M’hamid El Ghizlane – the Gate to the Desert. #MoroccanFridays

Moroccan-Fridays

Original photo by my dearest friend and talented photographer – Lina. (Adapted by Writer’s Caravan)

Salam Aleykoum! Welcome back to another Moroccan Friday. It has been a while since my last post in this series so I have decided to make this one special. If you fancy a virtual trip to Morocco, you can discover previous posts here

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gate-to-desert

As many of you already know, my childhood in Morocco inspired the novel I am currently working on (in slow motion). But when I began writing it, a specific location imposed itself. It started of course with Casablanca, the city I grew up in and still the setting where the story takes a new turn. But soon enough, a second location emerged, spontaneously, almost like a revelation: M’hamid El Ghizlane, otherwise known as “La Porte du Désert” – the Gate to the Desert.

Map source : Nomads Festival

M’hamid has a rich heritage. It was once an important post in the Trans-Saharan trade, a place for the caravan leaders and nomads to regroup and stock up in water before they entered the desert. Formerly knows as Taragalte, M’hamid celebrates the nomadic culture every year during its 3-day open-air International Nomad Festival.

Here is a fantastic, short documentary on the subject for those who have 20 minutes.

M’hamid is a place I have not been to. (Anyone feel like sponsoring a trip?) It is a place I have dreamed of and read about, a place me and my mum have planned to visit on multiple occasions while we lived in Casablanca. It is a place I have not seen with my own eyes and yet, since I began this novel, a place where I feel at home.

You see the truth is, there are many pictures of the desert on the internet. And quite a few article on M’hamid and the surroundings. But the real gem, the pearl of the pearls, is my virtual encounter with a local I’m going to call M. It all started with a bunch of emails I sent out to potential “informants”, desert guides around, travel photographers with portfolios showcasing the Sahara, etc.

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Then came along M. He replied to my email with such kindness and eagerness to help I was actually speechless. M. was born near M’hamid. His grandfather was one of the last caravaneers who led salt caravans to Timbuktu before droughts and the permanent closure of the Moroccan-Algerian border made this task impossible. M. now owns his own travel agency (Desert Bivouac) with his older brother, they are desert guides who go off exploring, searching for new wells and drawing new circuits for adventurous tourists.

We agreed on a Skype chat which lasted over an hour and was followed by multiple WhatsApp conversations, all brimming with priceless bits of dialogue and information no article could ever convey. M has been a revelation. He has been my eyes and ears, a secret door to a world only a few of us have had a glimpse of.

So this is it. This is where my novel begins and where the ball starts rolling. This is the gate to the desert, where the road ends and the desert begins. This is the fine line between civilisation and the barren land. A place so rich yet humble. A town that was only electrified in 1999! This is M’hamid – the foundation upon which my novel was built.

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 NB: I don’t believe I need to specify this, but I was in no way paid for writing this article, advertising M.’s travel agency and my opinions.

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Thanks for reading.
Hop on my Facebook and Twitter caravans.

20 responses to “M’hamid El Ghizlane – the Gate to the Desert. #MoroccanFridays

  1. Such a stroke of luck to meet him. No doubt those local insights will give your novel a real authenticity and I always love and appreciate any opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes like that xx Rowena

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  2. Thanks for the introduction to this culture, Ellie. I had no idea there was so much French spoken in Morocco and was also surprised to be able to understand (mostly) what they were saying. Glad your experience of writing is enriched by your contacts in this culture – they sound like they’re open to teaching others about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, so did you pop over to Morocco after Spain? I saw your post on the Camino while I was still in Bulgaria and keep meaning to catch up. Promise I’ll stop by!
      Yes, French is kind of an official language without being one. Colonisation has left its mark…

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      • Oh, I wish! No, I was so freezing cold and tired, I came right home, but am eyeing up an Indus Travel Women’s tour that goes to the northern places in Morocco for whenever I can save up money again. I’ve closed down my blog for a few weeks because someone downloaded my blog post to the Facebook page that’s intended to help keep women safe on the Camino. I got a really ugly, hostile response and decided it wasn’t worth the exposure to leave my personal blog accessible like that (it got 70 hits from all over the world in a matter of a few hours). So, until they get the link removed and the document file removed, I’m on hold so can return to the blogosphere more insulated and among my regular wonderful blogging friends.

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  3. Pingback: 17 Berber proverbs to muse over. #MoroccanFridays | A Writer's Caravan·

  4. Pingback: From caravan leaders to desert guides. #MoroccanFridays | A Writer's Caravan·

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