a spot of mint tea?

Tunisia shares many similar influences and customs with its nearby neighbor of Morocco.  One such custom that we rather enjoyed was the invitation to indulge in a spot of mint tea with Tunisian locals.  Our first round of tea was with a personal tour guide who let his charges roam Ksar Ouled Soltane (see "sights") while he took a respite in the cafe.  We laughed about the obvious complexities of guiding foreigners who do not share the same language! 

Later in Tozeur, our next cup of tea was offered by an interesting artist/ collector of unusual objects de Tunisia.  While sipping our beverages, the shop owner shared with us some of his favorite music.  Surprisingly, he was into some of the same Brazilian chanteuses we were already familiar with!  (See "goodies" for more information about this fantastic shop you do not want to miss!) 

Delicious and sweet, do not miss the opportunity to partake in this relaxing, yet invigorating, mint infusion.  And make sure you engage in conversation.  Not only will this give you additional insight into the people of Tunisia, but it is also just plain polite!  

Of course, if you are looking for something a bit stronger than tea, you are in for a bit of a challenge.  Since Tunisia is mostly a Muslim country, booze is not exactly readily available.  Still, we found no lack of beer available for those non-Muslim Tunisians and tourists.  Celtia is actually a great local beer and the cost was very reasonable!  Depending on where you are, you can pay as little as 25-50 cents USD per large bottle!  Not bad eh???

Set of Drifters tip:  Since so few local Tunisians actually drink beer, keep in mind that bottle openers are also a rare commodity.  If you don't have an opener on your key-chain already, buy one now before you head to Tataouine... or expect to get a little creative with your cap- popping techniques.  While spending the night in Matmata, we had to use our hotel room door lock to get the caps off our cold Celtia bottles purchased at the "Skywalker Bar" (see below).  For more on acquiring the basics in Tunisia, visit "essentials."

Skywalker Bar at the Hôtel Sidi Driss (Matmata)

After our delicious meal at the Hôtel Matmata, and a brief respite at the local tabac to pick up bottled water and some beers, we took a quick stroll through town.  Matmata has an eerie feel by nightfall; the moonlit outlines of utility posts in Tunisia look more like Tesla coils than traditional telephone poles.  They are another testament to the odd mixture of "modern" and "primitive" seen throughout Tunisia, one of the main reasons George Lucas picked the country to set his Star Wars story in back in the mid-1970’s.

Eventually, we reached our temporary home of the Hôtel Sidi Driss, the lobby in which takes no shame in pronouncing its allegiance to the famous film staged within.  (Coincidentally, the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” has also embraced the Hôtel Sidi Driss.  "Sidi" and "Driss" refer to various gourds native to “Tatooine,” which the fictional desert wasteland town of Anchorhead features an inn of the same name!)  Since we were the only hotel guests that night, "Pit #4" (aka "the Lars homestead") was completely empty!

By night, the lighting revealed the set’s decorations in a whole new light.  After a few photos, we finally set our cameras down - for once - and clambered up into the "Skywalker Bar,” opened that night specifically for us upon request from the front desk clerk.

The “Skywalker Bar” had previously been referred to as the "Mos Eisly cantina" (sic) by a painted sign on an adjoining wall.  (This of course is incorrect in the canon of Star Wars.  As we had already seen, the "Mos Eisley Cantina" was filmed far away in the town of Ajim on the island of Djerba.)  The interior of the bar is filled with magazine and newspaper tears, trading cards and additional photos that place the films at this very location.  The often funny ephemera has been left behind by many former pilgrims who have made the same voyage to Tunisia.

The caretakers let us go behind the Skywalker Bar itself for a photo and a toast of Celtia!  Of course, they could not join in on the imbibing as alcohol is not permissible in their religion.  We did engage in some random banter about Star Wars and Hollywood movies in general.  Our conversation was somewhat humorous in that the hotel staff did not speak any English.  We all had to communicate through limited French, your “Set of Drifters” somewhat inebriated.  One wonders how we made any connection at all!

Eventually, it was time to turn in for the night, though we returned to the bar the following morning to contribute our own reference photos to the ever-increasing "pilgrim dossier" collection.

Set of Drifters tip:  Markings made by the production crew while transporting the Star Wars set dressings to Tunisia can be found on the inside of the Skywalker Bar door and windows.

Hôtel Sidi Driss - C104, Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, 011 (216) 75 240 005 

Café Maure hookah lounge inside the El Mouradi (Tozeur)

By night, Cafe’ Maure, the hookah lounge situated just off the lobby of the El Mouradi, seemed like “the place” to be.  Young men congregated in front of multiple television screens, watching football (soccer) and surreptitiously drinking alcohol, normally a no-no within the Muslim faith.  Of course, Tunisia is a highly westernized country with many of its residents eschewing Islamic tenets in favor of a more user-friendly adaptation of the religion... surprisingly friendly in fact.

Many of the young man at Café Maure sat on the sofas with their arms placed comfortably around one another.  While we would presume that displays of homosexuality are easily as taboo as alcohol, from what we could surmise, there seemed to be a great disconnect between what you or I may consider “homosexual behavior” and what actually is within Tunisian society.  Men touching each other, or hugging and kissing, was just not that unusual.

As the “new meat” in town, we were welcomed by several catcalls from young Tunisian men.  It was especially shocking to be asked by an older shopkeeper later in our visit if we had “homo-sex.”  It was quite obvious in his rather physical delivery that he was interested in something more than just our simple answer.  (See "goodies" for more on Tozeur's souk market.)

As for the drinking, from our experience at Café Maure, it seemed that it is entirely permissible in more westernized spots (such as the lobby bar of a resort), and yet, if you go to an area that is frequented more by locals, water, mint teas or coffee are probably the norm!  Smoky Café Maure is attached to a more traditional U-shaped bar outside in the lobby.  Their cocktail menu may make you laugh with its odd misspellings and altered use of the English language.    

Café Maure inside the El Mouradi Tozeur - Route Touristique BP 106, Zone    Touristique, Tozeur, 011 (216) 76 453 500