When I was writing up the brief for this trip for sponsors and press releases, I blithely put in that I would be searching for lost cities. I didn’t actually think that I would find one.
We were just coming out of the mountains about to re-enter the rich farmland of the cultivated Draa valley and were at our last encampment before we were due to meet up with Expedition organiser Jean-Pierre Datcharry the next day. He was coming in to reprovision us and also to take me round some of the 4000 year old rock carvings that lay about 3 km further on.
We had camped up not far from a small oasis in a cleared circle amongst a rubble of rocks in what was clearly an old settlement of some kind. It made perfect sense with the oasis near by. We had all trooped off to do our washing in the water and Addi and Brahim C had spent half an hour competing to see who could knock the most dates down from the palms. I collected them up in the hood of my jellaba and we ate them with our soup that night.
Brahim G had already been up the mountain behind the camp to send our GPS point to the authorities which is something we are obliged to do every evening and told me there was signal on the very top. I hadn’t had any for four days and needed to do some Whatsapp messaging and a couple of social media posts so I climbed up to the top and arrived breathless after a 20 minute clamber.
I was sitting on a big, flat rock typing away happily when I looked up and around and thought, “That looks like a ruined building in front of me.” I stuck my phone in my pocket and climbed down to investigate. It was very clearly a two-chambered house or shelter of some kind and as I looked around I saw more buildings scattered around. They were all made of piled stone and none had roofs.. They reminded me a bit of crofters’ houses in Scotland. I didn’t have time to do more exploring because the sun was fading fast and I wanted to get down the uncertain
rocky slope before I ran out of light.
The next day, Jean-Pierre arrived early and when I told him what I had found he said it was probably a look out post for the ruins of the village we were camped in but that he would come up and have a look with me. We climbed up again and when we got to the top, the full extend of what we were looking at became apparent in the clearer light of day. The ruins stretched over the entire hill top, round the next peak and onto the next valley. “C’est énorme,” said JP, “Impressionante.”
He has over 40 years of experience exploring in this area but had no idea this place existed and had seen no records of it – so of course I was jumping around with glee at the thought that I had actually discovered a lost city. When I say “lost” I know that local nomads and shepherds will have walked over these ruins many times…. But still. From now on, just call me Indiana Alice.
JP speculated that it probably dated back around 4000 years to the same era as the nearby rock carvings and existed at a time when the surrounding environment would have been very different. Now it is bare rock, with the occasional oasis, but then it was more richly covered with vegetation and there were enough wild animals to support hunter gatherer communities. There was a lot more water.
Still popping with excitement, we walked on to the rock carvings. There are hundreds of them, covering the rocks with their battle scenes of armed horsemen doing battle. They are crude but also detailed: you can see the sharp hooks coming out of the lances and the shields that the knights hold.
There are two that I am particularly fascinated by. The first is a huge flock of ostriches complete with babies and some very large eggs. They are in full flight and you can almost see them running with their long stride and short, paddling wings. The second is of a camel train with some Lybic script running down the side of it. Generations ago, a writer came here with camels and recorded his experiences on the rock. Today, I am here with my camels, writing down my experiences. Countless years separate us from each other and yet we are two people doing exactly the same thing across time.