(Note that for now I’m skipping a description of Marrakech…)
Driving out of Marrakech we climbed once more into the High Atlas mountains. We were 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 had a fairly leisurely day. We left ‘Kech at noon and arrived in Ouirgane in the early afternoon. We were 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 had grown by two… Ricardo from Spain and Amelia had 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 was a slow exploration of the country ending in her home town of Tiznit (tizz-nee).
We spent our first afternoon in Ouirgane wandering around exploring on foot. A small creek led down to a hydro-electric reservoir. Teenagers dove and swam across the lake to haul themselves out and sun on rocks. Old women walked down the street bent over 90°, their backs laden with loads of alfalfa or sticks. Shopkeepers slept 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 welcomed us as we walked curious 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 had planned a trek from Ouirgame up to a High Atlas village. Mark offered 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 crossed a bridge consisting of a few sticks nailed together. In the middle was a large gap (probably to keep goats from crossing.) One side of the bridge dipped down in the middle a foot lower than the other side. The bridge definitely had ‘Indiana Jones’ qualities.
Having safely crossed, we continued up river another mile, where we found that we needed to cross again, this time without the benefit of a bridge. Some people hopped across on rocks, others (myself included) waded across, and the folks in sandals simply walked through the water. And then we realized that there was no where to go. An old man with a sickle working in a field told us that the way on was to walk up-river. And so we crossed again. And then again, finally finding the path into the village.
The village was built of rock and adobe, and occupied the top of one of the peaks. As we entered the village, children started appearing on doorways, watching the funny newcomers. (We are often entertainment wherever we go.) Several men asked whether we would want to come to their homes for tea, and we accepted an offer from a man whom Mark knew.
Their home had a small terrace looking out over the valley. We were brought cushions and stools to sit on, and several members of the family went off to prepare us a snack. Amelia went with them and helped shell fresh almonds. Soon we were drinking sweet mint tea while eating almonds and dipping pieces of flatbread into the richest olive oil I’d ever tasted, pressed by the family in their home. It was an incredibly relaxing stop before we descended back to Ouirgane.
That afternoon a thunder storm approached and rain came. It rained heavily all afternoon. The small creek by the inn flowed blood red and filled its bed. Side streams that were dry in the morning flooded. I walked along a bank above the flood and watched as the bank 100′ below me crumbled in the onslaught, and wondered if the path would be there when I walked back to the inn. It was, though it was 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 would slide down into the rushing river far below.)
I wandered around in the pouring rain all afternoon, getting soaked and taking photos. I would have conversations with locals resting under the protective branches of a tree. Lightning would strike nearby, and the thunder echoed for a long time in the hills. The air was cool and wet, and I felt more energetic than I’ve felt since arriving in Morocco.
Today is my birthday. I’m 48.