The Oasis of Oualata
We reached the oasis of Oualata on the fourth day. Alberto wanted us to keep to the schedule or get ahead of it in case something unforeseen happened later in the trip.
Oualata was founded in the 7th century and was a main trading center for the caravans trading between Morocco and Timbuktu. The town is situated on a rocky hill. The gate for the camel caravans to enter the town is at the top of the hill. There is a narrow street leading into town from this gate and it was easy to imagine hundreds of camels loaded with all sorts of exotic goods lumbering into Oualata.
We stayed in a sort of motel: mattresses on the floor, sand everywhere, the open door providing our ventilation. We were happy. Outside the sun beat down saturating the vibrant rust reds, aqua blues and stark white decorations of the houses. Here and there a thorny acacia tree provided scanty shade.
The town is noted for the doily-like designs drawn freehand by women using a mixture of clay and dung. Most of the exterior designs were white but there were several multicolored ones painted on white houses. Inside the houses, designs similar to traditional henna designs, that are often painted on women’s hands, twine up and over doorways and windows and along the base of the walls..
When the sun began to set we took a tour of the village with one of the headmen. He welcomed us to his home for tea and to give us a chance to see the pottery figures that the women of his family make. They were stylized animals and replicas of Oualatan houses. I liked them, but didn’t dare buy any because my suitcase was already so heavy that it took two men to put it in the car each day.
The encroaching sand heaped into corners, drifted into doorways, piled on window sills, and gave a forlorn, forgotten look to a place that once vied with Timbuktu as an important Islamic learning center. There is still an Islamic learning center here and a depository of ancient Islamic manuscripts. These don't all deal with religion, but can be on any topic from algebra to astronomy to astrology.
These girls had been photographed by a magazine photographer recently so this one was happy to pose.
Oh. One more important thing. They had Coca Colas here. And before you say, “Oh, typical American!” in that scornful tone, we had to run to beat the Italians who thirsted for a Coke as much or more than we did!