This week we enjoyed midnight at the oasis when we spent three days relaxing in M’hamid then took a long, long road trip across the desert taking us within 30 miles or so of the Algerian border.
Stuart continued his quest to try catch a fish in every country and, oh yes, we reached peak tagine. That surely must be a point every traveller to Morocco reaches at some stage. We reached it at about three weeks in. I think we did pretty well.
And the highlights this week were:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Sahara
Posted by Stuart
The Draa Valley is famous for its palmeries and dates but as we made our way to Agdz and then onwards to Zagora I was surprised to be following a wide and beautifully flowing river down the valley. It looked perfect for casting a fly.
Talking with Hicham, our host at the campsite, he said he was also a keen fisherman and he offered to take us fishing although it wasn’t entirely clear whether there were any fish in the river or if there were, whether he had ever caught any of them.
A 20 minute walk took us through the palmerie and out across the dried up river bed. Finally there it was- hidden in a hollow surrounded by tamarisk bushes, flowing swiftly and looking great for fishing.
Unfortunately it was the colour and consistency of hot chocolate. How the women washing clothes upstream got their whites whiter than white was a mystery and whatever fish were in here would need impressive eyesight if they were to see my flies.
The moment arrived and casting a fly in a Saharan river was a great if slightly surreal experience. If the water had been clearer then, who knows, maybe a fish would have shown interest in the various flies I tried but it was a great afternoon anyway.
Fly fishing in the Sahara- they should make a film about that.
(The Draa River used to run 680 miles through Morocco to Algeria and then west across the Sahara to the Atlantic. It would appear that, unless there are huge floods not much water gets out of Morocco any more, having been used by those living in the Draa Valley.)
So no fish for dinner but Hicham cooked this magnificent tagine for us- great hospitality.
Three days at the M’hamid Oasis
We checked the weather forecast and the sunniest place in Morocco this week where we could relax for a few days was in M’hamid – an oasis in the Sahara. On the map, it’s where the road network ends and beyond is Sahara desert accessible only by camel or quart quart as we heard 4 x 4’s called.
En route, we stopped for coffee in the small town of Tagounite. A motorbike pulled up and a leather-clad biker dismounted and sat at the next table. We exchanged greetings – the biker was Martine, a French woman who has been living in the area for the past two years.
I showed her the address of the campsite in M’hamid we were aiming for. ‘Follow me – they’re friends of mine’ she said and so we trailed after her for the next 20 km and into the entrance of Hamada Du Draa camping.
It was Hassan’s site.
He gave us a very warm welcome and we were happy to accept the offer of tea – more Berber whiskey – though not his repeated repeated invitations to take a trip to the desert, see the dunes at Erg Chegaga and spend a night in a nomad’s tent. It’s what most travellers do when they come to M’hamid and while it would have been great I’m sure, we felt we’d already experienced the best of the Sahara at Erg Chebbi Week 10 – Morocco’s Sahara Desert, the Gorges and Atlas Film Studios.
We just wanted to do very little other than enjoy the sunshine. Most of the time we had the place to ourselves with the silence of the great Saharan expanse broken only by the excited chatter of 40 King’s University London students. Ok – that was just one one of the night’s when the group of geography students descended on the site as a stopover a trek to the desert.
You don’t see a Brit for ages, then 40 come along at once.
We spent our few days in M’hamid taking walks beyond the palmerie…
….and in the little town, we joined the local men (always only the men) and sipped milky coffee in cafes and watched the world go by. Inside one, the locals were engrossed in the Leicester City v Manchester City game.
So where are the Moroccan women while their men drink coffee? Though sitting on the cafe terrace, we did see some groups of women, clad head to toe in beautifully colourful djellabas and headscarves, pass by as they returned from the mosque, in this rural town the street is still very much an all male domain.
We did some food shopping and we definitely had to try this local speciality…
And here are the camel milk tasting notes.
Smells like milk that’s slightly on the turn…
…tastes like milk that’s slightly on the turn.
Eh, that’s it.
So after a hot milky drink, what next? We watched the camels being put to bed…
…and went back for the campsite in time for midnight at the oasis. (Do join in if you know the words….)
And our time chilling out at M’hamid in the sunshine gave us time to rethink the route of our trip over the next 10 months. When the world looks so good in sunlight, why not stay in the sun?
So we’ve scrapped our original plan to get to Greece for Easter by travelling through northern Italy and down through Croatia. Our new plan is get to the Peloponnese by island hopping from Corsica to Sardinia to Sicily.
But more of that later.
Visiting the Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou:
Up to now, we’ve been spoilt by having virtually every ‘sight’ we’ve seen in Morocco to ourselves. It was a different story at this ksar or fortified village which fans of Game of Thrones will recognise.
Ait-Ben- Haddou was absolutely heaving with other tourists, all on coaches down from Marrakech.
We joined them in picking a trail across the river by stepping stones to get to it. Immediately we were greeted by Fahid – he is a member of one of the eight or so families still living within the ksar despite the fact it has no electricity.
We agreed a price and set off with him as our guide.
He showed us where Gladiator was filmed.
And showed us the agadir where they stored grain and the ancient streets….and oh yes, the luxury hotel bedrooms.
So that was a surprise …we had a peek into one of the four bedrooms and it was fabulous, decorated in luxury, traditional style with ….well have a look on Booking.com where a night’s b+b at the Kasbah Tebi is going for 59 quid.
The reviews about the place wax lyrical about the experience of staying overnight where there is no electricity, only candlelight, and how superb the tagine was, the best in Morocco…..aaargh no! Did I mention we’d hit peak tagine? I’m afraid so. Delicious and all as it is, you can have too much of a good thing we’ve decided.
As the Moroccan way of cooking cous cous involves a two-hour process of steaming so all the meat and vegetable flavours are absorbed, the quickest dish to prepare and hence the most often offered to us is tagine.
And the thing is, we’ve now had rather a lot of them, including in this week alone at Hicham’s (as above) and at the Foum Zzuid campsite in the middle of nowhere where Rachid delivered it to our van.
From now on, it’s campervan cooking time, starting with this one….
Desert road trip
This was the week when we took our longest road trip, heading across the desert from Zagora to Amtoudi, within 30 miles of the Algerian border in some places.
Morocco’s changing scenery continued to astonish us, with its high snow capped mountains in the distance…
…and sand coloured slopes nearer at hand…
Stopping off to take photos, we were offered little woven baskets of dates. ‘From the palmerai down there’, he told us, pointing to the gorge. We pretended not to see the cardboard boxes they were packaged in originally.
The road stretched out ahead of us. In four hours we passed about four other cars and very few people…
…we drove by the occasional shepherd.
… and watched out for crossing camels…
….or more surprisingly, this sign. From where? we wondered. There was no sign of a village anywhere in the vast stretches of desert.
But then we’d come across a family travelling by cart on the same road.
Or we’d see the tyre by the roadside, a sign we soon learnt was the desert equivalent of a gatepost. Follow the track leading from it and you’d eventually get to a house.
And stopping for a cup of tea, we met Abdullah. He’d come from a nearby village and wanted to get to the nearest town to go to the mosque. We were delighted to oblige.
Bird of the week –
It’s almost Christmassy don’t you think this tree of roosting egrets, captured at our campsite in Tata?
And finally, unfortunate news….
Stuart’s nomination for Wildlife Photographer of the Year is in jeopardy as the judges discover he never gets out of his van.
…but luckily this snap of him shopping in the Western Saharan town of Akka means he’s still a contender for ‘most unlikely product placement’ for Irish supermarket chain Supervalu.
Now this is a photo which can only be viewed by those of a robust disposition.
It’s most definitely not one to view if you are reading this while eating a sandwich at your desk.
Ok – here it is. The fly paper in our van after a few days in the Sahara. Disgusting n’est ce pas? (Our pidgin French is coming on wonderfully here in Maroc.)