Berber Villages and the Todra Gorge:
After riding our camels back, showering, and repacking our bags, we headed out for another long drive into the stone desert of Morocco, en route to the Todra Gorge. Just before reaching our destination for the night, we visited a valley palmery; a green oasis that runs over nine miles along the river, into the gorge.
All along the river, there are stone houses that make up small Berber towns.
We stopped off at a Berber Cooperative located in the top floor of a stone house, where we were treated to a demonstration of how the women clean and thread the cotton to produce the traditional Berber rugs sold throughout Morocco. We were greeted with mint tea, as is the tradition when haggling for a rug, and watched as one member of our group; Doug, haggled his way into a purchase.
From here, it was short walk to our hotel, which lied river-side, with the overbearing rock walls of the gorge looming over us. Though the rooms were a bit sparse and the amenities a bit lacking, the views from just outside our door could not be beat.
The next day, was another bright and early morning start, heading out around seven in the morning to travel along the “Route of 1000 Kasbahs.” Stopping along the way, we were treated to panoramic views of the “Valley of the Kasbahs,” as we met some of the local music men.
Quarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou:
We stopped for lunch in the town of Quarzazate, famous for Atlas Film studios where films such as Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Gladiator have been shot. Unfortunately, we were not given much free time (i.e., any) to explore the town, and after lunch were shuffled off, down the road to a spice market to see a demonstration of oils, soaps, and spices, with the hope of course, that we will spend money there.
From here, we traveled a short while to reach our destination for the night; Ait Ben Haddou. A designated Unesco sight, Ait Ben Haddou is a classic example of an ancient kasbah, constructed from stone and earth. Dating back to the 11th century, one can get lost in the narrow lanes and stone stairways, where some families still live today.
That night we all signed up for a cooking class, where we learned how to make Tagine; a traditional Moroccan dish which usually includes some variety of meat, surruonded by vegatables, baked in a large, clay pot.
On our last day, we drove through the High Atlas Mountains, learning a little about local village traditions along the way. We arrived in Marrakech in the afternoon and were free to explore the area around our hotel, located in the Ville Nouvelle, and grab a quick lunch on our own before meeting back at the hotel for our half day tour of the city.
The cultural capital of Morocco, Marrakech definitely had a different vibe to it than any of the other places in Morocco we had visited. Tradition is alive and well here, coexisting with an international flare that combines elements of Europe and Africa which produces a delightful cultrural experience for anyone traveling here.
Suffering from travel fatigue, and exhausted from the pace of our journey through Morocco thus far, I was lacking enthusiasm when we me our tour guide to embark on our tour of the city. However, by the end of the night, Marrakech, specifically Jemaa El Fna, became one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Once we were given time to explore on our own, Michelle, Nandini, Patty, and I set out to explore the Souks that lead just off the main square, and stock up on last minute souvenirs.
After some last minute shopping, we headed up to the top of Cafe de Glacier where a “grand balcony” offers panoramic views over the giant square. Jemaa El Fna, which means “assembly of the dead” in Arabic, provides the traveler with a unique cultural experience, that changes depending on what part of the day you visit.
After our last group dinner, we said farewell to our guide Mohammed, and some of us headed back into the square for some really last minute trinket shopping. The square comes alive at night with snakecharmers, magicians, fortune tellers, and women painting henna, all with the constant beat of African drums in the background.
While camping in the Sahara was truly a magical experience, and getting lost in the 9,000 lanes of the Fes Medina was exciting, it is in the Jemaa El Fna where I feel that I truly witnessed the spirit of the Moroccans; a gregarious, tolerant, and most noticably, congenial people, who live among some of the most scenic backdrops in the world, and who are more than happy to share their beautiful culture with travelers. I definitely plan to return to Morocco in the future. Inshallah.