Because we had seen so little fresh water on our journey I was keen to visit the Tioute oasis only twenty or so miles from Taroudannt. Without water a country can only struggle for existence, though the local population have adapted over many thousands of years to a life without abundant rain. The Atlas Mountains of course see wet weather and snow, but it is not enough to sustain an entire population, particularly during drought periods.
As we drove along in the Mercedes taxi, Jess kept crying out every time she saw some goats at the roadside or climbing the many argan trees. She became very excited when the little ones appeared, and the driver was happy to stop so she could cuddle a small beast while I got out the camera again.
It was extremely hot by the roadside, and the driver suggested we could shelter from the sun and get a drink at the next village, with its argan cooperative. A lively market was taking place near the modest argan production facility, where women were the only ones doing the hard work, crushing an endless supply of nuts with large, smooth pebbles to release the precious oil.
‘It makes our lives seem very easy’ I commented.
‘What do you mean ? You don’t do anything !’ Jess laughed.
All the ladies appeared to have a cheerful acceptance of their lot, and could clearly understand their relationship with nature, work and elusive prosperity; something that is not always so apparent if you’re working nights in a toilet seat factory in Preston.
The driver informed us it was not much further to the oasis, though I feared the flow of water might be much reduced after several dry years. He told us proudly that the citadel above the abundant palm trees had been used for the film Ali Baba; such facts are always related with enthusiasm, as if a place can only be validated by its use in a movie, or by some other similarly notable occurrence.
A cheerful man with donkeys offered us the chance to ride around the oasis, but I didn’t think it would be fair to inflict my large, unfit body on one of the poor animals; I was also keen to have a little paddle, which would not be possible from the saddle.
A large reservoir seemed to be collecting most of the water, but we followed a small, clear stream through the shady plantation, where individual fields were marked out for growing crops. We were told that each farmer was required to pay to have land irrigated, by lifting a small ‘portcullis’ to allow an area to flood and bring the gift of pure mountain water.
‘This is so much better than the dust and heat of town.’
‘It’s a shame we can’t stay here overnight’ Jess replied.
‘I think there is a hotel, but it’s too late to arrange anything now.’
It was enough just to sit under the tall palms, with hot feet dangling in the clear, cold water, looking up towards the substantial ruins of the ancient citadel. For a short while we could forget the harsher realities of Morocco, including the probable murder of the Aussie girl, and being fleeced in the bazaar.