Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where Berber nomads call home.

Ihad no idea what time Salah was expecting to leave but I figured it wouldn't be too early. I had already packed up my stuff so it was just a matter of getting myself ready for the day. Soon and I were down in the dining room where there was a buffet breakfast that had been set up. Moroccan breakfast is definitely nothing fancy. Some bread, cheese, jam, olives and tea. I wasn't hungry but still ate a good breakfast as lunch tends to be a late day affair in this part of the world.

Aaron and Mildred eventually made their way down but one look at the breakfast offerings and they didn't look interested.


After breakfast, Soon and I headed back upstairs to grab our bags.  Aaron, Mildred and Salah were already in the lobby waiting for us. 

We crammed our bags into the back of the LandCruiser, piled ourselves in and headed down the road.  To where, I didn't know.

For the past two days, we had been traveling through the Atlas Mountains and I have to say that the scenery changes frequently as Salah had told us it would. This morning, we were back to arid plateaus surrounded by snow capped mountains.  As always, the sun shines brilliantly here; picture perfect day!

"Where are we? " Our first stop of the morning was another village in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the Dades region, if that makes sense.  Wherever it was that we actually were at, it was definitely off the tourist path.

  


Salah pulled the car over into a parking lot as I got out of the car, I could feel the winter wind.  It was cold and blustery day.










I'm convinced that every day is market day in Morocco so today, the entire village was out going about their marketing chores.  Food sellers from the surrounding area had come to town and were set up to sell.



We followed Salah and walked into a large plaza area that was fronted by what looked like the butcher shops. 

In the main plaza, it was the usual, "whatever you need for your house and whatever food you want to eat, it's for sale here.  The hustle and bustle of daily life in small town Morocco.   As many times I've been to markets in all the places I've been to, I never get bored of seeing them.  To me, they give you a snapshot in to how the people live and that's something that will always interest me.



As in so many developing countries, when it comes to food, it's bought and sold in bulk; no packaging and therefore,  reduce the amount of non-compostable trash for the landfill.  I like that.

There was one vendor selling olives, mounds of different types of olives, that simply looked delectable.  I am olive obsessed.  If I lived here, I would be buying from this person as often as I could.




"Who knew I would be eating squirrel food" Salah stopped alongside one vendor who was selling something that looked like a nut. It was elongated in shape.  I had no idea what it was.  Of course, asked us if we knew and none of us did.  He then told us they were acorns.    He gave each of us one to try.  The acorns were boiled and had an exterior that was very similar to that of a chestnut.  In fact, they tasted very much like a chestnut but much finer in texture and sweeter.  We bought a small bag for the road.







Later on, I found out at the only species of oak tree that grows in the Atlas Mountain region is the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex).  Seeing pictures of the green acorns, I think this is indeed what we were munching on.






"Rose land " Back on the road, we soon arrived into a town in the  Rose Valley so named because the region's main agricultural crop is roses though I don't recall seeing any plants.  Perhaps because it's winter.  In any case, as we passed through town, I noticed one commercial establishment after another advertised that they had some sort of rose product for sale.  Might as well capitalize it.  Overall, a pretty nondescript town, roses or not.


 "Take me back to the mountains " I was happy to be back into the heart of the mountains.   The landscape was stark mountain.  Barely any flora to be seen and that which was was barren of leaves.  It is winter after all.   The snow capped mountains appeared and disappeared from sight as the road wound it's way through the the land.  Every now and again, we would catch a glimpse of a mountain stream.

Villages filled with mud brick buildings dotted the land, blending every so well into the earth.



 

Salah would pull over at scenic overlooks and we get out and get the photo ops in.   At this stop, as I was getting back into the car, Soon noticed poop stuck to the bottom of my left shoe.  It took me several tries plus Salah helping to pry off the poop from between the treads on the underside of my shoe, I was allowed back into the car. 





"I want to see where Berber nomads live " Somewhere on a trip, we left the Rose Valley behind and entered the Dades Valley.  Scenery didn't change and I wouldn't have known had Salah not said anything.  At one point, we were on a road leading into a small village.  Salah came to a stop.  From our right, a large caravan of LandCruisers was making its way down a sloped street.  Apparently, it was an Italian tour company.  Salah recognized the logo imprinted on the side of the vehicles.  It was a large caravan; I lost count somewhere around fifteen cars.  While we were waiting for the cars to pass us by, Salah gave us two options.  We could continue in the direction we were originally headed which is scenic and would get us to our final destination a bit early which would mean time for us to wander about or we could go in the direction that the Italians were coming from and see Berber nomads.  As he was asking the question, I kept flashing back to last night when I translated "quarters" into "castle" and had a disappointing travel moment as a result.  Hmmm.....he did say *Berber nomad* and I was certain there wasn't anything that I could have lost in the accent.  I said to go for it and so did the other three.

So, as soon as the last of the Italian cars passed us, Salah made a right turn and before we knew it, we were on an unpaved road, making our way through a residential part of the village.





Beyond the village, we were treated to an even more stark mountain landscape than we had been driving through.  It has a harsh landscape.  Not a tree, a building, a river or even a road in sight.   Now, we truly were in the middle of nowhere Morocco!
It was a really bumpy ride; I hung on to the back of Salah's and Mildred's seats to brace myself otherwise I would have ended up in either Soon's or Aaron's lap :-)








Some of the mountains were not the sharp edged, rocky ones we had seen the past two days.  Instead, it looked like fuzzy, ground, undulating through the earth.  If I remember my geology correctly, *younger* mountains have sharp edges; they haven't been worn down by the elements.   I think to be exact we were in the Central High Atlas mountains.




Mountain goats, sheep and Berber shepherds dotted the landscape.  It's hard to see that any of this land would be arable and so I was not surprise to see Berbers raising animals though I did wonder if there was enough greenery for the goats and sheep to graze on.....seemed like just bits of scrub. 




I can't imagine living a nomadic lifestyle let alone live in a place like this.  It's a hard life though it must be a peaceful existence.  Nomads are not encumbered by material possessions and modern day annoyances like traffic jams and having to queue up at the cash register.  On the other hand, when it's cold and blustery, there is no heating.  I'm guessing they burn animal dung for heating and cooking fuel as there is no easy source of wood anywhere nearby.







Salah stopped the car and I presumed it was just so we would have a chance to take pictures of the surroundings.  Beautiful in its starkness.  I snapped away. 














"Home sweet Berber home " We were actually standing alongside the *home* of a Berber nomad.  We hadn't stumbled upon this place by chance.  By the way Salah spoke with the man, it was obvious he welomes tourists often.....for a gratuity of course.

To me, he had a very handsome and interesting face....weather worn with wrinkles that reflect a difficult life.  

 





Tucked in the underside of the ridge that we were standing on was a natural cave that was the man's home.  Nearby was a tent with a small garden.  I presume that was inhabited by other members of his family.

We all stepped briefly inside the cave.  There really wasn't much of anything there in terms of possessions.  I guess if you are a perpetual wanderer, you don't want to be weighed down by things you have to lug from one place to the next.  The cave walls were blackened by soot.   As far as natural accommodations go, I don't think you can beat a cave.  It's good shelter from the elements.


Right next to the cave, the family had laid out large rocks to create what looked like a pen for the animals.  The only thing that seemed to be missing was a source of water.  Must be something nearby as water is essential to survival.

We weren't in a rush to get back on the road.  I just wanted to soak in the scenery and warmth from the sun.   Salah was looking content as well; a brief respite from being a tour guide and driver.





Eventually, we got back in the car and hit the road.  More mountain scenery.  I never get to see this sort of landscape in my daily life so I try to take it all in while I can.  Lucky I have plenty of pictures to remind me as well :-)






"Spot the camels " And for certain, one thing I have only ever seen once before is the sight camels grazing in the wild.  In Mongolia, I saw a small group of about five camels.  In this picture, that Soon took, there are eleven camels in total.  I had a hard time seeing them at first so I told Soon it was because they were camelflouged.  Bad pun :-)  They are hard to pick out against the background.




 

With my zoom lens, I could get a shot of the animals up close.  So cool to see the animals in the wild, not in a zoo or even in a reserve.












"Back to the Valley they call Dades "
We continued our drive through the mountains and before long, found ourselves back at the village intersection where we started; we had basically done a loop.  We were back in the valley though the mountains were not far away and we were back in the land of the mudbrick kasbahs. 









As we drove along, the mountain landscape changed yet again.  This time, the mountains looked windswept and lumpy??  I don't really know what words to use to describe them.

We got out for a quick photo op.

 





Our next and final destination for the day would be our hotel, located somewhere in the Dades Valley.  Like our restaurant in the Todra Gorge, our hotel in the Dades Valley was located alongside a mountain river.  In fact, like a neighboring building, our hotel clung to the hillside.

Our rooms weren't ready yet so we left our bags at the reception desk and went off the explore our hotel and the surroundings.

Across the street was another hotel, situated high up on a hill.  On the stone wall that bordered the road, someone had created miniature versions of the local mud brick buildings.  Someone else, with a good sense of humor, created a 3-D depiction of the mountain roads, completed with a toy car.  Very cute.


Soon and I walked up the street.  Next door there was a small store selling drinks and snacks but it was closed.  There was another teeny weeny shop, cut into the hillside, that sold rose products.  I went in to check out the offerings but nothing called out to me.

When we made it back to the hotel, our rooms were still not ready so we headed up to the upper terrace and sat in the sun.  From there, we had a view of the river that flowed by the hotel.

It was nice to catch some warm rays.  A waiter soon came by with a menu and we ordered.

Before our food arrived, our rooms were ready.  We went down and retrieved our bags and headed to our rooms which were on the same level as the terrace.  I didn't stay in the room for long in case our meal had arrived so it was quick in out for me.

It was the same type of food but after yesterday's lunch inside a cold restaurant, it was nice to dine in the sunny outdoors.

Our meal started with a Moroccan salad which was particularly tasty.


Aaron, Mildred and I ordered brochettes with French fries and we got our meal family style.  Soon ordered a tajine.  I think he's getting tired of eating them. 

We all shared a basket of bread and a pot of mint tea.  Oranges capped off the simple meal.


After lunch, Soon and I decided to take a walk.  Salah had told us that we weren't far from town so we were curious.  We headed down the road and along the way, chatted about an issue that had been bothering both of us though neither of us knew the other was upset.  It was good to vent.

It wasn't a long walk before we arrived at some buildings.  There was a grocery that was opened.  We went inside and bought some snacks and drinks.   You can never have too many munchies :-)

It was still daylight when we called it a day.  Dinner was pretty uneventful.  Aaron and Mildred skipped the meal but Soon and I headed down to the dining room.  When we walked in, there was a very large group of late 20 somethings/early 30 somethings already dining.  It looked like they were all part of a tour group.  The room was chilly but we were lucky and got a spot next to the fireplace.   After dinner, Salah joined us for some conversation.  He had been having to deal with a pair of difficult customers who turned out to be the Israeli woman and Australian man that we had spent the night with in the desert camp.  There was some issue regarding payment and because Salah is the Moroccan based manager for Morocco Explored, it fell on his shoulders to resolve the matter.  I would hate to be in his shoes as it's never easy to argue over money issues.

After dinner, it was time for a shower and blogging.  Tomorrow would be our last day in the desert; we would get to go to Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou before arriving into Marrakesh in the late afternoon.  I'm excited about tomorrow so I am going to get a good night's rest. Bed is comfortable so I am ready for shut eye.

Goodnight Dades Gorge!