Everything on Kerkennah is measured from El Attaya. Everything, that is, except those things measured from Sidi Yousef.
Cycling round the islands, you soon get to know both Sidi Yousef and El Attaya, as every kilometre you are told by a polite little signpost just how far you are from each. So El Attaya seemed like an obvious destination to head for. My guidebook also hyped the place up by mentioning a cafe down by the sea.
Arriving in El Attaya, I quickly discovered that there wasn't much. The centre of the metropolis was a post office (strange...everyone talks of snail mail being redundant in the age of the internet, but seemingly every collection of houses on Kerkennah has its very own post office), lying directly opposite a cafe where a group of men were engaged in a rather violent game of cards. I bumped down a potholed road to the port, in search of this fantastic legendary cafe as mentioned in my trusty guidebook. Could I find it? Could I f%*&!!
The port. Well, this is where you arrive, and where you leave from. Not much else to say, really, except that the kiosk in the ticket office does a good espresso.
Actually, I'm being a bit hard on Sidi Yousef...but there wasn't really much chance to explore. From the upper deck of the ferry, I could see beach on either side of the harbour, fishing boats everywhere, and a few white-washed houses. Quite pretty....but the ferry's imminent departure meant I couldn't have a proper look.
If the old man in the shop was surprised by the arrival of a bedraggled Arabic-speaking European, he was an expert at hiding it. and acted as if it was an everyday occurrence...who knows, perhaps it was? Instead, he chatted with me as if I was a regular, how bottled water supplies had gone down but a delivery was expected imminently, and wasn't the wind strong today? Chergui turned out to be a pretty place with lots of old-looking weatherbeaten houses centred around an attractive mosque.
A side road announced that Bounouma was a few minutes' pedal away. Bounouma was barely mentioned in the guidebook, a "place popular with camping" was all it said...perhaps the writer had never been and just imagined that camping was something the good people of Bounouma got up to in their spare time. Bounouma is actually one of the prettier places on Kerkennah, a wide bay with a bit of while sand in places, backed by whitewashed houses. So far its a secret, so no tourist development save for a couple of villas...and I think it will stay that way for the forseeable future.
Kraten is as far as you can go on Kerkennah, although I'm not really sure why you'd want to. It has the feel of somewhere at the very end of the world. The one shop in the village was closed, the only cafe was also not operational. I tried and tried to find my way to the sea, but strangely for a fishing village, that seemed impossible...there is a big wharf (well, I say big....) at one end of the village, all fenced off and belonging to a fishing company, and that seemed to be Kraten's only access to the sea. It's a very isolated spot, feels very remote, and if sea levels ever rise, Kraten would be on an island all to itself, being almost cut off from the rest of civilization by sand flats.
Kraten was where I first noticed the wind....it had been behind me all the way from Remla so I'd not realised quite how powerful it was, but the wind really did seem to want to prevent me leaving Kraten...what a horrible thought!
here's a picture I took on one of several pitstops on the road over the sand flats, Kraten in the distance...
I stumbled upon this quite by accident. It was the wind, you see. I was on my way back from Kraten, at the tip of the island, and suddenly the wind was against me, battering me from what felt like all directions. My legs where hurtling round the pedals like a gerbil on drugs, but the two-wheeled beast didn't want to go anywhere. Buses of schoolchildren zoomed past me, calling out what I'd like to think was encouragement ("allez monsieur faransawi!"), but to no avail....the wind defeated me, and I took a left turn down a sandy track in the hope that it would turn out to be a less windy short cut. Less windy it was, but it was certainly no short cut...however, the track did deposit me at Habib Bourguiba's boat and house.
Now, I had no idea what this was at first, there not being any signs or guardiens around, but thought it must be significant and took plenty photos of it. I lingered quite a while, not entirely due to it being fascinating but more to do with the fact that I was exhausted. Anyway, under a sloped roof is a blackened and musty wooden fishing boat, not very long and quite uncomfortable-looking. Next to it is a one-room stone house.
At the museum on the journey back to Remla, I discovered this was the very boat that Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia's first president) used to escape the French before independence, and the house was where he spent a night once upon a time.
El Abbasia might not look much now, but it has produced some of the country's bigger celebrities, such as Farhat Hached (a huge political figure in Tunisia), and been temporary home to Hannibal and Habib Bourguiba. The village now houses a museum, in an interesting building....I'm not quite sure whether it was an old mosque or some sort of warehouse. Some of the exhibits will already be familiar to you if you've visited any museum of Popular Traditions in Tunisia (there seems to be one in most towns)...mannequins of unspecified gender, all with the same pouty lips, carrying out traditional duties such as cooking couscous, applying henna and cutting off foreskins...but this museum also has a number of quirky exhibits, from the life histories of local heroes to the dinosaur-like skeleton of a whale in the museum's garden.
According to the guidebook, Sidi Fankhal is the best beach on the island. To me, it looked more like a river beach, with wet sand stretching for about a mile, the sea a soggy stroll away. A windblown deserted place, I enjoyed it a lot, but probably not the best beach to sunbathe on.
A few kilometres up the coast from Sidi Frej, easily within walking distance, is the crumbling Ottoman tower of Sidi Frej. The guardien is a friendly fellow, who invited me in for a glass of green tea, with locally picked rosemary and mint, and a chat about politics. He could tell me all about the politics of the world, but knew very little about Kerkennah. "Haven't been here long, see...I'm from Gafsa, only been here 30 years..." was how he explained himself. Climb to the roof for views back towards Sidi Frej and over the newly discovered Roman ruins down below.
The thought of a zone touristique on the Kerkennah Islands filled me with dread. I was expecting wall to wall concrete block in "moorish style", the beach cordoned off with barbed wire and inaccessible to plebs like me. But no....the zone touristique in Sidi Frej is subtle, so much so that you'd hardly know it was there. Four or five low rise hotels line the seafront...again, I hesitate to call it a beach, as at high tide there is nothing at all. At low tide, a pebbly sandy stretch appears, but I imagine the sand would be too wet to sit on and the sea too shallow to swim in properly. The only bit of beach resembling a beach is the bit by the Grand Hotel, not quite as grand as it sounds. Here, they have found some dry sand and filled it with thatch umbrellas waiting for the summer sunbeds to lie beneath them. I probably wouldn't pick Kerkennah as a beach holiday, but Sidi Frej is a tranquil spot, not much to do but sit, walk, fish, eat at one of the hotels or in the pizzeria, and sit for a bit more...zzzzzzz...
Not the most exciting town in Tunisia, Remla is the "capital" Kerkennah, so you'll probably end up going there at some point. Compared to the mainland, it is quiet and sleepy, but it is a big metropolis compared to the other island villages. Here you'll find a couple of restaurants, a supermarket (of sorts), most basic services (although no internet cafe), three small hotels and a youth hostel. A market takes place on a football pitch supposedly once a week, although there was activity there each time I walked past on 3 consecutive days.
Remla means "sand", but you won't find much of it down on the seafront. The "beach" is basically a short attractively tiled promenade, with grass and marshy bog where the promenade ends. I'm not painting the most appealing picture of the place, am I?! But it does have a strange appeal, with the beached fishing boats and octopus traps piled up everywhere, and two picturesquely crumbling marabouts at either end of the bay.