Youssef patiently waited for us as we all boarded the bus to head out to the ksar. Since we were checking out of the hotel, he had to make sure that all of our belongings had been loaded on to the bus before departure.
We heard a little bit about the history of the town on our way to the ksar. Its importance in times past came from its location along the Trans-Saharan trade route to Marrakech. This particular route followed the Ounila river valley.
We were dropped off in a part of the town not too far from the ksar.
A walkway marked with white stones lay not to far away from the bridge on the dry riverbed. One could cross over from the main road and the newer sections of the town to the ksar itself on the river on foot, and seemingly even on horseback.
Once we crossed the river over the bridge,we began our climb to the agadir, or granary, at the top of the ksar.Some of the stores for the tourists were beginning to open as we made our way up the hill.
The general theme of Hollywood movie making in Morocco (continuing from the experience of our drive through Ouarzazate the previous day) continued in the ksar. Many movies have been filmed in this area. The climb to the top of the hill was actually relatively short. We got some good views of the river and the rest of the town of Ait Ben Haddou across from the river as we climbed.
The climb was a little bit challenging in a couple of stretches, but these stretches were short. Finally, our destination!
The brown color in the artwork produced by the artist in the picture below comes from mint tea being applied to the paper, and then the paper being heated up over a burner.
After descending the hill, we crossed the river to get back to the bus and were soon on our way to Marrakech.
We were going to cross the Tizin’ Tishka pass on our way to Marrakesh that day. The highway across the High Atlas mountains was built by the French. The intent was to make it easier to exploit the country for its natural resources – including its minerals and precious metals. Moroccans generally have a negative reaction when talking about the impacts of french colonization.
Soon we were driving through the valley of the Imini river. The Imini is a tributary of the Tidili. The Tidili feeds into the Draa, the longest river in Morocco. We could have actually taken the road beside the Ounila river and the old Trans-Saharan trading route to the Tizi n’Tichka pass, and seen more of the artifacts of the old Moroccan towns along the old trade route if we had done that, but that would have taken too much time.
We got some good views of the valley during this initial part of the drive.
Youssef spoke to us about the tourism industry in Morocco. He noted that Morocco used to be a hot destination for tourism, especially for musicians and other entertainers. The pandemic was a difficult time for them because tourism drives a lot of other related work in the country, and all of this dried up. The king introduced universal health care and social security for everybody because of the situation. All Moroccans can register.
I had time to make some notes on a few other random elements of the visit to Morocco during this section of the drive. This is what I wrote:
The drive on many of the days of this trip has so far been over reasonable distances – distances that are too long. We have always had time to make stops along the way – for bathroom breaks and some local tourism, and for learning new things. It is always something different that we are exposed to. There is a lot of information to absorb about the country. And at the end of the day we are comfortably tired, and may even have some spare time on our hands.
Youssef has been really good about pacing things out, and keeping his sense of humor while taking care of people and managing the big group.
And then it was back to watching the scenery!
It was a cloudy day for the drive across the High Atlas mountains. Soon we were approaching the mountains.We were about to drive up the road you can see half way up the mountainside in the picture above. The road beyond that point, as yet unseen, would also take us past the mountain seen in the background in the picture.
As we had been warned about, there was a lot of road construction and widening of these roads going on in the mountains. Green valleys lay below us and towering peaks above us as we wound our way up and down the mountain sides. From the distance, we could see the fields in the valley, and the little villages with houses made of adobe. We had just driven through this valley to get to where we were currently.
One of the pictures above actually also shows the alternate route from Ait Ben Haddou to Tizin’ Tishka through the Ounila Valley – the historical route of the caravans.
The views as we got closer to Tizin’ Tishka were spectacular. There were towering peaks around us. The narrow winding road snaked its way up to the pass.
It was foggy on the other side of the pass. The vegetation was supposed to be different on both sides of the pass, but I could not see anything just yet!
And then we descended below the clouds into a sequence of zigzags and hairpin bends that took us straight down the mountainside, dropping us hundreds of feet to a valley with a flowing stream – with signs of regular life, including green fields, homes and commercial establishments.
Newly paved roadway cut through the black rock in the higher sections of the road. Black rock changed to brown as we descended further into the valley.
The roads were wet as Youssef, our driver, got us safely down to the lower elevations.
And then we were climbing once again, into a fog that was as thick as pea soup. We made slow and steady progress. It was also raining. It was wet, wet, wet – nothing could be seen outside the windows of the bus in certain sections! Finally, we were able to pull up to a rest area. We made our way towards a barely visible building with its restaurant and rest rooms,while Youssef waited beside the bus.
The fog cleared up after rest stop. We got to Marrakesh shortly after that.
Some of the women on the bus indicated that they wanted to experience a Moroccan Hammam, which is a bath in a traditional bathhouse, in Marrakech. Youssef suggested doing it in Essaouira. I learned more about hammams. It is generally a place that women in a community can go to with their friends as a social activity. This is where information (and gossip) about the community is shared. Family alliances may also be discussed! From a practical perspective, women can help each other in the bathing activity – by rubbing soap on the backsides of friends, or even other people they have made arrangements with, people who have their confidence!
Once we got to Marrakech, we were first driven to the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in order to help us get our overall bearings. The Koutoubia Mosque is also located near the square. (Youssef mentioned that nobody in Marrakesh is allowed to construct a building higher than the minaret of the mosque.) We were given instructions for managing on our own in town. Youssef noted that Marrakech was a somewhat crazy place. We were warned about the dangerous elements of the place, and about having to be cautious. We were given instructions about getting around town, including the cost of taxis and other forms of transportation for exploration. Landmarks were pointed out to us as the bus was driven to our hotel, the Movenpick. Youssef also got us maps from the hotel. We could actually explore on foot.
I noticed that all the houses in Marrakesh were painted pink. It turns out that cities in Morocco have color codes for their houses. Each city has a different color code. It is against the regulations to paint the homes in a different color, and one can be fined for doing something like this. It is also interesting that a similar kind of color code holds true for the taxis that ply in the cities. Each city has taxis in a particular color unique to the city.
We checked into our hotel soon after. We happened to be in a very modern part of town, with the broad expanse of the Boulevard Mohammed VI located close to the hotel. We were able to walk to the Menara Mall close by to find a restaurant where we could get dinner. It was a rainy evening.
We were scheduled to spend three nights in Marrakech, our longest stay in any one place during this trip.