Chott el Jerid is one of the many salt lakes in Tunisia and was created by tectonic movements of the earth’s crust 1.5 million years ago, and according to legend, it was there that the Greek goddess Athena was born. It is also the largest African lake of approximately 51,280 km² and lies between the Gulf of Gabès and the Algerian border.
I was in Douz. 4 am and the phone rings. On the other side someone pronouncing strange words, which even half asleep, I thought were Arabs. The night was still young but it was time to resume the journey.
With only a few hours of sleep and some tiredness already accumulated, it was almost time to watch a unique moment. The sunrise on the salt lake.
Because the flooded area is very variable, the values presented for the area of the lake (or its basin) can vary a lot according to the author, some reaching the point of presenting the value of 10 000 km² for maximum area. Something similar happens with the altitude, whose values vary between +10 and -25 meters below sea level.
Lake Chott el Jerid can be crossed all year round, in a passage of approximately 64 km connecting Bechri, near Kebili, to Dguache near Tozeur.
Upon arriving at the site, still at night, several people were already waiting anxiously for that moment.
Chott el Jerid, practically dry, had only a few remains of water that seems to have been placed there on purpose just “for tourists to see”. The floor, mostly salt-colored, contrasted with red water.
According to me, in this type of lakes and during the dry season, salinity levels increase to the point where microorganisms adapted to saline environments begin to develop. Among them are some cyanobacteria, whose red pigment gives rise to the shades of red presented by the deeper waters of the lake.
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A few meters further on, several hills formed by human hand, wore flags of various nationalities, the highest mountain had the Tunisian flag at the top. The one of Portugal was also there, although in a much smaller cluster of stones but with as much or more importance than any other flag in the place.
A faint light began to take over Chott el Jerid’s horizon, the time was coming. It was not the first sunrise that I observed but it was undoubtedly unique, as is every sunrise. A huge desert plain with a few mountains on the horizon line filled that scenery where for several minutes it was the stage of a natural beauty that words cannot describe.
The orange tones invaded the clear sky and began to reflect on the dry lake. Although I have not seen any strange phenomena, some people say that at sunrise and sunset it is normal to see mirages due to various climatic factors.
It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of this trip through southern Tunisia and was worth the effort to wake up at dawn. There are several excursions that take place during the day but I don’t believe they have as much impact as this one.
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The desert rose, the symbol of the Sahara
This is perhaps the best-known and cheapest memory of a visit to southern Tunisia. Sometimes they are artificially colored, in shades of green, blue and red, and their beauty lies in their natural color – grey, almost brown.
It is usually found several meters under the sand and in term chemicals, consists of gypsum, which is composed of calcium sulfate crystals and crystallizing water, taking the form of an open rose.
Location of Chott el Jerid, Tunisia
Google Maps Coordinates: 33.819866, 8.306523 | Chott el Jerid on Google Maps
GPS Coordinates: 33°49’11.5″N 8°18’23.5″E