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Day 88: Djerba

Houmt Souk, Tunisia 
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Garden of earthly delights. In an emporium in Houmt Souk, with local trader El Haj and lots of bits of Tunisia.
Michael Palin - SaharaThough tourism supplies 70 or 80 per cent of his trade, he is not entirely happy with its impact on the island. Local families won't walk on the beach any more because of the number of naked and semi-naked tourists, a phenomenon which he thinks is encouraging some Muslim youths to drink alcohol and sell themselves for casual
sexual encounters.

Sex tourism, in Djerba?

He nods. 'When he sees a nude lady on the beach, he thinks it means she is looking for adventure. They should respect our culture, our religion. They can come for the sun but they don't have to take all their clothes off and walk.'

When he was a boy, the north coast was wild and deserted. Now there are a hundred hotels there. They attract a large workforce from outside the island, which has to be absorbed. Thankfully, he says, Djerbans are traditionally tolerant.

'I think this is the only place where you find Jewish and Moslems living together.'

Peacefully, he must mean.

'We have the oldest synagogue in North Africa. I think 586 before Christ it was built.'

Many of the Djerban Jews have gone to France, often running corner shops known simply as 'le djerbain', but many come back to marry. There are 2000 of them in Houmt Souk.

'I take my car to a Jewish man, I buy my jewellery from a Jew, a number of my neighbours are Jewish and I'm a Hajan practising Islam, and there's no problem with it.'

On our way back, between the outskirts of Houmt Souk and the first hotel, there is a surprisingly tranquil stretch of national park. The air is now so still that sky and sea merge seamlessly, one reflecting the other like a continuous sheet of glass. In front of which, as if in a mirage, oystercatchers, herons and flocks of flamingos are feeding. But the hotels are getting awfully close.
Choose another day from Sahara


  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 88
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place: Houmt Souk
  • Book page no: 230

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