If you're travelling via Gabes, note that the louages for Matmata do not leave from the main louage terminal. , but from about 400 metres away in Rue Ali Jemel, by the Esso petrol station. (Incidentally this is not where the current (Feb 2005) Rough guide tells you to go: it's just around the corner.) I think this may be because the louage stop has recently been moved, because I had the devil of a time finding somebody who actually knew where they went from.
Often the louages do not actually go all the way to Matmata: you may be put onto another one at New Matmata, about two-thirds of the way there.
The soil is more rocky and stony than in Matmata and the inhabitants have no been able to carve their houses in the soil but they have used the rocks and the earth to built them. The village, though large is visible only when getting close. Otherwise, it melts completely into the landscape as seen on the previous photo.
The road from Matmata to Medenine is not in very good condition and in some places, in 2002, it was under repair that looked as a lengthy process. ! On the way, there are only few villages, the main being Toujane and Aït Tounine.
Click to enlarge the picture, otherwise, you will not see there is a large village.
In summer, such as on this picture, even "upstream" (not really a stream !) to the dam, everything is bone dry. However, The crops have been harvested and there remains enough moisture, deep in the soil to allow the plants, bushes or trees to survive until next rain.
The country is very dry, but nevertheless, it can rain, usually in spring. However, rains are often very heavy and floods carries away all the cultivable soil while the water flows away, too. The government has taught the “fellah” (peasants) to build small dams. These dams prevent the erosion and keep a great deal of the water. The soil reminds wet long enough to allow crops to grow and be harvested in early June
On the road again !
Still the desert, but this is now a desert of stones, a reg. The road is not yet finished and very rough. Poor car ! Actually, we should not have taken this road but, as it was shorter, we tried and that allowed us to be in wildest countryside than by the other route.
We arrived to Matmata in a group tour with bus, organized by our touristic agency. It was the long ride, over 600 kilometres, from Nabeul with stop at El Jem to Matmata and at the end of the day in Douz.
Later on, during my stay at Nabeul, I've seen offers by the local tourist agents; three days safari with jeep for 180 dinars, and that sounds much better then the tour we made.
There is no problem getting a louage out to Gabes from Matmata, although you may have to change at Nouvelle Matamata.
Going the other way is more of a problem.
We found the best solution was to ask around other travellers who wanted to head west into the desert and then negoiate a deal with a local driver. You can usually find them around the two cafe type bars in the higher part of the village.
The easiest way to Matmata is following
the road southwest out of Gabes. This road will head you through New Matmata, where most of the residents of old Matmata are now located.