Guelmim is rightfully called the gateway to the Sahara. But what's there to do in this city by the desert? BBC presenter, author and Morocco adventurer Alice Morrison finds out...
Guelmim is one of Morocco’s best-kept secrets. It is the gateway to the Sahara and has the largest camel market in the country, but it is still well off the beaten track.
It’s easy to get to – you can fly to Marrakech or Agadir and there is a regular and excellent bus service. And you'll experience a true slice of Saharan life in this desert city.
The people are Hassaniyya or Sahrawis and speak their own language but many speak English or French too. They are famous for their hospitality. You can feel the rhythms of the sands here, where people have time to live and laugh.
This is held every Saturday and starts at dawn when the nomads and shepherds come in with their livestock. Going in through the lower arch, you will be met by the sound of hard bargains being struck as merchants get the best prices for their animals.
Camels cluster on the far side of the market with sheep and goats near the gate. You step back in time when you step through the gate, and as long as you ask permission, the blue-robed, black-turbaned men of the desert are usually happy for you to take photos.
Then, walk back out and up the slight hill to the main market where you can buy a colourful kaftan for as little as £5 and feast your senses on mounds of locally-grown fruit and vegetables.
The courgettes are so fresh that they still have their yellow flowers, and if you are lucky enough to go in water melon season, they are an explosion of freshness on your tongue. A good buy to take home is also the honey which is not cheap but is completely organic and harvested from the wild. It’s best to visit in the morning.
The Sahrawis are enormously proud of their tea and there is a whole ceremony involved in the making and drinking of it which is totally unique.
They use black gunpowder tea, but it has to be made on charcoal or wood rather than gas to give it a smoky taste. They then add enormous amounts of sugar to combat the bitterness of the tea and pour it into tiny glasses.
It is poured in and out of the glasses at least half a dozen times so that you get the right amount of foam on top and a little bit is always spilt on the tray as an offering.
Before you sip, say “Bismillah” (in the name of God) and then enjoy the strong sweetness. It is extremely refreshing and one small glass is better than half a litre of water for quenching your thirst.
Custom dictates that you drink three glasses, which gives you enough time to really get to know your hosts. Don’t plan on going anywhere in a hurry.
The milfah is the robe worn by the women in Guelmim. It is one long piece of fabric which you wrap around your body and over your head, drawing the lower piece across your face as a semi-veil. They come in glorious colours – the colours of the desert: brown, orange, red and scarlet and the colours of the oasis: green and blue.
It is best to pay a little more and buy one made out of the locally-woven cloth which is like a very fine linen. They are hand-dyed and you can spend many happy hours in one of the local shops chatting to the sales’ assistants who will be very excited to help you.
There is one specific street off the main square where there are dozens of shops. You can’t miss it as the milfahs are all fluttering outside like flags in the breeze.
This museum hosts a wealth of traditional Nomadic utensils and art. It is the only one of its kind and has been painstakingly collected. It will give you a true insight into how the Nomads of this region live.
There are camel saddles, wooden ploughs, cooking pots and intricately carved and painted ceremonial masks. There are also reminders of a darker time when slaves were traded, with iron shackles and chains lining one wall.
Unlike other museums, you can touch and pick up the goods and the guardian is there to answer any questions and speaks great English. To get there, just take a taxi from Guelmim, it is around 15km away.
Tagine and couscous may be the national dishes of Morocco, but for my money you cannot beat a fresh chicken and chips on the main square. The chicken is local and is barbecued on a spit and the chips are hot, fresh and plentiful.
Of course, there are lots of Moroccan touches like the spicy green olives and the mind-blowingly hot harissa sauce. The location also means you get to watch the whole world go by and you can sit outside in the balmy evening air.
Adventurer Alice Morrison spent two months living in Tighmert oasis and writes about it and many other Moroccan hot spots in her new book, My 1001 Nights, available in most bookshops and on Amazon.
It's helpful if you're thinking of travelling to Morocco, or if you want to relive those memories. Alice covers all the main destinations, bringing her own unique insight after five years of exploring a country she obviously loves.
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