Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Off to See Aunt Beru

The drive from Gabes to Nouvelle Matmata was short, maybe 25 minutes, and I spent longer trying to move on to Old Matmata than I did in the share taxi.

Today was market day in New Matmata, so the streets were packed with vegetable sellers and shoppers. I asked someone where to get the share taxi to Old Matmata, and he told me to wait. Various share taxis pulled up and each time I'd look at him. He'd shake his head and I'd wait a bit longer.

Finally, he frantically motioned at me to run. He pointed to a share taxi. I walked over to it—too slowly as it turned out—only to have a huge family push me aside. They piled in and took all the seats. I asked the driver what to do. "No room," he said with an exasperated shake of his head, leaving me there with other would-be passengers.

Tunisia is much safer and more regulated than other places I'd been around the world.

As I waited for the next louage, it started to rain, later prompting a remark from a friend that the new moisture farmers at the Lars homestead were a lot better than Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had been. Ha. 

Finally, I got my seat in a louage, and we drove over a hilly strip of tarmac into Old Matmata. That's where Luke Skywalker grew up in the original Star Wars movie, and where 400 years ago, people dug homes out of the ground to create cool pit dwellings around central courtyards. Most people have since moved to modern housing in New Matmata, but some people still lived in the traditional homes, and the spot I was going to today was a hotel. Not to stay in—just to look around.

The louage entered town just after noon and then doubled back to the transit center, so I was disoriented by the time I stepped out into the rain. A tout tried to get my attention, but I put up my hood and walked away. I definitely wasn't looking for a place to stay or a tour guide. I had a place to stay, back on Djerba. My goal was to get in, see the Lars homestead, and then get out.

The first part worked well. I used my phone and my preprogrammed GPS coordinates to visit Hotel Sidi Driss, the boyhood home of Luke Skywalker and real-life troglodyte pit dwelling dug out of the ground, then I walked back to the transit lot.

Now I remembered why I'd originally planned to do this first. The earlier it is in the day, the more likely one is to get a share taxi. Old Matmata was the most remote spot I was visiting today, and I should have been here first thing if I wanted to be sure of getting out and back to Djerba.

I stood and waited in the rain. Once in a while, a louage would pull up. I'd ask the driver his destination, but it was never once that I could use. I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to get out of town today, or that I'd get back to Gabes too late to move on to Djerba. I liked visiting Hotel Sidi Driss, but I didn't actually want to stay overnight in it.

Finally, I risked leaving my station for a minute to run into Tourist Information.

"Is there a bus to Nouvelle Matmata?"

"There is a bus to Gabes."

Great! I needed to go Nouvelle Matmata-Gabes-Djerba.

"What time does it leave?"



I felt better, at least. I'd eventually get to Gabes, even though the bus wouldn't leave for another forty minutes.

I was feeling a bit desperate standing there waiting on the bus in the rain, when a share taxi pulled up. One passenger was in it.

"Nouvelle Matmata?"

The driver nodded and I got in.

The other passenger, a middle-aged man who looked like a farmer or herder, addressed me now. "The driver would like to know if you want to leave now. He says if we do not wait for other passengers, you will pay 8 dinar."

Oh, hell yes, I'll pay 8 dinar. How many times had I bought multiple seats to get taxis moving, from Bali to Mali? And how many times did it cost me a lot more than 8 dinar? I was more than willing to fork over $3.33 to get out of the rain.

Back over the mountain we went to Nouvelle Matmata. Only a few stray vegetables husks lay on the street as proof market day had happened. I waited briefly for the louage to Gabes, and we were off and away within 15 minutes. I only had to buy one seat.

On the outskirts of Gabes, other passengers started making special requests. "Drop me here." "Leave me at this corner." Finally, I was the only remaining passenger. The driver looked at me. "Djerba louage," I requested.

He left me at the main louage station, saving me the trouble of finding it on foot.

Shortly after I boarded it, the Djerba louage pulled out into the sunny late afternoon.

I'd make it back to the island today.


Linda said...

Wow, awesome place!

William Kendall said...

Terrific shots!

Michael Palin stopped in there during his Sahara journey.

Marie Javins said...

The scourge of my travels, along with "Paul Theroux did this."