In-Ground Houses and Star Wars Set

Last night a storm blew through. There was a lot of wind, some lightening, but just a little rain. We were up at 0500 and out the door at 0600. The sun rises at 0700, so it was dark out. We got on an inland two lane highway running south.

The ride south was almost all farm land dotted with little towns. We did pass through one moderately large town. The vast majority of the land was covered in what seemed like endless olive tree plantations where the trees are planted far apart from one another in perfectly symmetrical rows. The land beneath the olive trees is ploughed, so we assume that other crops have been recently planted underneath the olives. Many of the olive tree groves had their property “fenced” off with a hedge of nasty looking cactus. We did see a few other crops actively growing in plots that did not contain olive trees, none that we recognized, though.

At one point we went through a small town where every single building, as well as the fences in front of the buildings, were covered with garlands of red chili peppers. The farm land surrounding the town was mostly the same crop, chili peppers. There were people in the fields picking the fruit, and once again, we were filled with amazement that people could be doing manual labor out in the heat with no water.

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The day was mostly overcast, so the sun wasn’t beating down as hard as it had been the last few days. The air outside was noticeably cooler, but just as humid. So while it wasn’t nearly as bad, it was still muggy and uncomfortably hot out. The air was scented with that wonderful “after rain” perfume.

There were a lot of people hitchhiking along the road. It must be a safe thing to do here, or else there wouldn’t be so many people doing it. We considered picking someone up, but it is so ingrained in us to never, ever pick up a hitchhiker under any circumstance that we never could bring ourselves to stop, even for the sweet looking little old ladies. We were wracked with guilt about it, too, since these people were standing in the hot desert with no water.

The further south we got, the more classic cars from the 40’s 60’s and true mopeds (motorized bicycles) that we noticed on the road. They all seemed to be running well. Also, the further south we got, the more donkeys and carts we saw on the road.

We expected that the women in the more remote farm towns would be all covered up, since small rural communities tend to be more traditional than big cities. While a bigger percentage of women wore the head cover, we still didn’t see a single woman with her face covered and plenty of women in capris and t-shirts. We saw a few men with their heads and faces covered, to guard from the sun and dust.

After about 4 hours of driving we turned and headed inland. The farms thinned out, replaced by desert. It looks a lot like the stretch between Las Vegas and Utah, mostly flat land with quite a bit of small, scrubby brush, and the occasional striking rock formation, although there is no red tint to the soil at all. Camels began to appear. The camels here are noticeably larger than the ones we saw in Oman.

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An hour later, we made it to Matmata. There are two big attractions here. One is that many of the Berber people native to the area continue to live in traditional underground homes. Two is that the set of the house Luke Skywalker grew up in (as portrayed in the original Star Wars movie, specifically know as “Episode 4: A New Hope”) is located here. Eric is a huge Star Wars fan, having seen the original one at least 30 times, so of course we have to see Luke Skywalker’s house!

Shortly before entering town, we saw a sign pointing to a door in a hill. We pulled up to the driveway and a man came out and welcomed us. It is his own personal residence, which he allows tourists to come and see. We had been told that many residents like to give house tours in exchange for a donation. In the front yard is a well where he manually draws water and a fire pit for cooking. When you walk through the gate, you enter into a round, open air courtyard that looks like it was dug out of a hill. The ground is concrete. In the courtyard, he showed us his flour mill. He put some grain inside a hole in the middle of a flat, round stone and started turning the handle. The grain slid under the stone and was crushed by the movement of the stone. We tried it, and it certainly takes some effort.

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There are several rooms off the courtyard, dug into the hill itself. Each has a rough hewn wooden door and all the walls are plastered. One is a kitchen with a cupboard and a small propane stove. A couple are bedrooms and the rest are storage. There is one bathroom. It looks as if he lives alone. He made us a cup of tea, which we felt guilty about drinking in front of him. We tried to chat, but he doesn’t speak English and our French is really bad. Here is our host and part of the courtyard.

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Back outside, he encouraged us to walk to the top of the house and look around. There looks to be a small field behind his house, so we suspect he grows the grain he used to demonstrate flour making. While we walked around, he tended to his goats. It is certainly a simple existence, and he is quite proud of it. Here is a picture of the courtyard from above.

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We thanked him for his hospitality, gave him some money and headed out. A tour group was just leaving the next house over. There was no sign welcoming visitors, so we didn’t know if we could go in or not. Just as we were trying to decide, a tour bus pulled up at the house beyond the one we were debating about, so we quickly pulled up and pretended to be part of the tour bus group. The entrance to this house was actually a tunnel. In the very front of the tunnel is a living room area, then once you pass the living room you go out to a similar courtyard. The tour guide was talking away in the courtyard, but in French, so we have no clue what valuable insight about the Berber life he was giving the group. We poked our head into a few of the rooms, but the majority were blocked by the group amassed in the center attentively listening to their guide. The rooms we saw are quite similar to the first house, except maybe with a better stocked kitchen and somewhat more decorative décor. Most interesting to note is that the design painted on the ceilings of the rooms is the same one shown in Luke Skywalker’s dining room in the original Star Wars.

We scooted out of the house, then drove towards the heart of town. We were amused to see a “Hollywood” style sign and just had to stop for a photo of it. It seems their one movie went to their head.

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We continued on and found the Star Wars set with little difficulty. In real life it is a hotel, comprised of three hollowed out rings similar to the second house and adjoined by tunnels. The middle ring is the one that the made up Luke’s house. They have left the set mostly in tact, complete with tire treads like props surrounding the edges of the doors and that weird door like metal contraption thing on one wall. The most notable difference is that the trim on the doors has since been painted yellow. The same ceiling design in the dining room is still there, too. In the movie it was white. This ring seems to be a restaurant and bar.

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The first ring (pictured below) is guest rooms of the hotel. The third ring is closed off, so we are not sure what is there.

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Outside the house, it looks vastly different than the movie because they shot those scenes in another location. In Star Wars, the setting is totally flat and devoid of most plant life, and this place has small, rolling hills with scrubby brush. Also of interest is that the name of Luke’s planet is Tatooine, and it turns out that the name of a town about 60 kilometers south of Matmata is Tataouine.

To be continued”¦

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