The southern desert isn’t where most visitors get their feet wet in Morocco. Yet thanks to some unusual circumstances, that’s where I started my trip across Morocco a few years back. Sandwiched between the Atlas Mountains and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Morocco’s south is a desolate strip of dusty wasteland peppered with sand-swept towns and villages stubbornly weathering the searing hot winds. This hardened region is a far cry from the verdant countryside north of the Atlas, though it’s been spared the landmined dunes, blood splattered streets and endless repression of Morocco’s slice of Western Sahara. Between these two worlds, the south is a place where even the most grizzled desert herder has time for a cup of sugary gunpowder tea, or perhaps share a roasted goat’s head fresh from the camp fire.
A semi-nomadic family from the desolate Touflite plains slaughtering a goat for Eid al-Adha.
Fresh bread baked in an underground oven (basically an oil drum submerged in the sand).
Women looking at the rusted city of Guelmim. On the streets, people were super friendly, except for the local law enforcement when I first arrived. Like everyone, they were a little surprised to see a foreigner this far south, in a city that almost straddles the U.N. recognized border with Western Sahara. I’m guessing the cops suspected I had something to do with Western Sahara’s liberation movement, the Frente Polisario (which of course, I totally did).
Guelmim comes alive for the weekly market that draws people from all over Morocco’s sparsely inhabited south, including lost backpackers looking for a cup of tea.
Sunrise over the Anti-Atlas Mountains while camped out north of Guelmim. These foothills are the sun bleached little siblings to the more well known Atlas Mountains.
Goats love climbing Argan trees.
They taste pretty good too. Heads up!
Tafraout’s painted rocks, an odd work of unconventional art dropped seemingly at random on a plain otherwise only dotted with Amazigh villages.
An oasis in the south east desert. After hitchhiking through the desert for days, there’s nothing more refreshing than to relax in the shade of the canopy and just listen to water trickling through the irrigation canals.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco’s most famous (and arguably most impressive) kasbah. There’s plenty of cushy hotels beside the kasbah to stay in; or, you could always camp among some of the ruins on a ridge an hour or two away. I don’t vouch for the safety of this (looked like a few herders or homeless people occasionally had the same idea I did), but you’ll get a stunning sunrise.
Erg Chebbi, a massive sea of sand dunes on the Algerian frontier. There’s two kinds of people here: tourists taking camel rides, and drug smugglers.
Check out Part II: Memories of Morocco’s North!