Desert to Coast – MoroccoPosted: December 21, 2011
We had expected crossing the pass in the High Atlas mountains to Marrakech to be treacherous and dangerous – the last of the Moroccan great adventures for us. The route we selected through the Todra Gorge was one less travelled by the campervan brigade. It had only been paved in the past two years. Even the Lonely Planet still referred to it as 4WD only. Frontier work again! It was superb.
The scenery again, did not disappoint. Sometimes feeling jurassic and prehistoric. The Gorge itself was spectacular and looked as if the sides of the road would close in and pinch themselves. Sheer cliffs with asphalt disappearing in-between. A drive more tedious than dangerous.
The villages enroute were not so used to tourists. Especially impressive was the small village of Agoudal. Set beside a river, the fertile lands of this isolated village provide for subsistence living to a tee. Most families have up to 6 children. 300 attend the school in two shifts a day, catered to by just 9 teachers.
Moroccan children have learnt to ask tourists for “stilo” or biro’s. Not wanting to give them to children on the street as they learn to prefer this to school, we had waited for a village such as this to donate a bag full of notebooks, biros and texta colors to the school. The gifts were gratefully received.
Our journey was made even more eventful by giving a few locals a lift. We stopped to give one old man with a stick a lift to the next village and were convinced by 4 others that they also needed a ride along the way a bit – taxi Africa style!!! We have met about 15 locals in this way and been given everything from turbans, to bananas, to huge smiles of gratitude, in return. This was the first time we gathered a “collection” at one stop. How can we say no? Even without seatbelts we are far safer and more comfortable than most of the alternatives.
Finally arriving at Marrakech, we were happy to avail ourselves of the delightful Camping Real Palais, just a 6 euro taxi ride from the madness of the Marrakech Medina. A visit to the Medina in the day was a little disappointing. We did not see snake charmers or anything more exotic than this fellow in the funny hat!! Having visited so many untouristy villages the medina stalls, horse and carts, even the main square – Jemaa El Fna seemed fake and commercial.
The evening atmosphere was more “electric” and positioned at a cafe just to watch was most rewarding. We ate at the food stalls, cooking on the street. Antonio sampling an Arab stand and enjoying a stewed mixture of animals eyes, tongues and bits even he did not identify! No knife or fork was offered on this stand!! We then went across the isle to the tourist friendly kebabs and bread for me!
We were not too sad to be leaving Marrakech, especially as the next chapter in our adventure was to head to the coast to meet family for Christmas. Elizabeth flying in from London and Antonios oldest son, Adam, his wife Freda and two children, Zenya and Ryke, were arriving from Australia. We were very much looking forward to welcoming them to our Morocco and settling into the Riad we had organised, for 10 days to celebrate Christmas.
PS: Essaouira is Argan oil country and we had been advised to look out for goats in the trees, eating the Argan fruit. When returned to earth in ways I’m sure you can imagine, the pips are gathered and pestled into oil. This region is the only known place in the world that the Argan tree can grow and UNESCO has declared the region a Biosphere Reserve. Just as I was mentioning this to Antonio, there on the right was a tree, covered in goats. Coincidentally (not!) 3 shepherds were on hand, ready to take our photo on a donkey conveniently staged beneath the goats!!! We are not sure how they get the goats to stay in the tree but we had to award the shepherds for ingenuity!!