At The Edge Of The Sahara Desert

I took a walk early in the morning to get an idea of the lay of the land around Kasbah Xaluca Maadid. The hotel was set in an isolated location along the highway. There was evidence of this hotel being stop for a road rally that was going on. The only other creature that I found awake at that time was the local camel. It must have been wondering what was going on.

After breakfast, we started out the day with a drive to the town of Rissani. It is considered the home of the Alawites. We were informed that it was fortified village (a Ksar) and used to be a resting place for caravans.

A security van started following the bus as we approached the town. The Youssefs and Rashid do not show any signs of concern. It finally departed after we were parked at the first location we were visiting. It was a little disconcerting – some indication of perhaps concern for the safely of the tourists, or maybe even a way of checking on the bus. Later on, when looking at a map, I realized that we were not too far from the border with Algeria, a country with whom relations are strained.

We first stopped to take pictures at the edge of the ruins of a Sijilmassa, an ancient Moroccan city along the Ziz river. It used to be a center for trade. There was not much to see from this viewpoint except for a few gravestones,but the Internet reveals that there is much more that could have been explored within the ruins itself if we had time. According the the Wikipedia article, Sijilmassa was the northern terminus of the Western Trans-Saharan trade route.

After meeting up with our local guide, we proceeded into the town of Rissani to embark on a walking tour of the city. The guide’s name was Eshan. Eshan is a Berber. (The original name for these people of North Africa is Amazigh, and Amazigh is the way they prefer to be referred to these days. I shall endeavor to follow this preference in the blogs going forward.) Eshan is more specifically a tuareg. The taureg are also called the blue men because their skin turns blue from the Indigo dye in the clothes they wear. The tuareg were tradesmen. Eshan was wearing a boubou.His turban is called the Shesh. The cloth used for the shesh is very long. He demonstrated to us how it was wrapped around his head.If needed, the end of the shesh could be wrapped around his nose and mouth also in a manner that protected him from the desert wind and sand.

It turned out that Eshan was a guide in training. Youssef did the talking for the initial part of the visit.

We had arrived on Friday, the day of worship. Youssef gave us a talk on the weekly routine during this day of worship. People do go to the mosque, where the imam gives lecture, which is then followed by prayer.

The first stop was at the bakery that was open – to taste and learn about the local bread called medfouna.

We continued our walk. We were informed that over 200 multi-generational families live in the ksar of Rissani. Most of the houses were built of adobe. Adobe homes are claimed to be all natural. They have a foundation of granite. The sides are made of mud. In general the roof is made of the palm tree, while rich folks use cedar wood. Goats and sheep are kept on the roof.

We visited the local souk, or marketplace. It was quiet on account of it being the day of worship.

In one of the pictures above, Youssef is holding up the support for the seat that sits on a camel’s back. As we found out later in the day, it was very important to hold on to the handle of this seat with hands stretched froward and muscles stiffened when getting on or off the camel.

The final stop in town was at the Mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif.Eshan took over the duties of explaining things to us. This was part of his training in order to become a fully capable guide.

We walked to a central square where the mosque for the mausoleum was located.

Our next stop was a a place where products were being made from rocks containing fossils. Frankly speaking, I was skeptical about the whole concept. First of all, I was not aware the there were fossils on a large scale in Morocco. Secondly, I could not imagine commercialization of the use of fossils. I thought that fossils were only dug up for scientific purposes, and were to be examined and put away. I was wrong on both counts!

Fossils were found in in this area in 1960 in a local quarry. There are fossils from the Devonian period, about 360 million years old.We did see a fossil that was about 500 million years old. The place we were visiting had been business for 17 years. The fossils are easier to see when the rock is wet. Here is a slab that was brought from the quarry. It was minimally processed at that point. Water has been poured over it.The rock in the picture below has undergone a little more processing in order to highlight the fossils.They had a store with a couple of roomfuls of household items that they were selling, including big items like tables. The items below would probably belong in a display cabinet in a home.

The evening was spent in the Sahara desert. We visited a family of Amazighs, riding in a group of 4*4 vehicles, traveling over the desert sandsto get to the place where they lived. We were invited to a tent that was set up to welcome visitors.We sat around on the ground and enjoyed the welcoming mint tea. The matriarch of the family spoke to us about their lives.I learnt that he kids did go to school, but it seemed that it was not taken seriously. The picture below shows all the structures belonging to the family. One of them is the actual home.The above picture was taken from the location of another small structure far away from the rest, where the animals were kept.

The next stop was at a location where there were rocks with fossils embedded in them. We went searching.
Indeed, it was easy to spot the fossils – without even having to pour water on the rocks!

We stopped next to a sandy cliff to take pictures of the desert. There were some women selling trinkets there. My eyes were drawn to this girl, sitting on the side.For some reason, I feel a certain sadness when I see this picture. I wonder what is going through her mind when she looks at one of the well off tourists. Is her presence acknowledged?

The next stop was at a rest area set up in the desert! It was obviously set up for the tourists.

The next event in the desert was camel ride up the dunes to see the sunset. The dunes are called the Erg Chebbi.

After the camel ride, we walked over to a restaurant that was nearby. There were people seated outside the restaurant near the fire pit.

It was a sumptuous feast that we partook of for dinner. It included medfouna and some welcome libations.

There was some live entertainment going on outside the restaurant as we prepared to return to our 4*4s.We sat outside for a short while to soak in the atmosphere.

And then it was time to head back to the hotel. During the quiet drive through the darkness of the night, we had time to sit back and reflect on the eventful day that we were just completing. We were back to the hotel only by 10pm, a late night relative to the experiences of the previous days.

It was an awesome day all in all.  The days just keep getting better and better.

You can read the next blog in this sequence here.

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Kuriacose Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

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