Around the next corner, there’s always something to see here and a new experience to discover. The past 2 days, this was a blessing because we spent most of them in the car, and there were lots of corners, curves, bumps and hills. First, we drove 300 km from the Sahara desert town of Merzouga, where we spent Sunday night literally in the desert to an old castle (ksar) that has been converted into a guest house in Skoura. Ksar el Kabbaba was close to what I’d imagine a desert paradise should be, the staff went above and beyond and the chicken tagine was the best I’ve had in Morocco. By yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but feel it felt a little like I was staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel at its prime. Whatever your desire, it was their pleasure to provide and with Cherise feeling a little under the weather we were in need of some local remedies.
Yesterday, we had another long drive to Marrakech. Although, it was only 250-ish km, this wasn’t like 250 km in Canada. It quite easily takes an hour & half to cover 100 km here & when you factor in photo, tea, pee and lunch breaks, we were looking at 6 hours at least in the car plus an hour to visit Ait benhaddou. We left the desert and soon started up the switchbacks, narrow and rough roads of the Tizi Tichka Pass. At 2260m this is the highest point we traversed in the Atlas Mountains. To put that in perspective, the top elevation at Lake Louise is 2600m, so we drove roughly the equivalent if you consider we didn’t scale any peaks.
Wheat harvest seems to be just starting in the desert, where the fields are all irrigated with either well or river water. A practice that is likely as important to grow food as it is to prevent further desertification of the otherwise parched landscape. In the mountains, we saw fewer sheep and goats this time and more terraces of wheat and alfalfa. Seems it is hay season everywhere in the country as we again met many Berber women with huge sacks of alfalfa either on their backs or on the donkey in tow. It was also wash day for many, as clothing and rugs were spread across the stone fences, riverbanks and rock faces of the mountains.
Again, life here is simple albeit not easy, but as I said before, it is also very rich. The Moroccans we have met are fiercely proud of their artisans and preserving the skills which date back to the 8th and 9th centuries. While many of the trades, like woodworking & metalwork, are done by men, carpet making and textile design is done by women. Berber women may spend years making a carpet and they are an important part of their family life. In the markets, Moroccans negotiate enthusiastically for the best quality at the best prices. As tourists, we can easily be taken but the locals know when they are getting the “real” thing, be it argan oil (which we’ll see tomorrow in Essaouira), rose water, silver or carpets or the best quality of spices, dates, fruits or meats. It’s ironic to me, in order to have the most stuff we can, we have sacrificed quality in our society. The mentality here seems to be if it’s important enough you’re willing to part with your money, then it should be the best you can afford. No cheap imitations or markups; buy where it’s made and you buy the best at the best price. A refreshing mindset given it seems our society wants the best, and we expect someone to make it cheap and it should all be easy to find, close by. That applies to everything from food to clothing to housewares.
Finally, with all the newness and differences, there is also familiarity here. Sitting on the terrace of Riad Adore (a riad so beautiful I’d like to move in) this morning writing and enjoying my coffee, I could close my eyes and just as easily be back on the farm. A rooster crows and birds are singing, despite being in the middle of a city. The maze of narrow streets & alleys prevents any cars from entering the medina (old city), and the shops won’t come alive until later. By this afternoon, it will be buzzing with activity in the souks (markets) and the shops making their crafts. In Chefchaouen, it was the woodworking shops I enjoyed most, and the steady rhythem of their saws and the hammers all over the little old city brought back memories of barn building from my childhood.