Day 4 - Tuesday 25 May 2010

Photos by Robert Cunningham & Mark Dermul.

We left Tozeur after breakfast to cross the Chott el Jerid, the largest salt flat in Tunisia. But before doing that, we made a stop at Sidi Bouhlel aka the Star Wars Canyon. Whether you love Star Wars or not, this gorgeous piece of nature is simply breathtaking (and my personal favourite on this trip). The Sandcrawler parking lot, in front of the canyon entrance, has changed quite a bit since our last visit in 2003. While before it was a sandy plain with one red water pipe sticking out of the ground, it now had some kind of pavement and a water processing plant in place, power lines have been installed and the natural hot water well is being used to generate electricity. But you can still line up the shot if you look carefully.

Coming into the canyon, the first sight is an iconic one: the Jawa Rock, where Artoo gets blasted and captured by the Jawas. This scene was expertly re-enacted by Zack in his Artoo t-shirt and matching bonnet. Hilarious.

Then on to Artoo’s hideout, a natural rock formation where the little astromech hides after the Tusken Raiders attack Luke and Threepio. There we also find Ben’s rock, where the old Jedi Master sits after having saved Luke from the Sand People. The small cave in the back is visible, despite the fact that several bushes have sprung up in the mean time. A little further in the cave, that has become quite the oven by now with temperatures nearing 40° Celsius, we find Tusken Terrace, where the scene was filmed of Luke seeing the Bantha through his binoculars (the Bantha however, was shot in Death Valley in the States) and then getting his ass kicked by one of the natives.

The canyon was also used a couple years later by Spielberg in a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indiana Jones threatens to blow up the Ark of the Covenant with a bazooka as well as in The English Patient in which Ralph Fiennes carries a weakened Kristin Scott Thomas to the Cave of the Swimmers after their plane has crashed (the crash was presumably filmed near Ksar Ghilane, more on that later).

After visiting the ‘inside’ of the canyon, we climbed the ‘outside’ all the way up to the first Tusken Sniper point (Episode I) as well as the second (Episode IV) where the landspeeder can be seen below. This is just beyond the Mos Eisley Overlook, which only several of us reached after a steep and rather dangerous climb over very rocky ground at a perilous height. But it was worth it. Ben Kenobi delivers his infamous line on this location: ‘You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautios’. The view of Mos Eisley itself, though, is shot at Dante’s View in Death Valley (USA). Anticipation of reaching this location got to a boiling point, however, cause when we got there, we temporarily lost our minds and ‘mooned’ the place. If you don’t know what the hell that means, just remember that ignorance is indeed bliss…


We then jumped back into the jeeps to leave the canyon behind and stop at a small orchard about a kilometre further to the east. This is another major location from Raiders of the Lost Ark, containing the Well of Souls, the Map Room and the Airfield, as well as the complete Tanis Dig site. While some things in the landscape have changed (the sandy field where the mono-wing plane was parked and the fight between Indy and the bald German technician took place is now overgrown with a man made palm tree field), the Map Room (exterior) is clearly visible and rather photogenic.

We then crossed the Chott el Jerid salt flats to have lunch in Douz after having made a short stop in the middle of the Chott at Sallah’s café – what’s in a name? After Douz it was quite a long drive into the desert to Bir Soltane. This is the Tunisian idea of a roadside truck stop, where you can have a soda or the local tea. Typical of this well is the fact that visitors leave business cards or personal photos on the walls of the café. We left our own mark there as well.

We then moved on to a small but wonderful oasis in the middle of the desert: Ksar Ghilane. After a nice dinner (couscous, anyone?) we retreated to our military style tents. We had several snoring and non-snoring tents… The Pioneers Gini & Franz, recently engaged, braved the elements and actually took their sleeping bags out to the dunes and slept underneath the starry skies (although many doubt there was a lot of sleeping going on…).

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