Crossing Morocco’s Agafay Desert to Have Lunch at a Berber Home

It’s our first day in Marrakech, we’ve just taken the last sip of our coffee in the tranquil courtyard of the Riad. Ibrahim knocks on the door of the Riad at 9:01. His punctuality catches me off guard, I’m used to the languid mornings of Madrid and I am even more surprised when I open the door to find the fresh face of a teenager staring back at me.

Later I learn that he’s 26, holds a degree in economics, and is one of the most sharp-minded entrepreneurs I’ve met in a while, but for the meantime I am left in a state of shock that this is the owner of Marrakech Day Trips.

He has a gentle and relaxing manner and we immediately feel at ease with him as he takes us down the many twists of the alley back to the road where our guide Hakim and his off road Toyota 4×4 are waiting.

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Within 15 minutes we’ve left the outskirts of Marrakech and turn left into the Agafay plains. There is no more pavement, and soon there’s no sight of the city we’ve left behind.

We pass many shepherds and with each minute in this desert we leave behind the familiarity of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and enter into a certain stillness.

Hakim points out a nice little mountain and we decide to summit it. The tiny pebbles make it impossible to scale in my shoes, so I take Ibrahim and Maddy’s hands and like true gentlemen they help guide me up with their steady and sure footing.

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The Visitor From the Salty Village Comes Inquiring

Once up top Maddy sets up his tripod.  Moments later a motorcycle from the small village called Lumouira – which means the salty village –  winds its way towards us. I have a feeling it’s not a happy visitor coming.

While we wait for the man to ascend, Ibrahim explains to us that this area is not accustomed to seeing tourists as minibuses can’t reach the place. It’s not hard to imagine they don’t see many visitors, the landscape is unwelcoming, arid, and stretches as far as the eye can see.

This is good news for this who want to see a piece of Morocco that doesn’t come with a side of postcards and hustle from a tout. They’ve worked hard to carve out routes and experiences that allow a glimpse into the heart and soul of the country and it’s beautiful people.

Here comes the man up the mountain in his knockoff Birkenstock sandals as fast and skilled as a goat. He’s not even breathing hard. I notice he doesn’t look too happy, and though I only understand a few words of what he’s saying, I gather he’s not thrilled with us.

Ibrahim translates: He asks if we stole his cow last week.

We answer honestly: no, we didn’t.

He calms down but is still quite suspicious about the tripod and photos. After all – who would have that kind of equipment but a bunch of cow bandits?

Eventually he believes that we’re in fact a photographer and writer with a tour company, but he decides to wait on the mountain with us until we’re out of sight.

I feel bad that someone stole his cow, but secretly hope it was a vegan activist and not someone out to make a quick buck at the butcher.

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Losing Ourselves to the Rhythm of Off-Road Morocco

Back in the car Hakim turns on the melodic anthem, Aisha, and we listen in silence while watching the varied scenery pass us by. Click here and listen to the song while reading the rest of this post — it will make you feel like you’re already there.

Feeling wistful, I notice even in the desert things grow green if they hold on tight enough with their deep roots. I lose a few moments thinking about what this means for my life and prosperity. Forgetting about time is a byproduct of being in Morocco; the hours are not what they seem and only the sun dictates your schedule.

You count the time by the curves in the road and learn to wait your turn as the sheep and goats take precedent crossing the road with their vicious guardian dogs and tranquil owners.

The figures sit on the side of a road, lean against a wall, or take refuge under the shade of a tree while their livelihood roams the mountains looking for nourishment.

Friendly wrinkled faces and sun beaten brows nod in acknowledgement as the vehicle winds its way closer to the top of the mountain range where we’re headed for lunch. With each passing kilometer we remove ourselves from the troubles and thoughts of the city, of our lives, or works.

All that counts is right now. I need more than my two eyes to take in the beauty and stark contrasts that present themselves in the city of Amezmiz. I roll down the windows to feel the air pass through my fingertips, and feel the sun meet my skin.

The dust gently billows into my mouth and throat, coating it with a thin layer that reminds me of inhaling the powdered sugar off a donut. There is no sweetness in it, just the earthiness of tumeric and the baked land.

It makes me want water but my bladder has been full for over an hour, with each bump in the road I’m reminded that Morocco means waiting.

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Winding Our Way Up the Mountain

We pass the R12 mine where small mules and donkeys trod their owners in and out all day. We see the source of water for the valley, and I get a glimpse of a Berber family who are spending the day doing the wash.

Several carpets are laid out near the river and on them are a weeks worth of clothing for the village. The old women beat the carpet with stones while the boy calms his dog which is chasing the car and protecting his family by barking his mean warnings.
There’s a small girl standing near the side of the road. She looks at the car with fear and amazement in equal measure.
I wave – remembering to use my right hand – and her face lights up in glee. She waves back and we both smile. Moments like these make me wish there was a universal language other than smiles and gestures, so barriers can be broken instead of bided.

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A few more kilometers and the car is winding through narrow streets which have seen few automobiles. Hakim proves he is truly an expert driver as he gracefully takes the corkscrew turns despite the many jagged rocks jutting out into the road. He can brake on a dime for a flock of sheep and accelerate at the right moments to keep the off-road car moving forward.

We come to another sheep crossing and the old farmer – an old man – is running alongside his flock. Around the next corner we see two tiny lambs, standing and bleating. They’re separated from their mommy who just ran past us.

Ibrahim and I jump out of the car and scoop them up. I want to keep them forever. They’re so soft and innocent. I ask Ibrahim how old they are. One day! I contemplate taking it with us for the day, but soon a young girl comes around the corner to collect the lost babes and we hand them over.

Back in the car and up the mountain – always up.

After a few hours Hakim is rolling down his windows and asking about “Hassan Hassan”. Everyone points to the top of the mountain. Up we go. Past the almond blossoms, past the prickly pear cactus, and past the skin and bones cows which are tied to many doorposts. Seeing their malnourished state, I almost wish I had been the cow bandit and set them all free to roam the valley.

Soon we see two shadows stretching into the dusty road. One a middle aged man in a grey djellaba with a friendly face and dark eyes that look like they’ve been lined with kohl. He has a small boy on his hip, and extends his hand in a greeting.

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Salaam Aliekum, Peace be Upon You

Wah Aliekum asalaam. And upon you, answers Hakim.

The other man is a hajji (find out what that means here); at least 70 years old sporting the traditional crocheted white hat, a dusty brown djellaba and knowing eyes. The white leather bag hangs across his body and is decorated with deep grooves, as are the corners of his eyes and mouth. He reaches into the car and shakes everyone’s hand, touching his heart after doing so.

Hakim asks where the house is.

They point upwards again- to Hassan’s house where we have been invited to have lunch today. They’ve agreed to accommodate a vegan menu for us and I can’t wait to see their home.

Spartan.

The salon is a cement room with plush cushions and seating for at least 20. The single decoration is a red and white handmade doily that sits on one of the two low tables.

We take off our shoes and enter the room where we are greeted with mint tea and the customary lumps of sugar. They’ve also set out a large bowl of almonds and walnuts which are from the surrounding property. Their irregular shape and hearty texture can only be obtained through organic farming — in fact nearly all the produce grown in Morocco is organic thanks to the high cost of pesticides.

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Next Ibrahim washes our hands in the traditional way with a teapot and tray. He pours the water with the left and holds the tray with his right. It works as a portable sink and is the ultimate in hospitality to wash the hands of your guests before the meal. This is especially important in Morocco where it is customary to eat using your right hand.

Tanort, Berber style bread comes out. Thick, rich, and curved; it’s larger in circumference than a gigantic pizza, even by US standards. The bread is cooked in a clay oven buried in the ground and covered in ashes. The flaky crust is nearly burnt, just the way it’s supposed to be. The room with fills with warmth and and the alluring scent as it quickly meets our rumbling tummies. There is freshly pressed olive oil with an emerald green color to it – nothing you’d ever be able to find in the stores – and we dip into it with abandon.

Hassan speaks to Maddy in Arabic – in fact, in Morocco, everyone does – and says he has seen him before. Where? Using Ibrahim as a translator Maddy explains this is his first time to Morocco and that he’s from Romania but that Hassan looks very much like his maternal grandfather. We all have a laugh, and as if on cue, the massive plate of couscous is delivered to the table by Hassan’s daughter.

Enough to feed 10 hungry people, we’re spoiled by the beautiful platter heaping with couscous, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, prunes, turnips and tomatoes. Hassan tells us that they didn’t have to buy anything for today’s lunch, that they grow everything on their property. This is truly a farm to fork experience that would leave any foodie in a heavenly coma.

They offer us spoons, but almost everyone else is eating with their hands. Hakim and Maddy use a spoon and Hassan explains that it’s less comfortable to eat with your hands, but that the food tastes better since you’re not left with a metallic aftertaste.

We wrap up the lunch with another tea, of course, and wish our generous hosts well. As we make our way back to the car I notice the shadows have moved to the other side of the road, we must have stayed hours. We’re all beginning to slip into the comfort of post-lunch contentment, and the drive back towards Marrakech goes quickly.

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Last Stop, The Sun Fades Into Lake Takerkoust

We’re behind a minibus for a few minutes — they’re also headed back to Marrakech — when Hakim decides we’re going to take a shortcut. He turns off the paved road and the car climbs over a few hills, weaves between dried trees and expertly navigates between two grazing herds of sheep to arrive at the dam of Takerkoust lake, right as the sun is throwing off a golden glow and sinking into the horizon.

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Up a small hill we have a view of the lake, surrounding mountains and a few dots of tall minarets who ring out the sunset call to prayer. Exhausted after an eventful and exciting day, we climb back into the car and fall into the maze of traffic as we grow closer to the Red City and our home for tonight: Marrakech.

This was a day and experience we could never have recreated on our own, and we’re so grateful to Ibrahim, Hakim, Hassan and his whole family for their hospitality that was extended with genuine warmth and love. If you’re coming to Marrakech and want the same experience, please do yourself a favor and email Ibrahim of Marrakech Day Trips for your own taste of the true Morocco.

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I chose to work with Marrakech Day Trips since it’s Moroccan owned and operated, they have ethical business practices, and

Please note we were guests of MDT for the purposes of this post however I guarantee all reviews are done with 100% honesty and integrity, and never positively review with people or companies I don’t believe in.  For all the information on how I handle sponsors, comps, and advertising please check the disclaimer.


Brandy Bell loves adventuring around the world. She’s been a solo female traveler since 2006 and has visited over 25 countries, made countless international friends, and now writes to inspire you to travel in a sustainable and responsible way.


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