At 8 in the morning we meet our driver Mohammad in the lobby of the hotel in the film city of Ouarzazate, ready to leave. We haven’t had breakfast yet, but the restaurant next door has fresh cakes to take away. We each throw ourselves into the Land Cruiser armed with a piece and off we go. We leave Oarzazate and cross the vast wasteland again, this time in the other direction, where we gradually screw our way up to one of the surrounding plateaus. In between we see breathtaking valleys and gorges formed by wind and weather.
As we cross the plateau we come into the valley of the Drâa, which was a real feast for the eyes. The valley is one big oasis; the wide but shallow Drâa River gushes through the middle, glistening in the sun, and acres of date palms grow around it. Vendors wait at the side of the road, waving dates to passing cars to sell them.
We turn off the road and now drive a sandy path through the palm trees and isolated villages, where people wave to us and children run after the car.
In between we stop, stretch our legs, take photos and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
The people here are very different from what we are used to from the city. They don’t want to sell anything compulsively, they are rather shy but very friendly. They say hello, and the children scurry around us too, but not with begging hands, but out of sheer curiosity.
Apparently there is a wedding somewhere as we see many people in costume walking down the path. However, women and men go separately, the latter also ride on donkeys. I am jokingly asking what the price of a donkey is. The driver replies, about 40 €. And about five donkeys are a camel. Interesting courses: instead of renting a car I could have bought a camel!
Our driver has the fun of giving us Arabic names, naming Su Couscous-Aisha and the American Becky Tajine-Fatima. Chad becomes Abdul and I become Hannafi. In return, we call him James.
Around noon we stopped in a small idyll under palm trees full of many Berber tents, which are equipped with carpets and seat cushions. We are greeted by a friend of Mohammad aka James named “Take-Your-Time” and shown into one of the tents. First the two start singing and playing music for fun – James on a drum and our host on a ‘gitara’.
Then they leave us to eat together while we are served plates of delicious dried dates and then a huge plate of couscous and vegetables. The portions are huge and extremely tasty.
We pass through the city of Zagora, where a marathon is taking place. The famous camel route to Timbuktu, which is currently closed due to the war with nearby Algeria, also starts here. This began many years ago around a completely inconsequential strip of desert and has never officially ended.
There is a high military presence at the border and the borders are kept closed to everyone. However, there have been no more combat operations for a long time. It’s reassuring that we’re going right there now.
Then we continue through the caravan towns of Tamegroute and Tagounite towards Mhamid, the last settlement before the desert. Here the Drâa seeps into the sand. We drive past the town and won’t visit it until the next day. Before that we have to overcome a small plateau and then the time has come: we enter the desert. We drive off the road onto the dirt road and James deftly steers the Landcruiser through the fine sand. Even if the car gets stuck every now and then, he knows how to get it out again quickly.
Occasionally we also see a Berber with a camel and finally arrive at a small collection of tents. We are warmly welcomed and each couple gets their own tent. The Berbers come to this place near the town of Mhamid every now and then to trade goods and earn money from tourists.
Here we also get to know a crazy Canadian who just left home, traveled around the world and finally got stuck here. He really wanted to work for the Berbers for a year, but they wouldn’t allow it. What remained was that they offered him a two-week tour of the dunes with one of their men and three camels.
We rest a little, then the camels are saddled for us. We mount and off we go in single file, led by the Berber Hakim. Riding the desert ships is easier than expected; it’s not very uncomfortable, nor do any of us get seasick.
We ride for about three quarters of an hour until we reach the highest dunes in the area. Here we can let off steam with relish in the Sahara and enjoy the sunset over the desert.
When we return to camp it is almost dark. Something to eat is prepared for us, but until it is ready the Berbers invite us into their tent, where they sit in a circle on the floor by candlelight, talk, play music with gitaras and tin bells and sing. “Electricity” is just as foreign a word here as “sanitary facilities”.
After that we go out to make a campfire. In the dark and without the moon, here in the desert I see the most powerful starry sky that I could not even imagine. Billions of stars can be seen with the naked eye, densely packed, and not only does the Milky Way clearly stretch across the sky, other star clusters are clearly discernible.
As the fire burns, Su and I are still sitting together with Hakim, another Berber and James and smoke shisha. The stranger Berber tells and what her life looked like until recently. As everywhere “in the countryside”, the problem here was that you didn’t earn any money there and since the young people moved to the cities to study and find work, more of their own culture was lost. The tribes now depend on inviting tourists in order to earn some money for water, salt and food or things that cannot be bartered. This applies to most goods. So we sit together and talk. A great day comes to an end. Tomorrow it’s back to the wonderful valley of the Drâa.