On the Road: Tunisia, in search of ancient meteorites, Days 7 and 8

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, March 28, 2011

Astronomy magazine’s group of Tunisian travelers, 22 strong and accompanied by Chris McKay of NASA Ames, Melita Thorpe of MWT Associates, and me, had a very busy weekend. On Saturday, March 26, we employed Tozeur, Tunisia, in the far west, as a base. We had traveled across the great salt lake of Chott El Jerid; now we would set off by Toyota 4-wheel-drive SUVs for the Atlas Mountains, moving high up from the desert base of the Sahara.

In the Sahara, an oasis is precious. The oasis at Nefta boasts a huge grove of palm trees surrounded by the desolate Atlas Mountains, March 26, 2011.  David J. Eicher photo
We journeyed to the oasis of Nefta, where we saw lush groves of palm trees that produce vast quantities of dates around a shimmering waterfall and pools that sustain life amidst the harsh environment. Hiking through the Atlas Mountains, we saw fascinating rock and mineral specimens and spent the morning exploring before setting off again for the desert floor.

Next, our drivers gave us a crash course in desert sand-buggy driving, jumping over dunes and steeply contoured trails as if on a race course, giving many of the riders momentary pause and eliciting screams as if we were on an out-of-control roller coaster. We finally arrived at Ong Ejamel, an arid region straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, where the white sands surrounded a huge rock called the Camelback Rock because of it resemblance to a seated camel. Next, we continued to see “Star Wars City,” as it’s now called, the extensive movie set where parts of the original Star Wars film were shot for its 1977 release, as well as some subsequent Star Wars movie work. We also whizzed past a huge valley that was used for many scenes in The English Patient.

The original Star Wars movie of 1977 and several followups were shot in part in Tunisia, and this set, now called “Star Wars City,” was paramount in the desert scenes, March 26, 2011. Davd J. Eicher photo
We returned to Tozeur tired and exhausted and ready for a very long day Sunday, March 27. Arising early, we set off for our lengthy journey back to Tunis. Although Saturday we came within just a few miles of the Algerian border, yesterday we moved quickly northward and eastward and passed through many small towns on our way to Kairouan, the fourth most significant Holy City in the Islamic religion. There, we explored at length the Mosque of the Barber, where Abu Zama’ al-Balaui, a companion of the prophet Muhammad, is entombed. We also explored at some length a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Mosque of Kairouan, the oldest religious structure in North Africa, which dates from A.D. 670.

Our long journey continued northward until we reached Tunis again late in the afternoon, just in time to see the Bardo Museum. This national collection houses the greatest group of Roman mosaics in the world, and we saw dozens of them. Exhausted, we ate dinner, rested, and prepared for our last big day of tourism, when we will step back in time to see the ruins of Carthage, and imagine it before its legendary destruction.

In Kairouan, Tunisia, we saw the Great Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest religious structure in North Africa, dating to A.D. 670, March 27, 2011. David J. Eicher photo
Be sure to check out all the pictures from my Tunisian trip at the Astronomy.com Trips and Tours page.

Related blogs
On the Road: Tunisia, in search of ancient meteorites, Days 5 and 6

On the Road: Tunisia, in search of ancient meteorites, Day 4

On the Road: Tunisia, in search of ancient meteorites, Day 3

On the Road: Tunisia, in search of ancient meteorites, Days 1 and 2

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