Friday, July 3, 2009

Exursion part 2: Day Two part 1: Tozeur part 2: The Oasis

As if we hadn't done enough before lunch already, we now went on a fabulous tour of the Tozeur oasis (palmerie). It is the second largest in the country with over 200,000 palm trees covering 10 square km. It was truly an amazing sight to crest a hill in the desert and suddenly see a giant forest of palm trees ahead when we arrived the evening before.

We all climbed into a number of horse-drawn carriages (some horses looked like they might not make it...) and went on a lovely ride weaving around the corridors. We learned that each family in Tozeur (most are able to afford it) has their own small plot and gets their turn to water it every four days, for a price of about $400 USD per year for the water. The land is brilliantly farmed with three levels of agriculture: the palm trees up high soaking up the sun, the fruit trees below them (lemon, banana, pomegranate, grapefruit, lime, plum, almond....) and various vegetables growing on the ground.

Farming the date palms is very labor intenseive: every female date tree is pollinated by hand by sticking the pollen from a male tree (one male date tree can pollinate over 100 female ones, hence there are 10 female trees - since they are the ones bearing fruit - for every one male) into the top of the female tree where the fruit will form and tying it together with a slice of the palm leaf. To do so, young men climb every one of these female trees, taking about two months to complete. Apparently the yield increases 10-fold by pollinating using this method - 10 kilos per tree of delicious dates! (I'd actually never had one before and think they look and taste exactly like caramels...mmmm)

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