Desert and Mountains
As a result of our previous blog, I was reminded that the Sahara only starts south of Tan-Tan, I would like to believe that, but Google also gives various results. According to the Britannica map below, during our trip in Morocco, we travel a bit through the Sahara and through the Moroccan desert.
Anyway, it remains an experience to discover that the desert is so much more than sand dunes, that the mountain ranges of the High and Middle Atlas and Jbel Saghro are very fierce and contain all the characteristics of a desert, dry, arid with here and there there an oasis and nomadic settlement with herds of donkeys, goats and sheep and of course camels (or dromedaries for the purists).
Our dromedary of the desert, our Milady Landy, loves these circumstances and behaves very well …
While working on the car we visit the family of Omar Amdiaz, our guide between Foum Zguid and Zagora, in the city, mother and a couple of sisters and brothers stay in the family home in the city.
We are welcomed with tea, the national drink in Morocco and eat with the Friday couscous.
Everyone sits down at the table and when a neighbor boy comes in, he simply eats with us.
After the visit to Garage Sahara in Zagora we are ready to go again, the car feels great again.
Omar has invited us to meet his family on the farm outside of Zagora. If you drive off the main roads, you are on the pistes, so it is also a rough, unpaved road to the family house of Omar.
We meet with brothers and sisters-in-law from Omar and see how they run a farm in the middle of the desert. Groundwater must be pumped up from great depths to water the crops. A lot of planting, watermelons, is currently not the most ideal crop in a climate where there is a shortage of water, whatever.
We are of course invited for tea.
And after a walk, during which we visit the family’s camels, a meal is waiting for us. We eat traditionally with our right hand, with which we scoop up vegetables and meat from a large communal dish with a piece of bread.
After the meal we say goodbye to the family and go to the garage one last time, we hear a strange noise. Abdoul crawls directly under the car and tightens the nut of one of the shock absorbers, then the car gets a final wash and we can go again. Excellent service!
We take some rest at Camping Oasis Palmier, in a wonderfully quiet location between the palms and with excellent facilities. I update our blog and Sonja takes some time to read and recover from all the sandy experiences. Omar comes to visit us daily, to have a chat and to check whether we are still doing well, what a great guide!
Then we continue, we drive via Tamegroute. There is a library with ancient Arabic and other writings, very worthwhile, according to the Lonely Planet. We are shown around the library room by the old librarian who has been working here since 1959, who is an experience himself. The man is glued to a wheelchair and speaks only a few words of French, interesting to say. Then guide Mohammed takes us to the courtyard of the neighboring mosque and the kasbah in which Jews and Muslims have been living together for centuries and cooperatively bake pots and paint them with natural materials.
The road from Tamegroute that I chose turns out to be quite spicy, with lots of rocks and sharp dry river beds.
When we arrive at the RN 17, the main road from Zagora to Tazzarine, we are happy that it is asphalted in contrast to what is on our map.
Further on we take the track towards Merzouga, with the experience we have gained with Omar we can relax and complete the day until we find the signs to Auberge-Camping-Oumjrane and follow them to spend the night there.
Youssef prepares a tagine with our vegetables and some extra vegetables from the family garden that his brother Mohammed gets. Moments later, the fire is already burning nicely, several rounds of tea have passed and the tagine is simmering nicely, Mohammed also arrives with a dish of couscous that his wife prepared for us. We enjoy the delicious meal under the stars and at the crackling wood fire.
The next morning Youssef prepares a delicious breakfast and here too it is pleasantly busy with friends from the neighborhood.
The next day we continue through the desert, alternating stones and sand and sometimes a very loose river bed. Sonja gets confidence in the car and even takes over the steering wheel.
In the course of the afternoon we find a nice spot in a dune pan near Sidi Ali where we can enjoy a relaxing stay in the February sun and under the immeasurable starry sky. Cooking on a wood fire completes the experience.
Also the drive to Taouz through the desert is one with a lot of sand, stones, rocks, dry river beds and sand dunes. The camping spot near Taouz in a dry river bed is wonderfully quiet.
The closer we get to Merzouga, the more tourists we see. First with a guide in a 4×4 car, later also campers who venture at the end of the paved road in Taouz.
Merzouga is entirely geared towards tourists with a wide range of camel rides, quad and 4×4 rentals. The dunes on the west side of Erg-Chebbi (that is the name of the dune formation near Merzouga) are, even now it is low season, littered with people who want to experience the sand of the desert.
We meet Rita and Nicky again at the Haven la Chance campsite, Swiss that we have encountered several times and which we now deliberately visit at this quiet campsite at the bottom of the dune.
We invite them to make a day trip together along, through and around the dunes. They can’t do that with their VW camper, so they are pleasantly surprised with the invitation. It will be a great day together where we can fully experience the dunes.
Here is a link to the Facebook post we wrote, with the video Nicky made:
At the end of the day we are still looking for the lake to the west of Erg Chebbi. That turns out to be quite a search, despite the camel tracks that apparently go towards water features, the real water is still hard to find.
When we have almost given up courage at the end of the afternoon and are on our way back to the campsite, we see a sparkle on the horizon, a fata-morgana? No, it is the last remnant of the lake where 3 flamingos and some geese are looking for cooling and food.
This is how we drove around Erg-Chebbi:
From Merzouga via Ouarzazate to Skoura
After the wild silence of the desert, we choose to travel to Ouarzazate on the beaten track. Here and there we already see almond trees in bloom.
We spend the night at the Auberge Riad Bassou at N’Kob where some camping spots are available. Then we drive on to Ouarzazate where we enjoy extensive and western shopping at the Carrefour. Nice to be able to find everything we use every day: muesli for breakfast, coffee, chocolate and juice. We skip the liquor department, we promised ourselves not to drink alcohol here in Morocco.
After the shopping we look for a place to spend the night at the reservoir of Barrage Al Mansour.
From the Barrage we take the long road to the palmeries of Skoura, through the mountains, past small villages and flowering almond orchards. Here and there the road we choose is very challenging and steep, but Milady and we are having a good time.
The Amridil campsite in Skoura is within walking distance of the Kasbah Amridil on the edge of the palmerie, nice for an extensive walk.
The Dadès and the Todra valleys
The valleys of the Dadès and the Todra (or Todgha, gh in Berber is pronounced as the French r) are real tourist attractions. Up to about 30 km upstream from respectively Boumalnes de Dadès and Tinghir there are many stalls with gadgets, hotels and riads for overnight stays and restaurants for the necessary refreshments. You are also regularly approached by guides who want you to experience the area.
We choose to go up the Dadès Valley independently, we did this before with Marc and Saskia in 2015 (see the High Atlas). What strikes us is that the asphalt has been extended further and that the road is partly widened. Yet the highest part is still just as challenging as in 2015, so we think a lot about Saskia who found this very exciting.
Besides the challenging road we also notice the nomadic occupation, see the pictures below.
We spend the night at Auberge Aloutif, the only guests we think, until we hear a car arriving late at night.
The next morning we meet the French couple of the Peugeot 208, who also arrived on the mountain pass yesterday evening. They turned out to have had a flat tire 12 km before the auberge and could not get it replaced, so they drove on. The tire is tattered and even in the morning the gentleman did not get the wheel replaced. I get my toolbox and at first it doesn’t seem to work either, all the wheel bolts are loose, but the wheel does not shrink. With a few targeted blows with the hammer on the inside of the rim, it fortunately comes loose. The spare tire can be put on and the French can continue.
We also pack our bags and drive on towards Agoudal. It is still cold from last night, here and there even some frozen puddles.
The drive down into the Todra valley is relatively easy, everything is paved.
We camp in Boumalnes Dadès, have a nice shower and recover.
The next morning the car needs to be washed, the ride through the melting snow and the mud in the Dadès valley has clearly left its mark.
Via Tinerhir naar Errachidia en verder
Then we drive to the east via the main road. In Tinerhir we stop to buy bread and meet Youssef who now lives in Paris but moved from the Netherlands 13 years ago. He still speaks amazingly good Dutch and leads us through the old city to a women’s cooperative where carpets are woven.
The road is good, apart from some road works here and there, but that is all for the development of the country, we say.