The air was frigid as I woke up at 7am. Camping in the cold desert but with a hot shower, is highly recommended. A jump over to the dining tent for a quick cup of coffee and we walked around the group who had an earlier appointment with their camel and walked out of the camp. My bare feet sinking into the cold sand as we clumsily climbed to the top of a small dune. Sinking into the sand to watch the sun rise and change the sky from orange to blue. Back down into the camp with “KimKim!” group of A+O for a breakfast of sweet pastries, coffee, and a dish of baked eggs over tomatoes in a Tajine pot. Delish! Perfect timing to climb back on to Coco C and head over the dunes to where Sallam was waiting with the car. An hour of slow going, watching the camel hooves shifting the sand and trying to discover the tracks I see from birds to small rodents to cat to snake. It was a beautiful morning for a camel ride and by the end I was fully elated and calm again. I patted Coco’s head. She yelled at me in response. I don’t think she had a good night of sleep but I’ll convince myself it was only because she was sad to see me go. Goodbye desert! Goodbye camels! Goodbye new friends! That was an amazing experience.
Back on the road. Towns of square clay buildings and kids playing football between houses. Their backpacks swinging from their shoulders. The clop of mule hooves pulling a cart of women shrouded in black only showing the sparkle of their eyes. A motorbike wizzing down the street with two men, the second holding on to nothing. Dusty air mixed with wood burning and iron and spice. As the towns shifted, the children became more interested with us. Lifting their small hands to wave and smiling as we drove past. Another group two to a bike, one peddling to keep up for a short road, the other hanging on to the back and laughing while waving.
The landscape became peppered with mounds of dirt. Sallam asked us to guess what they were. Many many guesses later - and with some help - we found that they are wells. Each in a row over an underground tunnel that created irrigation. Each tunnel is owned by a family and they build it out from a source and dig up from the tunnel to create the wells which creates the mounds in a row. We stopped where a family’s tunnel had dried up so now they power lights with solar and let tourists walk through the tunnel. Replacing their income from the water with income from eager tours. The cool caves stretch further than we could walk. The darkness separated by shoots of light from the wells above.
Back in the car the gold started being mixed with grey rock and mountains appeared in the haze again in the distance. The peaks of the small Atlas Mountains, black with volcanic eruptions years and years ago. The mountains that saw the strong indigenous berbers fight back against French colonization.
Into villages of ancient and newer buildings built into the side of the rock. Mountains climbing to one side and lush oasis on the other. The full black shrouds have been replaced with bright dresses and headscarfs and white fabric draped over the top. Everyone smiling. Everyone free and happy “if you don’t laugh you die” according the the man who would later convince us to buy a rug.
Sallam stopped the van and a guy in a blue Djellaba stepped up to car to collect us for a tour of a Berber village - farm, Medina, and women’s weaving corporative - in Tinghir. Mohammad cut through the fields, walking on irrigation walls made walking paths and showing us how each family had their own parcel of land to grow. Explaining that this was their paradise and how men and women are equal in the Berber culture. Turning to us and holding up a finger, “one wife one life” and smiled. Learning later that he had recently lost his wife, that gave that statement even more meaning. We cut up into the walls of the Medina where he showed us how the walls were made from clay and the doors sat in the doorways. Many people still lived in this walled area with narrow streets but a lot moved out to updated housing. He laughed and shooed away the kids following us “madam madam!” He said the French gave them dirhams and now they want them from all the tourists. If only I had a few, I would have too.
We eventually made it to the weaving cooperative that was made by women to support women and children in the village. A man was there to speak English and show us the process and the work. It’s a traditional house given to the women and they work there creating art. Sales go back to the women and support them and the works are just beautiful. Each one unique and expected to be passed down generation to generation. He showed us the wool. Green is dyed from thyme. Yellow from saffron. Red from poppy flower. And more. All natural. We wove our way upstairs (pun intended) and found ourselves sitting on the floor of a colorful room, barefoot and drinking mint tea and surrounded by hanging rugs, while two women stopped weaving from the large loom and helped show us rug after rug that they made. Each one more beautiful. The women weave no more than five hours a day to make sure they don’t overwork. And poured their own tea while we whispered amongst ourselves “well we don’t need a rug… but it’s really cool” and being a sucker for any kind of sales that support locals (especially women) I’m a goner. We picked a small rug for the kitchen after some back and forth and within seconds it was wrapped up and ready for our bag.
Before we worked our way back down the small stairs the friendly and laughing man asked if we had babies and we said “no.” He asked if I want babies. I said “no” again. He looked at rick, smiling, “I’ll bring you four Berber women. You chose one and we switch for three years.” We all laughed and he said “joking joking” and held out his hand to Rick who shook it “we have a deal!” However we did make it out without a trade and only a rug, a laugh for the road, and even more appreciation for the Berber people.
Next was on to the impressive Todgha Gorge as the walls of rock shot straight up overhead, the narrow road packed with vendors and tours. Gorgeous to think of what this might have looked like 20 years ago for sure!
We had another delicious lunch complete with bonus sugar noodles and peppered lentils. Yum!
We watched as clouds covered the sky. Dark and heavy. Hopefully bringing the rain that the area desperately needs and answering their prayers. Sun shining in only sharp rays from the heavens. We drove over flat yellow land with sparce green bushes and mountains jutting out from every horizon in layers of brown, black, and grey.
As we started climbing again, we found ourselves behind two different school vans with little faces plastered to the back window waving at our van and smiling.
The terrain continued to change until we found ourselves in the Dades Gorge. Following another oasis complete with Monkey Fingers rock formation. I think they look more like Monkey feet. I won’t tell you what Rick thought.
Then up to a gorgeous lookout of the winding road. We met some fans of Sallam who all wanted selfies. Then part way down we met the most amazing little nomad and his young camel. He first walked right to Rick and started playing with his watch. Then found my shirt was soft while taking a photo so stood next to me petting my arm for a bit. Got Rick to kiss his camel and talked Sallam out of a soda to pretend to give his camel. Wanting to see all of the photos of course. He was also the third person that I heard say Ali Baba when he saw Rick today. I finally decided it was definitely something to do with Rick and asked Sallam. He let us know it’s because of Rick’s beard. Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. The little nomad waved at us as we made our way back down the mountain and we eagerly waved back.
Then to our beautiful hotel in the gorge for tea, dinner, and a solid night sleep with the wind blowing the leaves of the tree outside of our balcony.