Casablanca, Our Last Stop

We left Essaouria early in the morning.We had a long drive ahead of us, and the rest of the day after our arrival in the city was the only time assigned for a tour of Casablanca. It was quite obvious that Casablanca not meant to be a highlight of our visit to Morocco. It did not bother us that this was the case since we had already explored the heart and soul of the country over so many days. (I will note that Rick’s Cafe, a popular destination for tourists to the city because of the movie Casablanca, was not even on the itinerary!)

Our departure from Essaouria actually ended up being a little later than planned since our luggage was late being delivered from our rooms to the bus. Youssef explained that hotels were short staffed because of the effect of COVID.

There had been a overwhelmingly positive response when Youssef asked if folks wanted to see the movie Casablanca on the bus. (I might have been the only one who said no!) The blinds were all drawn to darken the interior of the bus as the movie was played during the morning drive. I had to pop my head behind the blinds to look out and take some of these pictures.

I enjoyed listening to the dialogue in the movie even though I was not watching it. There are so many memorable lines!

Since this was our last day together in Morocco, we started saying our farewells to the people who had taken care of us during the tour – our driver Youssef, and our helper Rashid – at our stop for lunch. Youssef and Rashid had kept us out of trouble, and had gotten us, and our luggage, safely and securely to all of our destinations. They had done a remarkable job!

The land looked flat and dry as we got closer to Casablanca. There were rolling hills and farms. We could see donkeys, and occasional cows and horses. There were no camels here – like in the eastern parts of the country.

Things began to get quieter on the bus as we approached the city. In the short period of time that we had been together we had gotten to know most of our fellow travelers, and we would actually be missing many of them as we departed for our individual destinations.

The city of Casablanca was given its name by Portuguese in 1500s. The original name, Casa Branca, translates to The White House. The city was abandoned after an earthquake and rebuilt by the locals with the name Dar al-Bayda, which also means The White House. The city has suffered occupation by a few European countries during its existence, including the Spanish, and even the Vichy French during WWII.

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. It is considered the economic “beating heart” of Morocco.

As we were entering the city, we drove next to the beach and a posh section of city. That whole area looked very clean.

The first stop in town was to take a walk along a section of the Boulevard de la Corniche next to the sea. There was nothing culturally or historically notable. It was more of a break from sitting in the bus – to stretch our legs.

The lighthouse in the distance in the picture above is called El Hank. It is the tallest lighthouse in Morocco.

After the walk, we were driven further north towards other parts of town. Casablanca was looking like a very modern city so far.

Our next stop was at the Hassan II mosque. This picture was taken as we approached the area of the mosque.Hassan II is the biggest mosque in Morocco. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, it is open for non-muslims to visit. It was built during the years 1986 to 1996. Because the government lacked sufficient funds at that time, its construction was funded by money contributed directly by the people. Folks received a receipt for their contributions, no matter how small it was.

I learnt that the three spheres on top of the minarets of mosques were meant to represent three religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Some mosques have a 4th sphere (for the important books of Islam), and others 5 (for the pillars of Islam).

We were scheduled to just see the mosque from a distance, but some people were also interested in seeing the inside of the mosque. Youssef had heard the message and internalized it, but he also was constrained to follow the itinerary that had been set for the tour.

Our next stop was the Notre Dame De Lourdes church, built in 1954 by the Franciscans. The sides of the church were of stained glass.We were told that there was a depiction of Satan on one of the stained glass windows. (I do not remember now why that piece of information was considered significant enough to convey.)

We were told that there are still Franciscans in Morocco, and that they do social work. There was a chorus practicing in the church while we were there. They looked like visitors from other parts of Africa.

Christians live under certain constraints in Morocco, and their numbers are small. They are not allowed to proselytize.

Later on in the evening, we did pass another massive cathedral building that has not served its original function for many, many, years. The building stood out against the background of the blue of the evening sky as we drove by.

We church was located in the Habous quarter of the city. (Habous means endowment.) This area was developed for needy people during the last century. The architecture is typically Moorish. Property in this part of town is now apparently considered highly desirable in spite of its origins.

The palace was supposed to be close by but it was not on the itinerary.

Before we checked into the hotel, Youssef made a last minute arrangement for some us to see the inside of the mosque. What a guy! We were squeezing in some time to try to get back to the mosque. It was touch and go, but we got there on time. He twisted enough arms so that we could buy the entrance tickets on our own quickly at the last minute, and then jump onto electric carts that would take us to the mosque itself in a timely fashion.

Once in the mosque, we rushed off to find a tour group with a guide who was speaking in English. Unfortunately, our guide was not easily understandable – in fact he was indecipherable!I have to point out that there were at least a few women in our tour group who chose to wear a shawl over their heads as a sign of respect. I thought this behavior was commendable.

The building was immense. The roof can be opened to allow the air from the outside to enter and circulate within the building. The movable roof is operated electrically.We went down to the basement of the mosque where they have the area for people to do their ablutions before prayer.

This picture is of one of the entrances to the mosque.The door is massive!

Youssef was waiting for us with the bus after the tour of the mosque, after first having dropped off the others who were not coming on the tour at the hotel. We were taken to our hotel. There would be a dinner that evening to celebrate the end of our time together.

We drove to a restaurant for the farewell dinner. Many people dressed up for the event. We stopped at Mohammed V Square on our way to dinner. There were a lot of people out on the square having fun. A person dressed in a gold covering sat on a bicycle pretending to be a statue!

A tram line ran on the road next to the square.

On the other side of the road was the new Opera House, still under construction.

Again, my impression was of Casablanca being quite a modern place.

We continued to the restaurant after the break. We had to walk the last few yards to the restaurant because the road was blocked off on account of an accident.

The dinner was a relaxed affair. The musician who was entertaining us was singing songs that we could also join in. One of our friends from Arizona pulled out her smartphone to get the lyrics to the songs and also started singing beside me. That was fun. At some point, a couple in our group decided to dance to a Latino song that was being sung. They managed even though there was not much space for them to move freely.

We had to depart the restaurant much too early because people had flights to catch soon after returning to the hotel and picking up their luggage, i.e., they would not even be occupying the rooms in the hotel for the night!

There was a feeling of sadness as we began to make our way back in the bus to the hotel, and as we said our goodbyes and left each other’s company for the last time at the hotel. In a matter of a couple of weeks we had all become connected in some way.

And what about Youssef, our tour manager! What an amazing person. He managed our large group seemingly effortlessly, but there was so much of coordination work that he was constantly doing behind the scenes. He never showed a moment of frustration or impatience, always had a smile on his face, and took care of us individually, answering our every question, and going beyond the call of duty to satisfy our desires and needs. What a sweetheart. During the bus trip back to the hotel, he wished the group adieu, thanked us for visiting his country, and asked us to talk about his country and let others know about his people.

Youssef was there the next morning at 4:30 am, with some packed breakfast which he had made last-minute arrangements for with the hotel, to send us off on our way to the airport. We are going to miss him.

We were on our way out of Casablanca even before the sunrise.

Onward To Essaouira

We were to leave Agadir for Essaouira today – after just a one night stay (as opposed to our usual two nights in most of the towns we stayed at). We were scheduled for a later than usual start for our travels for the day.  There was time for a walk along the beach in the morning. It was a clear, cloudless, sky. The surfers were out there.Some others were exercising or taking walks.There were what looked like fishing boats in the ocean.

Some magpies had landed up close to us as we were hanging out next to the beach. I don’t think we have ever had them come this close to us in the past. The blue color behind the eyes was striking.

Breakfast in the hotel was a disappointment after the experience in Marrakech. I tried the fresh fried crueller – did not like it very much.

After checking out and boarding the bus, we were surprised to hear that we would not be leaving town just yet. We were to be dropped off at the entrance to the marina, the place we had walked to the day before,and would be given relaxation time for an hour, to hang out on the promenade. This was somewhat disappointing since we had already walked to that point the previous day. We had to occupy ourselves some other way.

We started out walking within the marina itself.The kasbah on the mountain is located very near the marina.We had previously inquired with Youssef about climbing up to the top of the mountain. He must have thought us crazy – perhaps he had never heard such a request before. We were dissuaded from that attempt without any hesitation.

After the visit to the marina, we walked on the promenade along the beach to the other end of the road beside the promenade.This is a picture of our tour group.

And then we were on our way to Essaouira. We were stopping at an argon oil processing place on the way. This part of Morocco is the only place in the world where the argan tree can grow freely. They have tried to cultivate it in other places without success. Half of the argan oil produced is shipped to Israel.

We were told that Essaouria is recognized for its seafood. The sardine dishes are supposed to be well known. We were given a warning about some of the seafood restaurants in the city. Apparently they show you the fresh fish that they say they will cook for you, but they then swap it out before cooking your meal.

It was a long drive up the beautiful Atlantic coast. There were a few people on the beaches. Also, a few surfers. Little coves appeared along the way.

The road occasionally meandered away from coastline where the remnants of the High Atlas mountains approached the waters of the ocean.Eventually we we got back to the coastline.

Sometimes we were in the mountains for extended distances, still not too far from the shoreline. The soil is light brown and looks very dry. The vegetation is sparse, mainly argan trees.

We are on the lookout for goats on trees!

We had a long lunch stop, evidence still of how relaxed the pace of the trip had become at this point. The place we stopped at was not prepared to handle the numbers of us when we landed up – in spite of Youssef having called them up ahead of time with specifics of some of the orders that could take a longer time to prepare. Youssef had to also fill in as waiter and server – services which he did with good cheer! He tried to keep things moving along, somehow managing to keep his wits about him without appearing flustered.. Some people had ordered goat or lamb tajines. It looked like a helluva lot of food, but also mouthwatering! I had to survive on my mixed grill plate.

As we left the restaurant, Youssef mentioned that places like the one we had just eaten at had suffered because of the COVID pandemic. They were having difficulty restaffing.

We continued our journey at a relaxed pace after lunch.

There was much excitement when we saw goats on a tree and managed to pull over to the side of the road to observe them more closely. The goatherd who was shepherding his flock to a safe area beside the road was really nice about a bunch of us strangers, random tourists from some distant land behaving in strange ways, being there and distracting his goats.We were able to get pictures while Youssef conversed with him.Note that this is not the classic picture of goats on a tree in Morocco that one finds on the Internet. Those pictures are usually taken from a distance from the tree, and show the whole tree full of goats. Sometimes, unfortunately, this kind of setup may be created just for the entertainment of the naive tourists.

The relaxed drive continued – with the dry land, the argan trees, the goats, and the donkeys relaxing under the shade of the argan trees along the way.

The next stop was at an argan oil cooperative operated by women. It was on the outskirts of the city of Essaouira itself.

After showing us how the argan oil was extracted, we were taken to a showroom where the focus was more on the beauty products that the cooperative made using the argan oil. There was some joking around about how young the argan oil products could make you look!

We drove on to the hotel. It happened to be next to the beach.

We had the rest of the today to ourselves before it was time for all of us to go out to dinner together. We will do a walking tour of Essaouria with a local guide in the morning tomorrow.

The hotel room itself looked small but nice, but closer examination revealed that the good looks could have been covering up some issues, including the possible presence of vermin, one sample of which I proceeded to squash under my foot and dispose outside the room.

The sun was setting as we set out for dinner.

The restaurant we were going to was next to the beach and close to the hotel. We walked to it.

I felt compelled to have the fish for dinner. It was sardine!

I was surprised with the presentation of a birthday cake at the end of dinner!Youssef had been planning this for a while, and the celebration had to be delayed from my actual birthday because we had not had the chance to meet as a full group for dinner earlier. The cake was beautiful and tasty. It was made by a friend of Youssef’s. We were stuffed because we had also gotten dessert with our meal.

With some prompting from across the table, we started singing When I’m 64 (even though it was not my 64th birthday). It was unofficially a party! I found out at that moment that one of our fellow-travelers was also in a barbershop chorus. We ended up trying to sing some barbershop standards with two voice parts (instead of the standard four). The electronic pitch pipe on a smartphone is handy in such a situation! It turned out that the gentleman I was singing with was somewhat new to the craft. The effort was a lot of fun nevertheless.

I found out the next day that one of our newfound friends from Missouri had been a barbershopper earlier in life, singing in a chorus with the Sweet Adelines. She said that she was going to try to join a barbershop chorus once again!

How about that! Barbershoppers are not that rare a breed!

Next morning, our local guide, Rashida, walked with us from the hotel to the area we were visiting that day.
Youssef had deliberately picked a female guide for us – just so we would have a different kind of experience.

We walked through the area of the port first.  The fishing boats were all blue. We were told that it is the Jewish color. The fish you see in one of the pictures below is sardine. There were cats and seagulls around attracted by the smell of fish.

We had a group picture taken before we left the port area.

Our next stop was a big square next to the port, on the way to the fort and medina.We took a short break over there.

We heard about Gnaoua, the music of this part of Morocco. (The name is spelt in many different ways, it seems!) They have an musical festival in the square every year, including international participation. I could use my imagination about how the square would have felt with the crowds and the live music. You can also find videos on the Internet.

We next visited the fort. We walked up the ramparts – on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

We then proceeded to the medina. Here are some pictures:

We walked through the fish and spice section of the medina, the location of the “buy your own fish” restaurants, some of which we had been warned about earlier.

Along the way we were pointed to a few other recommended restaurants. We ended up having dinner at the restaurant seen in the picture below, and ending up sitting in the very area of the restaurant where the camera has been pointed to in this picture.

There are apparently three Jewish areas within the medina. We were told that at one point there were more Jewish people in Morocco than Muslims. There are 4 synagogues in town, two still operational. This is the entrance to one of them in the medina.Our last stop before lunch was at a jewelry store featuring silver filigree work done by people with physical challenges.

The area around the store was colorful.

We had lunch with friends at an outdoor restaurant next to the big square. We had crepes. I ended up eating too much!

We went back to the medina for a dinner at Il Mare restaurant overlooking the ramparts of the fort and the Atlantic Ocean.We were seated with our friends on the terrace.We watched the sunset while having our drinksand food.Entertainment was provided by a local artist and his apprentice who danced while spinning a tarboosh on his head. Gnaoua music was being played. The beat is percussive and gets you into a groove. The music is in fact hypnotic and can apparently cause the musician to go into a trance!

The apprentice approached us during a dance, and, while I was not looking, placed his tarboosh on my head. I was supposed to make the tassel rotate with the movement of my head. It was a complete failure. Teresa, on the other hand, was pretty good at it. She kept it going for a short while.I have been listening to some Gwana music at home. Here is an example. This is a video from the Internet of some performers dancing to the music in a restaurant. Read the section on Gnawa music in this article if you are more curious about it. The three-string camel skin bass instrument is called the hajhouj. You can see the use of the heavy castanets, called krakebs, in one of the pictures I posted above.

The musicians continued their entertainment well past the sunset as we enjoyed the food and the drink – and the moment. We were seated in what well might have been the best place to experience and soak in this experience of Essaouria – including the new friendships, the beauty of nature on the seashore at sunset, and a new musical encounter! And it was a unique component of my own personal adventure of life. It was the highlight of the day for me, and a moment in time from this trip, and my life, that I hope will stay with me in my memories till the end.

We walked back to our hotel after dinner, first through the medina, still open for business,and then through the empty streets next to the beach.

It had been another full day in Morocco. We have only one more day of touring left to do in the country!

On To Agadir

This was the day we departed Marrakech and headed out ot Agadir, a resort town on the Atlantic Ocean (according to Youssef, known for its surf). The tone of the tour was changing. We were going to be hanging out by the beach rather than spending time exploring the culture of the country.

This was the scene outside our hotel in Marrakech as we boarded the bus for departure. The person who had been selling pictures the day before was back.Our bags were also being checked to make sure that nothing was left behind. We usually stopped for one day (two nights) in towns along the way. Instead, we had had an extended stay of two full days in Marrakech because of the nature of the city. And we were about to limit our stay in Agadir to one night.

It was all quiet on the bus during the first part of the drive. People are chilled out after the many days of traveling. Eyes were closed as people snoozed.

The countryside that we were initially driving through was dry and almost featureless.Hazy mountains began to appear in the distance as we continued our travel to the west.

We eventually entered the area of the High Atlas mountains. We were now driving through a region of mountain ridges and deep canyons, with dry river beds below us.There was evidence of layering of rocks of different colors.
Then we were on the plateau. Cream colored rock had long changed to a reddish tinge.

The speed limit was 75 mph on the limited-access highway (with tolls) that we were on! The road was marked as the A3. I suspect that this section of the highway has been finished only recently.

I also noticed that it was quite cold and windy in the mountains. We had to drive through a long tunnel (called the Zaouiat Ait Mellal Tunnel) in a section of the highway.

In certain sections we could see the regular National Route 8 Highway (N8) running close to us. (The map in the Wikipedia page for N8, at the time of posting of this blog, is problematic even though the description is probably correct!)

We descended out of the mountains as we got closer to our destination.
This was the first time we began to see argan trees in large numbers. They only grow in this part of the world. We were going to hear more about the trees and their use the next day.

We saw goats on a argan tree, a phenomenon that is apparently unique to this part of the world – but I could not get a picture from the moving bus. Youssef had promised that if we did not get to experience this phenomenon, he would climb a tree himself, along with our driver Youssef and helper Rashid.

We arrived at Agadir early in the day. We were given an introduction to the place as we approached the town:

Although there had been settlements in the area much earlier, the town was officially created by Portuguese in the early 1500s. The locals ousted the Portuguese soon after that. The Sousi people went on to form the Saadian dynasty that ruled Morocco as a country soon after. The Saadians and Alawites have ruled Morocco starting in the 1500s.

Agadir used to be major port for exploration by the Portuguese. These days it is being developed for tourism. It is the largest resort town in Morocco. We noticed that most of the tourists from abroad were from Europe.

The city of Agadir is the home of the Sousi Amazigh. The Amazigh still form the majority population of the place. Agadir is now known nowadays for their canned sardines. An earthquake destroyed city in 1960. It destroyed the medina. It was not rebuilt.

We were supposed to go to our hotel after arrival in the city, but since there was time, and Youssef had some concern about the weather later, he made the decision to take us directly up to the kasbah on a mountain top nearby.

(I have talked about the nature of the inscription on the mountainside in a previous blog.)

From pictures that I have seen on the Internet, it appears that the kasbah has undergone an extensive renovation recently. The walls used to be of a different color.

We could not enter the kasbah, but we got nice views of the city and commercial port from there. You can see the beach that Agadir is known for in the picture below. You can also see the Agadir marina to the right of the same picture.
There is a another port to the right of the one above. I only got a picture of this second one as we were descending from the mountain. The port in the picture below is also used by the Moroccan navy.

A cable car ride has been opened up recently from the bottom of the hill to the kasbah as a new tourist attraction.

We headed out to our hotel after taking in the views from the mountain.

We checked into our room at the hotel only after lunch. For the sake of convenience, we had signed up to get all our meals while staying in Agadir from the hotel. We ate in a cafeteria, with food stations and dining tables spread out all over the room. The place was quite busy with other tourists when we entered. The food was OK, nothing to write home about. The one beer that they had came out of a tap from a dispenser for the drinks. It was awful!

It was an adventure finding our room in the sprawling complex.

We had made the mistake of picking our luggage up from the lobby rather than having it delivered to the room. We wandered around with our luggage looking at the signs outside the building at the entrances that indicated what rooms that entrance gave access to. We had an interesting but confusing interaction with an older gentleman in a corridor along the way. He wanted to help us with our luggage. He only spoke french, which we did not. He even offered to carry one of our bags, even though it was not clear whether he knew where our room was. We declined his help. We did eventually find our room on our own.

The room was OK – probably a typical setup for a beach resort town. Before we settled in, the maids had to rearrange the beds into the configuration that we had signed up for. There were some minor communication issues in this interaction that were overcome.

I took a nap in the afternoon. We went for 5 mile walk along the promenade later in the day. We walked all the way to the entrance to the marina. We enjoyed the leisurely walk. We had all the time in the world.

After we returned to the hotel, we retired to the lounge to have some drinks. Many of the drinks were covered by the bulk payment we had made up front for our meals – but not all. I gladly parted with a few extra dirham to imbibe a Scotch Whisky – the first time I had had the opportunity to do so during the whole trip. We chilled in the open area near the bar as others in the group joined us. For the first time during the tour, we had Youssef sit with us for a little while.We listened to some music being played at one end of the room.It turned out that the gentleman playing his guitar had some music playing in the background for accompaniment that felt rather significant to the overall sound. How could one gauge his actual skill in this situation? It felt a little like cheating in the end. (This was not the last time we experienced “live” music in this manner in Morocco.)

We watched the sun setting from the space just outside the the lounge.After that, we retired to the cafeteria with our friends from Arizona for the buffet dinner. I ate lightly. Long gone are the days when one felt a sense of obligation to try out as much of the foods offered at a buffet as possible just because of the concern about not getting what one paid for.

It had turned into a wonderful and relaxing evening. As we were lounging about in the open area of the hotel, hotel staff approached us a couple of times to inform us about an entertainment program that was about to start at 9:00 pm. I suppose that this was part of the resort experience. We decided to retire to our room instead.

As you can see, we spent a minimal part of the day with organized tour activity. As I noted in an earlier blog, the pace of the tour was slowing down. The cultural aspect of the visit was definitely not the major theme that day. We were here to have a beach resort experience!

The Ourika Valley and Dinner in Marrakech

I did not realize it at that time, but this was about the time that the pace of the tour started to slow down – bit by little bit.

The second day in Marrakesh was a “free” day for those who chose to hang out in the city on our own. Others of us signed up for a tour of the Ourika Valley.

This is a picture of the front of our hotel as we were preparing to leave for Ourika valley. Without realizing it, I had managed to capture the image of a security officer in the frame. I have a feeling he deliberately took action to hide his face.

There was a person selling pictures that he had taken of us the previous day. He had set himself up next to the bus we were boarding. It was not uncommon to have vendors come up to our bus as we were getting off or boarding to sell us things.

Our first stop in the valley was to visit a Berber home. We were told that the home over over 130 years old. 6 people live here. Two women were helping to take care of the tour groups wandering around their home. We had access to all areas of the home except the bedrooms.

There was a tea ceremony in the main room of the house at the end of the tour, its timing having been adjusted so that the family living in the house could manage the multiple tour groups moving through their home.

Tea ceremonies are used for occasions like meetings of tribes or meeting of families for match making. Sometimes, the outcomes of the meetings can be signaled via the process of the tea ceremony itself, for example, by the use of sugar in the tea.

This is a picture of the royal family in the area where we had the tea ceremony. A picture of the king is apparently a common sight in homes in Morocco. The picture above turns out to be a somewhat ironic commentary on the state of relationships in the royal family. Breaking with tradition, King Mohammed VI had married a commoner, Lalla Salma (top left of picture). They had met in a social setting when they were young. The princess consort turned out to be popular. She has served as a representative for the country at different international gatherings. She has also championed progressive projects in the country over the years. However, since those times, there has apparently been a falling out in the family. She has not been seen in any public role for years. The pictures still remain!

We drove to the end of the road along the Ourika river and valley, with a stop along the way for enjoying the scenery. I thought the view at that particular spot was not as spectacular as those we had already experienced. There were locals selling merchandise along the roadside.
There were a few camels in the area where we stopped, probably to give rides to the tourists. One of them had two of its legs tied together loosely with rope, perhaps to prevent it from trying to walk away. It had some difficulty moving and seemed uncomfortable. I did not enjoy seeing that.

The valley was actually quite pretty in many other locations. I took pictures from the moving bus.

We reached the end of the road where the bus had to turn around. There was a restaurant, empty at that time, on the other side of the Ourika river, with bridges across the river allow customers to reach it. The restaurant actually stretched out for a long distance along the side of the river. This is a view of one particular section.

In general, the road itself did not seem to be designed for use by tourist buses like the one we were on. It was narrow in places, with occasional overhangs where the branches of trees would scrape against the bus.

We stopped on the way back to town at a restaurant for use of the restrooms and for relaxation. I was feeling a little nervous about my innards at that point and stayed away from food and drink. Fortunately, everything turned out OK.

Here is a view from the rest area.These are other views during the ride.

The next stop on our way back was at the botanical gardens for a tour. This place specialized in herbs.
After the tour, we had a relaxed barbecue lunch of chicken and ground beef with cooked Moroccan salad, all prepared on the outdoor grill.  We ate outdoors in the company of the noisy birds and the one cat begging for food.

This was the end of the tours for the day. We were going to be on our own the rest of the day. We had had a lovely and relaxed time so far. We walked back to the main road to get on the bus to head back to the hotel.

We were able to relax in our hotel room in the afternoon.

We took a walk into town in the evening. We first walked to the train station. It was located on the Boulevard Mohammed VI, the road that the hotel was close to.The opera house is next to the train station, on the other side of the traffic circle.We then walked the streets to the Jemma el-Fna square.

It was late in the evening by the time we got to the square.
We walked around looking for a place where we could eat with a good view overlooking the square. We encountered some other members of our tour group enjoying the evening from one of the cafes beside the square during our wanderings. We chatted with them and moved on.

We ended up at Zeitoun restaurant, seen in this picture taken the morning of the previous day. (The restaurant is to the right side of the picture.)

We headed up to the terrace of the restaurant. (The sides of the terrace are covered by transparent plastic sheets in the picture above, but the sheets had all been moved out of the way be the time we arrived in the evening.) We were greeted by our waiter to be, Aadnane. He was a very friendly chap who appeared to be completely at ease in dealing with tourists like us. (For some reason, I was thinking that he must have been exposed to cultures outside of his country.) The restaurant seemed to be somewhat full. We first parked ourselves on a low sofa seat next to the railing overlooking the square – facing the bright setting sun. It was a little uncomfortable. We got a promise from Aadnane that we would be seated at a more comfortable table next to the railing as soon as the couple that was currently seated in that location departed. Aadnane also passed on this message to his compatriot serving customers on the terrace. It was a promise that was kept.

I sensed that all of the customers on the terrace were tourists. Some folks were there just to chill out, having some snacks and drinks (non-alcoholic, apparently due to the proximity to a few mosques), waiting for the sun to set. (I tried the non-alcoholic beer. I should have known ahead of time that this would not be satisfying.)
One couple seated close to us just started playing cards at their table – with a promise to the waiter that they would order dinner later. The staff did not seem to mind. Consider that these were the prime seats in the restaurant, with the best view of the square and the sunset. There was no push to try to get us out of the way and maximize their income. Nobody rushed us while we were there. I was impressed.

A unique and unforgettable scene unfolded below and around us as the sun set.

The place was completely alive! The lights were being turned on for the evening for the shops that had been set up on the square. The tourists were wandering around in droves. There was another restaurant like ours on the other side of the square where tourists were also enjoying the scene. There was the one vendor of toys walking around shooting off some lighted toy high into the sky above the crowds, letting it slowly drift back down to earth, and retrieving it every time it landed on the ground. I kept looking at what he was doing, drawn to the lit-up object going up and down in the sky – in the midst of all the other random activity going on the square below it. The whole environment was completely mesmerizing.

Aadnane kept up his good spirits when serving our food, playing a joke on me when he brought out it out, leading me to believe for an instant that there was some kind of a problem with the order when there was not. The food was tasty, but there was too much of it! Between the food and the activity in the square, we were truly transported to a different place and kind of experience. What a superb and unique way to celebrate my birthday! We paid our bill downstairs, on our way out of the restaurant, after dinner. Aadnane accompanied us downstairs, offering us rosewater to clean our hands. He was, hopefully, happy with the tip that we left him!

As we started on our way back to the hotel, we passed just opened food stalls that were packed into the center of the square.Hustlers were stopping the passers-by inviting them for a meal.(We had been warned earlier by Youssef about eating at these kinds of places.)

We passed the now lit up juice stalls we had seen during the day.

These are shots taken as we departed the square.
After leaving the area we continued to walk through streets far away from the square that were still busy with activity even though it was late in the evening. We then got on some quieter streets with very few people around – trying to not look like tourists! We were alert even though the streets did seem to be safe in that part of town. The median on Mohammed VI Boulevard was a notable landmark as we neared our destination.

Soon we were back in our hotel room reliving the events of another wonderful day in Morocco!

The First Day In Marrakech

The breakfast spread at the hotel we were staying at in Marrakech was superlative even by the high standards we had gotten used to so far in our trip, and the service was also excellent. We arrived at the restaurant early enough that morning that the omelette stand was still not opened. The server had to summon the responsible person from the back room. The omelettes that were delivered to our table were incredibly fluffy. The variety of the food available was astounding. There was also a massive assortment of wonderful pastries to try for breakfast. There we plenty of fruit. It was all too much for a single morning. I ended up trying different pastries each day. Of course, the chocolate croissant was the constant every day. They had a bank of really fancy industrial strength coffee machines lined up in another section. It was easy to experiment with different kinds of coffee, and I did just that. You could also order freshly made orange juice from another location.

We had a surprise when we gathered outside the hotel for the tours of the day. Youssef, our tour manager, was not to be seen. Instead, we were met by our local tour guide (whose name I have sadly forgotten!), and we were taken on the bus to our first destination of the day.I had visions of Youssef having been pulled away to handle some kind of crisis or the other. He always seemed to be busy.

We got a further introduction to the history and culture of this area of North Africa on our way to the central mosque of the city. The whole of North Africa used to be populated by the Amazighs, or the Berbers as they came to be called. It was noted that the borders between countries in North Africa were created by colonists. Our guide claimed that the Berber language originated in Egypt. (Here is an interesting video about the Amazighs today.)

Marrakech itself is the southern center for religion in Morocco, Fez being the other one. The city was founded in the 11th century.

We encountered the people seen in the picture below as we were walking to our first destination. I happened to snap this picture. It turns out that they were dressed in the attire of traditional water-carriers, also called “guerrab“. Unfortunately for them, their business has dried up since the advent of plastic water bottles.

One of the guys approached me as we were leaving asking for money. He had noticed me taking their picture. I parted with a few dirhams. In keeping with what we had been told earlier on in the trip, I had expected this kind of an expense to be taken care of by the tour guide, but Youssef was missing, and our local guide was probably not fully informed!

The first place we visited was the central mosque, called Koutoubia. The Jemma el-Fna square and Koutoubia are both central to Marrakesh. Koutoubia means library. The mosque is claimed to be the oldest one in Morocco. It has a capacity of 2000 worshipers. It was designed for expansion. You can see the stubs for the pillars that were planned for this expansion in the picture below.

The next stop was the Saadian Tombs. They are named after the royal family that built them. In keeping we the nature of place we were visiting, we were informed about a few of the burial customs. Bodies have to be buried within 24 hours. They are buried on their right side facing east. The wife wears white during the mourning period when her husband dies. After four months and 10 days (to make sure she’s not pregnant, for inheritance reasons) she can then take another husband. Men have to only wait 40 days before they are allowed to remarry!

It is a custom among the locals visit tombs every Friday to pray for their family members, after which they go to the mosque for prayer.

Here are some pictures from the visit:

There were many tour groups of  foreigners (with guides) in the space. The picture above is of the actual entrance today to the complex of the tombs. The entrance is very narrow!

Youssef made his appearance at around this time, I cannot now remember exactly when. I was relieved to see him. It seems that he had been missing only because he had overslept! There was some joking around, including mention of him being on Moroccan time that day. We could not begrudge him some additional sleep. The man was working very hard to take care of us!

We walked to our next destination via the square of the Jewish section, or mellah, of the town. We were told that caravans used to arrive at this location and that there used to be Caravanserai in the area. The synagogue still remains. We had learnt earlier that many of the the Jewish people emigrated to Israel after the formation of that country in 1948.

We continued onward to the Bahia Palace on the busy streets. The smell of urine mingled with the smell of perfume.

Building of the sprawling complex of the Bahia Palace started only in the 19th century,i.e., it is relatively new by historical standards. It was named after the favorite wife of Si Moussa (also spelt Si Musa), grand vizir of the sultan, the person who built the place. It was a gift to her. The area of the palace was developed over many generations.

I did not do a good job keeping track of where we were within the complex itself. I only noted a few of the spaces that we walked through.

Based on my notes, I believe this was the open air patio of the guest house.

We saw the dining room and family rooms of the pasha of Marrakesh. The pasha had religious and political authority. (Vizier was only a political position.) The french apparently stole furniture when they left the Protectorate.

Our guide talked about the application of polygamy in Morocco. We were told that men had many wives in earlier times because there were less men than women around in times past due to the deaths during wars. It was supposed to be a way to support the women. (Hah!)

The buildings in the palace had roofs with detailed and exquisite designs.

The picture below shows the ablution area at the entrance to a classroom. Our guide spoke to us about the cleaning ritual before going into a mosque, something that was apparently followed by the students entering the classroom.

The picture below shows the amplification room in the classroom for the teacher. Anybody speaking from this space could be easily heard all over the room.There were a few gardens in the palace and a couple of courtyards. The picture below is of the smaller courtyard.

We gathered as a group after the visit to the palace to walk to our next stop.

At the culinary museum, we got to sit down and rest for a while before starting the tour again. We were served tea and cookiesin the atrium.

We then walked to the famous Jemma el-Fna square through the souk. I enjoyed the experience. It was more comfortable than the medina in Fez. The spaces were wider, but we still had to dodge motorbikes, bikes, carts, etc.. Vendors were trying to sell their wares along the way but they were not overly aggressive.

And then we were entering the hustle and bustle of Jemma el-Fnaa square.  Since it was still only morning time, it was perhaps not as busy as it could have been, but I loved the atmosphere and the sensations anyway!

Some of the places for dining in and around the square were pointed out to us. We would have two more evenings in Marrakesh when we would be on our own for dinner.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about the snake charmer experience in the square. It is one of the things that is mentioned in the context of the Jemma el-Fna square experience. Although it was interesting, the experience did not live up to the hype. The snakes might have been drugged and the poisonous ones perhaps even defanged. The snake charmers were in it obviously to extract money from the tourists. The cobras may even have been bored and disinterested in the proceedings.

There is the general atmosphere of a carnival, or a fair, in the square and things actually got more exciting later in the day after the sun set. I noticed a monkey that had gotten lose from its owner and was scurrying about amongst the visitors creating its little bit of excitement. It must have belonged to a person providing some form of entertainment for the visitors. There was a person walking around on stilts. Later on in the evening, there was entertainment being provided by musicians in an open area of the square. The square was meant to be a fun place for the tourists.

The guided program for the day ended at the square. We were going to be on our for the rest of the day, including lunch and dinner.

We joined up with a couple of our new friends from the tour and walked out of the square onto Princes Street for lunch. This area had been pointed out to us a having restaurants with grilled (or was it barbecued?) food. We walked over to a restaurant that had an open area on the upper floor overlooking the street. The place was not crowded and we could sit back for a relaxed lunch, experiencing the action in the streets.

It was a very chilled out atmosphere while having our lunch. It is somewhat challenging to put into words what I was feeling. We were visitors in an exotic land, basically soaking in the ambiance and atmosphere of a somewhat alien place, but ultimately we were being absorbed into this space and becoming one with it. We were immersed in the Marrakech experience! We belonged to the space!

One of the aspects of this restaurant experience that I appreciated was the fact that we did not feel rushed at any time while we were there. There was no waiter hovering over us and asking us questions constantly, there was no sense that we were expected to leave after eating within a certain period of time, and the waiter was quite relaxed and friendly in his interactions. No pressures, no worries! We could basically completely chill out. What we experienced that day at lunch was not an isolated episode in Morocco. We had the same feeling the next day, in a different place, under different circumstances, when it was actually quite crowded and busy in the restaurant. It was a very different feeling from what I am used to in and around town in our neck of the woods. It was clear that attitudes as far as the dining experience is concerned can be very different in different places.

We walked back to the hotel after lunch.

The organized activities of the day were over early, and we had the rest of the day to ourselves. We were tired since the morning had been very hectic. This was a our opportunity to relax after all the busyness of the trip so far.

We even stayed in our room for dinner that evening, trying to finish off some of the food that we had bought in Tangier (for the lunch in Chefchaouen!).

I have to add that it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.  In fact, the whole trip has been amazing so far – and we have a few more days to go!

The visit to Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, and then on to Marrakech

The morning was a bit cloudy as we prepared to depart our hotel and visit the fortified village of the clan Ben Haddou.

It was almost too chilly for us to partake of breakfast outside the hotel’s restaurant, next to the pool, before we departed, but we did just that!

The household animals in the rooftop enclosure just below the terrace opposite our hotel room were all awake and about as we left our rooms.

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.

We made our way on foot from the main road where the bus was parked to the bridge across the dry Ounila river.We could see one of the ksar’s kasbahs across the river.

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!

We got some magnificent views from the top of the hill.

We did not linger too long on the hill. We were on a schedule! We started making our way back to the bus.We did some shopping on the way down.

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 got our last pictures of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou from the main road on our way out of town.

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.

There was significant road construction on the N9 highway to Marrakech. We were warned about the possibility of this slowing slowing us down.

This is a picture taken during the initial part of the drive.

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.

Soon after we left the river valley we reached our lunch stop.

You could get a good view of the mountains we were going to be crossing from the restaurant.

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.

The Moods of the Cacapons

We spent a weekend in a cabin in the hills of West Virginia. The cabin was in a location that was truly off the beaten path. The closest town was the hamlet of Great Cacapon. The village lay beside the Potomac river to the north of the mountain on which the cabin was located. (I have seen Great Cacapon from the other side of the Potomac river when hiking on the the C&O Canal towpath.)

We had to leave the main road at Great Cacapon and drive on a smaller country road running along the Cacapon River to get to our destination. The place was remote enough that the bridge over the Cacapon river that we had to cross at one point was definitely not designed for use in times of high water. In fact it was called the low water bridge.The bridge was apparently also not strong enough to support heavy equipment. That was probably the the reason for the poorer quality of the road surface on the other side of the bridge.As we neared our destination, we turned off this local road and drove up the side of the Cacapon Mountain ridge on a even less developed gravel and grave dirt road to get to the cabin. This road is probably accessible only to 4x4s in winter, and its slope in parts was significant enough that I would have been nervous about driving a vehicle with a high center of gravity and a narrow wheel base over it. And, of course, the quality of the tire tread was also quite important in this situation.The setting for the cabin was outstanding.and its amenities were plentiful.

It was important to arrive at the cabin with all the supplies one needed for the weekend because of its isolated location.

We got a good feel for the moods of the mountain over the next few days.

It was a weekend of relaxation, mountain walks, games, and last but not the least, watching some of the games of the soccer world cup. It was a great way for me to try to get back into the flow of things at home after having been out of the country for over a month.

To Ait Ben Haddou

I took a picture of the sink in our hotel room in Erfoud before we set out on the road to Ait Ben Haddou (also called Ait Benhaddou). As one can see, there are a few fossils embedded in the granite. Considering that all of the rooms in the hotel had sinks, and a few other items of decoration, of the same nature, it is an indication of the prevalence of fossils in products from this part of the world. I would never have guessed!

We started our journey for the day early, as usual. We turned west as we left the hotel premises and headed back towards the middle sections of the country, away from the desert.

The adobe structures along the roadside were familiar by now.

So were the fields of alfalfa and the date trees.

We drove past a system of water wells called Ketthara (use Google Translate to read the English translation of the link!) just outside of Erfoud. Even though we were close to the edge of the desert, there used to be a system for underground water distribution in this area. A series of underground connections is used to carry the water to these wells. The ketthara is not in use today.

I got a fleeting glimpse of the flag of the Amazighs as we were driving past it, but I could not get a good picture of it. This is what it looks like in its fullness. You can read about the symbolism in this flag here. The flag is relatively new, first having been proposed in the 1970s, and then becoming official in 1997. If you also consider the fact that the language of the Amazighs was made an official language of the country of Morocco only very recently, one gets the impression that the recognition of these native peoples of North Africa is on the upswing in recent years.

We passed wild Barbary Sheep. They are reddish, the color of the rocks. Fortunately, these animals have not gone the way of the Barbary Lions. I could not get a picture of these animals.

We drove through a number of towns like the one in the pictures below.This particular town had a few colorful compounds.

We saw many school kids that day. It appears that they have classes on Saturday!

We saw this writing in many places on the mountainsides in the countryside. It reads “God, country and king”.

In yet another town, I took this picture of a sign at a gas station. The price of gas (petrol) indicated here translates to roughly 6 dollars a gallon. The current prime minister of Morocco, who also happens to own one of the companies importing oil and gas into the country, apparently has a role in setting these prices. There is unhappiness in the general population over the steep increase in the cost of gas recently. Tthe prime minister has been accused of corruption in this regard.

After reaching the town of Tinghir (on the highway N10), we turned right off the highway to continue our drive through the town – to head into the Todra valley close by.

This is a picture taken as we were heading out of town. You can see the traditional clothing of the women of this particular town. The nature of the clothing worn by the the locals can actually change from town to town.

The picture below shows a valley we had to cross on our way to Todra gorge. The green of the valley from the fields of date trees and alfalfa is striking. We had to drive over a dry stream bed at the bottom of the valley to get to the other side. We eventually ascended up the other side of this valley. You can see the road that we took in the picture.

Todra (also called Todgha) gorge was stunning. I took a walk on the other side of the waters of the Todra river, inadvertently getting one of my sandals wet in the river on my way across. It dried up nicely as I made my way further upstream.

Black long haired goats with pointy horns, and donkeys, hung out closer to the building seen in the above picture.
It was a busy place. It was a place for locals to visit during the weekend. The weather was also nice.

There were vendors selling their goods,and families picnicking on the other side of the river. There also were panhandlers.

I got closer to the building that I had taken a picture of earlier. This used to be a hotel. It was destroyed in a flooding incident a few years ago and never reopened.

We retraced our path back to Tinghir for lunch. Tinghir turned out to be a big city. We had a nice lunch at the restaurant whose entrance is pictured below.

Moroccan dishes included tajine couscous and vermicelli. Almost all lunches and dinners that we were served in Morocco during the trip included fruit for dessert. Sliced melons and grapes were the most common fruits.  We were also offered many local specialties.

The next landmark that we reached was the Dades Valley (also called the Valley of the Roses). We drove on a section of a road called The Road Of A Thousand Kasbahs. I struggled to identify specific Kasbahs. This is one that I managed to take a picture of as we approached Ouarzazate.

Roses were introduced in Morocco by the French. They have a rose Festival in this part of the world that lasts a week. We were told that the Jewish people initially populated this area of Morocco.

This is a picture of one of the towns we drove through in the Dades valley. You can see the bus station for the town in the picture below. It is on the same side of valley as we were.

Views like the one captured below opened up to us as we got closer to Quarzazate.

Ouarzazate used to be a movie studio town. It is now a tourist destination. The castle for Game of Thrones was set up here. Some well known movies were made in these parts over the years. The two studios associated with the town are The Atlas Corporation Studios, and CLA Studios.

The picture below shows a set that has been constructed in the desert for filming purposes only. It is not a regularly occupied structure.

Our drive took us not too far from the Quarzazate solar power station. It is the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant. It is mostly a thermal solar power plant, with a small section generating power from photovoltaic cells. From the distance you can only see the tower in which the molten salt is formed from the focused radiated energy of the field of solar reflectors.

We were staying in the Riad Ksar Ighnda Kasbah in Ait Ben Haddou that night. A few miles after we left Ouarzazate, we took a turn off highway N9 onto one of the local roads, and we continued our drive west beside the Ounila river for the last few miles to reach our destination. We were told that that the Ounila was a salty river because of the minerals in the mountains. The road to Ait Ben Haddou that we were taking used to be the route of the caravans traveling along the Ounila Valley to Marakkesh in times past.

Our hotel turned out to be a unique and impressive establishment. Our room, in a building separated from the main Kasbah, was at the highest level of the building and adjacent to a terrace. It might have been one of the better rooms in the hotel. We could get a good view of our surroundings from the terrace, including a distant view of the Ksar Ait Ben Haddou itself.The picture below offers a zoomed in view of the hill at Ksar Ait Ben Haddou – with its agadir, or granary, on top. It appears as a dot in the picture above!

We stayed in at the hotel for dinner, and for breakfast the next day. The meals were all very sumptuous – as usual. Of note was the small fried fish (which I suspect were sardines) that tasted remarkably like the fried fish we used to eat as children growing up in India. Enjoyed it all!

This is a picture of our hotel taken from our hotel room later in the night.
This was a view from our room early the next morning.

We stayed only one night at Ait Ben Haddou. We would be climbing up the hill at Ksar Ait Ben Haddou after checking out of the hotel the next morning. We would then depart for Marrakech.