The ships of the desert plodded towards Tunisia’s setting sun, their frayed leadropes swinging lazily from the hands of the robed bedouin herder. Clunky shoulders shifting left to right, the camels trudged forward.
Then they spit! These seemingly-reluctant ungulates were really full of piss and vinegar, and I suddenly felt relieved to have their head (and teeth!) safely tethered by Mohammed.
We were out to catch sunset in the dunes. We had watched them turn from shiny cream, to soft peach, to burnt mustard, til – finally – a rosey-lavender, as the last rays of the blazing sun closed our final day in Tunisia.
WHERE DID WE STAY IN THE TUNISIAN DESERT?
The Ksar Ghilane oasis was traditionally the best 5* camp at the edge of the Tunisia Sahara.
From a village of canvas tents (which surprise you with an full, modern bath!), you spend your days exploring the medieval forts hidden out amongst the dunes,
Today in Tunisia, there are mobile camps (3*-5*) where you can overnight. They lack the water features (and, sadly, the palms) but they do often offer ATVs for heart-throbbing desert adventure. Besides, they have the extra benefit of a fully immersive desert experience.
HOW TO DO YOU GET TO TUNISIAN OASIS?
You’ll want a guide! Our guide here (another Mohammed!) had a good joke on us! But you’ll truly want an escort to interpret your journey through Tunisia!
Between the coast and the dunes is an arid area of troglodyte communities. Homes and even complete hotels are constructed entirely underground. Mohammed introduced us to a family who lived here, see left.
In one of those rooms, she prepared the dinner.
The road meanders through small villages of mudbrick buildings and past ridge-top castles.
Local men rode donkeys, loaded high with their foraged booty, to the market.
When the heat started to bake the streets, we stopped on a shady terrace for a bowl of olives and a plate of tomato-y chicken and carrot stew…
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO IN TUNISIA?
I recommend a couple of overnights in a fondouk of Jerba! Avoid the touristy beach hotels (where they advertise “Get Your Photo on a Camel here at 6pm”) and opt instead for the old town, Homt Souk! You’ll be immersed in the carpet hagglers of the souk, soaking up the history at your own fondouk, an inn dating back to Tunisia’s caravan days when the Christians were relegated to this lodge rather than the common marketplace. Today, these are boungainvillea-adorned enclaves with open courtyards where you can take breakfast before heading out into the bustling village.
You can also sample the local street food, like from our friend, right, who was grilling lambchops on a roadside hibachi!
There are local bathhouses — gender-separated community baths similar the the hammams of Morocco or Turkey.
And, up in the north, visit Carthage, a Mediterranean town of ruins dating back to the Battle of 149BC.
Despite the exotic and often stern appearance of the local Arabs, they were quite curious and welcoming to us, and Mohammed (a 3rd Mohammed!) actually became our friend.