We’d sat in the back of the gutted Mercedes van for over an hour. The heat was unbearable as the old metal panels absorbed the savage Moroccan sun turning the German van into a portable oven.
My friend Will and I had rented a couple of bikes and paid a few Dirhams to have them strapped to the Merc’s roof that was heading out in the bizarre martian landscape that surrounds the southern Moroccan town of Tafraoute.
As ever with Morocco, the trip didn’t go exactly as planned. The driver constantly reassured us that we would leave “very soon,” but hours later, we were still parked outside a crumbling gas station that had become an infuriatingly familiar site.
Drenched in sweat, we sat quietly, telling ourselves that the Oasis would wash away the uncomfortable start to the day.
The engine sputtered to life, and we breathed a sigh of relief. As we passed through the town, more and more people jumped on, and the driver compensated for the extra weight by refusing to touch the brakes.
The landscape turned increasingly surreal as we left the town of just 4,000 people. The deep red desert was littered with giant rocks stacked into impossible shapes. The landscape was truly arid. As I stared out of the van’s stained window, I began to doubt the existence of even a tiny stream, let alone an Oasis.
The journey somehow became even more uncomfortable. The fear of melting was replaced with that of imminent death. The apparently fearless driver flew around blind corners as if he had some sort of sixth sense. By this point, I’d stopped looking out of the window and opted to try and deprive my senses with my earphones.
For the first time since we left Tafraouote, the driver smashed on the brakes. I assumed we’d just survived another narrow scrape with death, but as I peered out the window, I saw that we were entirely surrounded by giant palm trees, thick green bushes, and the sound of running water. We’d arrived.
We looked at each other in relief and jumped out of the unbearably hot van. The driver cut the worn rope that somehow held down our bikes on the roof and drove off as recklessly as we’d come to expect.
In a world where arid deserts and giant rocks stretch into infinity, it’s a surreal feeling to stand surrounded by running water flanked by rows of giant green trees and thick-green bushes humming with life from the insects seeking refuge from the scorching sun under the green shoots.
We dove head-first into the first pool of water we could find. Although just a few meters deep, it offered relief from the scolding heat and washed away the memory of the profusely sweaty hours spent in the back of the van.
We climbed the rocks and threw ourselves into the shallow water. The hours came and went until the slowly setting sun forced us to accept it was time to leave. Far from disheartened, we felt optimistic as the return journey wouldn’t involve a boiling hot van or a crazy driver risking our lives around blind corners.
As we left the Oasis behind on our allegedly brand-new bikes, something became evidently clear – my bike was far from new. Every time I stood up to push the peddles as we climbed the shattered road leading up a rocky hill, the chain slipped, sending my entire body crashing onto the rock-hard seat.
The scorching sun reflected off the red rocks like giant crimson mirrors. The hill seemed endless as our progress ground to a halt with every slip of my chain. The tranquility of the Oasis was long gone. With every chain slip, I swore I’d make it back to Tafraute just to give the bike salesman a piece of my mind.
The beauty of the sparse otherworldly landscape had slipped my frustrated mind. An hour of swearing and sweating passed; finally, the hill leveled out, and we looked out over the rocky landscape just as the sun began to dip over the horizon.
A winding road of hairpins and cutbacks led through the desert down to Tafraute. We threw ourselves down the hill, grinning with the knowledge that my chain was now obsolete.
For miles, there was no one and nothing other than the stacks of giant boulders and the empty crater-littered road. We recklessly sped down the hill. Inspired by the van driver, we avoided squeezing the breaks even as we approached hairpin corners that wouldn’t be out of place in the Monaco Grand Prix.
We smiled intensely as our bikes rolled into the little town, and we pulled up for a Moroccan tea as the sun settled over the dusty red desert. Just as the Oasis had cleared our minds of the face-melting van journey, the downhill ride had erased my anger at both my chain and the bike rental.
The scenery on the outskirts of Tafraoute is without equal; tucked away far from the bustling Moroccan cities connected to the outside world by the most fearless drivers in North Africa, it’s an experience that most miss and is treasured by the few who have explored it.