In the middle of the Chott there´s a place where all the tourists stops for refreshments and toilet, and as a place for tourists it has some funny features to take pictures as this boat in the middle of the desert.
As we moved on further more water appeared though this was not so spectacular as the reddish colours we had seen earlier. It was slightly clearer and the colours were blue and white predominately. There were a couple of cafes at the spots where the amounts of water were relatively larger. We didn't stop at any though we did pull over later on to see how the blue/white water looked up close.
We decided to go wading in the lake. It felt very fresh though it was obviously very salty because as soon as you left the water salt marks were everywhere on our legs and hands. You can't get more natural than that! At some points the ground was very soft which left much and dirt into the water - this was the only disturbance we could see in the whole pool of water so clearly no one had been here for a good while before us. I found a steadier spot at the second lake and was able to wander a good distance into the water. It felt very refreshing.
As we went further into the Chott, the mirages got better and the amount of plantlife and greenery we could see decreased.We had the road to ourselves for long stretches and it felt like we were in another world almost. Then suddenly we saw a few cars parked on the side of the road and five people out on the Chott. We had finally reached water. And it looked spectacular. From the road it was a beautiful mix of reds and white. It didn't diminish as we got closer. I've never see anything quite like it. It was absolutely beautiful and far nicer than anything I had hoped or expected to see.
We took lots of pictures and stayed around longer than the other visitors so had the place to ourselves for a bit. I think we came at a good time of year. There is not so much water left but that what is there causes great colours and visions. the surface was moonlike (I imagine), rather crusty though near to the water a bit softer so you could leave footprints. Ruth tasted the salt and took a sample with her as a souvenir. There were a couple of mounds above the water which we climbed upon. They made for great photos.
The Chott was supposed to begin after Fatnassa but it took a little longer before we got to the heart of it and saw the really impressive sites. One thing we did see was a couple of cute camel crossing signs and even a school of camels beside the road. There they were, roaming in the wild with not a care in the road. They were very tame and I had no worries about walking among them and getting up close. We passed a couple of makeshift Cafes on the road with evocative names like Cafe Touareg. We also saw some of the promised mirages that the Chott is famous for but they weren't too different to what we had seen on the way to Matmata.
We stopped, somwhere in the middle of the lake nearby an road cafe-bar. I desperately needed my first morning caffee, but it was the worst caffee I ever had in my life.
The first thing, you notice around, are the small white coloured salt hills which are in strong contarst with the enviroment.
We have left Douz early in the dark morning going in the direction of Tozeur. The road leads across the huge dry salt lake called Chott el Jerid. It was my first experience ever with an dry salt lake and I didn't know what can be expected. After the sunrising I could see something like desert but the "sand" appeared to me like ornamented.
... or dry salt lake. CHOTT is a special Tunisian word for lakes that are dry in the hot season and have some water in the winter.
The largest of all salt lakes in tunisia is the Chott el Jerid, which used to be a part of the Mediterranean Sea. It lies in the middle of Tunisia, close to the Algerian border.
Of course in the central part of the chott El Djerid, nothing grows. However, it has not a rim with on one side the salted chott and on the other side the land. Progressively the salt is more and more sandy and though with a high content in salt, plants and bushes can grow and flourish.
I have written "salts" and not "salt. Actually, the mean composition of the water input in the chott (surface water + groundwater), thus of the salt crust is the following :
NaCl (sodium chloride, "salt") : 38%
CaSO4, 2H2O (calcium sulfate, gypsum or plaster-stone) : 40%
MgSO4 (magnesium sulfate) : 14%
CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) : 4%
KCl (potassium chloride) : 3%
MgCO3 (magnesium carbonate) : 1%
Then you have to make your choice. Either you avoid Summer to visit Southern Tunisia and the weather will be more pleasant to visit Tozeur, Nefta, Tamerza, Douz, etc…(unless you get some sand wind, which we had in 2003) but you are sure that the chott El Djérid will be a vast stretch of mud. Or you visit in Summer, you will either have a hot weather or a very hot weather (I once had 55°C in the shade in Tozeur oasis in late July), but the chott will be superb.
The best : come twice !
These phenomenon explain why it is only in summer that you will be able to see the Chott in all its beauty. However, it will not always be pure white. Depending of the nature of the salts, of the suspended matter content of the water (sand) and of the quality of the light, it can look of various colors though red shades are the most often.
Rain is always scarce, only in winter and early spring, sometimes in autumn and the average height is 90 mm while the average evaporation height is over 2,500 mm. This huge difference help to understand why even if the salt content of water is low, there, in the long run accumulates high amounts of salts. The accumulation of salt is 2 cm per year.
From where does the salt of the chotts comes ? It comes both from surface water from the rain that washes the surface of soils. When they are drained into the chott, their salt contents are not very high. But as heat and winds are high, water evaporates fast, leaving it's salts. Moreover, the subterranean groundwater layer has a high content in salts coming from deep. At some periods of the year, the groundwater layer rises at the surface and enriches the surface water in salts.
As it is completely flat, when there is no wind, you very often can see mirages. They are, if I can remind it, reflections on layers of air of different density/temperature. This is why they occur only when it is hot and that there is no wind. The most common ones will turn a turf of dry grass into a forest. As much as you approach, as much it become smaller. It will also make a regular car look on the horizon like a double-decked London bus. Another feature (seen here), is the horizon being "double", as if there was a peninsula extending among a lake, but there is no water and no peninsula ! Double click to enlarge the picture, you will better see what I mean.
Due to the neighborhood of the Great Eastern erg, the climate in the chott is very continental. The difference between the colder month and the hotter month reaches 20°C. For the same reason, there are often strong winds. As the soil is mostly flat, that allows cart surfing. Actually, I did not see any but I know that it is a well-known spot for cart surf lovers.