After driving along about 5 km of flat and stoney terrain to the left comes into sight an orangeish dune of sand in the distance - quite unusual really - and this has been named the 'dunes of Tinfou'.
There are camels there at the ready for the tourists who want to take their maybe first ride 'by camel in the desert' and there are also possibilities for overnight stays for sunset and sunrise in the desert with bedouin tent and meals and typical drumming entertainment. (see also Riad Ksar Malal for excursion contacts).
Our trip was part of an organised 8 day tour Exodus - Marrakech and The Sahara, but it is easy to arrange camel treks into the desert from Zagora independently.
We'd set off from Ouarzazate, stopping for lunch in Agdz, before arriving in Zagora mid afternoon.
A quick toilet break at the nearby Hotel Kasbah Aamaa, checking our overnight bags and sleeping bags, then across the road to meet our camels, that were waiting patiently. Our sleeping bags were transferred to panniers on one of the camels, then we were instructed on how to get onto the camels. Blankets had been placed on the camels backs, then a saddle, over which our bags were hung.
Clinging onto the saddle handle as instructed, I waited while the camel driver gave the camel the command to rise. With a slight rise into the air followed by a lurch forward, which had me facing downwards, I was then catapulted back and upwards.
Before I knew it, I was being led into the road, and off on the start of our 2 hour ride.
Time for a Berber sing song - complete with plastic bottle drums and tourists sitting watching absolutely knackered (at least I know I was).
Deciding to spend the night in the open rather than in the tents was an interesting experience, with the distant sounds of Berbers still next to the camp fires arguing like mad over Iraq, Israel and Palestine. No, I can't speak Berber, but it was clear what the main topic of conversation was from the number of times these countries were mentioned. They're Muslims at the end of the day and whatever happens in one part of their world is always a hot topic wherever Muslims live.
Morocco uses classical Arabic as it's national language with the majority Berber language very much in second place. The Berbers feel that they are very much second class citizens in their own land and feel all the key jobs are held by Arabs who they believe wish to maintain their power at the expense of Berber rights.
The Berber language is a quirk in the Muslim world, being only one of I believe three languages in the Islamic world where the Arabic script has never been used. Every other language in the Islamic world has at some point, past or present, used the Arabic script.
I woke up the following morning having to wipe the dust of the desert from my face. Even in the very light breezes of the desert night, some of the sand particles were light enough to be blown around - mostly down my left nostril!!!
Nice sunset and even nicer knowing that the lions that lived in the area as little as 20 to 30 years ago no longer exist. Human habitation has wiped out many of the main carnivores that used to live here, including lion and leopard, and in the dim and distant past, cheetah. About the largest carnivore is a small fox with large herbivores (and a few Barbary Apes) much diminished in number.
...named after Victor Meldrew, the well known grump on British television. Meet the most miserable camel in Morocco, who along with his fellow camels moaned constantly at having to cart a load of tourists across the desert to a Berber camp.
Effective lawn mowers too, as any piece of green in their path instantly disappeared.
A pretty picture from a camel ride to a Berber camp in the desert on the way to sleep under the stars. No tips here!!!
I can hear the girls swooning now (at least my female travel companions were - darn him for spoiling my chances with the girls just by being there!!!).
Just a bit of fun, this cod sign can be found at the end of main street just round the corner of the Hotel Palmerie. Of course, it's true purpose is to be photographed, preferably in a situation involving some trifling exchange of moolah.
The Blue Man of the Desert in the foreground asked me for a dirham for taking this photo, but since I did not have the change to tip both him and the couple being photographed by him, I refused.
Just before the halfway mark, one of our party had had enough and decided to walk, so her camel was instructed to sit, this was followed by my camel also sitting - GREAT! a break!!! er no, for some reason my driver had decided I was going to walk as well - so although it was a relief to stretch my legs and regain some circulation, it was a bit hard going at times walking first on the dried river bed, where the mud had formed shell like crusts (a bit like walking on crisp meringues!), then onto soft sand.
At the halfway mark, everyone dismounted for a short break, then we continued for another hour- me allowed back onto my camel.
In the distance I could see black dots, which became tents as we neared the dunes.
Soon we were nearing our destination.
The small village of TAMEGROUTE , 19 km south of Zagora (and not in the VT database of places) was once once of the most important places in the Draa valley. It owed it's prominence to it's zaouia, which was a great centre of scholarship from the eleventh century onwards. The establishment nowadays consists of a care centre for the mentally ill (all donations most gratefully received!), a madrassa and a library which has on display a number of manuscripts, including illuminated korans and works on mathematics and othe scientific subjects.
Returning from Tamegroute taxis tend to leave not from the square in front of the mosque but from the cluster of buildings 500 metres back along the road, where there are a couple of places where you can get a glass of tea.
5 km from Mhamid is the village and kasbah of Oulad Driss which made a picturesque stop along the way.
Especially as it was harvest time of the wheat so that made for interesting photos with people out in the fields cutting wheat or piles of wheat around town and countryside.
In the village is a house-museum which i didnt have time to visit this time.
After an unsettled few hours sleep, I got up as light was breaking. Leaving our tent, I wandered off over to a sand dune, to enjoy the peace and quiet, to view the sunrise, and feel the warmth of the sun.
It was quite pleasant sitting watching the changing light, with only the background noise of my fellow campers in the distance behind me, with intermittant snorts and movement of the camels.
One of the tourist sights of Zagora is the sign that points Timbuktu (Timbuctou) 52 Jours (days) - the time taken by the old camel train to travel between these 2 trading posts.
I was expecting to see the old faded tin sign, instead, we were shown a newly painted picture on a wall, which is a sort of copy of the legendary old monument. I was a bit disappointed that the original sign wasn't still there (much to the amusement of some of my fellow travellers!!), and after enduring a camel ride of a fraction of the time taken to travel on this journey, I was quite in awe of the old time travellers.
I tried to find out from our guide what had happened to the old sign, and when it was replaced, but he wasn't too forthcoming, the only answer I got was that the old sign was old and difficult to read.
We arrived at our camp as dusk was falling. There were many similar camps dotted around the vicinity, but far enough away as to not be too obtrusive.
On the way, we'd seen a few 4x4's whizz along the desert road hmmm- next time I'll know the way to travel! and near to our tent was parked an old camper van.
We dismounted en masse, and after collecting our bags and sleeping bags, we sprawled over the carpeted area of our accomodation for the night, unpacking our bags to find torches etc, then our packed beer/wine etc!
The camels were being led away for food and then to be settled down for the night.
Once we left the road, we headed over scrubland, passing small holdings and a small lake, where children were swimming.
Every so often we'd be met by groups of children, some shouting Hello or more usually Bon Jour, the braver ones asking for bon bons or stylos (which we'd been advised not to give - there is a concern that as there is a shortage of dental care, sweets could cause tooth decay(Hmmmm- not the ton of sugar consumed with each pot of mint tea then!and begging for pens etc. could me more profitable than going to school) As we were due to visit a school later in the trip, I'd come armed with a few boxes of pens, which I was intending to give to one of the teachers. Exercise books, sports equipment etc are also welcomed.
I was starting to get used to the rhythm of the camels gait, but was aware this wasn't the most comfortable mode of transport. No matter how much I changed my position, the camels spine didn't get any more comfortable - no consolation that my derriere wasn't as padded as I thought it was!
Since the ksar village has not been lived in for 20 years the mosque in the ksar is also able to be visited which is also an interesting opportunity to take, as there are few mosques open to non-muslims
(consecrated or working mosques in Morocco open for visits for non-muslims are only the stunning Hassan II in Casablanca, and the Tin Mal mosque on the Asni road near TizinTest)
There was a 25 metre deep water well to provide water needed for washing for those entering the mosque and it currently had bats flying around in it, (which to my delight showed up for the picture!!),
the old bucket using for either heating water or storing water was also still in the ruins of the mosque and when i suggested to Abdel my guide ifrom Riad Ksar Malal that it would make a nice accessory for displaying plants or something in the riad garden he replied that it couldnt be removed from the mosque!
See also the prayer hall and its horseshoe pillars and the mihrab - and the hole in the ground where Abdel said the money or 'treasure' of the community would be kept for safe keeping where thieves or bandits would not dare to take it from.