‘Phantom Menace’ Set Getting Buried By Tunisian Desert

Phantom Menace
Andy Carvin

Darth Vader’s childhood home will soon be covered by a giant sand dune, the BBC reports.

The collection of buildings in the Tunisian desert was used to portray Mos Espa, a spaceport on Tatooine that was home to Anakin Skywalker, later Darth Vader, in “The Phantom Menace.” Unfortunately they were built on a dune field, a large open area where windblown dunes called barchans gradually migrate over the desert.

Scientists studying the movement of the crescent-shaped dunes, slowly pushed in the direction of the prevailing wind, have used the buildings as a marker point. One barchan is now approaching the set and will eventually bury it. Of course, the dune will move on and the buildings will be revealed once again, but the massive weight of the sand may crush the roofs, while the moving sands will abrade the surfaces.

This isn’t the first Star Wars set to be under threat from the harsh terrain of Tunisia. Last year we reported how the childhood home of Luke Skywalker was saved by a group of fans after it was found to be in a state of disrepair.

Who knows? Maybe a small army of science fiction fans, armed with shovels, will descend on Mos Espa and defy nature by moving the barchan in a different direction. May the Force be with them.

(And by the Force I mean the original concept of the Force as a metaphor for the eternal struggle of good vs. evil in all of us, not the lame-ass subatomic virus it became in the later films. Yeah, give me a shovel. I’ll be there.)

‘Star Wars’ Fans Rally To Save Iconic Set In Tunisia




Every single “Star Wars” movie, save “The Empire Strikes Back,” uses the desert landscape and dusty villages of Tunisia as backdrops for the planet of Tatooine, the place where Luke Skywalker grew up. Specifically, Luke lived until the age of 19 at the Lars Homestead, the fictional name for a very real building that was, until recently, in danger of collapse.

To the rescue was neither Luke Skywalker nor George Lucas, but Mark Dermul, an avid “Star Wars” fan from Belgium who has been leading “Star Wars” tours of Tunisia since 2001. On a trip to Tunisia in 2010, Dermul discovered that the rounded hut that served as the exterior of the Lars Homestead in the film was in a state of disrepair. Dermul then set up the Save the Lars Homestead Project, working with the Tunisian Tourist Office and Tunisian government to secure the proper permissions to restore this movie landmark.Save Lars raised $10,000 in 10 months and almost didn’t get realized because of the Arab Spring. At the end of May 2012, however, Dermul and his band of “pioneers” traveled to Tunisia, where they patched and re-plastered the Lars Homestead over the course of several days.


The Lars Homestead in a state of disrepair.


The Lars Homestead after restoration.

In the film, the Lars Homestead is located on the Great Chott Salt Flat, which is in reality Chott el Jerid, a salt flat in southwestern Tunisia. If you want to attempt a visit to the Lars Homestead, the “Star Wars” Wiki, or Wookieepedia, provides directions:

The location is a bit hard to find. From Nefta, take the road to Algeria (but do not enter!). Look for the 26 kilometer marker. If the weather permits, you should even be able to see the set from the main road. It’s only about 900 meters from the marker. However, be mindful of the trails you follow to get there. The surface may be difficult, especially when it has rained. A four-wheel drive shouldn’t have a problem, though. When you drive up to the set, you’ll get a rather eerie feeling, as it is only a small set, but so very pivotal in the saga. And there it is, in the middle of nowhere…”

[Photos Wookieepedia/Save Lars]

Bombalouni: A Tunisian Treat

bombalouniSidi Bou Saïd knows how cute it is. The little town perches on a hill, its buildings a remarkably uniform white with blue trim. Its architecture, characterized by Ottoman and Andalusian buildings, is postcard-primed, and the town’s cute architecture is arguably surpassed by the views of the sea and the coast from the town’s hillside. Twenty kilometers (13 miles) from Tunis, Sidi Bou Saïd can be reached by a reliable, inexpensive commuter train service from the Tunisian capital.

The alleys of the town throng with tourists from late morning through late afternoon. Buses lumber into a huge parking lot at the foot of a hill in the town, releasing their daytripping passengers into the town’s quaint streets. The road leading up from the parking lot is congested with stalls and shops selling huge quantities of tchotchkes. There are some nice things among the inventory, though nothing holds a candle to a little edible treat that sells for 500 milim, or half a dinar (31¢): the humble Tunisian doughnut, or bombalouni.

The word “bombalouni” bears strong similarity to the Italian word “bomboloni.” But anyone expecting the dense ball of delight that is the Italian bombaloni (a delicious filled doughnut) will be disappointed. The Tunisian cousin isn’t a dense ball at all but a freshly fried ring of dough dragged through sugar.

The ring of dough is uneven, jagged. It’s also greasy, though not overwhelmingly so. A Tunisian bombalouni should be eaten relatively quickly, while it is still hot. It is served with two sheets of paper, which do the job of sopping up excess grease. Public trashcans near my favorite bombalouni stall in Sidi Bou Saïd are stuffed with these sheets of paper by the end of the day.

There are better reasons for traveling to Tunisia, surely, but the bombalouni’s draw is noble.

Gallery: More travel sketches from BBC’s Tim Baynes

travel sketches
We wrote yesterday about Tim Baynes’ delightful travel sketches from around the world on BBC and liked them so much we came back for more. You can (and should!) get lost for hours looking at his drawings on Flickr with fun anecdotes and scribbles bringing depth and humor to his slice-of-life artwork.

Check out some of our favorites in the gallery below, from a look inside the BBC Starbucks to the madness of Dubai immigration during the ash cloud to a quiet barbershop in Tripoli.

%Gallery-123931%


See more of Tim Baynes’ work on the BBC, his personal Flickr stream, or order a copy of his book Doors to Automatic and Cross Check, direct from the artist.



All photos courtesy of Tim Baynes.

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.