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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016

Location: Tafraoute, Morocco

MapFurther south from Essaouira finds us in even warmer weather. The mighty Atlantic Ocean is to our right for the whole way. At the halfway point of our tour, we stay the night in Mirleft with a fantastic view of the ocean, then venture to Sidi Ifni, and inland to Guelmim, which is as far south and west as we will travel. We then start heading north and east to Tafraoute, for the return leg of our journey, passing through more mountain passes and rural country that is hilly, dry, rocky and barren. I say “rural” because we still see farmers tending flocks of sheep and goats by the roadside, or tilling the ground with hand-held implements. Dry stone fences are fashioned out of rocks (there’s no shortage of them in these parts). Houses are simple and basic, some are even tents, for we are in Berber country. A fascinating ethnic group indigenous to northern Africa for over a thousand years, Berbers are now mainly in Morocco and neighbouring Algeria. Famous soccer player and current coach of Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, was born to Berber parents in Algeria.

There is, however, absolutely no water here. We cross many bridges over non-existent rivers, where it looks like no water has flowed in years. We’re told that the rivers come in winter, fed by the seemingly endless procession of mountains around us. Most of these bridges have had their roadway bitumen destroyed and washed away, leaving them as dusty, rough patches of gravel.

Country folk only seem to do what’s necessary to live. They only grow plants to either eat or sell to eat. You never see anything ornamental growing, and therefore small rural towns are dust bowls. Tendering a garden around your home is not a good use of Morocco time. Houses don’t have fences, and herded animals eat grass from the side of the road; after all this is free feed. We see many flocks of about thirty sheep and goats being herded by a single man, sometimes a woman, grazing by the side of the road, where greenery seems to grow more readily that in parched paddocks. All the shepherds must do is stop their animals becoming road kill.

Why collect your rubbish when you can throw it into ditches? The countryside is adorned with decorated plants like its Christmas, but the decorations are empty plastic bags that have been blown by the wind from roadside rubbish dumps. Strewn household garbage in rural parts has become a disturbing regularity for us. At least bigger towns and cities have clean streets, parks and gardens. We even see town workers clearing and sweeping streets. It’s a pity those in isolated communities don’t do so as well.