The jeep was rented and packed with a few belongings I would need for the next couple of days. The sun was just beginning to rise when I left Agadir, Morocco. By the time it started heating up I was surrounded by desert.

The landscape was desolate, but from time to time I was surprised by a lone shepherd or children playing outside a house in the far distance. In one place, where the road led me closer to the coastline, I saw fishermen sitting on a cliff, their long rods arcing toward the ocean far below.

I was amazed at how seamlessly the Sahara’s dunes melt into the Atlantic Ocean. After several hours of driving, passing Goulimine (the Gateway to the Desert) and Tan-Tan, it was a relief to see a sign saying I had finally reached La Courbine d’Argent, a small family-owned hotel about 250 miles south of Agadir.

Flamingos spending the winter at the Naila Lagoon. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

In the evening I sat down and talked to the hotel owners, Anne and Paul Italiano, who said their dream came true when they opened this place in 2004. “April to November is high-season,” Paul said as he served me a well-balanced aperitif. “Especially fishermen from France [who] come here to catch maigre courbine.”

Though it was low season and I seemed to be the only guest, I was certainly not the only one at the dinner table. A group of technicians who work at a nearby wind turbine company eat here daily. They were all raving about the food and after trying it myself I couldn’t agree more. The smooth zucchini and cheese soup followed by a mouth-watering carbonara was a feast I won’t soon forget.

The next morning I went on a day excursion to the nearby (and stunningly beautiful) Naila Lagoon in Khenifiss National Park, where I was able to join a fisherman on a short boat ride and see where more than 20,000 migrating birds (including wading ones like flamingos, grey herons, and whimbrels) come to winter each year.

The memorial honoring Anthoine Saint-Exupery. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

My adventure continued in Tarfaya, just north of Morocco’s border with the Western Sahara. The small town was once an outpost for Aéropostale (the airmail service established in 1918 between France and its colonies in South America and Africa), where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry worked in the late 1920s.

A museum dedicated to Saint-Exupéry and his fellow mail pilots debuted there in 2004, 60 years after the beloved aviator-author died in a plane crash over the Mediterranean. Some original drawings made by Saint-Exupéry, who was powerfully influenced by the time he spent in the Sahara, are on display as well.

I went to see the sculpture honoring the Le Petit Prince author on the beach, too. Gazing out at the ocean, something caught my eye about 50 yards into the surf. Later I learned that the decaying structure was Casa del Mar, a fort built by the British when they occupied Morocco in the late 19th century. Now it’s an abandoned landmark surrounded by the Atlantic — beautiful and frightening at the same time.

I had reached the end of my trip and it was time to go back. Hospitality, an old fortress, rare birds and Saint-Exupéry, all united by the glittering golden desert, where many secrets are still hidden and some are revealed bit by bit.

Hanna Snarberg (a Swede) and her partner, Alex (a Ruskie), share their wanderlust on their travel blog, Sam and the Dunes (“Sam” is their lovable pooch). 

Comments

  1. Chelsea (theadventuresofcsquared.com)
    Norway
    February 14, 2013, 4:39 am

    So beautifully written! The warm deserts sound absolutely fantastic right about now. I think I might have to migrate down to Morocco for the rest of the winter!

  2. inkedvocabulary
    Golden Valley, AZ.
    January 18, 2013, 5:51 pm

    Hello, my name is Russ… and it is living in the American desert that drew me to this article. Exceptionally well crafted… little wonder it was picked up by Nat Geo. Very informative and the pictures were superb. Moroccan cuisine [and Tajin cooking] is some of the best in the world… infused with the rich flavors so abundant there.

  3. Robin
    January 16, 2013, 9:50 am

    Refreshing to read with a cup of coffee overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Mazatlan. I enjoyed the pictures and prose.
    Thank you, Robin

  4. Lynn Daue
    Maryland, USA
    January 16, 2013, 8:34 am

    Hanna, this was beautifully written and beautifully illustrated! I’ve never been to Morocco, but I’m tempted to pack up the family and try to recreate your trip. That first photo, “The soft sand dunes around Naila Lagoon,” is stunning–I love it!