Tozeur Tunisia safari to Chebika waterfall

Tozeur Tunisia and the Desert Safari

In the middle of the desert in Tunisia near Tozeur, the town of Chebika really does have a waterfall.

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If you look at a map, it seems Tozeur stands on the bank of a lake. However, that lake, the Chott Jerid, last held water around about the time the Dead Sea first called in sick. And salt water, at that. Salt is still won from this area, in commercial quantities, and we stopped to see some being made.

The area we stopped had, of course, a souvenir stall ... you can find similar in Tunisia wherever tourists gather. The main item on the stalls was the Desert Rose, a crystalline sand formation often found in the area. Sometimes, they’re dyed; more often, they’re sold in plain sand colours.

We debated for quite a while whether we should buy one or not. Would it end up as a greyish mass of sand in the bottom of the suitcase? And, assuming we got it home intact, what would we do with it? We did think maybe a decoration for the patio, but would it withstand the British weather?

More welcome was the garishly-painted, rather basic, but acceptable toilet.

Tozeur once a Roman outpost and a stopping point for the caravans coming from the sub Sahara, has a museum and medina (market place.) Today it still is a stopping point, but for tourists.

We’d come here by way of the Roman amphitheatre at El Djem and the cave dwellings at Matmata. We’d had a ride into the desert on a camel. By this time, we were exhausted and all we wanted to do was check into our hotel in Tozeur, grab a quick bite of dinner and fall into bed. We had to get up at 4.15 am because the Land Cruisers were calling for us at 5.15 to take us on the 4 Wheel Drive Safari.

Into the Desert -- Chott Gharsa, Chebika, and the Waterfalls

The road took us across the bed of another dried-up salt lake called the Chott Gharsa, Like most salt pans, it’s flat, with not much to be seen … or done, apart from plugging in the MP3 player, and trying to catch up on some sleep.

Presently, at the foot of the mountains, we came to a village called Chebika, at the mouth of a little gorge. The original village had been destroyed by heavy rainstorms in 1969, and completely rebuilt about half a mile away. To commemorate this, a statue of a mountain sheep stood on the skyline, gazing down on both villages from his lofty perch on the ridge. From the viewpoint just below, we could see the remnants of old village, as well as the buildings of the new.

'And, over there' said the local lad who showed us around, pointing to the cliff face opposite 'is the cave where they filmed 'The English Patient''. It would seem, if you want to put anywhere in Tunisia on the map, what you have to do is make a film there.

Tozeur Tunisia safari to Chebika waterfall
Then, he led us down into the gorge to see the spring from which pure, fresh water flowed. Did we dare drink it? By this time, you could have made tea with the water in our bottles, so most of us took some … and nobody reported any ill effects. In my opinion, it was much cooler and sweeter than the stuff you buy in a bottle, anyway.

Downstream from the spring, the stream gave a little hiccup as it descended a few inches. Was this the 'petite cascade' we'd been promised? ‘My father's got a bigger waterfall in his garden’, I sniffed. But, the 'little waterfall' … about fifteen feet high … was a short way down, through a little chasm which was a bit reminiscent of the Imbros Gorge, on Crete, which I'd traversed the previous year.

The people of Chebika are proud of their 'little waterfall' -- it's a sight you don't often see in the desert. And, of course, they take advantage of the visitors they get by setting out their stalls … quite a lot of them sell genuine native crafts, and demonstrate their making.

Having seen the ‘little waterfall’, we then drove over the mountains to the 'big waterfall', just south of the village of Tamerza. Here, the waterfall, higher than the 'petite cascade', but narrower, plunges over a cliff into a U-shaped gully. Niagara it's not, but it's the best they have.

There's little to do here, though, apart from admiring the falls, taking pictures and maybe buying a souvenir from the inevitable stallholders. But, you can get something to eat and drink here, too … breakfast seemed an age ago.

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Having written as a hobby for many years while serving in the Royal Air Force, Keith Kellett saw no reason to discontinue his hobby when he retired to a village in the south of England, near Stonehenge. With time on his hands, he produced more work, and found, to his surprise, it 'grew and grew' and was good enough to finance his other hobbies; travelling, photography and computers. He is trying hard to prevent it from becoming a full-time job. Photos by Keith Kellett.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 23, 2016

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