Sahara (Erg Chigaga), Zagora/Taroudant

A glorious dawn sky ushered us out of Ait Ben Haddou. Colours intensified as our vehicle travelled east through another series of whiplash inducing switch backs descending to the Draa valley, a major oasis for Camel Caravans reaching the area following transiting the Sahara or coming out of the High Atlas Range and heading into the desert.

52 days was the usual transit time for caravans departing Timbuktu to the Draa which must have been a welcome sight for weary travellers. The unique geographical position of Morocco allowed it to become a major transit point for goods moving between Africa and Europe. The trade routes that existed between the two continents as well as the Silk Road through Asia have begun to interest me – the seed of another journey has been planted 🙂

Many kasbahs and villages can be found along the river. A large dam on the Draa helps control water usage with each village having its own time to irrigate.

Once past the town of Zagora we stopped at a lovely hotel Riad for lunch

and transferred our luggage to 4 X 4’s for the 90 minute drive into the Sahara to our tented camp at Erg Chigaga. Our drive was accompanied by ear splitting Berber music with occasional bits of Euro techno rock thrown into the mix. Dust hung in long furrows behind each vehicle as the area we passed through gradually became dryer and the sand deeper. Along the way we met our first camels including a new born baby. 

Following a drive that was at times like being in a blender we arrived at the tented camp. The tents were lovely and the late afternoon – glorious ! 

Riding a camel has been on my list for a long time. With appropriate head gear in place, off we went.

Berbers do not name their animals so I called my lovely ride Annabelle. She took very good care of me during our sunset ride. Saddles are fitted and shaped to keep you in the right place particularly when a camel gets up – Butt first -and lies down – front first. Arrival back into camp at dusk to the echos of camel calls accompanied by caravan leaders songs and chatter was magic. Magic which continued into the night with drumming, songs  and dancing around the fire following dinner. The night sky was brilliant with stars and shooting stars, a moon rise at around 9 completed a perfect evening.

Our tents were equipped with heavy comforters and extra blankets but some of us were still cold as temperatures dipped to below freezing overnight in the clear air. The sunrise did not disappoint nor did the first cup of coffee in the doorway of the kitchen tent.

We said good by to an incredible place way too soon and headed out of the desert to meet our main transport van before headed back to Zagora and then on to Tamegroute.

Tamegroute is the site of a famed Islamic library of ancient texts as well as the home of the Moroccan green pottery valued by many collectors. A tour through both facilities rounded out our day. The Moroccan green pottery is manufactured in a 17th century kasbah – an example of Moroccan earthen architecture.

The green colour is a result of the unique mixture of minerals found in the clay in the area. Although working conditions were medieval, the product was certainly beautiful.

Mint tea has a special significance  in Berber culture. Tea time is when the entire family gathers to visit, speak and listen. Green tea is added to the pot, followed by hot water, mint and sugar.

The higher the tea is poured from above the glass the happier the hosts are to see you, which is also indicated by bubbles in the tea and the direction the tea pot is facing. Happy hosts equals a tea pot spout facing the guest(s). Tea not poured in front of the guests indicates a host not very happy to see you. An interesting late afternoon tea time with lots of questions about Berber life and customs.

After a night in Zagora – we leave tomorrow for Taroudant in the anti-atlas region via the carpet manufacturing towns of Tazenakht and Taliouine, where saffron is harvested. Stay turned!

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