Erfoud, Rissani and Merzouga
After my homestay at Goulmima, my hosts drove me to Erfoud about 80 km away and home of the annual date festival. On the way to my new accommodation, we visited the Erfoud Fossil Museum complete with a giant dinosaur skeleton out the front and many interesting objects made from – or incorporating – fossils, for sale at reasonable prices. Then we arrived at a lovely auberge called “La Rose Du Sable” (named after an interesting rose-like crystal formation sometimes found in the desert). I appreciated the privacy and spaciousness of the bungalow I occupied, particularly after the home-stay shared with a family. It was also a surprisingly tranquil place given that it was apparently fully booked.
I enjoyed a Moroccan mint tea in the garden, filled with date-laden palm trees and where there was a lovely pool, after the hot drive getting there. During my stay at this auberge, I continued to wear my traditional Berber dresses which are loose and made of brightly-coloured linen and usually with lots of tassels and embroidered flowers, as unsurprisingly they are more comfortable than my western clothing in the Moroccan weather. (As an aside, an added bonus of dressing Moroccan-style is that, according to my experience, Moroccans love it when they see a westerner wearing their traditional clothes and will often comment on it and then go out of their way to assist you, even the uniformed men at airports!). Moroccan time and Moroccan cooking are both slow, so I made sure I let the auberge know early on, what I wanted for dinner later that evening. I felt very secure at this auberge; the staff were friendly and well-known to my Goulmima hosts.
The following day, my new Goulmima friends who had stayed with family in Erfoud overnight, picked me up from my auberge and we made our way towards the desert via Rissani, and the famous Rissani markets. Mouna showed me around, pointing out the unusual things on display and their uses, particularly plant products used for medicinal or cosmetic reasons. Morocco, particularly in the south, remains largely reliant on apothecaries, not pharmacies! As I said earlier Mouna and I communicate in French but on a previous occasion I was at these markets, I had the services of a young man who showed me around who spoke with me in what he smilingly referred to as “desert English”. This was fine and that cost about 300 dirhams or 30 euros for the morning. The most striking thing I remember about my young desert-English guide, was firstly his kindness in communicating with the deaf-mute son of a shop-owner whose shop was filled with artisanal products and old things from the desert including coins with inscriptions in forgotten languages. Secondly, it was his pointing out two donkeys fighting at the Rissani donkey sale and saying to me “Like two men over a woman”.
With Mouna I revisited this shop of artisanal products that was located on the edge of the markets. Surprisingly the owner who was standing on the path out the front of his shop recognized me from years before and greeted me. He still had the water out the front for the birds and his son was still there, somewhat taller now.
After perhaps 2 hours at Rissani we decided to continue our journey onto Merzouga, the small town at the foot of the Erg Chebbi dunes where I was to stay at L’Auberge du Petit Prince.
Le Petit Prince is a 3 plus star rather intimate auberge close to the heart of the small town of Merzouga. The proprietor is a charming, kindly gentleman, with a reputation for being a person of few words, called Zaid. It is an establishment with an extremely relaxed, laid-back, family-feel. When I was there, many French tourists were also staying, who seemed to be regulars. Late October is the time of the desert dune rallies in the area, but those drivers were clearly accommodated elsewhere, perhaps in hotels for larger groups. We spent a relatively quiet time in the afternoon at the auberge and had a traditional vegetable soup of the region for dinner.
The next morning I walked through the local oasis to the women’s cooperative where I had bought the Berber clothes I am wearing in the photographs, to buy another dress, which I did for 200 dirhams or about 20 euros. Then with my friend, I returned to the main part of Merzouga where she and I walked up and down the main street soaking in the ambiance of this exotic part of the world. Later that same day we commenced our journey to visit the nomads. It should be noted that our visit was not intended to be a visit to a desert camp for tourists as many of the local hotels offer, with modern toilets and western-style beds in many instances. Rather it was to be – and was – a visit to a real nomad camp to stay with the nomads and authentically, albeit briefly, experience the true nomad way of life.
Next up – Part 3 coming soon: My Journey to Stay with the Nomads