Secrets of the South: A Week in the Moroccan Sahara Desert
Posted on 14 March 2017
The date harvest season was coming to an end as we began our voyage south from Marrakech, crossing the Atlas Mountains for a week in the Moroccan Sahara desert. The weather wasn’t great, but the valleys were filled with rainbows as we made our way over the Tizi n Tichka pass.
First stop: The Draa Valley, one of my favourite areas of Morocco for its vast palm grove and adobe kasbahs. As we wandered through the caid’s ksar in Tamnougalt, admiring the Jewish, Moorish and Moroccan architecture with our local guide (the former caid’s grandson), we learned about life in the village. With the sun shining, we continued our walk through the plots of land allocated to each local and discussed the fact that fewer families are farming their plots given the low cost of purchasing vegetables locally. We stopped to eat various kinds of dates from the palms that soared overhead while admiring the views.
Stuffed with dates we began making our way toward Erg Chigaga where camels flocked and shepherds roamed, nomads settled in and donkeys rested after the long voyage. The area had just been hit by rain and the nomadic tribes were taking advantage of the lush vegetation.
Lucky for us, our time spent on camelback was limited to a sunset trek watching the sun light up in various shades of pinks and oranges before tucking in to our tent for a night in the Moroccan Sahara desert. After an amazing sunrise, we were back on the (off) road towards Foum Zguid and onwards to Tata. Our home for the night was a 500-year-old former residence turned guesthouse with breath-taking sunset views across the expansive palm grove. We tucked in to our beds early that evening, waking early to watch the sun rise before going for a wander.
Our first stop once inside the palm grove was to meet the men who control the water distribution system at the main water tower. The ancient technique ensured that each plot of land received its required amount of water on its allocated days.
Continuing along we met locals, some of who were just passing through – using the roads through the vast expanse to cross from one side of the village to the other. While others were pushing trolley carts to their plots to start the day’s work. Others gathered dates from the soaring palms, stopping to greet us and engage in short conversation before sharing some of the fruits of their labour.
While the palm grove is not known for producing the best dates (those come from Rissani according to our local guide), we certainly enjoyed those we picked along the way. And we understood that most dates were not sold commercially, but gathered for personal consumption.
And as we made our way from Tata north towards the Anti-Atlas Mountains, we soon learned where the stock of such produce would be traditionally stored.
A climb up to a centuries-old granary also provided views over the surrounding valley. A knock at the door and we were greeted by the caretaker’s son who eagerly showed us around the Agadir where over 350 local families traditionally stored their dates, olives, and honey following the harvest. We imagined the effort required to bring the goods up the hill and into the tiny storage containers. The family living on site advised us that only a few units are still in use, with most families opting to store goods in the home. But back in the day the Agadir not only provided safe storage, but refuge in the event of an attack.
Mind blown, we hopped back in to the car saying our farewells to the Moroccan South and the Moroccan Sahara Desert. And marking an end to our week-long journey.
© All photos via Mandy Sinclair