We’ve spent a few days of ‘down-time’ in Douz, working on projects — an activity we both love at least as much as actually travelling. But, the time has come to move on.
Our new German friends Birgit and Deiter had poetically described the amazing view of the stars from out in the desert, and we were keen to see for ourselves. Actually going out into the desert, far enough to get away town lights, was a bit of an expensive exercise, though, so we decided we’d go for the ‘lite’ version, following Birgit and Deiter’s suggestion to stay overnight near the edge of the huge salt lake Chott el-Jérid, away from towns. This way, we also get to stay in our own bed! (I suspect we’re more than a little wimpy)
So, making sure the sky was a perfectly clear blue, we set off in the afternoon — actually a little later than we’d intended, but we don’t seem to be able to do anything in a timely fashion these days! We drove about 60 ks through very pleasant golden late-afternoon light, through towns both grotty and littered, and towns almost pretty, with dense thickets of palm trees.
The road straightened out, in anticipation of the run over the lake, and we took a side road we thought was likely the one Birgit and Deiter had pointed out to us on the map. Sure enough, it led us to a collection of sandy-coloured rocks protruding from the sand, and a hard patch off the road for us to park on for the night.
It was quiet and well off the main road — well, quiet until Arabic pop music started wafting over to us from a village nearby. Still, it was far enough from any big towns that the stars were great — a bit like standing in a real-life planetarium, I thought, then couldn’t decide whether I felt silly thinking it.
It was our first ‘voluntary’ wild-camp since that awful La Goulette incident, and it felt fine. It was kinda nice to have the whole place to ourselves. Still, I couldn’t help imagining scenarios as I waited for sleep; being woken early to a knock outside and escaping the clutching hands of mad whiskey-seeking locals!
No such drama, we awoke and had breakfast; while I was washing the dishes, a guy came up and indicated that he wanted a word. Katherine muttered something to the effect of “here we go again”, and I took my reluctant time to engage and open the window. Then we felt bad — he was a friendly local who worked at a café buried in the rocks nearby and merely wanted to make its presence known to us. We thanked him and bid him a good day, feeling sheepish.
So, we set off in good spirits, excited about seeing the salt lake.
The road started out surrounded by plains dotted with salt bush, then become fairly unbroken sand. Patches of white appeared on the sand, becoming more common until the road was surrounded by salt as far as the eye could see. We passed many other motorhomers; we all flashed our lights and waved to each other, a familiar custom. Many were pulled over by the road for a better look, and we followed suit. There were lots of ramshackle “cafés”/souvenir stalls by the road, each with an accompanying collection of odd bits and pieces assembled on the salt on the opposite side of the road: Coloured salt piles, makeshift camels made of bits of wood, old boats.
The lake itself was cool — a very alien landscape, enhanced by quite cool-looking clouds overhead, and an interestingly striated mountain range in the distance.
We drove a little further and pulled over again when we saw that the salt was even denser and whiter here — awesome. We scrambled down the edge of the road and crunched our way out into the sparkling white.
So, with shoes filled with a combination of Saharan sand and Chott el-Jérid salt, we pressed onwards, north towards Gafsa, a town with a conveniently located and promising-sounding caravan park. As always, we nodded, waved and smiled at everyone we passed, all of whom stared at us as we drove by, and most of whom smiled warmly and waved too.
We had a distressing experience when we were passing through one town close to Gafsa; I saw a puppy running across the road a fair way in front of us, running past a bag or something left on the road. As we got closer, driving cautiously, aware of foolish puppies, my stomach lurched when I realised the thing on the road wasn’t a bag, but an injured puppy, clearly only just hit. The pup’s mother was rushing around and barking angrily — we were impressed by her bravery when she took on Nettle, racing at her as we passed; there was a thump when she butted against the side. As we got closer, the injured puppy turned its head towards us and yelped — there was no blood, but clearly he/she had a broken leg.
We came to a stop and fretted about what to do. We couldn’t get out safely — the puppy’s mother was in full battle mode, and there was no way we would’ve been able to get close, even if we had known what to do. If we’d been in Australia I would’ve googled the nearest vet and called, but google doesn’t work like that here. I noticed some locals looking over and, desperately hoping they or someone else would have the resources to help the pup, we regretfully inched carefully past the distressed family and drove on, feeling terrible. We drove past another dog family, puppies running around just beside the road and shook our heads. We see so many dead dogs and cats beside the road here (in Sicily, too), and wondered if it was a pet control issue, or a driver education issue.
Another 20 minutes and we arrived at the caravan park, tacked onto an odd tourist park place, with a restaurant/café, an enclosure with chickens inside, and old cars placed artfully in various places.