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.
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.
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.
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.