(Note that for now I’m skipping a description of Marrakech…)
Driving out of Marrakech we climb once more into the High Atlas mountains. We are spending two nights in Ouirgane (wear-gawn), a small town in a mountain valley only 75km outside of ‘Kech. With the windy mountain roads, that’s only about an hour and a half drive, so we have a fairly leisurely day. We leave ‘Kech at noon and arrived in Ouirgane in the early afternoon. We are staying at the Auberge Au Sanglier Qui Fume, or “The Inn of the Boar that Smokes”. It’s a charming place, rustic with beautiful gardens and a nice restaurant.
Our group has grown by two… Ricardo from Spain and Amelia have both joined us in Marrakech. Ricardo is a friend of Sorin’s from past travels, and Amelia is of course the reason for our journey to Morocco. She’s a dear friend who has been working with the Peace Corps here for a year and a half. Our entire journey is a slow exploration of the country ending in her home town of Tiznit (tizz-nee).
We spend our first afternoon in Ouirgane wandering around exploring on foot. A small creek leads down to a hydro-electric reservoir. Teenagers dive and swim across the lake to haul themselves out and sun on rocks. Old women walk down the street bent over 90°, their backs laden with loads of alfalfa or sticks. Shopkeepers sleep in the shade in front of their open shops. The place is very sleepy in mid-afternoon.
But as the sunset approaches and the shadows lengthen, the village comes alive. (This is true for every city & town in Morocco, and for that matter, for most towns located in hot climates.) People come out and run errands. Road crews reappear from beneath trees to dig a little more. And when the sun goes down, the promenade begins. The street fills with people walking here and there, most just to socialize with their neighbors. In the (relative) cool of the night, the village emerges.
Up here in the High Atlas the population is mostly Amazigh (also known as Berbers.) The Amazigh are friendly and will often come up and just start asking you questions about where you came from, where you’re going, and whether you had yet visited the village. The young men wanted to practice their english. (The Amazigh are muslim, so the separation between the sexes is practiced up here too.) People welcome us curiously as we walk through the village. (Unlike other parts of the world, there is no sense of ‘what are you doing here?’ except in the curious sense.)
The next morning we have planned a trek from Ouirgame up to a High Atlas village. Mark offers to allow us to bushwhack up to the village and then return by the established path. We set out following the river uphill. At one point the path crosses a bridge consisting of a few sticks nailed together. In the middle is a large gap (probably to keep goats from crossing.) One side of the bridge dips down in the middle a foot lower than the other side. The bridge definitely has ‘Indiana Jones’ qualities.
Having safely crossed, we continue up river another mile, where we find that we need to cross again, this time without the benefit of a bridge. Some people hop across on rocks, others (myself included) wade across, and the folks in sandals simply walk through the water. And then we realize that there is no where to go. An old man with a sickle working in a field tells us that the way on is to walk up-river. And so we cross again. And then again, finally finding the path into the village.
The village is built of rock and adobe, and occupies the top of one of the peaks. As we enter the village, children start appearing on doorways, watching the funny newcomers. (We are entertainment wherever we go.) Several men ask whether we want to come to their homes for tea, and we accept an offer from a man whom Mark knows.
Their home has a small terrace looking out over the valley. We are brought cushions and stools to sit on, and several members of the family go off to prepare us a snack. Amelia goes with them and helps shell fresh almonds. Soon we are drinking sweet mint tea while eating almonds and dipping pieces of flatbread into the richest olive oil I’ve ever tasted, pressed by the family in their home. It is an incredibly relaxing stop before we descended back to Ouirgane.
That afternoon a thunder storm approaches and rain falls. It rains heavily all afternoon. The small creek by the inn flows blood red and fills its bed. Side streams that were dry in the morning flood. I walked along a bank above the flood and watched as the bank 100′ below me crumbles in the onslaught, and wonder if the path will be there when I walk back to the inn. It is, though it’s a bit of a thrill ride… the path along the cliff face, normally hardened adobe, had grown soft, and with every step I wondered if I will slide down into the rushing river far below.)
I wander around in the pouring rain all afternoon, getting soaked and taking photos. I have conversations with locals resting under the protective branches of trees. Lightning strikes nearby, and the thunder echoes for a long time in the hills. The air is cool and wet, and I feel more energetic than I’ve felt since arriving in Morocco.
Today is my birthday. I’m 48.