Goat’s milk and boiled butter
An oasis. The very word conjures up calm, cool, birdsong, date palms, shelter – in short, paradise. And that is exactly where I am. I have moved to spend a couple of months in Tighmert, a small oasis, near the southern Moroccan town of Guelmim, surrounded by desert plains and jagged mountains. I’m hoping to get some insight into life in this small, self-contained ecosystem and to do lots of hiking, biking and running in the empty, magnificent landscape beyond. I also want to get to know the Sahara (Sahrawi) people who live here.
Day two of my stay, I headed off to the mountains across the road, with my landlady, Debbie, who has the house opposite mine. We set off early, when the mountains were still shrouded in mist. The first section was easy walking across the flat, red earth. In the distance we could see a cultivated field and an industrial poly tunnel.
We stopped to talk to the men who were loading up sacks onto their truck. The sacks were full of green broad beans, picked the day before and going off to the big market in the main town, Guelmim. They were quite shy with us but shook hands. We could hear the sound of guns going off and asked what it was.
“Al jaysh!” (the army). “But don’t worry, they are far away, they won’t shoot you.” Phew.
As we carried on, I could see little, scurrying movements out of the corner of my eye. We stopped and stood very still and watched as the field mice, popped out of their holes to make their way towards the tasty beans.
As well as just a straight up adventure, I was using the hike to test out some gear that the nice people at Rohan had sent me. I’m always looking for good trousers and tops for hiking, especially ones that cover changing weather conditions.
I was trail testing the Explorers trousers and the Wind Shadow jacket. The trousers have got some really nice features: they have narrow legs so you don’t trip over your own feet; flat seams to avoid chafing; zipped pockets; and a waist that fits on your waist so they don’t slip down. The jacket is definitely not for downpours, but warms you and keeps the wind off. I found it perfect for that early morning start into the damp mist and then stashed it in my backpack, it weighs nothing.
Another good thing about the trousers is that they are really stretchy and I needed that as I had decided to tackle the hill ahead straight up and it was a hands and legs job, more of a scramble than a walk. I’m that black blob that looks like a rock.
From the top we looked down onto a little desert encampment. A squat building with tents scattered beside it and a couple of camels further up on the hills beyond.
I was hoping that we would get to meet whoever was living there, and sure enough Moroccan hospitality did not disappoint. As we walked down a woman came out of one of the tents and beckoned us over. The tent was boiling hot inside because she was making lunch: bread and goat stew. The bread was nearly ready and as we talked she flipped it over expertly. Her daughter had taken the hand cart to go and collect water from a nearby well where the water was sweeter and had left her looking after her grand daughter, who was sleeping but had a little rope tying her to the side of the tent so she couldn’t toddle off. She woke up, when she saw us and immediately started bawling her eyes out at these strange women.
“It’s your hair,” said Khadija to Debbie, who has long, blonde hair,”she has never seen anything like it before.”
Soon the bread was ready and we each tore off a chunk, tossing it up and down to cool it. Khadija had pulled out a little pot of the special preserved butter that is used here. It is boiled and keeps for weeks and tastes slightly rancid but I have acquired a taste for it and tucked in.
By the time we got up to go, the baby had got used to us and even produced a smile. Khadija told us to come back any time and we headed back, deciding the to leave the further hills for another day.
As we got to the oasis, we could feel the cool breeze coming out to meet us. There is still mud underfoot from the recent rain and you can smell the earth. I thought the adventure was over, but no, a women wearing a purple mlif, which is the dress here and wraps round you from head to foot a bit like a sari but covering your head too and with no midriff showing, stopped us and offered us a mineral water bottle filled with milk.
“Drink, drink, it’s good. Goat’s milk from my goats,” she said. So, we did and it was good; cold and sour and infinitely refreshing.
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