Star Wars Traveller: Tatooine (a.k.a. Tozeur)

It may surprise many that to visit some of the Star Wars filming locations in Tunisia is actually very difficult. There are no Star Wars package tours and very very few Tunisians have even heard of, let alone seen the sci-fi saga. With that in mind, getting things started was a bit of a headache but luckily I’d done plenty of research. Having walked the streets of Tozeur in the early hours I’d found nothing that could help me such as a tour operator. In fact the whole town seemed to be closed! Eventually I returned to the scene of my previous nights wild(?) birthday celebration extravaganza and enquired at reception about hiring a private 4WD driver as the receptionist spoke a bit of English as my bad French couldn’t help me express what I wanted which was, at times, a problem in a country where very few people spoke any English. I had to pay what was expensive by local standards but reasonable by UK ones and well-worth it to me.
My driver Amar first took me to Sidi Bouhlel which is known (outside of Tunisia) as Star Wars canyon and was used in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ as well as in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. An awesome sight and when I went down into the canyon the scenery (Artoo’s hideout and Jawa rock) was so instantly recognisable. A great start to the tour and not a sole in sight as I took my photos.
After that, we saw wild camels and with it a baking 45 degrees celsius outside we then saw Ong Jemal (neck camel) or Camelhead rock which was in ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ but is maybe more famous for its use in ‘The English Patient’ which I had seen as my preparation for this trip.
A short ride away from this was the Yardangs (protruding rocks resembling shark fins) which was the duel site between Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul and then in the middle of nowhere was the Mos Espa set from ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’. Incredible to think that there is no entrance charge, no fenced off area, no nothing. Truly amazing and this place was a highlight of my whole trip. The set itself is made of wooden moisture vaporators and multi-domed buildings and archways made of plaster with nothing inside apart from sleeping touts waiting for the next tourist bus as this place is on the tourist circuit though its only billed as ‘The Star Wars’. I guess I must have arrived in between buses as unbelievably I was alone again and able to wander at ease locating (this is where it gets geeky!) Watto’s junk shop, Qui-Gonn’s Alley, Sebulba‘s café and Jira’s fruitstall.
After those three highs I was then looking forward to seeing the igloo which played host to the Skywalker’s home exterior which was one of the sites I was really excited about seeing. However, I was dealt a crushing blow when I couldn’t find the tiny igloo and communication problems with the driver made it difficult for me to really guide him to where I wanted and he gave up and after showing a photo of the place in my book to a local I couldn’t believe their ignorance in just saying it wasn’t in the area but what can you expect when a foreigner tries to tell you that something is in your neck of the woods that you’ve never heard of. A truly frustrating experience and I really regret not stopping the driver at the 26km marker (as directed in ‘Trip to Tatooine’ by Mark Dermul which I was following) and looking for it on foot rather than driving a bit further on to a turning which had a bit of a road to follow but from where we just couldn’t locate it.
Back in Tozeur I was still pretty deflated about the sour end to the trip but managed to cheer myself up temporarily by sampling some camel steak which was available at a restaurant run by two nice chatty guys which was a relief given that yet again I was on my own. I wandered round through the palmeraie area (a huge oasis) and around the town looking at the achitecture and brickwork which the area is famed for although its also a bit of a building site in many places. I returned to the hotel de l’Oasis at night for a couple of beers with an Italian guy I met earlier that morning which was nice given the lack of speaking so far on the trip.
You can see my Tunisia photo’s here.
You can see my Tunisia Star Wars collection photo’s here.
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