Reciprocal invitation and exchange ideas between Zagour Hotel in Zagora (Draa Valley) Morocco and L'Etoile Guesthouse in La Bastide-Puylaurent, Lozere, Cevennes, France.

L'hôtel Zagour en bordure du desert du SaharaZagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara Desert撒哈拉沙漠边缘的扎古尔酒店

 

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Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara Desert

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertThe small airport in Ouarzazate reminds me the one in Tucson in Arizona; surrounded by semi-desert flat lands and perfectly blue sky. Few steps on "tarmac" and here I am in the company of Mohammed, the manager's son, and Lhucine, the Zagour hotel sales director. I am greeted as an ambassador of guesthouses of France.

Once seated in Mercedes, "the 70's yellow cab", Lhucine tells me that we are 160 km from Zagora; it means 320 km drive to pick me up at the airport!

A small coffee taken on the sunny terrace in Ouarzazate downtown, a quick tour in a kind of decoration from an open air theatre, and. let's go ahead for winding roads of tarmac desert. I should rather say the road in singular since it ends as a dead end way after Zagora where the Sahara desert begins. You could go on for 52 days on dromedary's back to bump on Tombuctu in Mali.

We are crossing palm oasis, deserts and villages at high speed in spite of the "bottle-necked" road. A strike of horn and we pass.

The Zagour Hotel is stuck to the flank of the hill on the other side of Zagora and has a view on palm grove and sunset. Three beautiful terraces, 18 rooms, nice swimming pool and big restaurant lounge decorated in traditional style.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertEleven employees work here; receptionist, night guardian, the sales director Lhucine, waiter, house keepers, Fatima - the chef with her irradiating smile and her assistant, accountant and touring guide. It's a kind of opposite of "L'Etoile" where I am only by myself with my 20 rooms.

Mr. Benlhou invites us to his house for the diner served in a big room reservated only for guests. Mr. Benlhou is a very open-minded person, the discussion is lively and the night is animated by the real exchange. The boss is a businessman who can only be successful. His personality, his radiation and his composure will really mark my stay at Zagour Hotel.

Walking towards "suk", where people meet each other more to have a chat than to shop as it is usual in small market places in Southern France, we meet the "Pacha" (mayor) with his co-workers in front of the town hall on the main street.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertIt seems the city is ready to propose all administration facilities and other services so that everything goes smoothly. Since 10 years, the land prices in Zagora have been climbing, especially in palm grove.

Here, the most important advantage is the proximity of the Sahara desert, guaranteed sun and tours and hikes guided by berbers and dromedaries.

My hosts introduce to me a man with moustache visiting the hotel. He takes his book and shows proudly to me the press articles and photographs describing his performances of a public animator. He perforates himself with cloves, knitting needles and then he let a tractor lift him up with a sort of hooks profoundly fixed in his body.

His spectacle takes place the next day on the community sport yard. 5 of us are seated in his huge Mercedes with the loud music of Samira Said & Cheb Mami and an excited crowd of people is expecting us as we were some real celebrities.

There are no tourists here, it's really a spectacle for local people. Maybe the spectators think I'm a sort of show agent since our fakir-artist insists on introducing us to the local representatives seated in the first range. Now, I can really feel those 2 or 3 thousand admiring looks in my direction without counting the fact that all these poor people did pay for their seats contrary to me...

Portraits of the king, flags and policemen are everywhere. Curiously, the police surrounded very closely all families with their numerous kids.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertM'hamid, entrance to the Sahara Desert

We left late in the morning accompanied by Lhucine, Mohammed, the dromedary man, and two dromedaries. We leave the small town of Zagora to meet the desert and the last rocky barriers before coming to M'hamid and the Sahara. 4 day trip, around 20 km every day under the powerful sun and always blue sky.

Mohammed is a young and handy berber man in the age of 22; very professional, he is the guide, the cook, the dromedary keeper, the one who leads us, the one who makes us plunge to another way of living and discovering the desert and its oasis. Healthy and tasty food accompanied by tea under the berberi tent or in the shade of whether acacia or palm tree or an ancient crock wall.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertCooking under the tent demands flexibility and organization; Mohammed has everything close to his hands in small bags, he lops down and it seems to be easy. I can see myself in my kitchen in L'Etoile, I have an impression of representing sort of warriors with big and heavy swords and going straight ahead on their horses. Here, everything is smooth; we get married with the life more then we manage our life.

The second day, we join the group of 3 guides and 7 French people on dromedaries setting up their bivouac in the dunes. Hiking shoes, traditional hiking pants, sunscreen in spray; we are far from our friends, dromedary men, who stay sometimes more then one month in the desert, walking in their old Nike or more simply in old leather sandals. After France, it's a change!

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertFirst blisters start appearing the next day; I only feel a tiny tension in my left foot the third day; otherwise I'm OK and I enjoy this genuine experience, Lhucine's friendship, Mohammed's company and lively night discussions with French people who already want to meet each other at L'Etoile Guesthouse next June.

Lhucine is somebody with an open mind, fine attitude, and a bit revolutionary ideas as many Moroccan people. We can talk about everything with him, he knows how to smile and he' an excellent hiker. He and myself, we weren't equipped for such a long hike at all, dressed for town, we had no worries and everything went very well.

In full desert Lhucine's cell phone starts ringing...., it's his wife from Vesoul or from Luxeuil, I can't remember any more. From the second generation, she can't get used to the grayness and cold and I can imagine that this direct contact with her husband in the middle of the desert makes her heart warmed up!

The conversation lasts almost one hour, all in french with few words in arabic from time to time (romantic words for sure...). Suddenly, Lhucine pass the phone to me towards never ending Hello?! "I heard you had a hotel in the South of France??? You are making an exchange with Zagour Hotel??? It's fantastic! We'll come to see you !".

The Moroccan people likes friendship and recognition. They advance quickly and in spite of the few assets and means we give them, the autocratic leadership of the country.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertFinally, after three days of walk with the company of French hikers, we split in the middle of nowhere as in the Lawrence from Arabia movie. They continue straight ahead towards the water tank we can see at the horizon and we turn left along a low mountain range. We have to head up the wind to arrive to its extremity.

It becomes serious and no one from three of us talks. Mohammed pulls our dromedaries in good rhythm, Lhucine somewhere else in his thoughts (maybe in Vesoul?!) and myself, I try to avoid wrenching my ankle in this stony desert. I like this atmosphere and I can feel that my fellows do as well.

Zagour Hotel at the edge of the Sahara DesertThe pick-nick takes place in temperance in the shade of an isolated tree; tomato, apple and two tangerines. We feel the fatigue, I and Lhoucine are having a rest rolled in a quilt. Mohammed lays on the sun in the windshield of a small sand dune. The wind blows with more and more force and the dromedary staying on my side gets nervous and lets him lay down 50 centimeters from me... Stop !!!

Mohammed did not discuss with animals and our caravan gets moving very quickly towards the horizon where, at the very end of this mountain on our left, we will bump on the last road before the Sahara desert.

There, another dromedary guide who spent already more then one month and half in the desert is waiting for us. He is in a great shape! With no doubts, this is the kind of meeting where everything is said and expressed after long days of solitude.