It is an extraordinary feeling to arrive from the harsh dusty desert plains and be enveloped by the gentle sounds, colours and smells of an Oasis. What must travellers on foot or donkey back feel when they arrive after hours or even days of thirsty travelling in the harsh sunlight…
It is exactly what we need right now, we’ve received various traumatic news from home and family in the last days, deaths, separation and a terrible accident, all in the space of a couple of weeks, each one of which has left us reeling.
There’s a soft knock on the door and a quiet voice – Ali offering us Berber tea. Apart from a couple of French shepherds we’d already met at a campsite in Fez and the Liverpudlian who quickly puts up his tent, there are not many people here.
We quickly fall asleep to the sound of water running through the channels of the Palm grove.
Over the next few days, we explore the Oasis – our first ever, and what a magical place it is! There is a softness in everything here, well-fed donkeys grazing peacefully, people working quietly in the fields, cutting, hewing and sowing, smoke from little fires drifting through the clearing, catching the sun and softening the view. We pick more dates from the ground than our bellies can hold, and when our pockets are full, we are offered more by the women who sift through the drying dates on large tarpaulins. They insist, so we fill the hoods of our jellabahs too.
We meet farmers and neighbours, we make friends with some of the other campers, and by the evening, we all share food in our van – a Tajine, some meat on BBQ sticks and a banana bread I made. It happens to be Christmas eve, but it suits us fine that no-one in our company feels the need to make any reference to it.
In the mornings, we take showers in the hammam-like rooms, with water heated by a woodstove. One early morning, I find a path marked by goatherds that leads up the cliffs, zigzagging between boulders and ducking under overhanging cliff edges. When I get to the top, the sun comes out. The view is stunning.
We visit one of the neighbours for Berber tea and exchange a jar of Frank’s orange marmalade and a pair of gloves, for a bottle of their home-made date syrup. Then we go and explore a majestic looking Kasbah in the next village.
A cycling trip to the surrounding villages on either side of the river, ends up in us getting lost in the Oasis and having to be rescued by a construction worker who shows us a way back across the river, involving a ‘bridge’ made of iron girders and thin strips of corrugated iron. We take our hearts and bikes into our hands and lift them across. Well, actually, the kind man who showed us the way (without whom we would never have found this bridge!) carried my bike across.
That morning I’d asked if I could go on a donkey ride through the Oasis, a suggestion that was met with various expressions, ranging from complete disbelief to outright merriment. There is no tourism here – for the locals of course a donkey is a work animal and nothing more. Who would want to just ride around the oasis on it???
Well, if we’d been on donkeys when we got lost, we could just have let go of the reins and slapped their buttocks and they would have taken us home, neither would they have had any trouble simply fording the many streams that were uncrossable with our bikes. I rest my case!
One day, the owner of the camp-site offers couscous for everyone, so we sit in the warm sunshine and share a delicious meal of couscous and chicken.
After a couple of days rest here, we are replenished and suitably calmed to strike out for further adventures. It is quite a wrench though, this place feels so safe and soft, it’s really hard to leave!
For more pictures of this chapter, click here
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