A few kilometres out of Nebeur and you reach a massive dam, Barrage Mellegue. The road at the top of the dam has good views of the lake, with snow-capped mountains in the background. There is even an auberge-type cafe at the top, which was deserted in March but maybe attracts more visitors in warmer months. Aside from looking at the lake, there isn't much else to do. Or at least, that's what I thought.
Yasser took me down the steep road towards the base of the dam, past a sign saying No Entry and a barbed wire encrusted gate. "What are you doing?" I asked, "We can't go down here!". Oh but we can, said Yasser. And so we did. The security guards looked menacing from afar, but Yasser waved and shouted hello, then just walked straight past them. They didn't bat an eyelid. We walked along the railings, down steps, past controlled torrents of muddy water gushing out of the dam, and down to the stream at the bottom. It was an unusual sidetrip.
Climbing back up, we stopped in the dam office for a glass of tea with the workers, all from Nebeur, who were again delighted to receive a foreign guest but rather perplexed as to why I had come!
I have a thing about cemeteries. A morbid fascination, maybe. They're strangely beautiful. So I was glad when Yasser suggested we have a look at the cemetery on the outskirts of Nebeur. I was a bit concerned he might find it offensive that I wanted to take photos, but he just found it laughably odd. but we hadn't come to look at the graves...we'd come to climb the wall at the back and look out the fields, with lac Mellegue and Algerian mountains in the distance.
Nebeur is a village of two halves. The modern half, where most of the shops and cafes are, and the older half with a couple of nice small mosques and a cemetery. Yasser lived in the new part, but we visited one of his relatives in an old house close to the cemetery...an ancient lady wrapped up in shawls shuffled to open the door, cursing at the barking dogs. Her scowl was swiftly replaced by a toothless grin as she welcomed us in and rushed around making us tea. I don't think she'd ever had a foreign guest in her house before, and I think it made her day.
Nebeur has a couple of cafes, but Yasser had his favourite, so we ignored the ones in the centre of the village and set out for the one by the main Jendouba-Le Kef road.
It was bitterly cold, and had just started to rain by the time we reached the cafe, so I was looking forward to a cosy warm place, perhaps with a log fire. Well, it wasn't quite that. It was draughty, the door didn't shut properly, the television's sound was crackly but turned up loud, and there was smoke everywhere.
We ordered "allongees" (an espresso with extra water, served in a tea glass) and shisha...well if you can't beat the smoke, you might as well add to it.
One of Yasser's friends came in, and the conversation soon turned to local gossip, all dealt with in rapid-fire Tunisian Arabic of which I got maybe one word in every five. My attention turned to people watching. A raucous game of dominoes kicked off behind us, almost turning violent before the two participants suddenly resolved their differences with an elaborate handshake and a manly hug. On the other side of the rom, two old men wrapped up in brown sheepskin burnooses read newspapers in silence under a naked lightbulb. A teenager sat in the corner playing with his mobile ringtones obsessively. Every so often, the door would blow open, sometimes revealing a frozen customer scowling in the wind, and everyone would look up and shout "shut the door!".
The cafe owner was a small jovial man who ran energetically between the tables serving drinks, lighting cigarettes with his little box of matches, bringing extra coals for the shishas, and making loud jokes with all customers, me included.
It was basic, but I liked it. I stank of smoke by the time we left though.