Telouet to Skoura

In the morning we woke up to a delicious smell of the freshly backed bread. The El Quazemy women get up at 5:30 in the morning to bake bread for the guests and make sure that the breakfast is ready. We didn’t get up till 9AM and moseyed over downstair for breakfast, which was a typical Moroccan fare: bread with a couple of different jams, mint tea, kids had some yogurt and cheese. The man who came up to the house with our donkey and Ahmed all sat down and ate breakfast with us. Women didn’t join us, we were told they are in the kitchen, working. Berber women generally tend to be shy and not horribly sociable.

It rained last night and the sky was still covered with the clouds. It was cold and windy, but the view was just as beautiful in the morning, as it was the night before. We were worried about the river getting too high, so we took off as soon as we were done with breakfast.

Our ride is ready

We packed and were ready for our mule ride down. We thought that we were going to have a cart, but instead we had a donkey fixed with two sidebag for our luggage. Kids wanted to ride him, so the mule man heaved them on top of it, they didn’t even have a chance to vote on it. Moroccans are like that – they just assume that kids want to do something and they just get them to do it. Whether is riding donkeys, holding snakes, petting rabbits or trying clothes on. And sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes it’s very annoying. On the way down we met Andy, who was coming back from his morning walk/run after looking at the source of the water which his charity was going to help fix. They were staying in Kasbah Oliver, which is run by Caroline and her husband Mohammed and is named after their 6 year old son.


We walked down for about 15 minutes, the wind ripping our hats off and an occasional sprinkle coming down. I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant walk, even with all the gorgeous mountain scenery around, and kids were cold, so they were happy when our driver, Mohammed, showed up about 15 minutes down the road, ready to load up and take us all the way down in our nice, warm car.

After another near-death, hair-raising mountain road nightmare, we finally made it to Animetr and I don’t think I was ever more excited to see a dusty little town anywhere else on Earth. The road from Animetr to Ait Benhaddou is absolutely gorgeous. It goes on the side of the Ourika Valley, the little red casbahs hanging of the cliff, lush green valley on the bottom. The red walls contrasting against green grass carpet collapse against each other not in unappealing way. Sometimes the valley looks like a giant crack in the ground, green life-giving vein in an otherwise dead dry stony mountains.


It took us over an hour to drive to Ain Benhaddou. When we made it there, we were starving, so we decided to have lunch first. Ait Benhaddou is somewhat of a tourist trap, many people want to see it because of all the movies being made there. Gladiator, Babel, Lawrence Of Arabia, Sodom And Gomorrah, Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Sheltering Sky, Kundun, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven and also some parts of Game of Thrones, just to name a few. Ait Benhaddou Kasbah is a fortified city, or ksar. It is made up of six Kasbahs and nearly fifty ksars which are individual Kasbahs. Even though most people moved across the river to the modern accommodations, there are still few families still living within the walls of the ancient city. The river separating it from the civilization floods every year, so the citizens were cut off from the world for weeks at a time until the small pedestrian bridge was built few years ago. All the dwellings are made out of red clay, dirt and straw, in a traditional Moroccan architectural style.




The photo of the site where Gladiator was filmed




Quarzazate has couple of big movie studios and it is only about 50 minutes away. The restaurant we went to obviously set up for large groups of tourists, but our meal came out fast and it was pretty decent. There were several busses parked on the street and several different tour groups were wandering in and out of the restaurant.

But even without all the movies it’s still quite charming. It’s built in traditional berber style of mud and straw and even though most citizens now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, 4 families are still living in the ancient city, still doing the same things they were doing hundreds years ago. Of course a lot of shops selling various sentiments of berber life, such as berber locks, weapons, jewelry and clothes. Scarfs are very popular and a lot of tourists leave the town with a newly purchased scarf. They built a new bridge across the river 5 years ago and apparently before the bridge, people used to cross the river using the donkey. And when the river flooded, then there was that, you had to wait till the end of a flood to get to the other side.

We hired a guide, who claimed to speak English, but that was a very optimistic of him to claim that. We could have easily have done it without guide – it’s pretty hard to get lost there, but we figured the guy can use some money. We are awful tourists – we don’t buy anything except for lodging and food, so we are not really helping local economies like most tourists do. We went through the ksar, climbed all the way to the top to see the agadir, the fortified agricultural building.



View of Ait Benhaddou from the outside 

From there we headed to Skoura. We passed Quarzazate on the way, but didn’t stop because Bobby wasn’t feeling well and we decided to do all the excursions next time on the way to Zagora. Skoura historically has been a place, where all the dessert traders brought their goods after grueling two month journey through the Sahara. Skoura’s palm groves are protected by the UNESCO and it also called “Oasis of 1000 palms”. The watering system “khettara,” which is a 15 mile long network of canals, has been in place for hundreds of years and it’s still working just fine. The palms are very important part of the oasis, providing dates, shade and fronds to be used as a roofing materials. We didn’t stop at the small town of Skoura and headed directly to our next place of stay, Sawadi, a 9 hectare organic farm in the palmeraie. Described as “an oasis within an oasis.”


Sawadi is my dream come true – a peaceful organic garden/orchard/farm, full of fruit and olive trees, vegetable patches throughout, chicken, sheep, donkey, rabbits, pigeons, turkey and a couple of pheasants, all working together as one cycle of nature. They are growing alfalfa to feed the animals and fertilize the fields with the compost made from their poop. Most of the food served in the restaurant is fresh from the garden. Kadir, the manager, took us around the property, helped us pick the right  pomegranates, pears and apples from the tree, perfectly ripe and so sweet, you would think they are injected with an extra dose of sugar, introduced us to donkey, baby lambs, chicken and rabbits. All the bungalows built in the traditional berber style of mud and straw.




Apparently October is not the best month to come visit. The winds are very high and it’s not awfully warm. It’s a lot less cold than in the mountains, but the winds are very strong.

Kids of course found all the toys they had on the property – children playhouse, swings, batchi ball, shuffleboard, board games and even Moroccan babouches (slippers) and hats they had in the common room. We’ve spent the rest of the day playing Monopoly and reminiscing about all the places we’ve traveled in the last year or two.




Telouet, Morocco

After the two weeks of Marrakesh fun, we are taking off on our big journey across Morocco. We said long tearful good byes to our sweet Moroccan “family,” Badja and Samad and walked down our last walk through the medina to the taxi stand. It never stops to amaze me how your perception of a place changes just after a few short days. I remember arriving in Marrakesh the first night and seeing nothing but chaos and dust, but now Marrakesh feels so homey and peaceful. We pass by souk owners who say hello not because they want to sell us something, but because they know us by now, the streets look clean and sunlit, even the motorbikes seem mellow and agreeable.

Our driver, Mohammed, a young guy with forever sunny attitude and impeccable professional manners, was waiting for us at the taxi stand. We loaded up and took off to the mountains on Highway 9, towards Quarzazate. The mountains up from Marrakesh to the summit are gorgeous clay red, with specks of trees and bushes and an occasional farm or a nomadic goat herder. I was surprised how green some of the spots were – I always pictured Morocco as a giant desert with nothing but rocks and sand dunes. They have plenty of that too, but there is also no shortage of luscious greenery, orchards, palmearies and plantations. Most of the rains come in the winter and the snow melts, rivers swell up and sometimes get out of control, creating floods and devastation. We drove past several places destroyed by floods, including one as recent as the one this summer. Rains here can be quite severe, especially the torrential rains that come and dump buckets of water in just few minutes, creating violent mountain water run-offs, not unlike the one in the Hollywood studios, except deadly.


On the way we passed many Berber villages, still built out of mud and rocks, just like in the olden days. One was particularly picturesque, in its own stark, stone-like way.


After the summit at 2260 meters, the road changes and turns gray and stony through Tizi N’Tichka path. Not too long ago the road was in horrible conditions and it took several hours of heart-stopping driving to get over to the other side, but now government is putting a lot of money in road renovations to improve infrastructure and attract tourism. It is considered a highest major mountain pass of North Africa and November-March it occasionally gets snowed in, but the snow melts quickly.


Right after Tizi N’Tichka path we took a turn off to the road to Telouet – small dusty village in the Zig river valley. The road to Telouet follows the path of the river, which also sweeps up and destroys everything on its way, including the roads. We’ve spent a couple of hours creeping alongside the river, keeping our fingers crossed that the road ahead is not washed off. That area can get pretty dangerous during the rain and we’ve met a couple in Marrakesh who got stranded few days earlier in a little village in the mountains because of the rain. Thankfully it wasn’t raining that day and they weren’t expecting the rain anytime soon.




Telouet is located along the former route of the caravans from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. We stopped at the Telouet Kasbah, a castle for the T’hami El Glaoui or Lord of the Atlas, the Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. Kasbah, in a typical Moroccan tradition of building something beautiful and then either destroying it or abandoning it to turn into ruin, is slowly collapsing, but there are few rooms that are still full of old age glory. Thankfully the government is putting an effort into preservation and restoration of old castles and historical buildings, as it attracts tourism and brings in a lot of money.


After Telouet, the road had gotten a little bit better, but little did we know that the worst part is yet to come. We drove 11 km to Ameter, where we took a turn off to Tighza. Well let me tell you – I probably have a lot more gray hairs after that trip, than even after Stalheimsklevia road in Norway. The road was super steep, unpaved and of course didn’t have any borders whatsoever. We were lucky to have met only 3 or 4 cars on the way and only in the places where we could pass each other, because in most places the road is wide enough to barely squeeze by in one car. What do you do when you meet another car? You just back up for another mile or two until there is enough room to pass. Hopefully you don’t back up off a cliff. When I was making a reservation, the lady asked me if we wanted to take a mule cart, but I figured that I will let the driver decide if he wants to drive up this road or not. On the way back, I’m definitely taking a mule cart for the luggage and walking all the way down!!!


Tighza is a tiny little village all the way up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Literally. It’s at the end of the road, there is nothing past it. But, boy, it’s gorgeous! Beautiful red clay mountains surrounded by lush bright green olive groves and farmlands, red clay kasbahs perched on the cliffs. And giant rocks and quiet…


We stayed with the family at El Quazemy house. Ahmet, his wife and mother live there, and his brother Mohammed, who is married to Caroline, run Kasbah Oliver next door. At the Ahmet’s house we met a family from the UK: Andy, Jenny and Poppy. Andy runs the Baraka Partnership Charity, which does a lot of good deeds for the village and many other places. We had a long talk about Morocco, charities and travel and general. I have so much admiration and respect for people like that, who just pick up and start doing things to help others: singlehandedly run the entire organization, finding projects he wants to help with, finding volunteers to help with building schools and organizing learning centers, providing medical help and helping with the constructions work.


Ahmet’s wife and mother cooked a delicious meal of harira (traditional Moroccan soup) and couscous with vegetables and a side of chicken. We had tea and fruit for dessert. Our bedroom was pretty basic and the water wasn’t running that day, but that’s what you would expect in a place like that. We didn’t complain. Well, Bobby did, but he didn’t feel that good that day.