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Sahara

Day 13: Ouarzazate to Tinfou

Michael Palin - SaharaIt's a kind offer, and reminds me of the Monty Python sketch of a cliff-side full of hermits, chatting, gossiping and offering to do each other's shopping. Squeezed into one vehicle, we toil without further incident up to the pass, the unforgettably named named Tizi n'Tinififft, 5500 feet above sea level. To the north, east and west the crests of a half-dozen mountain ranges extend to the horizon. A gorge splits the earth and we follow the curving walls and rock-stacks of the canyon down toward the incongruous green ribbon of palm trees and cultivated land that marks the course of the River Drâa.

The Drâa was once one of the great rivers of North Africa, mentioned by Ptolemy as running from the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. As the desert has spread the river has shrivelled and, in this last hot decade, has disappeared into the sand without even reaching the sea.

Here, beyond the town of Agdz, the Drâa is fresh off the slopes and shows how barren desert can be transformed if there's water around. A carpet of palm trees extends for up to a mile across the valley floor, providing a livelihood for a string of towns and villages along its route. It is, in effect, one long oasis, with glimpses of silver-green water amongst the trees, and brightly coloured clothes drying on bushes, through which flocks of black goats pick their way. The valley provides the best dates in the world, so they say, and we stop to buy some from a boy of nine or ten who stands by the side of the road holding a basket in outstretched hand.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 13
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Ourzazate
  • Book page no: 56

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