Sunday, August 2, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 32. Across the High Atlas and into the Sahara Desert

It was with some sorrow that we departed our comfortable kasbah in Midelt. A kasbah would be the equivalent to one of our haciendas, where several families live together to tend, in this particular case, the beautiful apple orchards that cover the ground all around us, but they are distinguished by being somehow fortified, with a watch tower in very corner of their square plan view. More about this later.

From Midelt we headed south, across the High Atlas. These mountains are twice as high as the Middle Atlas, and the twisting road takes you higher and higher past beautiful outcrops of contorted limestones. Fortunately for me, we made a photo stop right where the basal thrust of the High Atlas has pushed the heavily deformed limestones over the almost undisturbed units of the Anti Atlas (we would call the Anti Atlas the foreland of the orogenic belt, to mean that it is the leading edge of the continent against which the deformation pushed).

Eventually we came into the valley of the Ziz River, which like the Nile forms a thin ribbon of luscious agriculture across the tan colored rocks of the desert. This long “oasis” is well known in Morocco as the source of the best dates. By now the heat is becoming oppressive, so we very much appreciated the shaded garden of the small hotel where we had lunch.

Pushing farther south we came to the city of Errachidia, which is the entrance to the Sahara Desert. It is a beautiful, prosperous town, largely due to the fact that it is the place where the Moroccan army has its headquarters for the forces that guard the border with Algeria (Algeria is regarded here as a dangerous country, where fundamentalists are gaining a foothold). By now we were passing desert shops selling fossils left and right, so finally we stopped at one of them and I bought myself a nice ammonite to decorate the house.

Pushing further south we passed the towns of Erfoud and Tafilat, and from the latter left the paved road to go about 20 km into the desert. It may had been about 6:30 pm when we got to a kasbah, where a caravan of camels was waiting to take us into the desert to a tiny oasis where we were to pass the night. It was a great ride, and for the first time in my life I felt the thrill of going in an expedition to a vast sea of sand. We got to see a beautiful sunset before we got to our camp, after which the temperature dropped to a comfortable level. The Berber camel drivers cooked us a great camp dinner, and showed us into the traditional tents where we were to spend the night. I immediately felt claustrophobic and had to drag my mattress outside, as did many of my fellow travelers.

Our guides made a bonfire and treated us to a concert of drums and Berber chants, and with these sounds I felt profoundly asleep.

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