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Exploring Kerkennah Island

by Tyler

I'm cozied up in our sleeping bag; Tara has run off to take pictures of the coming sunrise on our little desert island. Before yesterday, my only experience with the desert was sweltering on the seat of a motorcycle with one aim: to get out. This morning, I can hardly be bothered to move. It is balmy outside and I am content to watch the dew covering our tent live out the last of its life, rising with the sun as it evaporates into the air.

Morning From Our Tent

Almost eight months ago, just days into our trip, I remember thinking to myself that I couldn't fathom camping somewhere more stunning than our cliff-edge free-camp in Cove, Scotland. We've finally topped it.

Moon Over Free Camp Moonset Over Desert Desert Island Camp Desert Camp Oasis Weird Garbage & Moon Desert Tracks Looong Shadow

Tara has returned from her photo mission, grinning broadly with camera in hand. She is so excited that she does a little dance and informs me that she wants to look at her pictures on the computer, a ritual we usually perform together just before bed. We cuddle up in the sleeping bag, fire up the laptop and sort through her new collection, deleting judiciously as we go. As always, we wind up in several lighthearted but earnest debates over which one of two photos that are "exactly the same" should be the one to stay. What we end up with is beautiful, but still doesn't do justice to the "rosy-fingered dawn."

Sun Barely Up Sunrise Over Water Sunrise Over Water Sunrise Over Water Coming Home Camp

Later, while we're breaking camp, Tara remarks that our campsite looks like the set of a yoga DVD. Feeling particularly giddy about where we are, I begin showcasing my skills. Camera in hand she captures the poses I've mastered: Tranquil Tangle, Backwards Facing Dork, my favorite: Peaceful Pretzel, and finally, Headstand Happiness. By the time I am through, Tara is doubled over, cracking up to the point of hyperventilating at my antics. This pleases me to no end since I've just made a complete ass of myself hoping to accomplish just that.

Tyler's Yoga Hour: Tranquil Tangle Tyler's Yoga Hour: Backward Facing Dork Tyler's Yoga Hour: Peaceful Pretzel Tyler's Yoga Hour: Headstand Happiness

With less than a day here and half of the island left to be explored, this tiny piece of land has already won my heart. Maybe my nerves are just raw from the nearly constant harassment we receive on the mainland but everyone here seems incredibly friendly and welcoming. As we ride to the northern tip of the island we pass two beautiful old women who appear to be carrying palm fronds, perhaps for fire- or shelter-making? They agree to a photo but one of the women quickly hides her face, chuckling at her own shyness.


We come across this cute little kid walking home from school (or on lunch break?) with his sandwich. He won't stop talking to us, even though we clearly do not understand what he is saying. With smiles, waves and more incomprehensible conversation, we continue on our way.

Kerkennah Kid

As we reach the port on the northern shore of the island I spot a tiny, emaciated stray cat by some concrete stairs. I try my best to get close, slowly approaching with our camera, hoping to scoop it up before it runs away. This behavior is definitely deemed curious by the dock workers who look at both of us like we are crazy people.

Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza

Of course, the mangy cat flees long before I can get close. Before we leave I decide to rummage through our food panniers to find the lone tin of cat food we carry for just this sort of occasion. My hope is to lure the kitten back for an impromptu photo shoot with this tasty treat. As soon as I open the tin, as though an instinctive attraction to can-opening is in their blood, several cats appear out of nowhere.

Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza

It takes about ten minutes of waiting but the cautious creatures finally start to creep up. An orange tabby runs off with half of the bounty, devouring it quickly in heaving gulps as the hungry horde approaches.

Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza

The second half of the food goes to a brave little kitten who's low growl somehow manages to scare off a cat twice its size.

Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza

With most of the food gone, the cats swarm around the remains, thoroughly entertaining us in what has become quite the spectacle. I don't think the dock workers normally even notice the cats, but they all seem to be very amused by this whole affair.

Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza Kerkennah Cat Extravaganza

Our next stop is the "Musee Du Patrimoine" in the small town of El Abbasiya. For three dinar apiece we head inside. Tara loves it but I think the exhibits are pretty kitchy, not worth the entrance price. As we wander from room to room I am eventually won over, learning about island life and the subtle pride of Kerkennians.

Musee Du Patrimoine Sign Kerkennian Clothing Djerbans and Kerkennians Trading Farhat Hached Kerkennah Musicians Idyllic Painting School of Learning Musee Du Patrimoine Painting Kerkennah Tapestry Map Musee Du Patrimoine

The exhibits about sea sponge-collecting, octopus catching, and the various methods of fishing they've used over the years are our favorites. There is also a HUGE skeleton of a whale that washed up on shore a few years ago. The local students all helped bury it for two years so all the flesh would decompose. They later dug it up, unearthing the gargantuan set of bones for the museum.

Sponge Sponge Whale Skeleton

Before we leave, Tara spots a wall of beautiful shawls, fixing her eye on the most colorful of all, and asks the friendly(!) curator about it. The woman working there, Madame Fehri, explains that the shawl was handwoven by local elderly ladies, using wool from the island's sheep, and dyed with plants like pomegranates.

Hand Made Shawls

Tara instantly falls in love with it, and is compelled to spend 160 dinar on a very worthy purchase. We decide to return later in the evening, cash in hand, to buy it from the museum, acquiring our very first real souvenir of the trip. The museum will receive ten dinar from the sale, and the rest will go to the local women who made it.

Musee Du Patrimoine

Leaving the museum we turn back to explore some small offshoots of the main road. Nearly everywhere we look there are incredible scenes to photograph.

Ladder Hanging To Dry Rusty Bicycle

As night begins to fall we decide to head back to our free-camp again, saving the local youth hostel for another day. At camp the gusting winds make it very difficult to start a fire using our flint and steel. I quickly locate a suitable piece of scrap from the odd metal garbage surrounding our camp to use as a windstop. After I secure it to the desert floor with a scavenged piece of concrete, the fire still won't start. Blocking the wind proves to be impossible. We wind up using the contraption to catch embers that will later escape from the blaze, flying out into darkness of the desert.

Thankfully, during the six months we stayed with my mother before our departure, we all (Tara, myself and my mom) saved lint from the dryer for just such an occasion. I pull a small piece from our carefully collected bundle, stowed precisely for this moment at least a year ago, and place it in the tinder. Success! In a matter of seconds I have a blazing fire for us to warm ourselves by.

Moon Over Fire

At the early hour of 7PM it is already pitch black and we are hungry. Tara and I set to making a garlic-filled pasta dinner complete with leftover chicken pieces and roasted onions. Not wanting to deal with a soot-covered pan, I set up our cook-set to boil water for our noodles while Tara places onions in tinfoil to roast in the embers of our hearty fire.

Boiling Pasta & Roasting Onions

After dinner the gusting winds coax us to retire early for the night. Safely snuggled in our tent we go through our photo ritual once more, completely satisfied after another amazing day.

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My dears, it's so exciting to follow your journey. The photos are beautiful. But please take care that the horizon is horizontal. Then the pictures were perfect.
Posted by Anonymous on December 6th, 2009 at 4:23 AM
Steve and I cracked up over the yoga poses! He thinks he can definitely do BFD!

Beautiful pictures and exquisite writing from both of you. Your journal is a visual and literary feast. Cheers!
Posted by Anonymous on December 7th, 2009 at 12:50 PM
Ingrid - Good advice! I think *I* am crooked because I do keep skewing photos a bit. :-) Hugs to you and Yves!

Mary - Thank you again for your kind words! I cracked up at the poses, too. :D
Posted by Tara on December 8th, 2009 at 11:04 AM
Guess who taught ME about the dryer lint trick---none other than your dear Dr. Mike from Sicily!
Posted by Jeanne Juneau on December 19th, 2009 at 10:12 AM
It is a handy trick isn'it it? Much easier than making char paper!
Posted by Tyler on December 20th, 2009 at 3:28 AM
Fantastic pics. Safe journey.
Posted by Anonymous on September 7th, 2010 at 1:57 PM
Fantastic!! This is my home island,i like it so much,but,unfortunatly,i'm living in Sfax :(
There are more things to see and to know about kerkennah!
Who need more peactures,can contact me:
Posted by wassim CHAABANE on October 20th, 2010 at 9:55 PM
It's always deligtful to see pictures of Kerkennah, thank you and I hope you enjoyed at least one of our traditional recipes !
Posted by Ahmed Kaaniche on January 18th, 2016 at 5:28 PM
Hi Ahmed,

We did try some traditional food-- delicious! Do you have any recipes we could try?
Posted by Tara on January 19th, 2016 at 10:49 AM