Desert, Kasbah’s and the Draa Valley

From Dades, we headed South, towards the desert. On many of the hillsides were crumbling ksar’s (fortified towns). They appeared to rise straight of the rich ochre  ground from which they were made. The buildings looked just like sandcastles, the same colour and shape, even their crumbling battlements reminded me of the way the sand never quite comes out of the corners of the bucket.

One thing I quickly realised about driving in the desert as a woman is that it is very difficult if you need a wee. The endless straight roads, arid plains and miles of visible horizon do not lend themselves to finding a discreet place to spend a penny. After almost an hour of desperately scanning the horizon for some vegetation I found what I thought was the perfect spot, a clump of palm trees and scrubby bushes. Unfortunately no sooner had I assumed the position than I realised I had installed myself right next to the decaying remains of two puppies. Clearly like me, they had been drawn to the only shade for miles around but had sadly perished. Their tiny bodies curled around one-other, their heads gently resting on each others backs. They looked so peaceful I would have thought they were sleeping if it wasn’t for the flies and the smell. I’ve been to Glastonbury and crossed India by train so I didn’t think I had the capacity to be traumatised by a toilet stop anymore but that’s the joy of travel, it always surprises you.

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We stopped briefly in Ouzazate, taking in the enormous and beautifully preserved Kasbah Taourirt which, like a number of places in this area, was used as a backdrop in Game of Thrones. In the afternoon we drove through the Draa valley toward Zagora. We had been driving for less than 20 minutes when we saw a lorry pulled over to the side of the road, the driver frantically waving at us. When we stopped he explained that he had broken down and was stranded. He asked if we could deliver a handwritten note to his cousin who could then arrange for him to be rescued. His cousin’s village was around 30 kilometres away. We were around half way there when we rounded a bend and saw a donkey running down the middle of the road. We slammed on the brakes and a few seconds later the owner of the wayward donkey came into view. He was riding a second donkey and was clearly trying in vain catch up. His concern was clearly not shared by his donkey, who continued to plod along at a leisurely pace, oblivious to the repeated lashings against his side with a stick. I asked Leon to see if he could get close to the donkey without spooking it and he managed to drive carefully alongside and edge in front, slowing him enough so that I could leave over and grab the reigns. A few seconds later the owner reached us and we handed him the reigns to a relieved thanks. By this time we were feeling like absolute superhero’s, in the space of less than 30 minutes we had embarked on a mission to rescue a stranded man and retrieved a runaway donkey. We set off again conscious of the note we still needed to deliver. We reached the address and I ran inside, but unfortunately in my haste to deliver the message I accidentally left my gloves on the bike. By the time we had drunk the mint tea the cousin insisted on giving us, they were gone. They had been a Christmas present from my mum and I had only the day before been reflecting on how good they were, strong and subtle leather that fitted my hands perfectly, with small holes that allowed the breeze to pass through. It was a valuable lesson in the importance of exercising vigilance at all times. It did however seem incredibly unfair that they should be stolen immediately after our good citizenry. Shouldn’t we have been due some good karma?

We camped under the shade of palm trees in Zagora. I had hoped to find the famous painted sign to Timbuktu (52 days, by camel) but unfortunately it turns out that the Moroccan government in their infinite wisdom decided to remove it as part of a ‘beautification’ project. All that remained were the replicas painted on the walls of tourist cafe’s. From Zagora we drove out to the small oasis town of M’hamid, 24 km from the border with Algeria and the literal end of the road. It was strange to see the tarmac simply stop at the edge of the desert and for sand to take over. This was not the desert of films and tourist brochures. There was no pristine sea of sand dunes instead it was  flat sandy plains, interspersed by occasional lush green oasis.

Our last stop before heading north was Ait Ben Haddou, a spectacular and beautifully preserved Kasbah 30km from Ouazazate. From here we head back into the mountains, taking the famously spectacular and terrifying Tizi n’test road through the High mountains Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh.

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