Chebika, Tamerza, Mides, Tunisia

Where the Sahara sprouts from the Atlas Mountains

Buvette do Oasis
Hadi's Comfort
canyon de mides
golden hands
mountain goat
little oasis
Rio de Palmeiras
Chebika Waterfall-Oasis
The Oasis Trail
Desert Crossing
sale of Chebika
Sale of Chebika II
The New Chebika
Cloths of Tamerza
The Old Tamerza
The Great Gorge
Arriving at the northwest edge of Chott el Jérid, the large salt lake reveals the northeast end of the Atlas mountain range. Its slopes and gorges hide waterfalls, winding streams of palm trees, abandoned villages and other unexpected mirages.

What comes to mind, accompanied by a sarcastic smile, is the pre-summer concern of whether, by the end of September, beginning of October, the torrid heat of the Sahara would have faded enough.

In Tozeur, at the gates of the largest of the sand deserts, the day dawns under a leaden sky. Irrigate it with a load of water.

We stick to the plans.

We got into urban traffic, disturbed by countless newly formed puddles and the slowness of vehicles and pedestrians unprepared for the weather.

Finally, we leave the city for the seemingly endless straight road that leads to the eastern shore of Lake Chott el-Gharsa and to the foothills of the Tunisian section of the Atlas.

As we approach the mountain range, the cloud cover takes over. It gives passage to a few rays of sunlight that gild the mountains and make the dense palm grove at their base shine.

We're about to cross it. A long herd of goats crosses the asphalt sample. Let us contemplate it and the imposing scenery that stands out from there.

Pass the last goat. The shepherd greets us.

With the road clear, we ducked into the palm grove and continued along the curved slope that went up to Chebika, the first stopover of the day.

Chebika, a canyon-palm grove at the base of the Atlas Mountains

A slight detour from the road leaves us next to the handicraft and souvenir market in the village, right next to the viewpoint that attracts hundreds of visitors a day.

Two or three guides vie for our attention. Not even this expected distraction mitigates the astonishment that plagues us.

The same palm grove we had crossed appears magnified.

It occupies a generous swath of El Gharsa salt land.

We could see it fill the inclined gorge we had to the east, with opportunities to spread to the other side of the mountain range.

The path progresses along the raised edge of the village, between sellers of stones and minerals and other handicrafts.

Where the houses end, the trail continues up the slope.

Up to an even more panoramic point, crowned by the statue of a mountain goat.

From Ad Speculum Romana to Arab-Bedouin Coexistence

In the long Roman Era, this place hosted a civitas called Ad Speculum.

It was located on one of the limes (lines of defense) in which the Romans defended themselves against the attacks of the people they called barbarians.

Fast forward to the XNUMXth century AD.

The Arabs led by the Umayyad Caliphate swept the Byzantine Empire from Africa, already shaken by successive Vandal attacks.

New waves of Arabs imposed themselves to stay, including the native Berbers who, despite the successive impositions of foreign peoples, have always inhabited these lands.

From that point, we could better appreciate the ruined houses that were left behind, the original Chebika village.

The Legacy of the 1969 Flood Flood

As happened to so many others, on the edge of the Sahara and even further south, it was destroyed by a meteorological aberration in 1969 that makes us reassess the strangeness of the morning weather.

That year, an intense rain of twenty-two days generated floods that eroded and dragged the buildings erected on a vulnerable sandy adobe. When the weather took over, in addition to all the destruction, it had claimed more than four hundred victims.

And yet the sun continued to shine on at least 350 of the 365 days of the year. The Chebika that was left over from the storm keeps its nickname of Qasr el-Shams or “Palace of the Sun”.

The new settlement has little or nothing to do with its predecessor.

It was urgently built, at the foot of a last ridge of the eastern Atlas, already on the plains of the desert, in modern materials that are more resistant to the rains that, from time to time, flood the mountains and the Sahara.

Resplendent Sets from “The English Patient” and “Star Wars”

Two Spanish visitors pass us by, led by a local guide.

“Take a good look at the palm grove down there”, he begs them.

“This same scenario that we discover from here, entered a film that I'm sure you know.

In fact, the scenery came in and I came in!” he adds proudly.”

The film is the nine-time Academy Award-winning film “The English Patient” directed by Anthony Minghella.

In the 1996 feature film, Ralph Fiennes plays Count László de Almásy, a Hungarian cartographer who, in the late 30s, led an expedition of the Royal Geographic Society with the purpose of mapping Libya and the Egypt.

The spread of World War II to Africa involves László in the intricate plot of the conflict between Allies and Axis forces. A plane piloted by the Hungarian count is shot down. László suffers severe burns.

It is saved by the Bedouins. After a hiatus in time and on the map, we see Hana, a nurse represented by Juliette Binoche treating him, already in Italy.

In addition to "the english patient”, the scenarios of Chebika appear in episode IV – “A New Hope” of “Star Wars”. Incidentally, several episodes of the saga were filmed in different places in Tunisia , including in island of Djerba

As we move forward, we see these and other scenarios being defined.

New meanders of the strait, dotted with palm trees, refreshed by a waterfall that the night's rain had invigorated.

From the Top to the Irrigated Depths of Chebika

We descended into the depths of the gorge.

We follow it to the dead end marked by the waterfall, between a colony of palm trees of different heights and shapes.

Some seem to sprout from the rock. The oldest ones are laden with the dates that have long fed the Bedouin and North African Arabs.

We return to the starting point.

From there, we ascended through the heights of Djebel el Negueb, towards Tamerza (ancient ad turres Roman), passing by its Cascade de la Palmeraie.

We found it with a measured volume. Even so, he entertains, mainly with selfies, some Tunisian families.

The Ruins of Old Tamerza, on the Edge of Another Oasis

The same route at the top of the ravine, crosses modern Tamerza. It leaves us facing Tamerza El Gdima, on the other side of a dry riverbed, nestled below the cliffs of another canyon, the Dourado.

In the image of Chebika, the old Tamerza el Gdima remains in ruins, destroyed by the same diluvian rains of 1969.

It also appears in scenes of "the english patient”, in panoramas seen from the plane piloted by Count Almásy.

Years earlier, George Lucas was inspired and later settled with his team at the Tamerza Palace hotel. From this logistical base, he filmed other parts of his saga “Star Wars”, in these places that we continue to unveil.

On the way to Mides, with Algeria right beside

We are just a few kilometers from neighboring Algeria. Between Tamerza Palace and Ain El Karma, we cut northeast, towards Mides, its oasis and gorge.

At a certain point in this Tunisian western, the border is so close that we skim large fences topped with barbed wire and watchtowers.

The worn and dusty road yields to a new precipice.

It stops at the entrance to the Mides oasis and the edge of its long canyon, famous not so much for the profusion of palm trees at the bottom (it only houses a few), but for its rounded cliffs, studded with geological layers.

We passed one of the many mineral vendors in the area. Its stall displays dozens of desert salt roses.

Nevertheless, the trader tries to impress us with a few fossilized shark teeth, which, to our surprise, are abundant in the parched lands around.

We reached the edge of the cliff.

The Twisted Lines of the Canyon de Mides

We admire its whimsical shapes. We understand why the Romans had quartered there, protected from enemy attacks by the natural moats all around.

Over the centuries, the local Bedouin population has defended itself in a similar way. It did not resist the aberrant rainfall of 1969, which wiped out the original Chebika and Tamerza.

We walk along the shore when Hedi, another vendor, invites us to examine the stones and minerals on display at his bar-terrace, a few steps from a drop into the bowels of the gorge. We bought two small geodes with a shiny interior.

We examined them when we noticed a relic of a sofa with a very high butterfly wing back in a corner of the establishment. It seems to us even more exuberant than the geodes.

Hedi's Matchmaking Couch

Hedi notices the sudden admiration. Ask us if we want to try it. “Before, the bride and groom used to come here to the canyon.

They photograph themselves in long matchmaking sessions. Meanwhile, the pandemic hit and, with the confinements, we lost them. They are coming back, but very little. Look, enjoy yourselves!”

We have other plans. We asked Hedi to settle in as comfortable as possible.

We photographed him and his Bedouin elegance, with his gray beard matching his white turban and nappa covered in sunken decorative studs.

We had reached 386 meters.

Those eastern reaches of the mountain range would still rise to the 1544 m of Mount Jebel ech Chambi, the zenith of the nation.

Three villages, oases and gorges of the Tunisian Atlas later, with the sun sinking towards the west of the Sahara, we reverse the path towards the starting point of Tozeur.


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