Friday, February 19, 2016

From East to West

After our adventure in the Moroccan desert, we left our camels behind and returned to more modern transport–Salah's van. It would be a challenge for him to entertain us after the sights of the Sahara, but he did his best. Over two long days of driving, we were treated to many unique sights, and some delicious food, too.
The donkey parking lot in Rissani.
Our first stop was the town of Rissani, which was bustling with life on this, a market day. Livestock of all kinds was up for sale. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Berbers have traditionally been farmers, so this sort of trade was to be expected. 
Posing with sheep and goats. We are not for sale.
As we walked through the town, we first came upon a large area full of donkeys tethered to the ground, many of them braying at each other. Most of these were not for sale, however, but rather had been ridden to market. We saw these animals everywhere in Morocco. This made Sue very happy since she is a great lover of this humble beast of burden.
Salah–wearing a jellaba–and Regan study the dates on display
The food market in Rissani was fascinating. There was lots of choice, from freshly slaughtered chickens, to root vegetables, to nuts and fruit. When I saw them, I wanted to purchase dates, one of my favourite foods. Then we were enticed to try some–absolutely delicious–so very fresh and juicy! Salah did the bartering for us to get the best quality and price and thus we left the town with a bag of sweet treats to enjoy on our journey.
Ammonite fossil
Our route east followed the N12 through the Anti-Atlas mountains, black hills full of fossils. This was often a stark landscape, like so many others in this arid country.
Typical view from the road.
We stopped for lunch in a small town. Our restaurant's rooftop patio looked over a large expanse of palm trees. On the waiter's recommendation, we chose tagine again, this time served in individual pots. This stew was especially flavourful, in my opinion, due to the prunes and curry flavouring added to the chicken. Tagines are everywhere in Morocco, but this one was my favourite of the week.
On the rooftop patio overlooking the palms

Delicious tagine
Our route followed the Drâa Valley for much of the afternoon. We were frequently climbing in the mountains, looking down as we travelled along winding roads with hair-pin turns. 
A Berber village between the palm oasis and the mountains.
At one point, we stopped next to a massive canyon. Here was a magnificent sight! My photos do not do justice to its scale.
The canyon 
Finally, after some six hours of travel, we arrived at our destination for the night: a riad outside Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO world heritage sight. Again, we had our hotel and its dining room to ourselves. That evening, it was chicken tagine with lemon. That made three tagine meals in a row (excluding breakfast, of course).
Crossing the river behind Hassan

We pose in front of Ait Ben Haddou
In the morning, our local guide, Hassan, led us across the Ounila River to show us the original fortified city that has remained almost unchanged for centuries.
Here is a good view of a gate built for the movie.
I say, "almost" since the fortress has been used as a movie set many times. One of the first occasions was in 1962 when two gates were built just outside the city for the filming of Lawrence of Arabia. These have remained there to this day.
Hassan inside the fortress
Our guide, Hassan, was a resident of the city. He introduced us to his mom, and showed us several rooms of his family's home. Apparently he and his brother have worked as extras in some of the movies filmed there recently, including Young Indiana Jones, Gladiator, Babel and Game of Thrones.  Like all our other guides, Hassan spoke very good English and was very informative.

Looking over the fortress from the top. The square building on the right is a kasbah.
The view toward the mountians
Walking through this compound was very interesting and good exercise as well. We climbed to the pinnacle of the site where there were good views over the buildings below, and looking in the other direction, towards the High Atlas mountains in the distance.
Typical street with clay brick architecture in Ait Ben Haddou.
One last picture of Ait Ben Haddou
The tour finished, Hassan lead us back to the other side of the river where Regan and I were waylaid for a time by a very persuasive man selling Berber jewelry, but eventually, we were on our way.
Regan and I could not resist this salesman's smile
Climbing again.
The flowering trees were almonds
Salah headed for the hills again, this time along the old salt road in the High Atlas Mountains. This route passed by a large abandoned Kasbah, the Giaoul, now a ruin. We chose not to go inside, although as I write this, I think we should have done so. I suppose we were eager to get back to Marrakesh and that impacted on our decision.
Giaoul Kasbah
Beautiful views under unusual cloud formations.
Near the Tichka pass, we stopped for a late lunch, at the same spot we had visited a few days before to shop for Argan Oil products. From there, we were in familiar territory, and we made our way back to Marrakech by late afternoon.
A final photo in the mountains
Our long journey was over–but not our Moroccan adventure. There were still two days left. I will discuss these in my next post.

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