While Erfoud is a striking enough destination in itself, its sobriquet gives it a whole new dimension. This is the so-called ‘Gateway to the Sahara’ and for many the last stop before a desert adventure begins.
The understated surroundings never fail to stir visitors. Sand-coloured buildings, squat and cube-like, punctuate the souks and hustle of a thriving market town. The excitement is palpable and the atmosphere kinetic. It feels as though the Sahara, aware of its surroundings, is subtly preparing travellers for the journey ahead. It is here where romanticised images of desert life, of camels and tribes, of sand dunes and infinite starlit skies, begin to formulate.
However, amongst the rhythmic sway of Erfoud lies an almost incongruous sight. Verdant greenery, a bold contrast with its dusty surroundings, snakes its way through the oasis town. While this may be nothing new – similar pockets of foliage can be found in nearby Tinghir, for instance – it is no less conspicuous. The primary association of Morocco is with a breathtaking rugged beauty, where the brown hills bleed into the white peaks of the distant Atlas Mountains, but to so see such a strong clash sets the heart racing. In amongst the harsh coarseness of desert living, Erfoud’s greenery offers much-needed room to breathe.
Still, beyond lies a greater adventure and the gaping maw of the Sahara. Soon enough rocky desert tracks replace the sandy roads. Carcasses of 4×4 vehicles appear with increasing frequency. Mirages play tricks with the mind and the sun, unencumbered by clouds, beats upon the colossal plain below. The journey south to Merzouga on the desert’s boundaries is a tough one but as Erfoud disappears into the receding horizon it sears itself with an indelible imprint on the heart and soul of all who see it.