844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mos Epsa & Ong Jemal (Tozeur, Tunisia)

[Author's Note: I arrived in Tunis on September 10th, 2010 and left two months later. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia on December 18th, 2010, a day after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. I missed the festivities by about a month or so. Some would say I dodged a bullet but I cannot help feeling like I missed the boat. How often do you have the chance to watch history unfold from the front row? It is interesting for me to go back and read about my experiences at the time. Yes, I could almost taste repression in the air but if you told me the powder keg was about to ignite I would have been incredulous in the extreme. Yet, there it was boiling just beneath the surface. Keep this in mind when reading my Tunisia posts. It makes for a fascinating subtext.]

Nov 6th, 2010 - Me, Leslie, and a father/son Dutch duo packed into a Landcrusier (it came equipped with a driver) and headed to Ong Jemal or 'Neck of the Camel'. This area apparently trumps the nearby 'Ass of the Hedgehog' which is not nearly as inspiring. Ong Jemal is named for an elevated rock formation overlooking a barren plain closely resembling Chott El Jerid. 

The route out to the 'Neck' involved a bit of sand-duning a la 4WD (I am afraid my doubts about the Punto's sand dune prowess were on the mark).While getting a closer look at the 'Neck' I tried to stand on the 'Head' but was rebuffed by my 'Driver'. Not exactly sure what he was afraid of (it seemed stable) but I suspect if every Tom, Dick, and Harry went crawling all over the outcrop perhaps it might become 'Headless'. Astute movie-goers might recognize scenery from both Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and The English Patient in the photos. Not too hard to see the area's popularity with directors. In fact, on the way out there we saw an Italian movie set off in the distance.

It was then on to Mos Espa, Tunisia's best preserved Star Wars site. Although The Phantom Menace was rather disappointing from a cinematic standpoint the Jedi within could not help be just a little tickled by the scene. I couldn't find Darth Maul but I did see a quirky local sitting in the dirt talking to himself. Close enough I suppose. And just to punctuate the authentic nature of the experience I enjoyed a refreshing Citrus Fanta in the center of 'town'. 

We were initially informed by our driver that we would be enjoying the setting sun from the comfort of a nearby dune. But somewhere along the way it was decided (apparently by our driver) that we should head to a spot near the oasis of Nafta. We soon discovered why. Upon arriving near the viewing area we were asked if we might fancy a camel ride to the viewing dune off in the distance. None of us were interested. As a result of our lack of enthusiasm in engaging in tawdry touristic shamefulness we were forced to walk to the dune. This might seem reasonable until you discover that 4WDs are more than capable of completing the last leg of the journey (as evidenced by the half dozen vehicles parked yonder). It seems we were being punished for not dry-humping a dromedary. What is the word for 'prickbag' in Arabic? Clearly, our driver had an agreement with the camel charmers. 

You try your darnedest not to stereotype but are then presented with a scene that is categorically undeniable: a small army of camera-wielding Japanese tourists hell bent on getting the perfect shot. Upon arriving at the viewing area the only significant sound was a relentless barrage of shutter clicks. I had all I could do not to turn around and begin photographing them. I was unable to stifle a smile as we crossed the front line between the assault squad and their subject: Two Tunisian men leading a line of camels back and forth for the sole purpose of providing an iconic 'sunset camel silhouette' image for Team Japan. If my estimate is correct I believe each member of the team took 1.7 million photos on cameras worth more than my life. If that is not enough the Dutch fellows informed us that the day before this same group committed blatant acts of cultural insensitivity by chasing locals (notably women) down the street in order to get a picture…sans permission. Can you say 'Go F yourselves' in Arabic? 

Deciding that we missed out on a worthwhile experience Leslie and I made our way back to the area overlooking Mos Espa the following evening to check out the sunset. It turned out to be an endurance test for the Punto. There is a road leading to the Star Wars set that was built by the movie crew strictly for the convenience of the enterprise. It is in a state of disrepair but I thought it was smooth enough to unleash Punto Power. What I had not accounted for was the superior suspension and handling of the Landcruiser we'd arrived in the previous day. The road is a basically a sand version of corrugated metal. I came close to turning around as I thought the Punto (and my testicles) might rattle apart. My balls persevered. So did the Punto. I think our Punto is the limited Mutha Fucka edition. You want one. Do not underestimate the power of the Punto....or the Dark Side of The Force.

After engaging in a bit of sandbox acrobatics (and filling every crevice of my body with grit) we relaxed upon a dune to sip Tunisian wine, curse our driver from the previous evening for depriving us of this moment, and sing the Punto's praises. This may have been a bit premature as we had yet to return, however, we did manage to arrive in Tozeur intact. It was a good day. No, it was a great day.






Ong Jemal



Tea time.











Apparently, exploding buses are a real and present danger in Tozeur.

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