Day 6: Agdz to Zagora
Friday April 12, 2013, 97 km (60 miles) – Total so far: 649 km (403 miles)
After my first night’s sleep in my tent I went through the long frustrating process of packing it up again into the ridiculously tiny bag it came with. The heat didn’t affect my sleep too badly, what did affect it though was the call to prayer from the local mosque at something like 4am. I’m well used to these calls so usually drift off to sleep soon after waking up. This time however the announcer was suffering from a coughing fit. So, what should have been a smooth quick call to prayer was instead a long dragged out call made up partly of words and partly of series of coughing fits amplified over the speaker!
Before even leaving the campsite I managed to get into a nicely heated argument with one of the owners who insisted I hadn’t filled out the police form the night before. I thought he was trying to get some extra money out of me but after a drawn out argument I ended up just having to fill out the form again and the payment wasn’t mentioned.
I stocked up on some food and water in Agdz and headed south towards the Draa Valley. This valley runs all the way from Agdz, to the next major town, Zagora. In this largely desert landscape, this valley is the only source of life and therefore the population in this area is all densely populated on either side of this valley.
The road today was nice and flat in contrast to my last 5 days in the saddle. Being down at such a low elevation though and not too far from the start of the Sahara desert meant that the heat here was much more noticeable than before. It was upwards of 35 degrees or so down here along the valley floor. Nonetheless I was kind of getting used to the heat now so it didn’t make the going too hard. I spent the morning pedalling my way along the valley passing small villages and long abandoned kasbahs along the way.
Due to a lot of tourists passing through here I was hassled more than usual by people by the side of the road trying to sell me things or asking for money. The large population by the river banks meant there were a lot more people on the road than in the last few days.
The begging for money was quite normal here and so was the begging for sweets by kids however at one stage when I was stopped by my bike eating a bar, a woman carrying a baby walked up to me and begged me for food. This was a new one for me. Usually back in Dublin you’ll see plenty of people begging on the streets but you know the vast majority of it is going to be spent on drink and drugs so there isn’t even a moral conundrum there.
Here, though was a woman who seemed to be starving, she probably didn’t have a lot of food to feed her family and here she was begging me for food. I could quite possibly have given her one of my bars or a loaf of bread from my bag but I instead shook my head and she gave me a dirty look and walked on. This may sound harsh but I should probably explain my thought process here. When going through poorer areas I never give out things like sweets as I’ve seen first hand the trouble it puts other foreigners in who are traveling through the same area. They all get hassled non stop for money and sweets and get chased, some times getting hit by stones or sticks. The amount of tourists who don’t seem to understand how this works is a bit crazy. This situation was quite different but I followed the same judgement pattern here. Whether it was the right thing or not though is a good question. When you’re out travelling in these countries by yourself you only have your own moral compass to follow. There is no one else to bounce things off, you just have to trust your own judgement. That one left me thinking for a while though as I pedaled on.
I pulled in for some food in a village halfway through the day. Being a Friday nearly everywhere was closed but I found a nearly deserted restaurant which did a nice omelette with kofta. Just before this village I had ran into my first group of cycle tourists on the road since the first day, an Italian couple on mountain bikes. They had been taking the off road piste on the far side of the river but had decided to head across the river to the faster tarmac due to the intense heat of the day.
After lunch I continued on fairly uneventfully all the way to Zagora. There wasn’t too much to see along the way until I got to around 5km outside the town. This was where the oasis started. Palm trees stretched out all the way to the town itself.
On the way into town I managed to avoid the majority of the hassle this town is famous for. I did however get stuck with a guy on a motorcycle following me for a good while. It took him a long time to get the message that I wasn’t interested in whichever hotel, Sahara tour, camel or whatever else he had to sell. These guys just don’t give up!
After a bit of searching I found a nice basic hotel with a safe place to store my bike for that night and also the night I was planning to head out to the Sahara. The whole idea of coming to Zagora was so that I could get a tour to see the Erg Chicaga dunes on the edge of the Sahara desert. My original plan was to get a minibus from Zagora to Mhamid in the morning and then try and find a tour there as it would be cheaper but Mhamid is a pretty small town so I wasn’t sure if I would manage to find a tour there for the same day.
So, instead I went wandering around Zagora and spent the evening negotiating with the various sellers of Sahara tours. I was alone and there weren’t too many other tourists around so I would have to shell out a good bit of cash to get a 4×4 for a day and a half. Luckily though I managed to get a good deal from a small outfit called Caravane Mille Etoiles. They were driving out that direction the next day already so they were willing to drop their prices a good bit from the others. I agreed to show up at 7am the next morning and that was that. I had a fairly uneventful evening and tried to get to bed early and be ready for the early start the next day.