Sunday, November 9, 2008

Zagora & the Sahara

That's me on the camel in the back!

The day started with a drive along the palm tree oases about 20 minutes from here to a town called Tinfou, where the sand dunes begin. There are still mountain formations, though they trail off a bit more down the road, and I imagine that's where the fun really begins! There are signs all around which say “Timbuktu – 52” meaning 52 days by camel! Uhhhh, not this time around! Anyway, the winds have deposited sand in these large dunes off the main road. The Toureg people (dark skinned nomadic Africans from the Sahara) occupy the area with their camels (occupy for the tourists.....), and of course, for a price, you can ride one.

So, ride the camels we did! We each got our own camel, they tied a few together, and then the Toureg guides lead them through the sand, and up and down the dunes. They have carpeted tents set up for the tourists who come to spend the night, as well as modern amenities as motorcycles. These people are obviously accustomed to tourists, as they spoke basic English, and were happy to take your picture of you on your camel with your camera, and happily took your money for the fabric they wove around your head into a turban. (I actually have become quite fond of my royal blue fabric, I just have no idea how to recreate the desert turban look!) We would lurch along, and then stop for some picture taking, and then pitch forward as the camel headed down the dunes. The saddle on top of the camel isn't the most comfortable thing in the world, and it took a second to get your land legs back once you got off, but great fun! It was a good 30 – 40 minute ride, and thoroughly entertaining! When else are you going to ride a camel in the Moroccan Sahara?!?? It was a treat!

From there, we headed back up the road to a town called Tamegroute, which oddly enough, is known for its Islamic library. It used to have upwards of 40,000 volumes, and scholars came from all around to study the books on math, astronomy, philosophy, Koranic verse, and other sciences. Adjacent are pottery makers, who do ceramics with a green glaze made from natural manganese, mined from a nearby region. We had a tour of their rustic studios, and of course had buying opportunities. Lunch was back in Zagora at a small riad (cooked carrots and a beef pot roast tagine), and then to an antique & rug store, operated by men in traditional Toureg dress (blue kaftans & turbans), though they didn't look like it ethnically speaking. As in, I think the dress was for the tourists. Some time to rest in the late afternoon, and dinner at the hotel of kefta, (instant) rice, and veggies.

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