Sala comes with us until we need to turn off Southwards. We drop him in a vibrant, little village where we stock up with food, knowing that we are about to take another stretch of road less travelled.
Over the next few kilometers, the landscape slowly flattens out and returns from rugged mountaintops towering over layers of fertile terraces, to more undulating, light-brown arid hills.
We stop for lunch in a quiet, isolated valley amongst a plantation of young pine trees. Instead of a siesta, I decide to climb up the hill in the midday sun. It is very quiet here, but there is a light sussurating sound… like a car approaching. It takes me a while to realise it’s the wind going through the surrounding pine trees – a sound I haven’t heard in a while.
Finally, the road completely flattens out and we’re back in desert landscape. A battered old road sign promises a hot swimming pool with 39 degrees heat and I wonder if it is some kind of hot spring, so we turn off and bumble 16km across rough tracks to arrive in Abaynou.
There is indeed a hot spring here that feeds two gender-separate swimming pools. We are lucky though, as Thursday night is mixed night in the women’s pool. Rachid, a friendly young local points us to a place by the side of the village where we can park up for free. Once again, we have a conversation warning a young man off the idea of going to Europe. We also leave him with an idea for a hot composting business; something I would certainly do if I were to move here.
There is a proper camp-site further up the valley, which I come across on a cycle ride the next day, founded by a Swedish woman called Britta Elisabeth Dancy. It is one example that shows how one can make lush gardens in this inhospitable environment. There are many trees and some birds I haven’t seen before. However, I’m not tempted to stay at this site – it looks too exclusively plastic-fantastic, mostly french, and the manager seems to be quite gruff. I’m glad I came on a recce by bike instead of shlepping Emma across 2km of rough piste.
We take a walk through the Oasis of Abaynou. A flash flood wreaked a lot of havoc six years ago, sweeping across the oasis and destroying many houses. Only half-hearted attempts have been made at rebuilding since then… we find a sadly neglected Palmeraie and there is a lot of debris in the river – in stark contrast to the many unusual metal signs we see about a local initiative called ‘the society for renewable energy Abaynou’. When we ask Rachid about this later, he has never heard of it, despite spending much of his working day standing right by one of these signs, as he directs cars to the various car parks available around the swimming pools.
The hot spring experience is a lot more prosaic than I expected it. At the entrance, you get a washing basket to put your clothes in and then you descend to the swimming pools past the showers (defunct) and the toilets (working, but no light). The water smells as if it’s rich in iron and it is comfortably warm but not really hot. It’s ok, but not riveting.
For some more photos, click here
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