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Sahara

Day 87: Djerba

Djerba, Tunisia 
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Like rows of open oyster shells, sunbathers flank the pool of one of the big hotels on the lotus-eating Isle of Djerba. In Tunisia, tourist revenue makes up for the lack of oil earnings with which neighbours Libya and Algeria have been blessed. Or cursed.
Michael Palin - SaharaSeventy-five miles across the Tunisian border is the island of Djerba. It claims to be the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, celebrated in Homer's Odyssey. In one of history's most famous examples of R and R, Odysseus and his crew put in here for a while and surrendered themselves to the soothingly narcotic fruits of the lotus.

These days it's hard to find the lotus or its fruit, but there is a heady local preparation called boukha, made from fermented dates or figs, which seems to have pretty much the same effect. After Libya, where fermented anything was forbidden, the sudden proliferation of hotels offering every sort of inebriant from Baileys to Bloody Marys is a profound shock to us all and a lot of surrendering goes on.

Nor is this the only shock. The sheer numbers of lotus-seekers thronging the north coast of Djerba is in bewildering contrast to where we've just been, and indeed with almost anywhere else on this journey. German, Dutch and Swedish seem to be the native languages here.

This sudden return to a world of wine lists and multi-channel television produces an odd sinking feeling and an unexpected upsurge of nostalgia for those trips into the desert in the wee small hours, armed only with trowel and toilet roll.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 87
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place: Djerba
  • Book page no: 227

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