a man just happened to be outside doing some kind of work. He saw me and I waved. A bit stupefied, he waved back, not entirely believing he was seeing another person, let alone a tourist, walking around out there. I kept walking and I never saw the man look away from me, no matter how far away I got.
When I got back to my room in Matmata I just flopped onto the bed and passed out. Every once in a while I would drift in and out of my slumber as tourists wandered around the hotel. But I did wake up with a stir when some huge German man walked right into my room looking for a few good pictures! I nearly gave him a coronary. That's the thing though, he had no reason to expect anyone in there. This hotel is huge, it could easily accommodate several hundred people. But I was the only one staying in the hotel at time. It wasn't until late in the evening that a single woman from Denmark showed up and a family from France. Accommodation all over the place was just totally dead.
I had started to notice that transportation was getting much more difficult. There is far less public transport services in the south.
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