7 am, Guelmim, south of Morocco.
Location of Guelmim and Tighmert
Guelmim is considered the Moroccan gateway of the desert. When we reach it at 7 in the morning after a night bus ride, it looks like a semi-desertic city, poor and dusty. Located north of Asrir, Guelmim is the biggest city of the region (117 000 inhabitants). The region was once the cornerstone for merchants coming from the desert or from central Africa, where important trades of goods were taking place. Nowadays Guelmim has not much to offer for visitors, especially at 7 in the morning during the Ramadan period. As we decide to quickly move towards the oasis Tighmert, located south of Guelmim and east of Asrir, we have to dribble the typical scamming attemps of the taxi drivers. While moving south we leave behind the blocks of brown and uncolored grey houses that surround half distroyed dusty streets. We did not like Guelmin, or peraphs Guelimim did not like us. Perhaps we just had a wrong impression, perhaps we were just tired. Here Guelmim is described from a positive perspective, and you might want to read it before drawing any conclusion.
We arrive very early at the oasis and meet Brahim, the owner of the Maison Nomades (you can watch a small documentary about this place here – in french only), awakened before time by our unforeseen check-in. The morning during Ramadan is shifted of several hours and 7 am correspond to the middle of the night. We do not want to disturb, but in this occasion we are extremely tired and we lack of alternatives. Thanks to his generousity and hospitality, Brahim opens us the doors of his camp site and shows us the room where we will be sleeping the next night.
Brahim’s family still lives in the desert following nomadic traditions, wandering from place to place in search of water for the camels. He is very happy about his roots and he loves to share stories with his guests, the number of which is extremely low especially during the Ramadan period.
We are introduced to Salaam, a nomadic guide, that leads us through the 10 km long oasis, a true floristic and faunistic paradise. For hours we follow Salaam and the water canals that are used to bring water from the springs to the villages. The Sun is strong over our shoulders and Salaam, who is not young anymore, does not drink water. It is Ramadan here. Though, he moves steadly with a slow but incessant pace. His small stature is unable to hide his body strenght, with the structure of a sub-saharian man rather than the one of a Berber or of a Moroccan. He has indeed family origins in Mali, where his descendants probably once walked the trading route to Morocco without returning.
While walking, he tells us the story of the village of Tighmert, which is composed of 700 families (a dozen of which from abroad), a few little mosqs, 2 schools, a lot of silence, palms, fruits and more or less well-finished gardens. Around, together with happy kids, we can also observe crumbling walls, plastic waste and goats. The location is idyllic, dusty and beautiful, poor but magnificent.
Our walk with Salaam through the oasis Tighmert.
It is now time for a visit of the “Ecological garden of Ahmed” (French: Jardin écologique d’Ahmed). Ahmed has a terrific small garden, where he meticulously grows local and imported plants, fruits and vegetables. The variety is incredible, especially considering the size of the garden, and his products range from tomatoes to mint, from figs to egyptian medical plants. He carefully explains the properties of all the plants, narrating us of his successes and failures. He offers us Moroccan tea, with its typical sweet and refreshing flavour, this time enriched by freshly gathered mint and a (big) taste of passion. He also has a very good sense for design: he built fine pots out of tree trunks, as well as beautiful seats for his little in divenire bar.
We get emotionally transfixed by his love and his great passion, a praise of simplicity and nature.
After serving us tea, Ahmed goes back to work, fearing that a few more seconds could impact on the health of his vegetation: his care is unlimited and his eyes shine while he speaks.
“The ecological garden of Ahmed” will possibly become a niche of wellness, where Ahmed will serve fresh moroccan dishes and beverages. He needs tourists, international and Moroccan, to pursue his dream of becoming a small entrepreneur, and he seems to have all the qualities to succeed: passion, ideas and a concrete plan. We promise to do our little part, sharing his story.
Ahmed working in his garden; the design of his garden-bar.
The oasis Tighmert is one of those places on this planet where everybody should go, especially the travelers looking for a truly local experience. Well, perhaps not everybody, otherwise it would lose its secret beauty.
The story of Ahmed is only one of the many I could tell about this place, and probably other travelers conserve other fascinating stories about this little piece of paradise.
It was a long and interesting day, and it is finally time for a vegetarian Moroccan dinner and for the night, where we will be forced to face our faunistic fears.