SAHHA SAHARA
CAMEL TREKS & TUNISIA CULTURAL TOURS
EcoTourism
 

I met Juanita a few years ago during a tour and trek. We have since become dear friends, and this is some of what I have learned about her life here in Tunisia.

Sarah Laidlaw

 
Thirteen years ago, after a 10-day trek (and six months of counseling!), Juanita took a leap of faith and left her home, job, family and life in Vancouver, Canada, and made Tunisia her home. She had been a social worker and belly dance instructor in Canada.
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Moving to a small Bedouin village (population 200) in the Sahara, Juanita became a respected  and loved member of the Bedouin community (she has now learned enough Arabic for basic communication). Living within the Bedouin villages, Juanita experienced not only the joy, kindness and generosity of the people, but also the poverty. Because she was part of the community, she could not turn her back on them, and has organized fundraising events and on-line blogs to raise funds for local people in need.

LIVING IN A BEDOUIN COMMUNITY

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Smitten with camels her whole life,  Juanita began camel racing (completely different saddle than used on treks) in her 50’s, shocking the Bedouin camel racers;  even taking part in the Douz International Festival of the Sahara.
CAMEL RACING

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As much as she loved life in a Bedouin village, her big love was always for the Sahara. Over the years, Juanita has regularly spent time with nomad families (who live and travel full time in the Sahara), including being taken by nomad women (literally by hand after meeting them in the Sahara) to their temporary camp, where they were making carpets, having babies, getting tattoos (and welcoming her)!

However, even this was not enough, and she finally was able to arrange to travel for a month with a nomad family through the Tunisian Sahara on their way to the Algerian Sahara.

JUANITA'S TRAVELS WITH NOMADS

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After earning their trust, she was invited to the biggest local Marabout (Sufi) gathering in the Sahara, where she met with Marabouts (Sufis) from Algeria, Tunisia and all parts of the Sahara.

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During this time, Juanita had been already organizing camel treks as well as south Tunisia tours for her friends and family (as her love for all of south Tunisia was expanding).

Because of to her love of the Sahara, south Tunisia and her community, as well as feeling incredibly lucky to have found such rich culture, she wanted to share this with the world.  In 2010, Juanita was ready to begin building her dream.  However, at the end of that year,  the Tunisian revolution became reality, and although a positive thing for the country, it was a crisis for tourism; resulting in less jobs and even more poverty. Tourism disintegrated. In spite of the worst time to begin a tourism business, Juanita took the chance in order to try to provide much needed work for her friends.  Sahha Sahara was born.

 
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 In 2012, Juanita discovered that a previous nomad (Ali Bouchouicha) living in the area had lived deep in the Sahara as a nomad for over 35 years (once spending 2 years without seeing a human being).  In 2013 she asked him to lead an expedition through the Silk Route of the Tunisian Sahara from Douz to the highest dune in the Tunisian Sahara  (over 400 kilometers)..... He agreed to lead it, BUT they only had 15 days to do this!

 
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Juanita said that this expedition was clearly the most difficult thing she has ever done in her life. As time was short, they trekked (mostly on foot; due to time limitations, they took the shortest (not easiest) route, having to climb many high dunes (over 200 meters).  They had to travel from sun-up to sun-down every day, stopping only a couple of times each day - and only for around 10 minutes each ‘rest’. Juanita said that on each break, she had to decide whether to (1) go to the bathroom (2) eat some nuts or dates or (3) empty the sand out of her shoes. There was not enough time to do all 3 things. (She said that since then has learned that walking sandals vs closed shoes are the answer).

 Juanita said that numerous times during the days, she would stop and fall to the ground to cry, as she thought she just could not make the pace. She had been warned that this pace would not be touristic – however, it was not even Bedouin pace – they all learned that it was the pace that only Ali Bouchouicha could do. This was also the first time the other Bedouins had traveled with Ali Bouchouicha, and they had not experienced his tenacity and pace -  the 2 other Bedouins on the expedition were also exhausted. (a couple of Juanita's toes went black during this expedition, to the point where she thought she would lose a toe! She didnt tell the others during the trek as she was determined to make it).

 This expedition resulted in the fact that Juanita is the first western person to have trekked (mostly on foot) the Sahara Silk Route of Tunisia from Douz to the highest dune in the Tunisian Sahara, nearly 400 kilometers. That she did it in only 15 days was incredible!

THE EXPEDITION - Setting Out

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THE EXPEDITION - Completion

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Juanita used this expedition as the foundation of Sahha Sahara's 8 and 15 day treks -  they can now take guests into unexplored and untouristed areas of the Sahara, where most Bedouins have not even been to. 
SAHHA SAHARA: CAMEL TREKS

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Juanita has changed Saharan tourism as has been done previously in Tunisia:

CAMEL TREKS:

Juanita has created the delicate balance between authenticity, efficiency, comfort and hygiene by:


  • Comfort of the saddles are of utmost importance
  • Ensuring they take all our garbage out – leaving only compostables  - and footprints
  • Menu planning – with a large variety of delicious Tunisian meals
  • By living in the community, she has taken the years needed, to get to know people, and to build the right team of Bedouin Cameleers, Guides and Drivers, as well as Berbers all over south Tunsia who connect with guests during south Tunisia tours
  • Working towards ensuring  that Fair Trade Business includes the women in the community making  Bedouin tents, saddle bags, saddles, and camel bags
  • Many agencies pay Bedouin guides very little money. Yet, without the Bedouins, there would be no treks. Juanita ensures respectable wages, and respect for their work
  • Juanita spearheaded the itinerary for Sahha Sahara's 8 and 15-day treks after her expedition through the Tunisian Silk Route
  • Finally, Juanita has worked diligently for many years to open dialogue between the (often shy) Bedouin cameleers (and their families) and guests to encourage meaningful sharing of culture
SAHHA SAHARA: SHARING CULTURES AND HEARTS

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TOURS:

After having lived in and explored Tunisia for many years, Juanita has discovered incredible ‘gems’ throughout the country. Going on a tour with Sahha Sahara is more like a ‘road trip’ with friends, than a touristic tour; meeting local people and discovering the culture along the way.

SAHHA SAHARA TOURS: South Tunisia

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SAHHA SAHARA TOURS: North Tunisia

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