Shortly after the driver appears, we realize that, even at the wheel of a good jeep, he is anxious about the mission he has been given.
In conversation with another, the day before, we had gotten the idea that, even if it was there in plain sight, taxi drivers and the like considered the sometimes sandy, sometimes muddy peninsula of Ras R'Mal a fearsome exogenous domain.
Mahmoud is over 60 years old. He hadn't ventured that way in decades, if he ever had. When he passes from the asphalt to the damp, beaten earth of the route that starts at the isthmus, he gets nervous and on the phone.
Ahead, a young motorcyclist is waiting for him on his way to fishing. Relieved to find him, Mahmoud finally deigns to explain to us what was going on. “The paths here can be treacherous. He knows them. I am not. Let's go after him.”
The Path to the “Unknown” by Ras R'Mal
No sooner said than done. We progress north. To those and, we quickly despair, in a slow-motion mode imposed by the weak and old engine of the fisherman's motorcycle.
We tried to distract ourselves from the ridiculous slowness of the journey. Moments later, we confirmed that, in the middle of summer, the road did not even go into soggy areas. And if that happened, the shallow puddles would have little or no effect on the Jeep's 4×4 power.
We complained to Mahmoud about that rhythm. We convinced him that we are used to off-road routes and that, if he trusted us, we would keep him out of trouble. Mahmoud nods.
Thanks to the fisherman guide. Say goodbye.
From then on, according to the constant hints of “this way” and “that way” that we transmit to you, we approach the middle and the narrowest point of the narrow tongue of land.
The houses of Houmt Souk, the capital of the island of Djerba, remain south of the shallow water lagoon known as Bhar Mayet.
In the distance, towards the open Mediterranean Sea, we see what appear to be large wooden boats.
The Flamingos and the Pirate Ships
We are still trying to confirm it when, in another direction, on the edge of the lagoon, a flock of stiff birds captures our attention.
We zoom in with the telephoto lens.
Then we bring the boats together. The amplified view of both confirms that we are in the right place. And with luck.
Of the two terms, the popularization of Ilha dos Flamingos, sinned by the incorrect use of “ilha”. Even at the fullest of tides, that splinter of land held on to Djerba, specifically, to the area occupied by the village of Mizraya.
It is, therefore, a quasi-island, if such a classification makes sense.
The name was right, however, in the presence of the wading creatures.
We had them, by the hundreds, ahead of us. Despite our gradual but ambitious incursion, they are not willing to disband.
We photographed the flamingos.
In doing so, we found that they are white and gray, with parts of the wings and the tips of the beaks black.
They scoured the salty and brackish waters, looking for the crustaceans that feed and rouse them.
They were part of a community of various other birds, herons, storks, spoonbills.
Its presence, part of a much more complex ecosystem, earned, in 2007, the Ras R'mal peninsula the status of Ramsar wetland. Supposedly protected.
Ras R'mal's (Lightly) Protected Wetland
In reality, vulnerable.
We are in that ornithological entertainment when, from the direction of the boats, a serpentine line of humans appears. Their wandering path brings them on our path.
And not the birds.
After a few minutes, instead of two, there are twenty of us observing them. The group takes its time. When the guide dictates the return, we follow them.
Aimed at anchored boats, and at the most open area of the peninsula.
From Pantanal dos Flamingos to Ilha dos Piratas
Following the entourage, we arrived at the foot of a first ship, anchored against a pontoon, also made of wood.
Along the south bank of the peninsula, there were others, very similar or almost the same, all with rope ladders hanging from the masts, all with the masts aiming at the blue sky over the Gulf of Gabès.
A few passengers are refreshing themselves, with the translucent water up to their knees.
Many more are on the inside of the peninsula, now having lunch in the shade of structures set up there, now bathing and distracted by the shopping opportunities and attractions offered on the endless beach.
In other times, the peninsula or quasi-island of Ras R'mal, kept to its fauna and flora, only disturbed, from time to time, by a few fishermen or date gatherers.
That was until Djerba established itself as one of the popular destinations in the south of the Mediterranean, served by dozens of flights departing from different parts of Europe.
In this process, as the resorts multiplied along the north coast of the island, it became imperative to find coastal areas with a beach look and atmosphere, alternatives to the beaches of the resorts, too close to where guests were staying.
Alternatives to others in the interior of the island, if Erriadh and its neighborhood of Djerbahood.
The Beach and the Pirated Imagery that Attracts Thousands of Visitors
Ras R'mal was right next door. Djerba equipped itself with the boats that ensured the crossing from Houmt Souk. And crews like pirates, in charge of serving and encouraging the passengers.
We were supposed to land on Ras R'mal aboard one of them. Prone to improvisation, we found ourselves on land, making the journey on wheels.
Finally, we regained our place within the entourage of the ship "Elissa".
We had lunch. After that we cross the sea of dunes and smooth sand that separates the south from the north of the peninsula.
On foot, between the dunes and a wandering fleet of traditional carriages.
We walk toward a line of burlap-covered parasols, each with its own pair of plastic chaise lounges.
Each of these hats shelters its family of visitors and bathers.
Some of them are European tourists who are used to the exhibition of bikinis and skimpy bathing suits.
A few are Tunisian or from neighboring countries and the Middle East.
The tenets of the Muslim faith oblige their women to bathe in full clothing.
We observe a group of friends enjoying a sea massage, one of them enthusiastically doubling over, with a long soaked hijab hanging down the back of her neck.
The men, those, bathe with relative ease, a little t-shirt on.
Camel Rides and Acrobatics on Horses
Indifferent to marine recreation, a platoon of entertainers and traders suggest their products and services. They display necklaces, bracelets and typical hats, small pieces of pottery from Djerba and items that are necessary for the beach, rather than handcrafted.
Owners of dromedaries, usually Amazigh natives, drive them here and there, selling rides on the solitary bumps of the camelids.
A duo of young Djerbians trot on horses. When they see us from heavy cameras and photographic lenses, they arrest us with a display of galloping acrobatics that dazzles us.
As synchronized as on the trip to the island, the boats set sail on the way back, forming a convenient nautical queue.
The “Elissa” also departs from the wharf that sheltered it, towards the end of the northeast tip of the peninsula and, in order to avoid shallows, in a pre-defined contour by buoys that redirect the ships back to Houmt Souk.
Still at the beginning of the route, we pass by fishermen who impose themselves on one of these shallows, their rods stuck in the sand and heading towards Djerba.
On board, to the delight of the passengers, the crew of fake pirates resumes the exhibition that, like the arrival, we had missed, made of juggling with ropes and masts, animated by the successes reggaeton from the moment.
Underneath their leaps, flights and somersaults, a Tunisian group of scouts gets excited and puts on their own show.
They make the deck a dance floor.
In the absence of girls, they rub their legs and buttocks against each other, striving to emulate the formula of perreo which Puerto Rico has imposed on the world for a long time.
The “Elissa” docks. Side by side with eight or nine other pirate ships.
Pirates watch passengers disembark. With the day won, both take refuge at the starting points. Vacationers in Djerbian resorts on their holidays.
The pirates, in the Djerbian homes the holidaymakers help support.
HOW TO GO:
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