Riding the bus through the High Atlas mountains from Marrakech to Ouarzazate is an unbelievable – though mildly nauseating – experience. The vista views of the mountains from the treacherous, winding roads are stunning. All I could think about was the scene in Babel when Brad Pitt’s character gets inadvertently shot in the shoulder by a wayward bullet. Or what it would be like if the bus suddenly tumbled over the edge into the crevasse and I died with a bunch of Boo Bears and Italian tourists.
After arriving in Ouarzazate, I wandered through the Taourirt kasbah, which happens to be the largest of its kind. To be honest, I never really knew exactly what a kasbah was before this week. Turns out, it’s a life-sized sand castle. Afterward, I decided that Sharif don’t like it, and took my first grand taxi ride, to a town called Skoura, and rocked it instead.
In Morocco there are grandes taxis and petits taxis. The latter being a regular taxi. The former is usually a big-bodied Benz or a station wagon which will take you to the next town. You pay a few dirham for your seat and when the taxi fills up, you’re off, but it’s never that easy. My first ride was delayed by the sunset call to prayer. The driver grabbed the sunshield off his dashboard, unfolded it on the pavement (facing east), and did his thing. It looked a lot like beginner yoga and the Moroccan lady sitting next to me grunted during the delay.
I arrived in Skoura well after dark with no place to stay. A man approached me and asked if he could show me a nearby kasbah where I could stay the night, but he wanted me to get on the back of his moped (with me carrying two heavy backpacks), so I politely declined. Shortly afterward, another man approached me with the same offer, but without the moped. He told me the kasbah was a hundred meters away, but it turned out to be more like three hundred. After we started walking, I had one of those “scared traveler” moments where I realized that anything (bad or good) could happen to me. And anything did. He led me to a little pension with a comfortable room with a hot shower. I stayed the night with dinner and breakfast included for about 25 bucks.
Then, in a stroke of luck, my search for the perfect tajine came to a merciful end, but in a completely unexpected way. It was described to me as traditional Berber: beef, lamb, eggs, green peas, and green olives, in a tomato-cinnamon sauce – it was like nothing I had ever tasted. Think about the first time you tasted Thai or Indian food. Anyway, I shared it with five middle-aged Spanish women who were the Catalan version of the YaYa Sisterhood by way of Sex in the City or The Traveling Pants or whatever. I made friends with them because they had a bottle of Rioja and I had a plastic corkscrew. Great minds. Afterward, we spent the better part of an hour trying (and failing) to jimmy the lock on the trunk of their shitty Moroccan rental car.
With all the dudes walking around in their jellabas, I was thinking that the desert side of Morocco looks a lot like Luke Skywalker’s home planet in Star Wars – only without the hover craft and the aliens. Then I went through a village called Tattiouine.
The next day, I took a series of grandes taxis to the Dadès Gorge. Ever been in a station wagon with ten Berbers and a Malian? I rode “bitch” with a parking brake up my ass.
I let my original plan to spend New Year’s Eve in the Sahara fall through after I realized how many Lonely Planet/backpacker types were headed that way. I was not in the mood for Burning Man: Africa.
So, I rang in the New Year along the quiet river which has cut the Dadès Gorge from the Earth for the last billion-or-so years, alone in a budget hotel room on a freezing-cold, rainy night. A quiet, anticlimactic end to what was an incredible year for me – the best of my life – and one for which I am extremely thankful. Thanks, life.
My New Year’s Resolution is to memorize my passport number. 20855 something something something.
If you want hot water in this country you have to let it run for a long while, or cut to the chase and get your ass down to the hammam.
The landscape on the Sahara side of the High Atlas is like an amalgamation of the landscapes of the American west and Mexico.
A tranquil peace has settled over me since arriving in Morocco. I’m not sure if it’s the adequate sunshine or something more innate.