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Morocco: Drâa Valley

One of the many kasbahs lining the Drâa Valley
One of the many Drâa Valley kasbahs

Heading south from Aït Benhaddou, the P31 passes through the wonderfully named Ouarzazate (pronounced 'Wah-za-zat') and plunges into a barren wasteland that still manages to play host to colourful characters jumping out of the cliff faces and into the path of the oncoming traffic.

Rocky valleys in the desert
Views on the way to the Drâa Valley
A mud building next to a road
Large mud buildings sit right next to the main road through the Drâa Valley

The End of the Road

Palm trees in the valley
The valley is fertile all along the river, until south of the town of Zagora

Perhaps the closest one can get to the desperation that lies at the end of the P31 is by visiting M'Hamid, the village that marks the end of the road, and which sits a mere 40km from the Algerian border. The old village of M'Hamid was destroyed in the 1970s by Polisario (the movement to liberate Western Sahara, the southwestern chunk of Morocco that tourists rarely visit), and a new one was built 3km further up the road, but it might as well have been destroyed last week for all the charm that M'Hamid exudes.

Desert rock formations
The landscape gets more impressive as you approach the desert at M'Hamid
A single-track road through the desert
Slowly the sand turns the road into a single-track lane through the desert

The Dunes of M'Hamid

Peta on a dune
Peta on the dunes of M'Hamid; they're not as big as the ones in Merzouga, but they're still Saharan desert dunes

A couple of kilometres out of town, I spotted some sand dunes just off the road, and not wanting to admit failure in the face of Moroccan adversity, I decided we should explore. There was nobody around and the dunes were within spitting distance, so we slapped on the handbrake and hopped over onto our first Saharan dunes. They might have been small, but there were definitely dunes, and they were isolated enough for the imagination to fill in the rest.

A sand dune near M'Hamid
The dunes of M'Hamid