Djerba, Tunisia trip – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata)

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So when the father and son van driver took me here, there was two towns of the same name, so actually Matmata has just 3,000 people living in it.  15km north is “new Matmata” I was confused why this would be.

I ended up going here unintentionally.    A big stupid mistake which should have been obvious visiting a small African town – I ran out of cash.   No one here really takes cards apart from some stores selling larger-ticket items (like carpets) to tourists.

Matamata itself has two ATM machines in the high street – both of them were broken.   A local guide offered me for a price to drive me to the newer Nouvelle Matmata to use another (the only one) ATM which would only let me take out 150 Dinars, and only accepted one of my three cards.   This was enough money to pay him his fee, my last night at Sidi Idris and my transport back to Djerba, whilst he tried to sell me another guided tour. (I declined)

The story behind New Matmata is this, the traditional town does not have reliable sources of water.   Therefore in recent years the modern town has the water supply, but people living in more conventional types of homes and well, its a bit dull.    

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Cue all of the “its not as good as the original” analogies.

There is a huge amount of rubbish lying around on the outskirts of the modern Matmata, mostly plastic.   We could gather up some of the overly enthusiastic eco-warriors who want to get arrested in London, bring them over and help them clear up here maybe.   Another thing I don’t quite understand, is there are a lot of abandoned wrecks of cars lying around, something that would fetch money for scrap in the UK, but I don’t see any metal recycling happening.

My guide who drove there had excellent English and told me that that New Matmata has better access to water infrastructure, therefore farming is easier to do here.   This is more of a built up traditional small town.  Tunisian people seem more hopeful with the new president after some instability in recent years.

pano41 1024matmata holes 1024Ok, so back to the old Republic old Matmata, hanging out in the evening and looking at the sun going down is another wonderful experience here.  You can see children playing and chickens wandering around, and the town has plenty of date palms and olive trees.

pano25 1024One more night at Chateaux de Skywalker, sorry I mean Sidi Idris.

IMG_20191121_094110017 1024Matmata’s bus station.  I got chatting to a couple who are from Canada and Australia, this was one of the first conversations I’ve had with other foreigners here.

The bus is a huge coach that goes all the way back to Djerba on the ferry via the city of Gabes.   Its also fun watching the blacksmiths across the square work while waiting for the bus.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

 

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 15. ATM machines and drought

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Well, its November, but still looks like it hasn’t rained in a while, this fountain isn’t working.  Also, there are no tourists at the moment at this time of the year, but the climate is pleasant which is why I came now.

When some British tourists were killed British tourists in 2015, European visitors stopped coming to this north African nation.    When terror attacks in Europe started to happen regularly instead, I could justify to myself and my friends and family I’d like to visit here.

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Here’s where I made a big mistake.   I ran out of money.   I thought I had another 100 dinars on me.  The Sidi Idris hotel is cash only and doesn’t take cards.   Nor does anyone else in the village.   There are two ATM machines and both of them are out of service.   I went into the one and only bank in the village.  I prayed hard.   One of the locals helped me out.

DSCF1296 1024Here’s one very old and tiny mosque in Matmata, and a more modern one.    The below one has a cemetery with some recent (less than 20 years ago) graves in it.  The big hole looks scary until I looked and there is nothing except garbage in it.

As far as I know, there are no Jews or Christians in here or nearby.

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This is from the nearby city of Gabes.   The river is empty.   No rain for a long long time.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris?

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Actually, very!  I love this place, it is completely unique!

This is the reception counter at the hotel.  The wifi only works up to a few metres away from here…

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Folks here are proud of their Berber culture, this is the alphabet of the Tamazigh language which is native to North Africa long before Islam existed and Arabic was introduced.

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IMG_20191119_144423405 1024Dinner fit for a Jedi.   Breakfast is French bread and jam and coffee.   An evening meal is couscous, beef, carrots and other veg, a cheese omelette thing and salad.   Its mostly the same thing each evening, pretty similar to Morocco food in a lot of ways.

Or you can eat in Luke’s actual dining room as well.

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Not the Mos Eisley bar, as that’s back on Djerba Island.  Therefore you can bring your droids.   This small cave bar is pretty good, local beer is 3 Dinar (90p) and they do spirits too.   Although this is a Muslim country, quite a few people do drink.

Talking of such, the doorways are a little short and there are a lot of steps, therefore Sidi Idriss may not be suitable for Wookies or Droids.

Regardless if you are a Star Wars fan or not, this is a great place to stay if you are looking for something a bit different than a side of a motorway chain hotel.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris

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This looks also better at night as you have a clear view of the stars with no light pollution as we are in rural Africa.

From the top-down, you can see the five holes where the Sidi Idris cave hotel is;

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This was my room!   The double bed is really nice and much better than the simple mattress I had in Djerba.   Also, the fact you are in a cave makes the temperature just exactly right, outside in the evening (In November) I needed a hoody on, as it does get a bit chilly.

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The fan room, well I’m not sure what to call it.  This close to the main courtyard has some photos of the original 1977 shooting, but a few other things like a Japanese couple who got married here.    None of the pictures is any better than anything you would find in a local science fiction shop.

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This room full of mostly rubbish is in the closed-off area which was being repaired.   Apart from the stale bread that was here, this strange wardrobe thing interested me.   Is this where Luke keeps his power converters?

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One of the other courtyards has some different rooms here, I guess you could sleep here, but you would need to hall yourself the steps with the ropes to access these.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis

If you have seen Star Wars 9 Return of Skywalker – which came out in December 2019, and you should – ignore the naysayers you will enjoy it, you would have seen Rey returned to Luke’s childhood home only to find it an abandoned mess, and that loads of soil had fallen into the courtyard.

Thankfully this is not the case as it’s in excellent condition, but the same couldn’t be said for the neighbouring cave homes.

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This one appears to be only lived in by animals, there are others in a far poorer condition which have the walls collapsed.

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Here’s a house which is being refurbed!   think of the wonderful geek parties you could have here!!  Even do a bit of Cosplay dressing up if it’s not scorching hot!

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The bedrooms look done.   The front entrance isn’t yet.

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The “hallway”  which is a tunnel from the outside to the courtyard hole is done, and walls recently rendered and very nice it looks too.   I’m not sure how they came up with this painted or burnt on effects, but some of the tunnels in Sidi Driss looks very similar.   This one has the symbols of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Berber culture.   I’m guessing this will be rented out, and want to show peace and love to everyone I think.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

 

 

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set

The hotel used for the Star Wars set was used in the original 1977 film was shot in 1976.

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Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set:-

  • This map shows you there are FIVE separate holes in the ground with rooms cut in the sides of the walls.   There are also corridors that connect these all together.
  • Its 130km from Jof, the ferry port that you can get a boat from Djerba.   If you get the right bus from Djerba, you can go all the way there for something like 7 Dinar (£2)DSCF1282 1024
  • The underground hotel is great condition as here at the main courtyard the walls have been reinforced with concrete and then plaster and then painted, similar cave houses have collapsed in heavy rain in the past, this happened in the 1960s here in Matmata.
  • Part of the caves is not in regular use, as there is some renovation being done.
  • The wifi only works if you sit about 5 metres from the reception desk!   Wifi don’t work well in caves.   This is good as it is great to make the effort to chat and get to know the locals.
  • Many of the people who hang out here are local Tunisians who come to use the bar and the food that is served.
  • The hotel does not have a web site!!   You can’t book a room with many of the common online accommodation sites either!  I had to just email and myself and they kept our word I would be staying and they would have a place for me.  I don’t know when are their busy times.DSCF1332 1024
  • One of the locals got me to watch A New Hope on his laptop which had Arabic subtitles.
  • There is a room with photos of some of the scenes shot from 1977 and also a picture of a Japanese couple who got married here.
  • When you get here a local will constantly pressure you into buying a guided tour.  This can tiresome and off-putting but is part of the North African/Middle East life I’ve got used to.
  • When I came in November 2019 there was almost no one staying here, I met one guy from Latvia briefly and some French and Chinese tourists came here to take pictures and then left.   Its a shame as the cave bedrooms are lovely to sleep in.
  • The town looks nothing like the desert landscape with the two moons and the igloo-like structure that Luke exits the house out of, this is a completely different location, which is probably closer to the Sahara.   Actually, Matmata is quite green and has dates and olive trees and chickens running around everywhere.
  • I think Tunisian Arabic sounds different from the Arabic I heard in the Middle East, as “la” is no in Arabic but Tunisians appear to say “ley” instead.  Its “lo” in Hebrew and “le” in Maltese which is all part of the Semitic language family.
  • Some of the Berber people set up a table outside Sidi Idris hotel with locally made honey for sale.

Making a web site and perhaps putting in better wifi sounds like the dream IT job for someone out there….

Can you imagine with a bit of an investment and some slick marketing, meeting rooms in caves with projectors (and some nicer toilets) that this could be a great IT conference and training centre?   This would be a great way for hi-tech companies to treat their employees too.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel Star Wars New Hope filmset

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I got to Matmata, this hotel is pretty quiet in November.   There’s almost no one here apart from a few tour buses with French and Chinese visitors show up and people get off to take pictures and then leave.    Part of the fun of this place is actually sleeping on site.

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Ok, so the big thing you notice is this is what historians call a “Trogolydyte” home.   This Berber people native to North Africa actually cut this huge hole in the ground and then dig holes in the side walls to make actual rooms.

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Including the toilets

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Here’s another hole in the ground.   The Sidi Idriss hotel is made of 5 main holes which have tunnels in between them, so with at least 20 bedrooms.   This gent is one of the local Berber people, he is wearing a traditional hooded woolly coat which some still do, but many wear most western clothes.

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When you look outside, you will see the igloo entrance thing is nowhere to be seen.   This is because it isn’t here.   Star Wars director George Lucas used two different places for Luke Skywalker’s family home, and the desert with the entrance and outside antennae masts are actually somewhere in the Sahara a few hundred kilometres away.   I didn’t get to see these as you need a tour guide or a rental car to go and find them.

This is hotel is fascinating, as it’s not just from the best-loved movie ever but from a completely unique type of dwelling is fun to explore and stay here.   The surrounding town and landscape are beautiful and largely unspoilt.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia

Rather than “a hive of scum and villainy,” a loathsome place described by Sta Wars character Obi Wan played by the polite and shrewd Alec Guinness, the area on the other side of the water isn’t bad, just more desert-like and free of tourists.

Getting a van to Matmata isn’t straight forward so in a hurry I jumped in a taxi van and got him to take me to Medinine, the nearest big city on the way.

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I only saw this briefly, as I got to a coffee shop with a toilet and wifi that I could use to plan the next ad hoc bit to Matmata.   People here are friendly, and a young lad called Mohammed who spoke English gave me some help on how to get there.

Now I realise this place has these cosy looking Berber houses, which were used in Star Wars the Phantom Menace, but I’m guessing they could be a bit embarrassed about that now.

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That afternoon, I was looking to find someone to pilot a ship and take me to a place I watched in my childhood, Mohammed and his father got to drive me in their Peugeot van all the way to Matmata.   We agreed on a price of 50 Dinar (£13) and after triple-checking, it would be 50 and absolutely no more, we set off, and got some diesel on the way, which then they asked for another 10 for fuel…  sigh…   Then the van came up with a dashboard error about ‘malfunctions des motor’ or something like that.

After a couple of checks and some unknown fiddling under the bonnet, we were off.

Only another big decision to be made, there are actually TWO Matmatas, which one has the legendary original Star Wars set?   Mohammed and Baba didn’t actually know.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia

Close to the ferry port of Ajim, towards the south west corner of the island is the “Mos Eisley Catina” bar.   The fictional bustling bar full of different intergalactic characters from the original Star Wars New Hope film from 1977.   I didn’t get to stop here, this was a little disappointing, but other bloggers told me its not much to look out from the outside.   A short distance away is the ferry I needed to get to the mainland.

I asked at this police station where I can buy a ticket to get on the ferry from Ajim, Djerba to the Jorf, mainland Tunisia.

After finding someone who could speak English, it turns out the ferry is free for passengers and you only need to pay if you are taking a car along.

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Just about to lock the bow doors, before sailing.

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The deck is packed quite tightly with cars.   Note that this wouldn’t be Africa if there wasn’t a truck with a couple of goats on the back.

This is where I made my first mistake….   To get to other places you can get a taxi van from a stop a few hundred metres from this ferry port, but to get to the small desert town of Matmata, I should of got a dedicated bus from the main part of Djerba would of taken me straight there, although I’m unsure this boat looks like it could cope with a big bus…

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 7. Christianity in Tunisia

DSCF1349 1024Tunisia is a mostly Muslim country but does still have a functioning Jewish community with many who have already left to Israel, France or elsewhere.

There is a Catholic church in Tunisia but it is empty.  This was only used by Europeans living in this North African nation.   The St Nicholas Orthodox church looks derelict also.

Today, the different Christian organisations that work with the underground church mention there is Christians today in Tunisia but meet in people’s home to avoid persecution.

Christmas? In Tunisia?  In German?   Didn’t see many visitors here in November.   Guess a Christmas by the pool could appeal to some.

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This plant can be seen quite a lot here in Tunisia.   I saw this a few times in Jerusalem, Israel.   Its largely thought to be the crown of thorns plant that was given to Jesus before his crucifixion.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home