The week before my final day in Tokiwadai I did a special kids lesson about Momotaro (Peach boy) and afterwards I got talking to one of the fathers who wanted to see my Star Wars travel photos from Tunisia and Italy. This was no coincidence though as the receptionist had informed me about him as they had somehow got onto the subject of the Sci-fi saga the week before. Anyway, he very kindly gave me a set of Star Wars stamps (see bottom picture) and offered to show me his collection. Now its certainly not like this one in Korea but nevertheless it was interesting to see his pride and joy which is inevitably hated by his wife! He had some very expensive figures and other rarities which p*ss all over my Pepsi Nex freebie collection from last year! I may collect a fair few Star Wars related things but I have never really been too bothered about figures and don’t want to be as that can be an expensive hobby.
I just missed a louage to the island of Djerba at 5.30am and then had to wait over an hour for the following one to become full. The cost of the taxi included the ferry crossing and culminated at the north of the island from where I then hired a taxi driver to take me round the places I wanted to visit. This island is a very popular destination for tourists who frequent the eastern side of the island and its beautiful beaches so my driver must have thought I was a right oddity for wanting to see three old run-down buildings on the west side in Ajim.
First stop was the marabout of Sidi Jemour which played Anchorhead in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and was also used as the outskirts of Mos Eisley. Personally, I wasn’t that bothered about this place but as I was in the vicinity I thought I may as well see it.
Further down the coast and close to the ferry port was Ben Kenobi’s hermitage; a lone derelict building which appeared on screen for about one second with Luke Skywalker‘s landspeeder outside it. The film portrays it as being in the middle of the desert by using a low camera angle but it is fact right next to the sea. This was very geeky but very exciting although there was nothing whatsoever inside for that was no doubt filmed in the studio.
My final port of call on the Star Wars trail was the Mos Eisley Cantina bar where Luke and Ben were introduced to Han Solo before escaping in the Millennium Falcon; filmed on a nearby sidestreet which I found thanks to the map in Mark Dermul’s ‘Trip to Tatooine’ book. Without such a map it would have been fairly impossible to find the Cantina, the blast-off alley and the stormtrooper checkpoint. They were still difficult enough to find even with the map! Of course its been over 30 years since the movie was filmed so needless to say that the buildings are not in good condition but it was nice to finish my Star Wars journey at such a pivotal place in the whole saga.
I left the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata and caught (by luck) an over-packed 7.30am bus to Gabes where I checked into a hotel and then went straight out again to the louage station to get down to Tataouine, the name that inspired the name of planet Tatooine in the Star Wars saga. While waiting for the taxi to fill-up with people Xavier came along and once we’d got to Tatouine we were prepared to go our separate ways. Before this I asked him if he could just help me out with the arrangements and invitable haggling with a taxi driver for what I wanted to do which somehow eventually lead to us both taking a taxi to his hotel, Ksar Ouled Soltane, Ksar Hadeda before dropping me off in Medinine and then taking him back to Tataouine. I was more than happy with this deal as it was reasonably cheap and meant I would have a travel companion for a bit in a country where its fair to say I hadn’t had too much conversation due to my French not stretching so far!
We had been expecting some sign of civilisation before we reached our first sightseeing spot but that never happened as one moment we were driving through the middle of nowhere and then the next we stopped and walked into the beautifully coloured Ksar Ouled Soltane (a Ksar is basically a fortified granary whatever that really means – a place to store grain?) which was great. No-one there (apart from a few artists selling their paintings of which I bought one), no surrounding fence, no entry charge and so we were free to climb all over the building to view the surrounding area which was nice as the Ksar is on the top of a hill.
Ksar Hadeda was next and we were there much sooner than I had anticated. This was similar to the previous one but not quite as aesthetically pleasing as it had fallen into disrepair in places. It was the location of Shmi Skywalker’s home in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the scene where she told Qui-Gon Jinn that her son Anakin didn’t have a father. This place is now part hotel, part Ksar and part building site and so made it difficult to locate the exact filming shots.
The final location was Ksar Medenine where I said a bientot to Xavier and then went to the alley on the back of the Ksar which was also used as the home of Anakin and Shmi Skywalker. The scene where Anakin had to say bye to his mum was filmed here with sand added to the street to make it look more desert-y so inevitably it looks a little different now with no set dressing remaining and it looked like people actually lived there.
After the unreliability of the buses on my birthday I thought it safer to move around by louage from then on. These are shared taxi’s looking like vans which go long distances and cost just about the same as the bus and are quicker too. I was fortunate to be the last one to want a louage from Tozeur on the west coast to Gabes on the east coast which meant that we left instantly at 7am. Two more shorter distant louages took me to Matmata where it was my privilege to check into the Hotel Sidi Driss which doubled up as the Lars Homestead in Star Wars or Luke Skywalker’s home to put it more simply.
You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan to be intrigued by this type of underground “troglodyte” home as is proved by the many many buses which make a stop at this place on their way up and down the country. I was one of only two guests to be staying in the hotel that night as it is kind of dirty with poor service but small matters like that were never going to deter me! Throughout the day I spent many a moment lining up photo shots inbetween all the tourists popping by.
The town is a very small place with less than a 1000 inhabitants and I walked round the place taking in the Berber museum (basically just a simple underground home similar to the one I was staying at) and the Matmata Hollywood-type sign. I went to the nearby hotel where Xavier (a French guy who I met en-route to Matmata) was staying to have a swim in their pool and I later witnessed a wedding which was very interesting. Lots of clapping and noise as a crowd of people paraded through the streets with the bride kept undercover on a camel as is tradition for these events which can last for up to seven days! I even got a free cous-cous (Tunisia’s national dish) meal later that night at one of the towns two restaurants which was really filling. My night was later ruined however at Xavier’s hotel when I started to suffer absolute chronic toothache while drinking which was just unbearable. A nose-bleed at 3.30am woke me up the following morning which all added up to it not being the most pleasant of nights but it was all worth it to me.
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 Star Wars collection photo’s here.
The very first thing I did on my first day in Italy was take an 8am Eurostar train for 28 Euro’s from Rome Termini station to Caserta which is 25 kilometres north of Naples. I had intended to get the 6.27 local train but arrived just a few minutes before and without knowledge of how to get a ticket or which platform to go to I decided to not risk it. Ironically, I still got there earlier than I would have but at three times the price! The reason for this journey was to visit Caserta Palace which is luckily opposite the station and was used as Queen Amidala’s Royal Palace in Naboo in Star Wars Episodes I and II as well as filling in for the inside of the Vatican in Mission Impossible III and more recently Angels and Demons. Having done my research before the trip it really was quite a sight to see those stairs and the huge window that appeared in the Star Wars prequels. I had a quick look around the palace and as impressive and beautiful as it was I just wasn’t that interested in any of the exhibits and pictures on display. However, the palace gardens were very nice and just stretched on for ages and ages as I found to my cost when I walked them in the mid-morning sunshine thinking the end fountain was much closer than it was. With the need to move on and visit Pompeii later that day I took the shuttle bus back to the palace. Back at the station I had to endure Italian inefficiency and poor service as the machines weren’t working and so I had to queue up at the one window that was open just to get a ticket the short distance to Napoli.
You can see my Italia ’09 photos here.
No this entry isn’t about letting rip in class but using top trump cards as a tool for learning. After making some James Bond actor profile flashcards a few months ago (featuring their age, hair and eye colour and height) for a comparatives and superlatives lesson I got the idea that trump cards might work in lessons. Subsequently, I went on ebay and bought five sets of cheap top trumps (three lots of ‘Star Wars’ and two of ‘The Simpsons’ if you must know!) which I got sent to Japan. Given that the Simpsons aren’t well-known here I have only used the ‘Star Wars’ ones. I teach a couple of young private students (separate lessons) who are both young ‘Star Wars’ fans so I have used the top trumps cards with them as a warm-down fun activity to make sure they leave the room on a high rather than having just been told what their homework is which is not an ideal way to finish a lesson given the negative connotations often associated with the dreaded ‘h’ word. Some of the items such as ‘dark side’ and ‘force factor’ have to be ignored but the likes of brains, jedi powers, battle skills and of course height can be used to practice the target language review (.i.e. Chewbacca is taller than Darth Vader, Han Solo is more skillful than Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi is more powerful than Princess Leia and so on). I only wish I could now find a way to incorporate ‘The Simpsons’ ones into a lesson but maybe some of the items up for comparison are not so suitable. By this I am referring to personal hygiene, shamelessness, huggability and prone to mayhem. Then again, maybe eliciting something like ‘Homer Simpson is more prone to mayhem than Chief Wiggum’ isn’t so bad after all!