Journey across Chott el-Djerid- Tunisia
The Chott el-Djerid is the largest saltpan in the Sahara, covering an area of over 5,000 sq km (1,900 sq mi) and separating the steppes of northern Tunisia from the Grand Erg Oriental desert in the south. In the summer, when the Chott is completely dried up, it is a vast gleaming expanse of apparently solid bluish-white crust. In spring and autumn, heavy rains transform it into a salt marsh, which soon evaporates into weird-shaped crystalline masses and pools. Whatever the season, it is incredibly dangerous to walk on. There are terrible local tales of it swallowing whole caravans of camels.
The only way to cross this forsaken land is by using the 250 km (155 mi) causeway that runs from the picturesque town of Tozeur on the northwestern fringes of the Chott, to Douz, on the border of the desert. As you leave Tozeur, the road runs through undulating hills where goats and camels graze. You cannot help but feel a sudden lurch of excitement when the Chott comes into view. The completely straight gypsum causeway plunges you into an eerie otherworld. This is like nothing on earth that you have even begun to imagine. As far as the eye can see, there is literally nothing but salt crusts gleaming in the sun against the straight line of the horizon. By the roadside there are lurid pink-tinted crystalline deposits, wherever you look
there are shimmering reflections, and Fata Morgana mirages pop up out of nowhere.
Thoroughly disorientated and with some relief, you finally arrive at Douz, the ‘gateway to the Sahara’ – a date palm oasis inhabited by the Mrazig, a tribe of nomadic desert shepherds. Here you can do something ‘normal’ – like take a camel ride out into the dunes – to ground yourself back in reality.
By car or 4×4
When to go:
March to May and September to October, unless you can bear the heat of July and August when you will see the Chott at its driest.
Medina of Tozeur – decorative brickwork and ornamented doors dating back to 14th century.
Fata Morgana Mirages.
Market day in Douz.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Chott el-Djerid was used as a major location in the blockbuster film Star wars.