Friday, April 3, 2009

Reflections on southern Morocco and the Sahara

The Sahara--palm trees in an oasis, camels, men in blue turbans, blowing sand, nomadic people living in tents. Those are images of Morocco. And they are true. But so are the souks and medinas of the northern cities, fishing boats along the Mediterranean and Atlantic Coasts, minarets, mosques, tanneries, rug weaving, high snow covered mountains, the fertile rift valley, goats climbing trees, saffron harvesting, henna, and food. Always the food.

Here is Mohamad Elbahri, our leader for our trip through southern Morocco. He was warm, funny, caring, concsientious. In all, a delightful person to travel with on our adventures through high mountains, to the end of the road, where pavement ends and sand begins, and on to the coast.

The second half of the Moroccan adventure began in Marrakech, climbed into the High Atlas Mountains where there was snow, crossed the spectacular Tizi n'Tichka Pass, passed through small village of adobe structures, palmeries where date palms fed on oasis waters, a weekly market, a camel ride and sleeping in a tent in the sanddunes, a 4 wheel ride that left us all bruised but laughing, and onto to the west coast of this magnificent country.

The High Atlas Mountains. North Africa's highest peak, Mount Toubkal was visible from the terrace of our small mountain gite, a guest house. It was cold. Even me, who feels the cold less than most people, found it cold. But our host built a fire and plied us with mint tea and, later, a hot, delicious meal. While the younger members of my party hiked, scaled ice fields and scrambled up to the pilgramage shrine of Sidi Chamoarouch while I played "jacks" with rocks with girls in the village.

Below, Mohamad pours our tea. The scene is the rooftop of our guesthouse.

On our way south and at a lower elevation, we stopped at a weekly market. In the big cities there are markets all the time. The villages have weekly markets and we were there for one. You could buy plastic wash buckets, plucked and ready to cook chickens, produce, or a live donkey or goat. Treadle sewing machines , shoe repair for people or your donkey or mule, a haircut and shave, or a tooth pulled; it was all there.

You know you have reached the Sahara at the town of Zagora where the sign reads "52 days to Timbouctou." A one hour camel ride the next day satisfied my desire to ride one. I can now say I've ridden on both a bactrian and a dromedary camel.

Ait Benaddou, below, is an old casbah. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fortified village with castle, it served for centuries as a caravan stop. Camel caravans carried goods across the Sahara. The site is also known around the world as it is the setting for many movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, Alexander, Babel and others.

Yeah, that's me getting across the river, high at that time, to explore the old casbah. There are several kinds of 4X4 in the Sahara. There is Berber 4X4 which is camel, mule or donkey. and then there is automotive 4X4, often Japanese.

A camel ride:

Mohamad teaches me how to wrap my turban. It is protection from the sun with a ready flap should the sand start to blow. our tent camp in the desert.

From the desert we took mechanical 4X4 to a place where our minivan could pick us up. Unlike the first part of the trip where we used trains and buses, taxis , the second half the trip is all in areas with less pubic transportation. We had our own mini van to carry us.

As we traveled through Agadir, Mohamad told us he had gone to University there. We asked if we could drive by and see. After a conversation with Hassan, our driver, we wound about in narrow streets. Instead of the University, Mohamad had a treat for us. He took us to the flat where he had lived. He asked us to wait in the car, bounded up the stairs and came back a bit later with a young man. This young man was from Mohamad's mountain village and had taken on the flat when Mohamad left. It is a large room, shared with 6 young men, mattresses on the floor and studying done sitting on the bed. There is a kitchen, a toilet and shower, and a small outside terrace where food can be cooked and clothes dried. We were invited in. On Friday afternoon all of the inhabitants were home. I think I would have been appalled at having a group of foreign visitors drop in on me at their age, but they were charming. Jeff was soon playing checkers on a homemade board with rocks for pieces. In no time, tea and cookies were served. Someone had run to a local market for the cookies. All of them spoke English, some more the others, and we sat around conversing until we really had to get going. In our next stop we discovered a beautiful checker, chess, backgammon board and bought it for them. Mohamad would deliver it next time he went through town. Mohamad had never taken people to the apartment before. But with only 4 of us, a good comraderie, and our expressed interest in his schooling, home life, future, he decided to share it with us. Now that the blog is almost done, my next chore is to make prints of photos along the trip to be delivered to people. Each of the young men will get a print of this and I will do an enlargement for the wall.

Our final 2-night stop before returning to Marrakech for a night and flights out, was the seaside town of Essaouira. Again we stayed in a Riad, a home once belonging to a wealthy person and now used as a small hotel. This one was charming, and close to both the harbor and the medina. From the roof we could see the ocean.

left: looking up thru the inner courtyard -atrium of our riad. right: street scene of child with bread. It was stormy and most boats were in the harbor and not out fishing.

1 comment:

ourbusandus said...

Hi Betty, saw your blog posted when you made a comment on the BBB. I enjoyed looking at your photos on your recent overseas trip. Looks like you had a grand time! We may be seeing you when we come through Yellowstone. Our friend, Gail will be working at the bookstores again, so maybe we can see you too.

Hugs, Sharon & Ron

Post a Comment