The green Drâa Valley
At Agzd, we join the much more touristy Drâa valley. We see a lot of palm trees and casbahs all the way to Zagora.
The photos on this page were taken on the way to Zagora and on the way back two days later.
The Casbah de Tamnougalte is an ancient complex of kasbahs belonging to sovereigns that can be visited.
These kasbahs are inhabited, but are also falling into ruin, as is the case for most of southern Morocco.
Pisé is a monolithic construction system made of raw earth compacted in a formwork (banchage). The soil is ideally gravelly and clayey, but there are pisé constructions built with fine soils. The soil can be amended (or stabilized) with lime, cement or, more rarely, other products. Unplastered adobe walls still reveal the layers of mortar protecting the successive stages of wall construction by their inhabitants, aided by their neighbors, thus measuring the duration of the building work.
In the background, you can see the rocky edge of the Drâa valley. In fact, this is a canyon that is very wide in places. But here the valley floor is only a kilometer wide.
This kasbah near Tiggint is one of the best maintained and directly visible from the roadside. It can be visited, of course. It’s an accumulation of several casbahs with a more or less square layout.
We are now between Asrir n’Ilemchane and Beni Zouli, along the N9.
The formwork used to build the walls is clearly visible on these walls. The coffers were installed in sections one metre long and around 70 centimetres high, and filled with damp earth and hay (pisé). At the end of the drying process, the box is removed and placed one “floor” higher. The holes, which can still be seen today, were used to keep the chests upright.
In the foreground, a woman dressed in black and wearing shopping bags on her head. In Morocco, it’s always the women who carry everything; the men stay in the shade and watch. In front of a beige cab, the color of local cabs.
The favored mode of transportation for Moroccans is a large cab. They are constantly on the move between major cities, and also cover great distances. When you see Moroccans waiting by the side of the road, they’re usually waiting for this type of cab.
They’re all beige in the south, while some are blue further north. You can see from the open doors of the cab in the photo below that it’s been repainted beige – it used to be sky blue. There are basically only two makes: old Mercedes and these Peugeot 505 station wagons. Their modus operandi is simple: they only leave a city when they’re full, unless someone also pays the price for the empty seats. A full car doesn’t mean 5 people, as in Europe. In a Mercedes, there’s the driver, 2 passengers in the front seat and 4 in the back. In the Peugeot, it’s the same principle, except that 3 more people must be added on an extra bench seat in the trunk. This maximum filling also explains the long stops at the side of the road to get in and out of the vehicle. While the separation of men and women is very strict in Morocco, this does not apply to cabs. It may well be that this is one of the few places where people meet.
The vast majority of heavy haulage in Morocco is carried out with this type and make of medium-sized, two-axle truck. Semi-trailers are very rare and only circulate around ports and big cities. They are all identical, differing only in the few colorful decorations or advertising stickers. They are almost always loaded to the brim, sometimes with human beings in place of buses. On main roads, as in the photo, they pose no problems. On narrow roads, however, they always take the right of way, and it’s up to the other driver to get off the side of the road, regardless of its condition.
There are several of these roads in the Drâa Valley, marked as “tourist circuits”. They always lead to or pass through villages (otherwise there would be no road), and most of the time you feel like you’re bothering the locals. In any case, this one doesn’t form a loop, so you have to retrace your steps.
In Morocco, palm groves are almost always inhabited. So there are always people in the palm groves.
In the photo below, you can see the rocky northeastern edge of the valley in the background, with Jbel Zeroual and Jbel Ifarguen. The field to the right of the road, with stones pointing upwards, is a (former?) cemetery. Indeed, Islam teaches us to mark the location of a grave, without differentiating it from others. A Muslim cemetery should therefore be kept simple.
Viewpoint south of Asrir n’Ilemchane
All organized tours by bus or 4×4 stop here, so it’s not to be missed. The oasis is almost six kilometers wide. The valley is almost ten kilometers wide.
The village, built of adobe along a very wide section of the Drâa oasis, is partly occupied by a casbah-style hotel.
The water is held back by the Jbel Adhar ranges to the west and the Jbel Zagora (visible in the background) to the east. The town of Zagora lies just across the two.
In the late afternoon, we take a stroll through the palm grove along the irrigation canal running alongside the wadi and south of the Hôtel La Fibule du Drâa. To my surprise, it’s rather chaotic and mostly inhabited. André hadn’t seen anything like it in Tunisia (Tozeur and Nefta). A sandstorm forced us back to the hotel, where we dined in the friendly green courtyard.
Many walls divide the land of the Zagora oasis. This canal looks dilapidated. It’s only in this state because it hasn’t rained for 4 years.
This photo was taken in autumn, just a few minutes before the sandstorm. At this time of year, winds and storms are frequent and can bring sand from the desert surrounding the town. It’s only the very fine grains of sand that are transported in this way (the sand around Zagora being rather coarse) and this gives the sky its pinkish color. After the passage, sand is everywhere.
The palm-leaf hedges in the foreground try to stabilize the sand heaps to the south of the Zagora palm grove.
In hot desert regions, you have to change your habits. You can’t take cheese and cold meats for a picnic. On the one hand, it doesn’t last more than a few hours, it’s expensive and usually quickly becomes infested with sand. Cans of sardines are ideal: you can buy them anywhere, they’re heat-resistant, tasty and can be emptied in one go. Just remember to bring a fork.
Chez Ali hotel
We spend two nights at the Chez Ali hotel in Zagora. It’s nice and inexpensive, and some Moroccans also stay there for their vacations. Otherwise, there’s nothing to see in the town. A few arrogant souvenir sellers (hand extended in hello and not let go), otherwise rather peaceful.
Berber tents are brown and held up by poles and normally inhabited by nomadic Berbers, usually sheep breeders. Here, the tent is set up in the hotel courtyard.
In the evening, a sandstorm blew across Zagora. At the hotel, everything has been swept away. But the hotel’s two peacocks flew onto the tent and landed rather roughly. André takes another sand bath.
The two peacocks are the house pets. They eat the breadcrumbs after meals on the terrace.