A few months ago, I was checking out the extra features on my newly arrived Indiana Jones Blu-ray set and noted that "old Cairo" was shot on location in Tozeur, Tunisia ... which happens to be a 4 x 4 drive away from the Tatooine set for Star Wars.
That was the clincher!
Realizing cabin fever would overcome if I didn't venture out of the country this Spring, I instantly decided on Tunisia. Factors included:
But most of all was the idea of visiting movie location terrain. Raiders of the Lost Ark ranks among my favorites, so wandering in this locale had tremendous appeal. And Explore! adventure travel offered a tour that ventured into southern Tunisia and spent a couple days in Tozeur.
The company asked if I had seen the U.S. State Department warnings about Tunisia--but that's no problem for me. I figured not to do anything stupid, and I certainly was NOT going to proclaim my U.S. identity--so nothing but Spain, France, and Brazil soccer jerseys for my wardrobe this time. Besides, I figure I've been in far more treacherous terrain in parts of LA, Chicago, and NYC before.
I donned my Indiana Jones hat (from Peru), arriving in Tunis a couple days before the tour group would gather. Just off the plane (24 hours without sleep), I tried to find the medina that afternoon but mangled the hotel worker's instructions--instead finding a close-by mosque with a few street sellers.
But after a good night's sleep, I was far more successful the following day. The medina is a crazy busy place with tons of merchants all scratching out a living for themselves in their shops. Of course everyone there is striving to make a deal, especially when seeing a non-native wandering about. I felt no real danger there--toting my passport, credit cards, and cash in my money belt.
It wasn't until the following day meeting with our tour leader, Noobie, that I learning how "reckless" I had been. A very proud native Tunisian in his fifties, he was taking us on a GUIDED TOUR of the Medina and told us that we MUST lock all our valuables in the safety deposit box--so no passports, no credit cards, and no cash outside a few dinars that we may need for lunch.
The U.S. State Department's warnings had become irrelevant. Noobie was vigilant to the extreme to protect his tour clients. Guided Tours were the norm ... and these could be interminably detailed. He had once been an academic teacher and was VERY structured. So each Guided Tour had a standard pattern--an elaborate introduction preparing us for all that we were to see.... plenty of details with lectures along the way.... and an inevitable summary/conclusion to remind us of ALL the essential information that we had viewed along the tour route.
I've never heard so much information during an adventure tour before, but I don't remember all that much from the presentations. The main surprise about this tour was discovering how confined we were to our hotels. I'm still not sure if this was due to the nature of Tunisia (and tourist safety) or due to the location of our hotels since most everything shut down at 7:30 PM in the areas we were located. I could also have been due to our tour leader being over-protective of us as well.... He did sabotage a plan that I forged with a couple of elderly ladies to escape our hotel in Tozeur to visit a cafe that offered traditional Tunisian music.
Overall, Tunisia reminds me greatly of home in Arizona--similar climate, desert terrain, desert plants, desert oasises. We just don't have the camels and Roman ruins. So with the country not being all that different, with extended lectures during guided tours, and extreme hotel confinement, Tunisia could have been a real bummer.
But that's where the small moments count SO much. Among them:
Tunisia isn't for everyone, and it's not too difficult to see why they are suffering a lack of tourism. If you're thinking about visiting the Middle East there are many other places that would offer more interest--both Israel and Egypt rank much higher (from places I've previously visited). And from what I've heard and read, Turkey, Jordan, and Morocco are more promising destinations.
If you're just looking for a desert experience, come see me in Arizona. We may not have Roman ruins or camels, but we have great scenery, lots of activity options, and we don't shut down the city in the early evening.