The weather being cold and wet, got us moving to get over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco as soon as possible. We were looking for sunshine but could not forego an opportunity to visit the ‘blue’ mountain village of Chefchaouen along the way. We stayed in the campground high up above the village and I wandered the 600m down a zillion stairs to look for a hotel for next year’s tour. I found a lovely place right in the town with views looking down over the mountains.
It has been raining on and off in Morocco since October, and an unusually wet Winter has transformed the countryside into ‘lush’, with swollen rivers, waterfalls cascading down into gorges and the fresh food of Morocco is more abundant as ever.
Leaving Chefchaouen we drive over the High Atlas mountains which takes us two days and incorporates a lot of intensely steep ranges, one in particular where the Gaz 66 (our truck) decides that it wants to poop itself part way up one particularly steep slope.
Imagine if you can that there are laden semi’s, tourist buses, Mercedes Benz taxis, motor bikes all chugging up the hills and “hurling’ down. Hazard lights on Allen ‘rolls’ the truck backwards down the steep slope, around a corner and manages to miss all the other moving targets to reverse into a cutout. All the time whilst I am hanging out the passenger window with one eye on the thousand foot drop, saying things like, ‘No!’ Swing the other way… you’re a metre from the edge”
Once we get safely tucked into the cutout, a herder with a faded blue turban slung abit squif on his head and his huge tea and tobacco stained teeth, with big gaps between is staring intensely at the entire operation. He holds an empty water bottle, which we have learned by now, is a very old ploy to get people to stop.
They hold the bottle up with an imploring look, which says, “Shit, I’m thirsty”…. Then of course you stop because WHO is going to deny anyone a drink of water out here in the desert? Once you stop, then they immediately point to their shoes which are usually hanging together with a few bits of thread and they want your shoes.
Anyway the little herder watched us unwaveringly for a long time, through eyes that have been out in the sun, watching goats for many, many long years. And yes he did show me his old, torn red canvas shoes and then all I could do was show him my old desert boots, which are now also quite holey. But I refuse to part with them because they are as comfy as a pair of old worn in bedroom slippers.
After awhile, he gave up on us and he strolled back over the road holding his long staff, meandered up the steep slope nearby to again watch his herd, which were standing at odd angles, grazing.
So with the truck cab up, I had another lesson (not gearbox this time) on why the engine was not getting enough fuel, under the load as she was chugging up the steep range. Fixed after about an hour, thanks to Allens mechanical genius, even though we were missing one screw and a washer, after it all went back together again. (don’t know where it went!)
Off again up the mountain and I prayed and up we went and over the top. Phew! The problem must have been a bit of dirt in the wee thing, which feeds petrol to the carby! Ha.. ha.. that makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about and believe me, when it comes to engines? I don’t!
Berber Market Day
We drive on and camp then next day go through many Berber villages and stumble upon “market Day”. There are wall to wall donkeys and women in the most gorgeous traditional Berber dress. Lots of different patterned tops and headscarves. Long baggy pants and red and white striped heavy fabric rectangles which they wrap around their waists and it covers the lower part of their bodies.(they are actually light weight rugs with vertical stripes.)
It had been raining all night and of course all the rain which they had before, had made it really soggy.
After parking the truck, we donned our gumboots and walked the 200 metres back over the bridge into town. The place was alive, with many people, astride donkeys, carts, trucks, vans, cars, motorbikes and pushbikes. The market area, which was down a slope off the side of the road, was a quagmire. The mud up to our ankles and precariously slippery, we squished our way through the bog.
Smells of earth, rain, rotting vegetables and animal shit, mingled with the delectable aromas of fresh bread baking, roasted goat meat, fish frying and fresh brewed coffee. loved every minute of it.
Loads of fresh vegetables everywhere. The backs of trucks piled high with green topped carrots, just pulled out of the ground and tables high with strawberries and peas.
On tarps laid out on the ground, there were onions, and as I bent down to pick some onions out, the Berber women ‘helped’ me choose them. Laughing and chatting amongst themselves and to me, they tossed the ‘bad’ onions aside and picked out the very best to put into my bag.
The market covered an area of about two acres and as we wandered, we bought everything we needed including bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, beetroot, zucchini, oranges with fresh green leaves still on them and cobs of bread, still warm from the oven.
From there the smell of food drew us further in to the slop and mud puddles. I bought us tiny deep fried fish and chips cut from real potatoes, all wrapped in a cone of heavy brown paper.
Town after town across the Atlas route gave me many opportunities to see Berber life and connect with the people. I saw the way they still live, as they have for hundreds of years.
We would just stop the truck for lunch, wherever we found a space, usually just off the road. From there I watched the women filling huge plastic drums with water from the wells and load them onto the donkeys. They would then climb on and begin an often, long trek back to their modest huts.
One lunch time we stopped by a river and the old herder with a wee cap perched on his head, sat with his back to a nearby tree, whittling his small piece of wood, smoking a very long thin pipe and keeping an eye on his handful of goats.
I made him a half a cob loaf sandwich with sardines, onion and tomato when I made mine and went to the tree to give it to him. He smiled with a sparse toothy grin and accepted it. He pointed away up the mountain and I knew he was telling me that his home was a fair way away.
After a cup of tea for all, he came to the back of the truck, handed me his cup, said ‘thank you’ in Spanish, shook Allens hand and wandered away with his flock.
We slept by the river overnight, with just the sounds of the water, rushing across the stones.
Oh I become so much more aware that my own life is so easy when I travel and see how others live. In a sense I really envy the total simplicity of their lives though I imagine, it must be harsh at times.
Hitchhiking to Todra Gorge
In the desert town of Tinghir, I hitched a ride with a young French girl who was sitting on the side of the main road going out to Todra gorge. Axelle has a huge and heavy bag with her, which she tells me is full of books and she has a tiny puppy on a leash. He is her new guard dog.
She looks like a little waif, dressed in the traditional jellaba and has a bright blue scarf draped on her head and a cap pushed down over it. She looks up with dreamy , sleepy blue eyes and I instantly see a kindred spirit. “I am hitching a ride to the Gorge” I tell her.” And you? She nods and smiles ”Yes, me too.”
A very old Mercedes Benz Station wagon taxi stopped. It appeared full to the tailgate with men in turbans but they all moved around and we two squeezed into the very back seat for a fairly ‘intense’ ride along the 15k windy, narrow road to the Gorge. After sharing a coffee with my new friend,I bought a couple of boiled eggs, some squishy cheese segments and a small fresh cob of bread and began my walk into the gorge.
Massive sheer cliffs welcomed me along a narrow road at the entrance of the gorge. The river flowed alongside, with crystal clear water. I walked only a kilometre before the water petered out and the massive cliffs became the star attraction. I turned back and just sat by the river eating my modest and totally delicious lunch.
I wrapped my scarf around my head, to keep the dust from my nose and mouth and walked about three kilometres back towards the town of Tinghir.
By now the tourist buses were coming in towards the gorge thick, fast and with great difficulty on the tiny roads. I was very thankful that I had gone early! And also forever grateful that we are able to travel the way we do in the Gaz, stopping when and where we want. What freedom!!
As the sun began to beat down a bit, coming close to lunchtime, I succumbed to the lure of another Mercedes Benz Taxi, going back into town.
Ali and his Divine Carpets
Ali is a fourth generation carpet man and he knows ‘Carpets.’ He also owns a shop filled with THE MOST DIVINE collection of carpets and rugs that I have ever laid eyes on.
Oh, they are absolutely gorgeous, very exotic and imbued with the richness, colors and designs of Moroccan culture. There are virtually hundreds and hundreds to choose from. Sizes vary from small teatowel sized works of art, to small rugs and runners, to some that will fill your lounge room or bedroom with wall to wall… “Plush.”
If there is anyone at all that wants me to buy and send them a carpet from Morocco….let me know.
Kasbah Lamrani Hotel
This is the hotel we will be staying in our our 2014 Moroccan tour I had a peek inside the hotel yesterday. Actually it was more like a grand tour. It is incredible and I think I walked around with my mouth open in awe.
Inside the hotel the Moroccan architecture, artwork, furnishings are beautiful. It is very comfortable and spacious, has a massive pool, large outdoor Berber tent, spectacular décor in the restaurants and delicious food.
Moroccan Hospitality at its Best
Last night we were treated to pure Moroccan hospitality by Ali as he picked us up and took us to meet and have dinner with his wife and family, in their elegant home, next to the new mosque.
Moroccan people are sincere and have a natural joyful nature. I was astounded by these peoples affability and how they welcomed us into the intimate space of their home.
Ali’s wife was dressed in a velvet sparkly kaftan and her soft, sheer white headscarf framed her exquisitely attractive face. Her natural beauty was accentuated by her easy manner, graceful poise and calm demeanor. I warmed to her immediately as she reached to give me a warm hug and kiss on both cheeks upon meeting her.
The children were so affectionate and came immediately and gave me gorgeous wet sloppy kisses on both my cheeks and lovely, cuddly hugs that only small children can give.
We were then invited to sit on beautiful plush, silky couches with many intricately embroidered, comfortable cushions. Fatiwa served us with sweet mint tea and a large platter of thin crisp, almond biscotti like biscuits and other ones like macaroons.
She also bought a large tray with an exquisite array of at least a dozen different types of the most delicate sweet, handcrafted biscuits and tiny morsels filled with marzipan and honey and nuts.
Each one was a work of art with tiny designs made into the shapes, textures and whorls. She had made all of them herself! Fatiwa placed about eight different ones on my little cake plate. I wanted to eat them all but they were so rich and sweet.
We ate and talked and watched some of their wedding video. It was interesting to see the celebrations, rituals and the music never stopped for the entire week, which is how long they celebrate for.
After the sweets, Fatiwa came back from her kitchen with a mountain of delicious ‘home made’ cous cous, vegetables and tender, succulent meat and had cooked a separate Tagine of just vegetables for Allen.
She also bought out beautiful leaf shaped dishes filled with salads, corn and carrots, a sort of fried capsicum sauce in a little square dish and two small bowls laden with green olives.
It was indeed an wondrous feast and a memorable evening. And one for which I am very grateful.
After getting locked out of the campground, we bashed on the gates till the night watchman let us in. We both practically rolled through the gates.
I came back to my home in the back of the truck with generous gifts from Fatiwa and Ali. Some ‘pure Saffron’. Something, which I have never seen before and two delightful damask napkins which Fatiwa had hand embroidered. The work is traditional Moroccan. Very fine, colorful, precise and delicate. Just beautiful!
Next Year the tour will be in May, for about 24 days and I will only take a small group. If you’d like to come and experience Morocco with me, send me a message on facebook or email
Maybe you can come and choose your own ‘Magic Carpet’