Today’s itinerary: Tosche Station, Obi Wan Kenobi’s House, and The Mos Eisley Cantina.
For Djerba these days, the biggest business is tourism. There’s still a hue agriculture industry though. There are olive trees everywhere and Tunisian Olive Oil is a highly regarded commodity. Though I’m seeing palm trees, the country’s dates are really grown in the Southwest. Dejerba is in the Southeast. The country also has a thriving livestock and fishing industry. Clams, shellfish, and octopi are prime catches. In the center of the nation is Tozeur, a fruit and vegetable garden spot, generating produce that is distributed throughout the country and most especially good looking at local markets
But that’s all prelude to why I’m really here. Ladies and Gentlemen, dear children, I give you that megamarket of power converters – Tosche Station (located not in the Outer Rim but in Sidi Jemour, Tunisia).
Here on Earth, Tosche Station is a mosque that was built in the 1900s. Like a lot of buildings in Tunisia at the time, there were large rain-water catching tanks that helped the people overcome water supply issues. A rather elegant solution, discontinued these days thanks to ever more advanced water systems.
Unlike the desert planet of Tatooine, Tosche Station sits on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a body of water cleverly framed out whilst shooting the Star Wars movie. It’s a very popular picnic spot and I think you’ll see why from the photos below.
I’m going to warn you now – there’s going to be A LOT of photos, not just here but EVERYWHERE.
We continued along the coastal shore to find a tiny abandoned mosque. This is the home of Obi-Wan Kenobi, again, cleverly framed so as to avoid that perky blue water. There may be moisture farming on Tatooine, but the only sea I recall hearing about was the Dune Sea.
In the town of Ajim, there’s the Mos Eisley Cantina (exterior only). This Wikipedia voted third most important town of Djerba is only 3KM away from the mainland. A ferry can cross the causeway carrying up to 20 passenger vehicles every 15 minutes. The fare is 1 dinar a car, or about 42 cents American.
As for the Cantina, it’s a former bakery. There has been a lot of development in the area in the past 41 years so what was once a pretty wide open street is now surrounded by various buildings and businesses. But the moment Mohammed and Mondher (I’ve totally been butchering both the pronunciation and spelling of his name) turned on the street, I immediately recognized that most famous bar in that most wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Hey, look! Flamingos! Even Mohammed and Mondher were excited and wanted to stop. Mohammed tried to get them to fly off so I could get a better photo by yelling at them. He said if I had brought my gun from the US I could’ve scared them. I tried to tell him that not every American has a gun, nor wants one.
By the way, Mondher has been a tour guide for 17 years. This is only the third Star Wars specific tour he’s done. Usually he does French and Italian tours, and also speaks Arabic, and a little Russian. People are amazing.
This concluded the Star Wars focused stops of the day. We carried on into the city Guellala. It’s an original Berber stronghold and home to traditional claymaking artisans. Djerba is very flat and only has a few hills, and these hills are where the clay can be found. Guellala is marked by hills and explains why the pottery business has always been booming here.
My claymaking tour guide was a world class potter, a fourth or fifth generation artist. I lost track of the “greats” when he pointed to the photo behind him while sitting at his potter’s wheel. Everything is done by hand – including the mining of the clay from the tunnels they’ve dug into the ground.
Oh, and there was a cantankerous camel there that I got to give a water bottle. Even then he wasn’t happy.
And of course the tour exited through a gift shop. I thought about buying a small cup, the kind of thing a carpenter might have, but the price was too dear.
Here’s a fun fact – the clay color depends on the type of water used. So I guess it’s kinda like bagels or pizza dough. But for red clay you use rain water/mineral water. For white color clay, you mix in salt water.
Next it was on to the oldest synagogue in all of Africa, located in the small village of Erridah. Originally built in the 5th Century BC, the synagogue saw a major renovation 2400 years later in 1920. The building was redone according to similar style and dimensions, while also adding a pilgrimage accommodation wing for those visiting from afar (this was before the local hotel service started coming into its own).
It’s a place called La Ghirba, or “The Stranger.” There are three main legends explaining how it got this name.
The first is about a girl who moved out of the city proper and built her straw hut home alone on the site. No one could understand why she did it and thought it strange… all the moreso when the girl’s hut burned under mysterious circumstances. To honor her, the place was renamed La Ghirba.”
The second etymology story claims that a rock fell from the sky as god’s will, marking the spot where the synagogue should be built – a strange occurrence that warranted the name.
The third and final story says that when people arrived into Djerba it was a new, unknown land, and was therefore a strange land.
There’s a far more tragic story involving this place. In April 2002, it was the site of a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda killing a locals, a number of German tourists and their guide. This horrific act prompted new security features and countermeasures.
This is small comfort but a reminder that life goes on and endures even in the face of such tragedy. Situated on the property are a number of olive trees. Mondher tells me that olive trees can last for 20 centuries. I find myself wondering if I misheard him on that… but I know he said these trees were at least 300 years old. What comes and goes and what endures… an olive branch endures.
Not too far from La Ghirda was a Jewish Quarter of town that gained attention with a guerrilla art project. In order to bring life back into their city, to reclaim some of it as their own, a mass graffiti effort decorated the buildings with large murals. This series of art brought together the community and brought tourists to the area to see what had been created.
This is mixing space epics but I swear this was a depiction of Mr. Spock on a Sisyphean quest to capture peace (Mondher translated the Arabic for me). So while this is Star Wars tour, there’s a bit of Star Trek for ya.
As today’s tour was winding down, Mohammed and Mondher took me to a 15th Century fort and the Djerba Marina.
The fortress was built to dissuade and defend attacks on the city and has long since seen its cannons removed (they were actually piled in a corner, rusting). Given that the Arab Spring originated in Tunisia, I wasn’t sure if the graffiti here was in reference to that or if it was directed at somebody else. I considered framing it out but thought, ya know what? It’s real and is worth including.
The Marina meanwhile was bustling with fisherman prepping to head out, checking their gear and piling their nets. The large clay pots along the pier are a Tunisian version of what I think of as lobster traps… only they are catching octopi not lobsters. So a terrible analogy on my part. But you get the idea.
I was a little bummed I hadn’t checked my photos properly at the Star Wars sites as there were one or two I really wanted that didn’t come out when I embiggened them on my laptop in the hotel. I’m probably going to ask the guys if we can detour ever so briefly tomorrow morning to reshoot a few. It’s a packed day tomorrow so we’ll have to see if it’s feasible. Had I realized we were ending so early (we wrapped up around 1 PM or so) I would’ve asked them to take me back this afternoon. By the time I realized we were ending for the day Mohammed had already dropped us off at the Souk and driven off. It wasn’t possible to figure out a way back then. Still, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out – I think I got some good photos as it is. But there’s always that one last shot you wish you could’ve gotten.
Meantime, it may be all to the good that we had an early day today. This damn cold is seriously messing with my head. Finally after 20-some odd hours after landing, my one ear “popped” from the air pressure of the flight, but it still kinda hurts like the dickens. I’m trying not to let it detract from my photo-blogging. Ya know, sometimes I amaze even myself.
FYI: Here’s one of the shots I missed. I meant to bring some more props for a shot at Tosche Station. But given this location exists only in cut scenes and via the Special Edition, here’s a CGI tribute to what I wanted to do:
“But I was going in to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”